By Jamuna Rangachari
The Sholai School in Tamil Nadu, founded by Brian Jenkins, a follower of J Krishnamurti, is an example of nurturing children in gentle collaboration with nature, says Jamuna Rangachari
I think we need to build relationships with children. They learn all they need to and more, if given the right atmosphere,” says Mr. Brian Jenkins, a British-born social anthropologist, who is the founder and principal of Sholai School in the Palani Hills of Tamil Nadu.
Mr Jenkins (BJ) has had a long association with India. He came to Bodhgaya first in 1969 and learnt Satipattana Vipassana from Anagarika Munindraji. He returned to the UK and kept exploring holistic systems of teaching and learning. He joined Brockwood Park School, an international co-educational boarding school in UK, based on J Krishnamurti’s principles. While there, he also learnt a lot by associating and travelling with J Krishnamurti, who came there often. All of this inspired him to settle in India. The process began in 1986, and after exploring a lot he started Sholai School in Kodaikanal in 1989, with his own two children and four local children, in the beginning.
‘Sholai’ means forest in Tamil. This school is also known as the Centre for Learning Organic Agriculture and Appropriate Technology (CLOAAT), and is located in a beautiful sylvan valley at an altitude of 1148 metres, where elephants, bisons, 130 species of birds and many other wild animals can be found roaming freely. Though students follow the University of Cambridge syllabus, equal importance is given to their other experiences. They farm, collect, segregate and recycle waste, manage the livestock, learn carpentry and make pieces of furniture for the school. In addition they are trained in swimming, outdoor and indoor games, yoga, trekking and bird-watching. They have also built sheds and assisted in building a wooden bridge across a small river that flows through the campus.
Water from the hilly streams, wells and rains is harvested to meet all the requirements of the school, without having to depend on the municipal supply. Power is generated through photovoltaic panels and a micro-hydro-electric turbine, independent of the Tamil Nadu electricity grid. CLOAAT also has its own ecological and sustainable practices and is fully self-sufficient in dairy produce, and partly self-sufficient in rice, millets, wheat vegetables and fruits. Sholai has received a number of awards, most notably “The Model Green School Award” from the Centre for Science and Environment, New Delhi.
Children here come from all backgrounds and together learn many different skills. “The rural children are certainly more physically adept than those from urban areas. The middle class children tend to be more loquacious and are exposed to books and ideas. As a result the children from the villages and those from urban areas complement one another and learn from one another,” Brian says.
There are around 60 children in the school. Mr. Jenkins does not want to have more students as that may dilute the care that is given to those in the school. He is certainly concerned that each child receives the best care and attention at Sholai.
“Education requires choiceless self-awareness on the part of each teacher and the students,” he avers, and is certainly trying to implement this in his sholai.
Is this school about learning to live a holistic life or education for life? Whatever the semantics, I, for one, certainly wish I had studied there.
Website : http://www.sholaicloaat.org
About the author : Jamuna Rangachari writes and manages the websites of Life Positive. She has authored three books for children, compiled and interpreted Teaching Stories-I and II for Life Positive. and published a book through Hay House,
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