Deluxe schools

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By Upscale schools with a heavy accent on co-curricular activities are set to become the rage in many cities, reports Prithvijit Mitra Ruma Chandra, Principal, DPS, New Town
  • Published 21.12.05
New Kids on the block: Computer labs and tennis courts are some of the star facilities at Heritage and DPS New Town in Calcutta
More Than Classrooms: A five-star ambience is very much a part of
the modern education system

Abhijit Saha, 12, resplendent in white flannels and armed with a cricket bat in his hand, walks briskly towards the swimming pool. The DPS New Town boy has just hit a 50 for his class but he looks worried. Wiping off the sweat from his forehead, he heads for the change room to slip into his pool gear. He has to clock better than what he has been doing of late. Then he must rush to the debate class. A dance session will wind up his activities for the day at school. “Don’t worry about homework for that’s taken care of at school. I am more worried about my tennis match tomorrow,” quips the Class VII student.

Welcome to new age schools where extravagant co-curricular activities are just as important as exams. In fact, they are even more important at places like DPS where you don’t have exams till Class VII. The size of the campus has been expanding proportionately with the number of facilities on offer. On the new campus, students grow up in the lap of luxury. You have air-conditioned classrooms, tennis courts, horse-riding lessons, dance classes, swimming pools, cafeterias and multigyms. If that sounds like a luxury hotel, schools now have a star rating system as well!

Going to school is no longer restricted to attending a series of lectures and coming home with loads of homework. It is, as the Pailan World School’s slogan puts it, “a whole new experience.” Things you have never associated with a school are now part of a child’s daily routine. “The new schools have indeed been exploring uncharted territories, following the Western model. They have made attending school a truly enjoyable experience for children.

The schools are giving children more opportunities to develop their talents in other fields. And this is the way it should be,” says Ruma Chandra, principal, DPS, New Town. The school has a huge computer lab, an audio-visual room and a music room among other facilities. It is coming up with a luxurious swimming pool, specialised coaching for different kinds of sports and tennis courts. There’s an activity zone that has been earmarked only for co-curricular activities. Teachers have been asked to spot hidden talents in students and arrange for their coaching accordingly. Saturdays are “non-academic” days when students pursue their hobbies, play games and basically have fun. “I would rather have more extra-syllabus activities than academics,” adds Chandra.

And it’s not Calcutta alone. Quite a few high-profile schools have also come up in Delhi over the past few years. “One has to remember that times have changed, and education needs a face lift in order to keep up with the times,” says Madhu Chandra, principal, Lotus Valley International School, Noida, located on the outskirts of the capital. “And the main objective is to ensure that children today keep up with global trends, while not compromising on national values.”

Most high-end schools in the capital offer amenities that include media centres stocked with books and CD-Roms, cafeterias, language laboratories, music and dance studios and gymnasiums. Sports like horse riding and golf are given as much importance as the regular games of cricket and tennis. Students are taught astronomy, besides mathematics.

In the south, Bangalore has six new international schools that are attracting local people as well as non- resident Indians. They have positioned themselves as places where the West meets the East. For example, a day in Bangalore’s Jain International Residential School (JIRS) begins with yoga and meditation and ends with puja. “A day in the JIRS ends with a half-hour session of meditation and shloka chanting,” says VN Kulkarni, principal, JIRS. Also, the school offers only vegetarian food ? except for Dominos pizzas once a week. Facilities at the international school include everything money can buy.

The students love it. “We have a good balance of studies and co-curriculars. Our teachers always encourage us to do whatever we like doing and are good at,” says Nilanjan Mitra, a Class VII student of DPS New Town in Calcutta, who is passionate about quiz and public speaking. “It helps them let off steam. In fact, our system has made a lot of difference to the students’ performance. Thanks to our public speaking and debate classes, shy children have really opened up,” says Lorraine Mirza, principal, Pailan World School, Calcutta.

At DPS, Ruby Park, there’s always a crowd around the notice board checking forthcoming activities. “They are very enthusiastic about these and it keeps them interested in studies as well,” says principal Indrani Sanyal. Pailan World School, spread across 40 acres, has drawn up a “scientific programme” in collaboration with Westfield School, Australia, to impart sporting skills to students. The school also has a Heritage Centre, devoted to art, music and dance. Very soon, it will have a team of specialised coaches for riding lessons and a swimming pool as well. Pailan has a seven-star rating, though the school doesn’t mention it in the prospectus.

The Heritage, the first day boarding school in Calcutta, is credited with having triggered the new movement in the city. Spread across 9.4 acres, the school has AC classrooms, an environmental studies lab, an audio-visual centre called Infotech Centre Learning Resource, an athletic track, basketball, volleyball and tennis courts, a swimming pool and multi-gym facilities.

