This family proves that life can teach more than any formal school.
Thirty-six years ago, husband and wife Gopalakrishnan and Vijayalekshmi decided that their yet to be born children will not go to school. They themselves were school teachers and that is when they saw the limitations of a school i.e. formal education and also leaving children unprepared for everyday life.
The duo dreamed of a school environment that was near to reality which was open and democratic.
The website of this alternative school states, “In the year 1979, a young couple, fresh hand teachers just out of teacher training college, were faced with injustice and inaction everywhere they turned. They saw the keepers of justice lax in their duties and teachers who should have been models to their students involved in all sorts of debauchery. There developed in their hearts a deep-seated realization that something was wrong with the society around them. Sarang was started as a basic school by this teacher couple to provide remedial classes for academically weak children. Eventually, they realized that it is the education system that was weak in content, usefulness and adaptability rather than the children going through it. They found that the flaws of the present education system have a major role in the increasing criminalism in the present society. Ruthless standardization and competition destroy the creativity, individuality and humanity of children.”
In 1983, after leaving the job the couple started working on Sarang Hills – a school that was unlike any other. It has been active for 30 years now. Their first student was their own kid, Gautham. Gradually many children joined Sarang Hills. Some of those students were school dropouts, students from poor families, their neighbours etc. These students were introduced to each other as brothers and sisters.
Sarang Hills has only one motto – of living close to nature and experiencing from daily life. At this school, there is no uniform, no rules, no certificates and no exams.
The children instead of a blackboard started learning on a massive canvas – a barren land that the couple bought it in Attapady, near Palakkad in Kerala. After some time as this dream was not a cakewalk, many neighbours gave up the battle due to the harsh terrain and left the hills.
Sarang family stayed there only as they believed in their dream, created their own forest, built their houses using their own hands with mud, thatching grass and bamboo, started growing their own food. Today, the school is solar powered. They protected their land from soil erosion and forest fires, all the eatables were grown in the land using natural farming methods. Check dams were built, percolation pits were dug out to conserve water.
In all these activities hands and brains of the children in Sarang came along. Kids learned all the basic subjects and expressed themselves through a medium that they preferred the most and loved.
Within 15 years Sarang hills turned into a lush green forest. It is now abundant in water, birds and animals. By 1995 kids had to stop their journey in Sarang hills as the couple was running out of funds along with internal issues with their staff. Within 2 years the family had drowned themselves in debt and the school was shut down.
The couple was heartbroken, but their kids Gautham and sisters Kannaki and Unniarcha continued living the Sarang way of life.
Gautham, who did not do formal schooling says, “ I saw other children going through the pressure of school while I found myself curious to learn. When I was just 10 years old, I stayed away from home with my cousin to learn the martial art of Kalaripayattu. We were on our own, cooking our food, washing our clothes and being responsible for each other. Out of curiosity of how a radio works, I became an apprentice at a local radio shop. I cleared the amateur wireless operator’s exam at the age of 14 and became a Ham Radio Hobbyist.”
Gautham took a full-time job at an organic farming association of India in Goa using his experience from Sarang, becoming a freelancer in web development. Both his sisters wanted to learn classical dancing. Their parents moved to a town where availability of professional dancers was more.
Gautham married Anuradha an engineer, and both of them came to Sarang hills to fulfil their dream. Both of them paid the debts, building the school developing it into a rural university sharing the knowledge that the family has gathered for the last thirty years.
Today, Hiranya, the three-year-old daughter of Gautham and Anuradha learns at this school. There are around 10 students at this unique school, aged between 10-20. Their parents are daily wage workers or farmers.
You can contact them, donate or get involved here: Sarang Hills.
Preview Photo: saranghills.in