- IS CFL A KRISHNAMURTI SCHOOL?
Many of Krishnamurti’s questions regarding education, the self and the process of learning are vital and directly relevant for the life of the school.
CFL is not formally a part of the Krishnamurti Foundation India [KFI], a body that is concerned with the publication and dissemination of Krishnamurti’s teachings and which is the parent body for several Krishnamurti schools in the country. However, both students and teachers have regular contact with Krishnamurti schools: through attending conferences, workshops, sport meets, cultural events and so on.
- WHY DON’T YOU HAVE TESTS AND EXAMS? IS NOT “HEALTHY COMPETITION” GOOD FOR THE CHILD’S LEARNING?
At one level, we would like children to have a humane education that does not use systematic reward and punishment to motivate them. We feel that competition, once systematically built into the child’s life, distorts the learning process and destroys the creativity and enjoyment inherent in most disciplines, academic and non-academic. Once amplified, competitive structures introduce a level of stress in a child’s life that we feel is detrimental to the child’s well being.
More importantly, we see that the “natural” human compulsion to compete and perform has much wider social implications: deprivation, inequality, a huge physical and psychological cost, and extreme imbalances of power and autonomy. Our education is interested in questioning this psychological impulse to compete, to see whether it is inevitable, to enquire into its roots and to discover whether we have an alternative way of functioning. This is hardly possible with tests and exams built into the child’s life.
- HOW CAN YOU ASSESS A CHILD WITHOUT TESTS AND EXAMS?
At the outset, it is important to recognize that the traditional model of test and exams as a means towards facilitating and motivating learning and understanding is unsatisfactory at several levels. Among other points: such a model is too narrow to encompass the depth and possibilities of learning; it fragments the child’s abilities; often it is not clear what is being tested and whether the test reflects the child’s understanding; there is an emphasis on content at the expense of learning. As a society, we may have become habituated to what is essentially a very limited, fragmented and fundamentally flawed approach to learning and assessment.
The question of how to assess a student is a complex one, and CFL does not claim to have a perfect solution. Our concept of assessment attempts to look at the child as a whole. This means looking at the following: the emotional health of the learner, attitudes to learning and work, genuine difficulties that may be encountered and, lastly, understanding, aptitude and ability in the student. What we try is a qualitative approach, based on close interaction with the child and on continuous feedback. Teachers and parents are always in close contact regarding the child’s life and learning. Such a model provides a multidimensional approach to the question of assessment.
- WITH SUCH SMALL NUMBERS (ONLY 6 TO 12 IN A CLASS AND 70 CHILDREN OVERALL), YOU MUST BE GIVING TREMENDOUS INDIVIDUALIZED ATTENTION.
Yes and no.
Small numbers do ensure that a teacher can give a child much more attention than in a conventional classroom. So, relative to other schools, the child would receive more care and feedback. However, even with small numbers, there are varying levels in a classroom; in a sense, each child is at her own level. Even in a class of eight, the teacher might have many different ability levels to guide. “Individual attention” is therefore a relative term and must be used cautiously! We are not in a situation where we have only one child in a class.
One of the dangers of the “individual attention” approach is that it makes the individual more important than the act of learning. It may be more accurate to describe CFL as being “learning centred” rather than individual centred or narrowly child centred.
- HOW DO YOUR CHILDREN FACE THE REAL WORLD? CAN THEY FIT IN?
We see a CFL education as being a basically subversive one. In other words, we would like all our children to be skeptical about the social imperatives that crowd their lives: pressures to conform and to succeed. Such a deep questioning, we feel, is the most appropriate response to the crises, both global and personal, that we face today. Obviously such a process of critical questioning cannot lead to a fixed result that guarantees security and success for the child; it may lead her in very many unconventional and non-traditional directions. CFL is not an alternative route” to the same goal of professional and financial success. We challenge our children (and ourselves) regarding socially imposed realities, accepted routes and goals and notions of success and well-being.
However, CFL does not regard itself as an isolated bubble protecting children from “reality.” Right through their schooling, children engage with social processes all around them: through projects, challenging excursions, volunteering work and much more. Our children are very much aware of the real world around them, and approach this world with a basic confidence and maturity.
This question (about children fitting into the “real world”) is often asked with regard to exams and competition. Having been brought up without structural competition, can the children cope with the intense pressure in, say, a university environment? Or in a working environment?
At a basic level, we want our children to be skeptical about this intensely competitive environment. We want them to question their own competitive urges and to see their implications, both personal and social. We don’t really want them to fit in; we would rather they question what learning is, what working in the world means, without a competitive structure driving them. We would like them to discover an inner balance that is not at the mercy of social structures.
The children do take board exams at CFL and prepare for them, and they can handle exams elsewhere as well.
- ISN’T CFL AN ELITIST SCHOOL?
