Frequently Asked Questions

WHAT EXACTLY IS CFL’S PHILOSOPHY OF EDUCATION? 

The starting point of our educational thinking is that there is a crisis in human society at multiple levels: personal, political and environmental. Personal and social problems are mirrors of each other, and are intimately connected. In other words, human needs and desires have created the social structures we live in today, and any examination of these structures or any attempt to change them must at least begin with an examination of personal, “subjective” emotional patterns.

Our basic questions are:

Is there a different way of living, both in personal and in social terms, that is not conflict ridden but essentially peaceful and whole? If so, what role does education have in this process?

In the context of these questions, our education encourages a deep learning, both from adults and children, into the nature of our daily lives and into the social processes that surround us. When we say “learning,” we don’t only mean academic or text-based learning but an inquiry into the complex daily process of life, thought and emotion.

This learning is by definition fluid and ambiguous, as it reflects the complexities of the realities that constitute our lives. Nevertheless, it has some basic features and focal points that reflect in our day and educational curricula:

Learning is about a quiet awareness of our conditioning, psychological states and daily habits. It does not mean a self-indulgent wallowing in emotion. Rather, it involves a critical alertness to our own emotional patterns and an ability to hold these lightly while relating with each other;

It is important to have spaces of solitary quiet to facilitate this process;

Awareness of nature and natural processes is an important aspect of learning;

This process of learning underlies all aspects of children’s and adults’ lives: academics, sport, family life, sexuality, religion, politics;

Learning can happen through open-ended and open-minded dialogue between individuals. The purpose of these dialogues is not to arrive at a “right” conclusion but to heighten our self-awareness;

Learning is a process of skepticism and questioning;

It is important not to allow traditional structures of hierarchy and authority to come in the way of skepticism and questioning.

We feel that the most basic learning that can happen is regarding ourselves, our conditioning, the conflicts in our minds and the social expression they have, the nature of our hopes, desires, ambitions and frustrations, and about what it means to live a fundamentally deep and peaceful life. Our education is an exploration of these questions.

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 understanding. As a society, we may have become habituated to what is essentially a very limited and fragmented approach to learning and assessment.

The question of how to assess a child is a complex one, and CFL does not claim to have a perfect solution. Our concept of assessment includes not only the child’s academic performance, but her emotional health as a whole. What we try is a very 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 and what assessment means.

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.

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 and accepted routes and goals.

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. Fees 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 fees before a child is admitted. Parents pay according to their earning capacity. In spite of being a semi-residential school, the average fee paid by a CFL parent is lower than or comparable to that of many “top” day schools in Bangalore. We have a scholarship fund for parents who feel they need financial assistance. There is considerable diversity among the parent body, which includes individuals working in NGOs, professors, architects, government officials and self-employed individuals.

It is true that CFL attracts parents from a predominantly middle and upper middle class background. However, we feel that this is not due to any class bias in our philosophy. The common perception of education is that it is a way of bettering one’s social chances through earning certification, perhaps through an emphasis on “professional” subjects such as engineering or medicine. Our approach is different: CFL is a “risk” education, because there is ultimately no guarantee about what the child will professionally do or become. This may be one reason why parents from disadvantaged backgrounds do not approach CFL as a serious educational option.

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 residential school on a 24 acre campus with a library, kitchen, hostels, around 20 adults 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. They felt this in spite of the typically low salary and social status that goes with being a teacher.

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. They should also have an educational vision beyond material rewards and social status. As long as these latter are the prevailing driving forces, CFL will remain an unviable model.

IN A COUNTRY WITH MILLIONS OF CHILDREN TO BE EDUCATED, WHY EDUCATE ONLY 70? WHY NOT THOUSANDS?

An important dimension of CFL’s education is the relationship between the teacher and the student. This relationship has many aspects that go far beyond the classroom; the teacher and student often engage in dialogues that question many fundamental aspects of life. Such discussions go on both inside and outside a classroom, where teacher and student are open enough with each other to question each others’ motives and patterns with trust and affection. Such a close and informal relationship, we feel, is only possible with small numbers. Larger numbers involve bringing in many more formal structures, and the quality of the relationship inevitably changes.

Many of the activities in school demand a quality of attention and awareness from both teachers and students. Such a demand exists because we are interested in the nature of learning and the movement of awareness, especially in the context of our own selves and relationships. However, we find that such a demand can only be intensely sustained with small numbers.

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. Fees are never a criterion in admission, and fees cover only 80% of the school’s running costs [for the first 14 years, fees 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

There is variability in all these factors and this exposes us to a fair degree of financial vulnerability.

It takes tremendous energy to keep CFL financially afloat. To the extent that society at large perceives that such models and experiments are valuable and worth supporting, CFL can be financially sustained over the long term.

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?

We perceive CFL as a risk education. There are no guarantees about where the process of questioning and exploration will take us.

However, it is obviously 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 curriculums, but these are flexibly designed and have emphases on both drill routine work as well as the child’s originality and creativity.

We feel that a truly different education lies not in structures and curriculums but in a radical process of questioning one’s relationship to the world. This is not to say that structures and curriculums are irrelevant, but merely that they cannot drive an educational vision.

IS CFL A KRISHNAMURTI SCHOOL?

Many of Krishnamurti’s questions regarding education, the self and the process of learning are vital and relevant ones 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.