John Koshy, freshly graduated from Rishi Valley, talks of what education in RV meant to him, and what sets it apart from the rest.
The function of education is not to help the young conform to this rotten society, but to be free of its influences so that they may create a new society, a different world.
Jiddu Krishnamurthi [Chennai, 1956]
In my first year in Rishi Valley, a visiting couple posed this question to my class: ‘Is there really something unique and special about your school or is it just a cake that looks really attractive on the outside but tastes like any other cake on the inside?’
It’s been five years since and honestly, I never did manage to come up with a satisfying response to that question or to any of a similar kind (in my passionate defense, before I’m written off as being incapable of generating a normal rational thought process, I spent most of my time in school like most other kids doing things, apart from wondering what made it so special). Retrospectively however, having graduated from school a mere four weeks back and now moving on to higher academia, the question has gained a certain relevance and importance as it essentially helps in establishing benchmarks by which one can view and judge future institutions.
Rishi Valley is not a supernatural institution. The misconception must be cleared at the very onset itself. Like any other institution in our country it too faces a common set of inhibitions and challenges at every level. Chronic problems like the strain of having to rush to complete the prescribed syllabus, pre-examination tensions (and in some cases, post-examination tensions as well), student behavioral issues, financial issues and so on and so forth are very much part of the school’s daily running. In a sense that is the very beauty of it all. The fact that it is so like and yet in a lot of special ways very unlike.
I am a self confessed connoisseur of schools, having studied (to use a mild lie) in a variety of schools to this day. The biggest and glaring difference (some people have suffered from culture shock, I had a version of school shock) was the relationship we developed with our teachers. Being in a boarding school where you essentially live with your teachers all around the clock has its unique set of benefits. Your relationship with your teachers evolves into so much more than just than that of an educator and an educatee (before you Google search, such a word does exist). Educator, enemy, parent, constant mentor, coach, fellow teammate and friend are the dynamic ways in which liaison with teachers evolve. Sometimes it seems almost incredulous! But the fact of the matter is that it is and this goes a long way to facilitate the learning process in a student. Unlike under normal circumstances where one studied out a sense of compulsion and possibly fear, through our relationships with our teachers an environment of learning was generated through a spirit of respect , friendship , admiration and most importantly curiosity. Out of experience I can assure you I engaged myself more with what I absorbed when I had the latter approach.
Learning in school was never restricted to the classroom. Whether it was through talking to visitors at the school, assemblies, working on the land, to spending quiet time on asthachal or through the various forums for different activities and interests present in school learning never stopped. Instead, it took a variety of forms be intellectual, physical or philosophical. (Another misconception however is that most students from Rishi Valley turn out to be crack pot philosophers. This is an erroneous belief. Only some do.) To sum it up, in today’s world where every school, right from a Government High School in Bihar to one of the various Blessed Something schools present in Kerala, promises ‘holistic education and development’, studying in Rishi Valley was the closest I have ever been to this mystical notion.
As a close friend put it, there is a certain ‘freshness’ in the environment that inspires creativity and curiosity. From all the beauty of the pristine campus, to the genuinely committed teachers who are willing to clock in an extra mile for the enthusiastic student to a philosophy that gives the institution it’s structure that focuses on growth for a better change rather than a preparation to adapt into an existing system, in my opinion the school has managed to carve itself a separate niche in the field of education.
Like any system, some students manage to engage itself completely with everything the school has to offer and thus thrive in such a system. Unfortunately, there are some who do not use the opportunities that the school provides its students and thus waste their time at the school. As one of my teachers once put it, “Some students come and go and look back at this place as a school. Some, however, transform their time here into so much more.” Perhaps my only regret on completing my schooling is that I wish that I had made better use of the opportunities granted to me.
Though the school is curtailed by academic constraints of syllabus, curriculum and examinations, wherever possible it does try and allow the student to have his or own space to think, grow and learn. As a Chinese proverb goes, “Tell me and I’ll forget; show me and I may remember; involve and I’ll understand,” and that was how I was taught.