Mainstream Indian state schools tend to follow a path of “rote, pay attention, cane and blind pursuit of high exam marks” which leads not only to rampant cheating, and at one end of the spectrum to smiles but at the other end suicides by youngsters who dare not face their parents.
To break away from that, in a systemic manner, robust enough to withstand parental pressure, we have the nursery element (3s, 4s and 5s) under the Montessori system. This system is taking off manfully in India, and we are fortunate in having MMI (Modern Montessori International) on our doorstep. This is a London, Singapore and Gurgaon based organisation with good credentials. They train our teachers.
We are an English medium school - all teaching is done in English, because mastery of this will, when the time comes, get them a better job. And starting at age three, gives it to them as their (rather than an invasive foreign) language. "Playing in English" makes them naturallybi-lingual by the time they start primary education aged 6.
It is our perception that our most important core teachers need to be Maths, English, Music, Art and Sport - this enables us to focus on building character and self-esteem. This should find a resonant response from the vast majority of children, leading to balanced and confident youngsters. And if we give them all as much literacy and numeracy as they can absorb, no subject will be closed to them when they decide to pursue it.
This applies particularly to computery, where if it is introduced before the literacy level permits understanding, it risks becoming nothing more than a games centre.
As at Spring 2014 we have two specialist teachers; in PE/sport we have Dhiraj, and in Art, Lajwanti who now mixes Montessori and Art.
On the advice of the MMI director, the three Montessori classrooms have been interconnected, permitting easy interaction, in the belief that youngsters learn as much from each other as they do from the teachers, we feel that if teachers teach the 5s, 5s will teach the 4s and 4s will teach the 3s.
In later years, we shall probably opt to register on the CBSE curriculum; this will permit recognized qualifications to be given; though our focus will be on character and personality rather than on high marks, in the belief that this will get them better jobs. A steady eye and a smile and good body language are more likely to get a job than a certificate with high marks which involved cheating.
In the Primary school we have adopted a system called iDiscoveri, which is nationally is gaining rapidly in following. It defines the curriculum by having an interesting range of day work books, and covers a wide range of scholastic spectrum. It also gives on-site leadership to teachers on how to present each topic. Early thoughts are that it is going well, but needs some tuning to make it village-centric. They concur, and are pondering how to do this.
We have been conscious for some time that in our lead classes there is a great disparity of ability and the brighter boys and girls are being held back by the slower ones, so in April 2011 we started an A-stream system where the brightest five or so in tens and nines join up for accelerated maths and English and so also with the 8s and 7s - creating "accelerated" classes. In Sping 2014 we have three "accelerated" classes, and they are going well.
The teachers are very much aware that they are to be intellectual, moral and social role models to the village; and accordingly their accommodation has been built to a spacious standard to give them visible standing. We have plans in hand to improve their command of the English language, but this is a slow process, with many built-in defects to be ironed out.
We have a stream of up to four volunteer teachers living on site at the school whose prime purpose is to give a constant presence of English spoken English in the calassrooms and on the playing fields, and vistors sometimes comment that the children's Englich is better than some of the teacher's.