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Reach of the Rishi Valley School[continued]

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Cards, games and self-learning:

In 1984 when the Raos began to teach at the rural school that JK had established in 1976, it had nothing to distinguish itself, though because of its association with the Rishi Valley School, the poor thought it provided 'quality' education. It was not uncommon for students to walk over an hour to come to the school. Soon, however an opportunity set the Raos on the road to a discovery that is now impacting primary education in over eleven states in India and is even heard of overseas.

In 1986, the Human Resources Development [HRD] Ministry of the Government of India in New Delhi, approached the School enquiring if it would help increase the density of village schools. The task was assigned to the Raos. As they began exploring ways, they for the first time realised what ailed Indian education. The remedy for the poor completion rate of students in the education system, lay not in increasing the school numbers as the HRDMin had believed, but in making education interesting and non-threatening. Given text-books, examinations and keywords like 'pass' or 'fail', it was no surprise children were voting for schools with swift pairs of heels. The one teacher per class, one class per year system was dysfunctional because of lack of teachers or high absenteeism. Schools had to be redesigned.

There had been in the 1960s a brilliant but erratic teaching genius called David Horsburgh who had spent some years at the School. He had developed notions of free-form teaching and passage without rules. He was personally a very gifted man, 'a polymath who could teach virtually anything'. Though he had spawned many original ideas, he was far too unconventional to create systems.

Raos began to explore if they could develop learning 'packages' that would be enjoyable, valuable and replicable in the context of primary education for millions of young Indians in remote, isolated villages. Rishi Valley Institute for Educational Resources [RIVER] came into being and has been constantly evolving and fine tuning teaching ideas. Although the lead has come from Padmanabha and Rama, with active encouragement from Radhika, the tools and methods that make up the kit have emerged out of prolonged discussions, in which teachers, parents and students have participated.

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