Rishi Valley Rural Education Project

Rishi Valley Education Center, Andhra Pradesh, India

Prasad Kaipa, The Mithya Institute for Learning
268 E. Hamilton Ave. Suite D, Campbell, CA 95008-0239

Table of Contents


Rishi Valley Education Center is located in a chronic drought area, in the rural interior of South India. The population consists of marginal farmers and shepherds. The nearest city is Bangalore, about 120 miles away. Our location in a degraded landscape has brought to the people at Rishi Valley the challenge of a long-range agenda for regeneration through education.

At the center of our program is the typical one-room village school that serves most of India's largely rural population. Situated in tree-filled plots that have been landscaped to conserve water and prevent erosion, each school is meant to be a resource center for the village. Our sixteen satellite schools are equipped with a field-tested elementary education kit. A teacher training program, which enables local youth to become competent teachers, completes the picture.

Our work has recently been described in Robert Kaplan's influential book 'Ends of the Earth: A Journey at the Dawn of the 21st Century' (Random House, 1996).

We seek funding that would help make our teacher satellite schools and out training programs financially self-sustaining. A financially secure infrastructure will enable us to extend our program, which is already available to thousands of schools in our state, to other linguistically diverse regions of India.

Our funding needs have two components:

  1. Funds for the Satellite Schools
  2. Funds for building a multi-purpose hall

  1. One thousand dollars is sufficient to meet the annual expenditure of one satellite school. Ten thousand dollars will support a satellite school in perpetuity.
  2. With thirty thousand dollars we can construct a large multipurpose hall (2300 sq ft) to complete our Teacher Training Center, which presently consists of classrooms, and accommodation for trainee teachers.

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The three main components of Rishi Valley Education Center are its Residential School, Conservation Program, and Rural Education Center, which cooperate on a network of activities in pursuit of our main institutional goals of education and conservation work.

Residential School

Rishi Valley School is widely regarded as one of the leading residential schools in India. Among its forty-five highly qualified staff members, some have taught in universities, twelve have PhD's, and most of the others have advanced degrees in their subjects. Students are chosen from a large pool of candidates, on the basis of character, talent and academic ability. Facilities for the staff and students are simple but well maintained.

Conservation Work

Our three-hundred acre grounds were barren when the school began. Decades of reforestation and water conservation efforts have restored abundant green cover all over the campus and beyond, and have regenerated one hundred and fifty acres of a once barren hillside behind the campus. With the help of private donations and government subsidies, solar panels and a biogas plant were installed to minimize our use of firewood. Our water conservation efforts, which include percolation tanks and small check dams, have succeeded in raising the water level in village wells for miles around. Our nurseries raise nearly one hundred thousand saplings annually for free distribution to local villagers. A scheme is also underway to identify and cultivate traditional medicinal plants and train villagers in their use to treat common ailments. Our satellite schools participate in all these efforts directly and serve as resource centers for the transfer of knowledge and skills. These programs are changing our landscape and contributing to improved prospects for our disadvantaged neighbors.

Rural Education

More than twenty years ago this unit was set up to provide free basic education, nutrition and health care for children from two or three local villages. Over the past eight years, under the guidance of two dynamic young co-directors, the Rural Education Center has been reaching out to a wider base of disadvantaged children: at first by establishing a network of "Satellite Schools" in villages scattered throughout the surrounding countryside, and then by evolving a comprehensive education program based on its experience within those schools. More recently a vocational training facility has been set up where young adults can acquire locally employable skills in typing, carpentry and tailoring. This facility was sponsored by a capital grant from ICICI (Industrial Credit and Investment Corporation of India).

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Rural Education Program

'Rishivanam', our central rural facility, has been run as a day school our campus for more than twenty years. It has become a model school, with one hundred children in vertically grouped classes up to standard VII and a rich program in crafts, music, athletics and puppetry in addition to its academic program. Many students continue their education through high school and beyond; some have returned to become teachers in our village schools.

Satellite Schools

Our Satellite School program began eight years ago with one school, 'Valmikivanam,' in a small off-road village several kilometers from the campus. The success of this experiment Ä which to some extent revitalized the whole village Ä persuaded the Education Secretary of the Central Government to support one or more new Satellite schools each year during the term of the grant. Sixteen schools have been constructed to date, and our target is twenty schools, the maximum number we can sustain and administer.

