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A class apart

The new-age schools focus on innovative methods of teaching and all-round development of the students.

THE NEW-age institutions in the State have transformed the people's perception of education and schools. For parents who are willing to spend anywhere between Rs. 30,000 to Rs. 1.4 lakhs a year for the child's school education, the `posh' schools coming up in the State offer a choice wider than ever before.

These schools follow innovative methods of teaching and focus on all-round development of the students. The new-age schools offer a host of recreational facilities along with an academic curriculum of international standards.

About 24 km from the Thiruvananthapuram city, on the Thiruvananthapuram - Kollam national highway, one sees a sparkling white building nestling atop a hillock. It is not a luxury hotel but a school. The Trivandrum International School, which is in its first academic year, already has 102 students each paying up to Rs. 1 lakh a year.

This fee is for the Indian Certificate of Secondary Education (ICSE), the International General Certificate of Secondary Education (IGCSE-University of Cambridge) affiliations, air-conditioned transport, free lunch and snacks, free textbooks and note books, swimming pool, piano lessons on a British piano (brought from abroad), trekking, facilities for football, tennis, volleyball et al, in a campus set in 15 acres of landscaped land!

The school has cost its promoters well over Rs. 16 crores. George M. Thomas, president, the Trivandrum International School, is convinced he will recover the investment, albeit in the long run.

Says G. Vijayaraghavan, honorary director, Trivandrum International School, "Our aim is to provide the best possible education to children. When parents pay the fees they expect every penny's worth. We are committed to moulding a new generation of individuals who will make a success of their lives whichever career they may pursue. When parents can afford to spend, why not spend for the education of the child? After all it is education that counts most in life. The quality of education is as important as is the method of imparting it."

The best performance is expected from the teachers in this school, who are said to be the most highly paid in the city today. "Our edge over the other schools is our teachers and of course Richard Hillebrand, the headmaster, who has 20 years of experience in teaching," says Vijayaraghavan.

The school does not allow private tuitions and teachers are required to give extra time to help students who are weak in certain subjects. "The extra curricular activities are part of the regular curriculum. The school aims at the holistic and all-round development of each child. We aim to make learning fun because learning is for a lifetime. Each child should look forward to coming to the school," says Hillebrand.

Given the increase in disposable income among the State's population and the desire of the parents to give their child the best of everything, the demand for such schools will only increase. Says Susha Janardhan, mother of Swathi, "When we moved down from Delhi, we were on the lookout for a school that did not encourage students to mug up lessons. When we heard about the Trivandrum International School, and were convinced it was what we were looking for. Both my daughters are studying in it."

Imagine a school that encourages you to practice archery, swimming and horse riding, one that has air-conditioned classrooms and hostel. The Oxford School, Kollam, which is into its fifth year of functioning, has 230 students in the L.K.G. to standard nine. The annual fee is Rs. 30,000. A sum of over Rs. 4 crores has been spent on building the infrastructure, says the principal, T. K. Sharafudeen. The thrust, says Sharafudeen, is on "stress-free" education. "We offer computer-aided education. We do not give homework to the students. The management has decided to impart computer education to student from the nearby schools," he says.

Despite such claims, it is a known fact that `upmarket' schools require a good deal of investment and it is economics that matters at the end of the day.

At present though, the `upmarket' schools are targetted at the elite alone.

There are more schools coming up like The Gurukul school, at Mukkolakal, run by Asha Panicker, which follows the ICSE and IGCSE syllabus. The school, which began functioning from a rented building seven months ago, has over 40 students. What motivated her to start The Gurukul? "If the institution collects a certain fee, the parents and students have the right to demand their money's worth. I've invested a lot of money, but it is the sheer happiness of being with kids that prompted me to set up the school. We take our responsibilities seriously." The students of the school are taken to the swimming pool of the District Tourism Promotion Council (DTPC) at Akkulam every week. "We also have cooking classes. The children enjoy these classes the most," says Asha.

The school focuses on personality development of the students.

Ambika Mohan, English lecturer at the Kariavattom women's college, points out, "The Chempaka School, where my younger son studies, follows an innovative style of teaching. The teachers make the students do plenty of creative work. The students and teachers have a good rapport and the teachers inculcate leadership qualities in the students."

Criticisms levelled against schools that veer off from the examination oriented- `spoon-feeding'-curriculum are many: the students in such schools are oblivious of the lives of those who live in poverty, they tend to take everything in life for granted, have no value for money, the teachers are more interested in the salary and not in teaching. The list of criticism is endless.

Observes Brigadier retd. P. Sadasivan, educationist, "Nothing but good education can sustain a school. At present, it is not social service that drives most schools, it is profit. It is time that we evaluated the educational system in Kerala and corrected the drawbacks. The way schools implement the curriculum and their commitment to imparting knowledge and values is the key to quality education. It is not the eclectic interiors of the school building that matter, but the dedication of the staff and the support of the parents. Children should grow up into responsible adults regardless of the kind of schools they study in."

Adds Cuckoo Vinod of Ambrosia, "Every parent wants the child to study in the best schools. Why grudge us our share of dreams?" Both her children are students of the Trivandrum International School.

As of now both the parents and children are happy with the new-age schools, notwithstanding the exorbitant fee. If these schools succeed in paving the way for institutions that pay equal attention to academics and extra curricular activities, then it augurs well for the children in the city.


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