This is the third post in the series on alternative schools. The original article appeared in the Teacher Plus magazine and is available here. (Note: The article was originally written in 2017 and many things have changed at the school and its parent company, but the radical experiment that the article chronicles is worth implementing in other schools)
Shivku, R. Shiva Kumar, Alumnus IIT Chennai and IIM Kolkata, board member of CL Educate limited, a large education services company, is the head of the Indus World School in Indore. I have worked directly under him for an year and our families lived in adjoining flats for some time and we know each other very well. From its head office in Noida, CL runs 12 Indus World Schools spread across the country and Shivku should have been sitting there and thinking of the larger picture. He chose to distance himself from the head office and commit three years in actually running one of the schools. Of the many initiatives he tried in Indore, one is so different from our normal idea of schooling that I am using this space to chronicle it.
Just a paragraph about the organization and the people behind it before we get to that. 17 years old, 225 centers in 175 locations across India, 3000 employees and partners reaching out to 50,000 students with its test preparation classes – CL was started by a group of friends who studied together at IIM Bangalore. There is a story that highlights the college-like feel that the company still retains. Satya, the Chairman, was living in the company guest house as his family was away and a new recruit arrived from out-of-town late one night. He organized dinner for her and they shared an auto coming and going back to the guest house over the next couple of days before she saw in an induction video that the person she knew as Satya was the boss-man. When well-intentioned, smart people like Satya, and there are a bunch of them at CL, decide to start a chain of schools, they do a good job.
Now back to Shivku’s initiative at Indore. He told his 9th standard math students that he would conduct a 10 day introductory seminar during the summer holidays on concepts in 10th standard math and children who are interested could come in. He also said that it was not very important as he would be covering the same ground over the next academic year. As he had guessed, the 8-10 children in his class who were interested in math came for his seminar. He started the day with an hour-long story-like overview of the first chapter and asked the children to read through the chapter and solve all the problems given at the end and come back the next day. He encouraged them to talk to each other and use all the online resources and books they had access to in school and at home. He started the next day discussing any issues the children faced and gave the story-overview of chapter 2. And so on! The 10th standard syllabus was covered by the time the seminar finished! When the school reopened Shivku had 10 teaching assistants who already knew the subject. He got them to sit with groups of their classmates and let the children work through the syllabus slowly. Shivku’s job then really became what we like to think of in progressive circles as that of a ‘facilitator’. Being available only when the children needed him.
Of course, this is not the only way that Indus World School ensures good education for its children. There are structural elements like the age-appropriate pedagogical methods or the focus on the social and emotional growth of the children through ‘circle time’ etc. Shivku’s initiative can be categorized as the idiosyncratic, non-structural element that only an inspired teacher can provide. And that is why we need more Shivkus and Satyas to come and join the conversation on school education.
Name of school: Indus World School (IWS), Indore
Been around since: 2007
Number of teachers/ staff: 60 teachers across two campuses
Number of children: 1000
Classes handled: Nursery to class 12
USP: Self-paced child-friendly learning environment
Location: 2 campuses in Indore. IWS has 12 schools across the country.