Each village provides land for its Satellite School, and the community gives whatever help it can in constructing a rustic building on the site, with one classroom and a storage space for teaching materials. The grounds are landscaped for water conservation and surrounded with trees to create an hospitable atmosphere for learning. Classes are "vertically grouped," with children of various ages and abilities sitting together to study one or several subjects individually or In co-operative learning groups. Children learn from study cards which the teacher has made by hand as part of his or her training course; and the teacher guides them through the material.

Satellite Schools serve as resource centers for their villages, for example by offering adult education classes at night. Literacy can spread throughout the village as adults and working children use the same facilities and materials for their own basic education. Community participation extends to landscaping the school grounds and cultivating trees and plants that provide fuel, fodder, fruit and medicinal herbs for common use. This mixture of conservation and education taps into deep traditional associations between learning and forests, which benefit the whole village. To revive these ancient associations, each of our rural schools carries a Sanskrit name with the suffix 'vanam', meaning 'grove'.

Teacher Training Program

Our training program began as a course for new teachers in our Satellite Schools. Local youth with minimal education learned how to handle children of mixed ages and varied abilities in a vertically grouped, one room school. During this course each teacher made a collection of study cards and educational games to equip the school where he or she would teach -- materials which gradually evolved into our Education Kit. The Language component of the Education Kit was published in 1995, and is currently being used by a thousand schools in Andhra Pradesh. The Kit is currently being adapted in a dialect of Telugu for use in tribal schools.

Our training program is currently active in three major areas: for independent NGO schools in Andhra Pradesh; for the Integrated Tribal Development Authority of Andhra Pradesh; and for newly established Government projects under DPEP and UNICEF in several other regions of India: Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh and Assam.

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The Education Kit

We are ready to disseminate an education program that is comprehensive, economical, enjoyable and academically sound. This program is designed to address major problems in the Indian primary education system - whose schools have long suffered under the burden of poorly trained and demoralized teachers, inadequate textbooks, an oppressively high dropout rate and a chronic shortage of funds. Several years of experience with this program in actual classroom situations has demonstrated its potential for marked improvements in each of these problem areas.

Relevance: The Kit has been designed for broad applications in the Indian context, including situations where qualified and experienced teachers are not available. It can be used by "barefoot teachers" as well as by more experienced educators. It can be used in formal as well as non formal schools. The text is up-to-date, focused on the local context and illustrated by local artists. Interwoven into the materials are values that nurture the sense of beauty, encourage tolerance for other cultures and promote regeneration of the environment. Attractive materials enhance student interest and raise the level of achievement.

Low Cost: A large collection of study cards is much more economical than individual textbooks. Each kit contains about 1500 laminated cards to be shared by many children. The cards are designed to withstand at least three years of hard use. With maximum sharing among students in a larger village, one Kit could serve as many as one hundred children at five different grade levels in three subjects for three years, reducing the cost of educational materials to as little as one fifth of the average cost of textbooks. And there are additional long-run economies, because study cards can be replaced individually when they wear out;and revision or upgrading can be done at any time and very readily, card by card.

Simplicity: The Kit is easy for teachers to use, because it renders each step of learning maximally concrete and facilitates a "hands on "approach for both students and teachers. This also makes for more efficient teacher training and lower training costs. Evaluation procedures are provided to help teachers identify and remedy gaps in learning. This gives both student and teacher a sense of accomplishment to relieve the widespread sense of failure that has been demoralizing rural children. Our Kit offers students a positive learning experience through attractive design and extended use of puppetry, mime and humor in the local idiom.

Effectiveness: The Kit has been tested in practice with first-generation learners in our fifteen "Satellite Schools", where students regularly clear the Grade Five state examination in four years. Also it has weathered rigorous external testing. Prototypes have been used in workshops conducted for educational administrators in both Government and NGO educational groups from all over Andhra Pradesh. They have been examined by the Central Ministry for Human Resources, by the Secretary of Education for Andhra Pradesh, by Action Aid, UNICEF, and by officials of Central and State Councils for Educational Research. A recent evaluation conducted by the Education Department of the Andhra State Government demonstrated that novice teachers with three weeks of training were able to bring their students from zero to grade one level in six weeks, with an average success rate of 95% in one district.

Training: By training local youth to work in schools located in or near their own villages, it is possible to secure teachers with a sense of commitment Ä often of dedication Ä who are accountable in turn to the community.

Support System: Workshops and seminars provide natural occasions for unobtrusively monitoring the progress of schools, and for keeping teachers in touch with new developments.