Ever since its inception, CFL has consciously rejected the label of being an elitist school. We feel that any parent who is serious about alternative education and CFL must have the opportunity to become a part of this community. Parent contributions meet only about 80% of the full running costs of the school [for the first 14 years, fees only met about 60% of the running costs]. We never discuss finances before a child is admitted. Parents pay according to their earning capacity., and we have a scholarship programme with no cap on either the number or the amount of scholarships. It is true that CFL attracts parents from a predominantly middle and upper middle class background. We feel this may be a reflection of larger forces in society and the aspirations of its members rather than any bias in our philosophy or admissions process. We would like to reiterate that anybody interested in a fundamentally different approach to life and education is welcome to apply to CFL. Over the years, we have attracted some families who, while being financially disadvantaged, are nevertheless clear that they would like to be a part of this community and its philosophical journey. Given our small size, one of our limitations has been that we have not been able to pro-actively look for prospective parents from a diverse background. Another factor may be that all our parents have to be Bangalore based.
The fundamental criterion for admission to CFL is an interest in our philosophical questions, and we would not like to compromise on this.
- IS THE CFL MODEL REPLICABLE?
CFL began as a group of 8 adults and 6 children on the terrace of one of the teachers’ homes. Right now, it is a semi-residential school on a 24 acre campus with a library, kitchen and hostels, with around 20 teachers and 70 children. The journey was sustained because a group of adults felt deeply that such an education was extremely important in today’s social context. In theory there is no reason why many CFLs cannot spring up. However it requires a group of people who have a basic commitment to the idea of working together in a cooperative yet intense manner, sustained by an enquiry into their own lives and into prevailing social patterns.
- IN A COUNTRY WITH MILLIONS OF CHILDREN TO BE EDUCATED, WHY EDUCATE ONLY 70? WHY NOT THOUSANDS?
To us, it seems that there are two ways in which to address the needs of any society. The first way is to try to reach and impact as individuals as possible through one’s initiative. In education, this could translate into transmitting basic education to very large numbers. Obviously, this is important and necessary. Equally validly, we could attempt in-depth investigations that could have ramifications on the way education might be conceived at all levels. In our case, this investigation depends on our staying small. It is nonetheless a saddening fact that only a few can have a CFL education. Our impulse has been to share our ideas and learning with a wider educational circle, and to give energy and time as adults to this endeavour. We write articles, conduct workshops, give presentations, and spend a lot of time through the year with numerous visitors and organizations doing educational work in India.
In our view, there is no satisfactory answer that any single school can give to the numbers question. There are upwards of 200 million children of school-going age, between the ages of six and fourteen, in India. What is a reasonable number of students for a school to take on to make a meaningful difference? Perhaps societies have severely underestimated the actual energy and resources necessary to intelligently bring up our children. We believe that radically different, richer models of schooling are possible, if only the current debates on education widen their scope.
- GIVEN THE SMALL NUMBERS OF STUDENTS, HOW COST-EFFECTIVE/FINANCIALLY VIABLE IS THE SCHOOL?
It is important to understand that all educational institutions, whether they are government schools in India or a Harvard or Cambridge, receive financial support of some kind, either from the government or from private donors. No educational institution runs merely on the fees it collects, and CFL is no different.
We want CFL’s education to be accessible to all parents seriously interested in alternative education. The ability to pay is never a criterion in admission, and parent contributions cover only 80% of the school’s running costs [for the first 14 years, these only met about 60% of the running costs]. We meet the deficit in three ways:
with the generous support of many friends all over the world who are interested in this educational endeavour
through the interest on a corpus built up over the past twenty years
through periodic fund raising programs
The fact that CFL has been functioning for almost three decades without coming under serious financial stress gives us a few pointers. Firstly, an institution with a clear philosophical vision receives generous support and goodwill from a wide global network. Next, it is very important that an institution carefully manages its finances and resources, constantly making sure that it has not become complacent. With these in place, there is no reason why a small school is not financially viable.
- ARE YOU REALLY “NON-HIERARCHICAL”? WHAT DOES THAT MEAN, ACTUALLY?
CFL is a teacher run school. We do not have a management that dictates the direction of the school either in terms of educational philosophy or in terms of executive decision-making. We don’t have a principal or headmaster. We do have distinct areas of responsibility, but the decisions we take individually and collectively are open to question and re-evaluation.
This way of functioning has several implications. Decision making is a process of discussion, dialogue and consensus. It is a process of uncovering our assumptions and listening to each other. Without formal structures to guide our actions and relationships, we must bring a lot of energy and an open mind to our thinking about the school and its intentions as well as our relationships with each other as staff members. These have been some of the greatest challenges CFL has faced.
- IN MANY RESPECTS YOU ARE LIKE A TRADITIONAL SCHOOL; CHILDREN TAKE BOARD EXAMS, YOU HAVE A CURRICULUM AND TIMETABLE ETC. IS CFL RADICAL ENOUGH?
Perhaps we need to understand what being “truly radical” is. As long as we continue to function as separate human beings, desperately trying to survive and protect our “individuality,” we will continue to re-create society as it is. To us, being truly radical is to question and be free of our notions of selfhood in all their complex forms.
While we would like our students not to tamely fit in with social norms, we would not like them to be misfits either! We see it as a fundamental responsibility on the part of the educator to provide basic skills and certification to children. We do not make these the final and complete goal of education. We see certification in a wider context of the child’s whole life and not as a narrow means to a respectable career. We have curricula, but these are flexibly designed and have emphases on both drill routine work as well as the child’s originality and creativity.
A truly different education lies not in structures and curricula but in a radical process of questioning one’s relationship to the world. This is not to say that structures and curricula are irrelevant, but merely that they cannot drive an educational vision.