At Noida’s Lotus Valley International School, pre-nursery and nursery classes have protective rubber flooring to ensure that toddlers don’t get hurt.

Special ramps have been built for physically challenged children. Graduating options such as the Advanced Level Suit of Examinations of Cambridge (UK) International are offered, in addition to CBSE.

The G.D. Goenka Public School in Delhi provides its students with what is called activity-based education. “When children visit a library, apart from familiarising them with books, the librarian also teaches them library etiquette, like how to sit and behave in a reading room,” says Minu Sharma, a teacher at the school.

In Bangalore, meanwhile, the CBSE-affiliated JIRS, constructed at a cost of Rs 72 crore and spread across 165 acres, offers virtually every sporting facility.

The International School, built over 125 acres, has a 400-meter athletic track, fields for hockey, cricket and football, a 25-meter swimming pool, basketball, volleyball, tennis, squash and badminton courts and a billiard room along with other facilities. Added to this are an art studio with ceramic, photographic and textile facilities, a drama and music room and an audio-visual room.

The winds of change are not just restricted to the sports field. It has wafted into school kitchens as well. Pailan offers students cuisine from all over the world whereas Heritage offers a simple Indian fare. DPS New Town has a plush cafeteria. “We expect our students to travel all over the world, so they must get used to all kinds of food,” says Mirza.

And finally, the schools are trying to usher in a revolution insofar as classroom teaching is concerned. Students are being encouraged to ask questions, challenge their teachers and experiment with new things. At Pailan, for instance, the stress is on skill-based learning with an added accent on developing reading, writing, speaking and knowledge-gathering skills. CCTV cameras are fitted in junior classes to let the authorities and parents observe how their wards are progressing. DPS New Town holds communication classes for students weak in the languages. All students are taken to the lab for physics classes. During history lessons, students act out the characters they learn about.

DPS Ruby Park includes audio-visual capsules as part of classroom teaching, provides coaching for national-level tests like the Science Talent Search Exam and the Maths Olympiad. “The aim is to produce responsible global citizens with Indian values. This can't be achieved in a traditional classroom environment which is why our system is child-centric rather than teacher or classroom-centric. Teachers are there to guide students and not terrorise them to perform better,” says Indrani Sanyal.

But there are people who are wary of the new system. This mad rush to woo parents with lavish facilities could be disastrous for students in the long run, warns T.H. Ireland, principal, St James’ School. “A school basically helps students learn. These schools are digressing from that basic premise,” Ireland says.

A principal of one such new school says students have complained that they are running out of steam. “It is the missionary schools that have the best system. We are just confusing students in a quest to produce all-round individuals,” he says.

Going by the number of applicants, the theory doesn’t seem to have many takers yet. But these are early days for the new schools and the experiment has just begun.

Additional reporting by Anirban Das Mahapatra in New Delhi and Varuna Verma in Bangalore


‘There’s a huge demand for extra facilities’

What is the rationale behind having so many facilities in a school? Does it really help?
The idea is to take boredom out of classrooms and produce all-round students. Just studies aren’t enough. It is very important to know what you are good at and you should work to develop that skill. Not everyone is going to be a brilliant student, but he or she could be a good singer, an actor or a player. It is the school’s duty to see to it that a student realises his or her potential. Secondly, there is a huge demand for extra facilities. Especially from parents who no longer want their children to remain confined in a classroom. We are merely catering to that demand. Also, we are trying to make attending school an enjoyable experience.

How do you balance studies with so many activities?
The new schools have longer hours. For instance, we have a zero period for these activities. Often, five minutes are reduced from each period to let students devote more time to their hobbies or their favourite sports. In any case, our classes get over early in the afternoon which leave enough time for students to do what they like to do. So, it’s not difficult. But we do keep in mind that young students can’t take too much physical exertion and that they must study as well. We often help them finish their homework in school itself.

Do you think that old schools need to change?
The old schools have been doing a wonderful job, especially the missionary institutions. They have built up a tradition and a mighty reputation which is tough to match. Personally speaking, I have tried to adopt some of their good points. For example, I had visited one of them and found that they had a wonderful system of training students in music. We have followed that. But change is inevitable and the new schools will have to usher in the new system of education.

You have also introduced a new method of teaching. Do you think this is the future of education?
Definitely. So far, most schools have been quite rigid in their approach to teaching. A fixed syllabus is followed and the course has to be finished within a specific period of time, no matter whether students are learning things properly or not. The focus is not on the student, but on the book. We are exploring techniques of helping them to learn faster and better. A more interactive method is probably the answer. But whatever it is, students are going to be the priority in our system.

Interview by Prithvijit Mitra