Moving out of the classroom

The Balabalaga school in Dharwad allows students to explore their creativity, rather than depend on textbooks and a rigorous education system.

The children who attend this school don’t carry backloads of books. The objective here is for children to study in an atmosphere that is liberating and free. Though the medium of instruction is Kannada, students also learn English. We are talking about Balabalaga, an open school that functions out of the premises of library expert Prof  K S Deshpande’s home at Malamaddi in Dharwad. While students from Class I to IV study here, those from Class V to X study at another school near the Karnatak University. The classrooms are low-cost and eco-friendly. The Balabalaga school constructed on 3.5 acres of land has won a lot of appreciation from people here. The school runs under the aegis of the Balabalaga Srujanasheela Shikshana Trust, presided by Dr Sanjeev Kulkarni.

What sets this school apart from the rest is the fact that students are allowed to study in an open environment, free from the stresses and pulls of a rigorous education system.

The school was started in the year 1996. It was Sanjeev Kulkarni’s son, Chaitanya Sharief, who was the first student of the school. By the end of the mid-term, as many as 13 students joined the school.

Today, for nearly 100 students in the school, there are ten teachers. Students are allowed to explore various art forms, from learning a musical instrument to dance, to other extra-curricular activities at this school.

Till a student turns five years old, there is no compulsory teaching of the alphabet in this school.

Once a week, they are allowed to pick up books of their choice from the heaps of books available at the school. Students are then asked to enact the stories they have read by way of music, dance and role play. Naliyutta Kali or ‘learn while you play’ is the motto at this school. All teachers here are given training from time to time about how students should be taught, and given an idea of what novel teaching methods could be included as part of the training.

These teachers have undergone training at Jiddu Krishnamurthy’s The Valley School, Bangalore’s Poorna Learning Cenre and Seeta School, to introduce students to newer methods of teaching.

The school doesn’t receive any grants from the government, nor does it receive any donation from parents. The school is run by funds collected by wellwishers. There are teachers who willingly take lower salaries, and are there for the love of teaching.

Principal Prathiba explains, “The main challenge in front of us is to answer questions about why students should learn, and how. Then, of course, we need to decide what they need to learn.” The teachers here also hold discussions with psychologists, and other experts and decide on how to go about teaching children here.

The students are also in the process of bringing out a school magazine, all handwritten. Educationists from Bijapur, Belgaum, Gadag and Sirsi have all visited the school to gain insights into how to introduce an  open system of education in their regions. In fact, there are already plans to introduce a school on the lines of Balabalaga in Sirsi.  

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