The set of innovations can be summarised as follows:
--The three major streams of learning are to be language, mathematics and environmental studies, materials for learning which are to be drawn from familar objects and experiences.
--Village schools shall be one large undivided room with children of all ages sitting, interacting and learning much as children do in large families.
--There shall be just one teacher per school, not so much for 'teaching' as it is familiarly understood, as for explaining, helping, suggesting and initiating when required.
--Art, crafts, music, dance, theatre are all to be fun tailored to convey information, resulting in learning. Fun alone as an activity gains nothing for the student.
--Text books are to be deconstructed and their usable content incorporated into sturdy, colourful cards. These cards are in turn arranged in units and coded with colours and or icons.
--Children are free to learn at their own speed and evaluate their own progress. Completion of each unit of cards takes them to a milestone and looking up a chart on the wall, they know the next unit they must tackle.
--Each school room is to have both order and licence. Learning materials, musical instruments, toys and theatre props are carefully stowed away but space is available for unrestricted display of all student creations. The school must also emerge as the village centre, model garden, showcase of environmental ideas, adult literacy centre and an expression of community pride.
--Finally, all the needs of a village school should be capable of being packed compactly, so that the "School in a Box" may be easily transported by a teacher. Thus given just any suitable room, a primary school can be started overnight, anywhere by a trained teacher.
That in brief is the RIVER method of education. But behind that short list, lies 15 years of labour and experimentation. In 1986, the first satellite school, named Valmikivanam started in Eguvaboyapalle, a village of woodsmen. Rama recalls preparing the cards and boxes for the school: "Padmanabha, myself and our small son camped in Chennai for months together, shuttling between printers and stationers." They thought up the idea of carving alphabets out of thick sheet rubber used to make slipper soles. "The serrations tell the children which side goes down. They interact with the shape, investigate it and internalise it and in quick time, learn its use. The tactile connection jogs their recall," she says. They took the idea further: they make mothers fret-saw the letters and be paid for the work. This provokes their own learning and involvement. Children also listen to adults' remembered tales which are converted into class materials. As part of environmental studies, students troop out and survey the land around them. They discuss reasons why things are so, what plants and their produce do. They observe animals, insects and birds. They make charts to display their understanding. They learn mathematics in Metric Melas, a fete in which the whole village participates. Noses, heights and arms are measured in centimetres. Villagers are weighed in kilos and sorted to declare the heaviest and the lightest. Children run snack stalls and keep written accounts which are analysed and summarised. How much more immediate can 'education' get?