Compatibility: We have carefully worked out an interface with the Andhra Pradesh State Board Curriculum, so that students finishing our program may gain entry into state schools at Grade VI to continue their education. Experience has shown that students from our program can make this transition smoothly.

Demand: We have successfully trained several hundred resource teachers for Tribal Agencies, NGO groups and UNICEF-sponsored schools in two districts of Andhra Pradesh, and to date we have received nine hundred pre-publication orders for the Telugu Language component of the Kit which is now in production.

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Training Programs and Projects

Training and Support System

We offer training courses of varying lengths, from six month programs to three day workshops. Full courses teach the art of managing vertically grouped classes and the use of songs, mime and puppetry to enhance learning. Refresher courses and workshops introduce teachers to new materials or develop specialized skills. Courses are offered to participating schools at minimal fees which cover food, lodging and materials.

Projects Undertaken

The first major project undertaken was a UNICEF sponsored program involving about 4000 children dropped out of grade I. With a 6-week training during summer about 95% of these children were able to go back to school and continue their studies at grade II level.

The success of this program led to a collaboration with the Integrated Tribal Development Authority of Andhra Pradesh on improving about 1500 tribal schools. This is a two year program involving preparation and production of materials appropriate to tribal areas, training resource persons and monitoring the program. The project is currently in progress.

Under a District Primary Education Program (DPEP), with our help Kerala and Karnataka state governments have undertaken pilot projects (funded by the World Bank) to study the feasibility of adapting our methodology and materials transcreated in their respective languages.

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Radhika Herzberger: PhD in Sanskrit and Indian Studies (University of Toronto 1982) and MA in Philosophy (Bryn Mawr 1960). She joined Rishi Valley in 1982, and is currently Director of the Rishi Valley Education Center and Trustee of its Governing Body. She has served as a consultant on education to the Government of India, including CABE and CBSE (Central Advisory Board on Education and Central Board of Secondary Examinations). Author of Bhartrhari and the Buddhists (Reidel1986), scholarly papers on Sanskrit studies, and essays on conservation and education.

A. Kumaraswamy: PhD in Physics (Indian Institute of Technology, Madras 1977). Postdoctoral Fellow, IIT Madras (1977-79); Research Scientist, Central Research Institute New Delhi (1979-82). He joined Rishi Valley in 1982, and is currently Director of Studies, Head of the Physics Department and Computer Center, Executive Secretary of the Rishi Valley Education Center and Trustee of its Governing Body.

Rama and Padmanabha Rao: Both have MA degrees in English (Kakatiya University 1984) and Postgraduate Diplomas in Education (Central Institute of Languages, Hyderabad 1985). Padmanabha Rao's academic fields are History, English and Political Science; Rama Rao's academic fields are Botany, Zoology and Chemistry. They joined Rishi Valley as teachers in 1987, and since 1988 have been jointly in charge of the Rural Education Center. Their work, in addition to Directing the Rishivanam School has included development and direction of the Satellite School program; design and testing of the Education Kit;organizing and running of Training Courses for village teachers and Workshops for UNICEF, the A.P. State Government, and voluntary organizations involved in rural education. These workshops were attended by resource persons representing hundreds of village schools, including special schools for tribal children and pilot schools from a UNICEF project to reduce the dropout rate among girl students.

M.S. Sailendran: MA, ACA, Member of the Indian Institute of Chartered Accountants. Finance Manager, Rishi Valley Education Center and Associate Co-ordinator of Rural Center Activities. In addition to these responsibilities, Mr. Sailendran serves as supervisor of the Center's Conservation and Reforestation Project, and as Co-Director of is Building Design Committee.

P.K. Srinivasan: Noted educator and author of mathematics enrichment materials, he was Senior Mathematics Teacher and Headmaster in several Madras schools until his retirement in 1981. Winner of a National Science Award 1991 for popularizing mathematics in schools. Consultant in Mathematics Education for Madras State and the Government of India. Member, International Congress on Mathematics Education; Fulbright Exchange Teacher in U.S.A.; Senior Federal Education Officer in Nigeria. Academic Secretary, Association of Mathematics Teachers in India; Director of the Ramanujan Museum in Madras. Since 1988 he has been Mathematics Consultant at Rishi Valley, instructing our teachers in his innovative teaching methods and organizing a Mathematics Resource Center, with a wide range of ingenious learning devices.

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