Why Abhyasa Vidyalayam in Vijayawada is the very definition of wholesome learning
All smiles: Students holding up their stick puppets which they made at school | (Pic: RVK Rao)
You know how they say that the days you spend in school are the best days of your life? But even these happy memories have the chance of being marred by flashbacks of exam stress, being weighed down by not only heavy school bags, but even the homework that comes with it. After hearing the story of Abhyasa Vidyalayam, you'll be assured, just like we are, that the students of this school will only carry warm memories of school days in their hearts.
Some of the students from the school are now studying in IIIT-Hyderabad, TISS, NID and NIFT, among other prestigious institutions
So, what's so special about Abhyasa Vidyalayam? Imagine a school which doesn't require you to wear ties, socks and black shoes, (“who needs those in a tropical climate like in South India,” says the principal), doesn't require you to carry heavy books to and from home, has a games period every day and ensures that you indulge in at least one co-curricular activity per day? This isn't utopia we are talking about! This is how things run on a daily basis at Abhyasa Vidyalayam in Gunadala, Vijayawada. “The word 'school' was originally derived from Greek literature and it means leisure. It's so ironic, especially now, because today, no student is free,” says YV Krishna, the principal of the school, adding that, “Learning is made out to be a difficult task, while it actually comes very naturally to all of us. It just is weighed down by expectations, stress and too many books.” And that is his aim, to cut away the frills associated with learning — whether it's socks or extra homework — and present learning to students in its purest and most natural form.
All attention: The principal YV Krishna teaches an activity to enthusiastic students | (Pic: RVK Rao)
Behind the scenes
Abhyasa Vidyalayam is run by Deepa Memorial Charitable Trust and the founders of the trust are C Raghavachari and K Jotsna, who handed over the reins of the school to the current principal YV Krishna in 2013. Krishna comes with a treasure trove of experience, having started and ran a school of his own, Vidyardhi Srujana Kuteer, in 1996. “That was the time when students were spending too much time in schools, classes would run up to 8 pm and school bags were getting heavier by the day. We wanted to change that,” says the 50-year-old principal. When he came to Abhyasa Vidyalayam, several students and teachers from his old school followed him there. Now this school, which occupies 1.8 acres of land and has classes from LKG to Class X, is a true temple of learning. Where classrooms are called environments and these spaces are equipped with everything that could aid the teachers in their tasks. For example, the math environment is equipped with calendars, weighing scales, calculators and more which teachers use as their tools. “This helps break the monotony for students as otherwise, they sit in one class all-day long. Also, I strongly feel that during a class of a particular subject, students should live, breathe and feel the subject all around them,” says the principal who was born in Hyderabad and was brought up in Vijayawada. When it comes to English, they lay emphasis on fictional and non-fictional writing, so much so that all spelling mistakes are excused when children submit a story. “When students don't know the spelling of a certain word, they don't use it and that, in a way, curbs their creativity,” explains the principal and adds that there is a separate test for spellings.
They also organise guest lectures for students, wherein speakers come from diverse fields. Recently, an organic farmer with a seed bank of his own visited the school
What is most arresting about this school are the activity classes that are conducted every day. From drama, puppetry, 3D card-making and more, students are taught a wide range of activities for their overall development. “A few things need to be experienced by hand, felt at heart and conceptualised in brains. Hand, heart and brain, that circuit is very important,” says the alumnus of Regional Institute of Education, Mysuru. Apart from Andhra-specific art like Kondapalli toys (toys made of wood in Kondapalli, Krishna district) and Kolatam (also known as the stick dance), children are also exposed to as many as 260 folk songs. It is during their annual day, held towards the end of the academic year, when all this comes in handy. They have made 24-feet dragons and four-feet tall lions, choreographed their own songs, designed and made their own costumes; basically, the whole programme is a DIY affair.
What's the verdict?: A student uses weighing scales to learn concepts | (Pic: RVK Rao)
Temple of learning
All these activities and extra co-curricular are a very integral part of Abhyasa Vidyalayam, as important as academics itself. The principal and the staff have been working hard to make parents realise that all children need not be good at all subjects. To drive home this point, YV Krishna gives us the example of a Class VII student who is excellent at tinkering and yet, his score in Science doesn't really say so. “But he never lost his self-esteem. He just simply says, ‘I can't write, doesn't mean I do not know Science’,” explains the principal. And that probably sums up what this school stands for, learning for one and all, sans the one-size-fits-all formula. If I was a student of a school like this, I wouldn't want my school days to ever end, and if they did, I would always know that some of the best days of my life are behind me.
The force behind it all: Ask him how he manages to break the shackles of conventions around how a school should be run and the principal says, “When I was 21, I got an opportunity to be a Junior Telecommunications Officer. If I can leave a comfortable central government job, why can’t I take up this challenge of thinking unconventionally.” | (Pic: RVK Rao)
Some of the fun activities conducted at this school
Gusadi dance of Gonds: The Gond tribe dresses in colourful attire and dance and sing in groups. Children also learn and carry out the same
Kitchen activity: Children are taught to peel and cut vegetables. They have made jeera rice, pakodas and more at the school as a part of this activity
Drama: Students have also put up plays like Kotta Alludu (Telugu) and Aadha Raja (Hindi)
A few scenes from the school
With her hands: A student busy sculpting | (Pic: RVK Rao)
New ways to learn: Students learning math concepts by measuring water | (Pic: RVK Rao)
By the book: Students seen reading in the library | (Pic: RVK Rao)
Hold it up: Students with the puppets they made out of socks | (Pic: RVK Rao)
Gather around: Students keenly listening to their teacher during a class | (Pic: RVK Rao)
Learning by doing: Students learning about different kinds of houses by making them with cardboard | (Pic: RVK Rao)
All together: Students and staff of Abhyasa Vidyalayam | (Pic: RVK Rao)
For more on them, check on facebook.com/abhyasavidyalayam
First published by The New Indian Express (in edex) on 4 Mar. 2019