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Learning in the wilderness

SUSAN MUTHALALY

Geoffery Fisher, an experienced educationist, at present teaching at the Kodai International School, shares his ideas and ideals with Education Plus.

Geoffrey Fisher has been educating children across five continents with the substantial genealogy of two generations of headmasters behind him. So, naturally, he was looking for a place that would make sense of his career and background.

Tamil Nadu's Kodaikanal International School (KIS), sandwiched between North American, international culture and the small town Kodi culture, is what he opted for.

Ruddy-cheeked and cheery, he'd look more at home on a calendar advertising Australia's excellent Outback. But already, with the practised eye of a cosmopolitan, Mr. Fisher has sized up the potential of KIS and is planning to create Kodaikkanal's first private museum, tracking the history of the southern hill station through its extensive private document collection.

KIS follows the International Baccalaureate programme, which is not content driven, but rather calls on the student's application skills, says Mr. Fisher. The school was established as an American boarding school for missionary children in India, and is now truly international, with half of the population consisting of about 40 different nationalities. The teachers themselves come from 27 different countries.

Due to this international nature of the school, perhaps, and also due to the board of education they follow, KIS follows a completely different method of teaching from the average Indian school. "I'm not saying the Indian way of teaching is wrong," adds Mr. Fisher diplomatically. "The Indian system of education teaches to one sort — students with a phenomenal memory and reproducing power." As for KIS — "It's more about problem-solving than retention," he says.

With his experiences as an educationist in Australia, the U.K., Cairo and Argentina, Mr. Fisher has enough perspective to know what each type of education needs.

He says the Indian boards structures are still based on the British board structures, a reminder of their colonial roots. "I'm not an advocate of the British sense of constantly examining kids," he says. For instance, he sees no point in assessing children with public examinations in class X, as the point is to see that they all get transfers up to class XII and then get tested for college.

He says India is not alone though, as most curriculum throughout the world stress on retention, with very little attention to acquiring skills for the workplace. To prove this point, he asks you how much of the Maths and Science you learnt in school applies to your everyday life. He believes that all subjects should be inter-related and made relevant and says, "for education to be truly effective, students must take their classroom learning and apply it."

According to Mr. Fisher, "Eco Education" bridges the gap between theoretical and applied curriculum. Eco education to him is learning about your environment while sitting in the midst of it, taking your classes outside. "The world is playing with global warming. This is a huge environmental burden on the future," he says. The KIS campus is in wilderness and high in the hills (92 acres surrounded by forestry reserve and national parks), so it is easy to incorporate it in the curriculum. ``We have a one-semester course for year 9 built around developing environmental awareness. The science fieldwork is done in the environment."

Mr. Fisher is also in the process of creating a residential environmental research facility on the KIS wilderness campus.

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