We went to an orientation at Naya's school today. It is the Navakriti school, founded by the people from the famous Mirambika school, next to the also-famous IIT (which has shared research on preschool education) and NCERT, which is trying tto change Indian schools from rigid to creative. The sessions started off with meditation and a flower offering to The Mother and Aurobindo. I will confess that my first thought was that this wasn't necessarily the type of place for me or my kid and that maybe we should have stuck with a more commercial school.
But then the parents were asked to line up for circle time and we had to clap our hands and sing songs like kids. I warmed up fast. When we were led down a marigold-strewn path that was decorated along the sides with children's artwork and led into the outdoor amphitheatre, I was feeling like I had bought in. Thankfully, I relaxed and nodded in approval as educators detailed the philosophy of "integrated education", combining the child-centered learning I like about Montessori with the freedom movement of Aurobindo Society schools with the focus on nature as a way to nurture of the hippie movement with quantifiable research on how these are the most important years for a human being's intellect formation. It is hard to practice not saying "DON'T" all the time to a child but I certainly would rather embrace the "DO" and "GET DIRTY" philosophy than what I see in so much of child-rearing.
I should explain why we switched Naya from her old school in the first place. It was a wonderful experience when she was 2. Her teacher Alka was loving and really helped Naya in her adjustment. One of our fondest memories in Delhi is of Naya on stage dressed like a bear, swinging her hips, telling the twins dressed as giraffes how to dance better, and singing her heart out about Jinny and Johnny.
But when she moved up to class for age 3, she started bringing homework asking her to colour a banana yellow. When we went to school for the Independence Day celebration, she didn't seem happy to be on stage at all and a representative from a bank droned on and on about the need to save for our kids' education. The same bank snapped pictures of the babies and asked us for our mobile numbers for delivery - which meant they wanted to make another sales pitch in our living rooms. The last straw came during diversity week when the representative for America was... Ronald McDonald.
It was Delhi at its worst.
I begged and pleaded all the marquis schools to let us in - Step by Step, Magic Years, Learning Tree, Ardee. No seats. Why had I not thought of this earlier?
I did what I do whenever I panic. I researched, reported, asked everyone I knew. Thankfully, a woman who randomly met at a birthday party for a colleague's daughter said she had just been to Navakriti, loved it but because of the distance, she didn't enroll her daughter.
Nitin spent one day at Navkriti, while we both observed another Montessori near our house. I don't think we were really familiar with Aurobindo method at this point but we loved all the space to play (it is about an acre, which is really really rare in Delhi) and the fact that they encourage kids to play in water and get dirty. I also liked that there weren't expat parents there (sorry, I know I am one) and that I saw a little girl with a motorcycle racing t-shirt on and I gathered one of two things a) it was a hand me down from an elder brother or b) she was very firm on what she wants to wear and her mother lets it be. I liked that. (So many of these Delhi playschools have Prada on the kids AND the parents.)
Anyway after three hours of orientation today where I heard from the most articulate teachers I have ever encountered in India about why they do this, what they learn (NOT what they teach) I felt hope about Indian education for the first time since I got here. One of the parents even stood up and asked about efforts to integrate classrooms so poor children and rich children could be educated side by side -- and that the learning methods would extend to the less fortunate. Charity by volition in Delhi!! There also is a lot of art and creativity with natural substances like twigs and stones and dyes and flowers. They teach the alphabet not through drill like A is for apple but more through stories.
We were just about to start looking for another school for Naya but alas she misses the cutoff yet again this year. After today, I think another year here -- if all goes as they preach -- is a blessing.