The book Kaanaga Palli Kadithangal (translated as Letters from a Forest School) is a compilation of letters written by Chittaranjan Das, founder of Kaangaga Palli (forest school), to a newspaper. The reading and review of this book was facilitated by two teachers, namely Ms Varalakshmi from Government Primary School (GPS) Nettapaakam and Mr Sharma from GPS Karayamputhur.
Summary of the Session
Ms Varalaskhmi started the session by discussing the book’s title. She observed that this book is about a school run based on the principles of Aadhara Kalvi (Nai Talim), aiming to prepare students to live a sustainable life in society.
In the 1950s, Chittaranjan Das started a residential school inside a remote forest in Odisha. The school’s location was deemed quite peculiar, given that its teachers and students could see tiger footprints within 300-feet radius of the school campus, and they could hear vibrant sounds of wild animals at night. The author, Chittaranjan Das, had travelled extensively around the globe, visiting countries such as Russia, Finland, Israel, and America, to understand the different education systems functioning in these countries.
Ms Varalakshmi further stated that Chittaranjan Das is regarded as an educationist of the world. The students enrolled in his unique school were expected to engage in diary writing every day. They would note down each aspect of their daily activities, mentioning minute details, for instance, if their teacher spoke harshly to them and so on. This exercise helped the teachers bring about a positive change in themselves, and not just in their teaching methods. Apart from diary writing, the pupils of this school nurtured a habit of writing secret letters, exchanged between students and teachers.
Once, Chittaranjan Das had asked his students to ponder why they should celebrate Christmas since they were not Christians. After a few days of the Christmas celebration, a student wrote, ‘If we (human beings) don’t listen to all great deities, know their principles, and read all holy works, wouldn’t our religious lives be incomplete?’ When the student’s teacher read those stirring words, he felt very satisfied, since he experienced a sense of achievement as a good teacher.
All the students and teachers of this school attended several educational debates and meetings focused on education. Moreover, they performed manual labour, which is a fundamental tenet of Aadhara Kalvi. Once, one of school students wrote in his diary that the teachers accompanied them in classrooms and playgrounds during school hours but not when they planted trees or watered them during their fieldwork hours. After the student questioned this practice, all the teachers decided to work in the fields along with their students.
In addition, the teachers of this school felt that all these letters should be read to the students, since these letters were so fruitful. Significantly, even Chittaranjan Das used to write letters to all his students. In Denmark, students had to perform household work, which was also a part of the education system, as it made the students independent by encouraging them to complete their chores on their own. This practice was also promoted in Chittaranjan Das’ school in Odisha.
The school’s library had Hindi, Oriya, and Bengali books. The students were indirectly encouraged to access the library by ranking them according to the number of books they read. The teachers also ensured that each student read books in all three languages. Further, Chittaranjan Das insisted that school policies need to be developed in collaboration with the teachers and students alike.
Following this discussion, Mr Sharma noted that through such a school, Chittaranjan Das attempted to inculcate Gandhian education principles. However, his school faced several difficulties such as teachers joining and leaving within a short period and water scarcity.
Muneetra, one of the school students, wrote a report following their participation in Sarvodaya, an educational meet organised by Sarvodaya Sangam at Puri, which held extensive discussions on education and rural empowerment. The school’s students participated in organising the said event. Doing so, Muneetra felt very satisfied, since she believed she had actively contributed to the development of society. Earlier, she used to think that social work was not useful and a waste of time. However, her perspective changed after joining this school. Moreover, Muneetra noted that she needed to engage more in physical work. The sole satisfaction of this endeavour was the way the students approached the community and their peers.
In this school, the students’ evaluation was formally performed once in a year, and there was no time constraint for the same. Importantly, their tests also included prayer, group work, way to approach other students, among others.
Mr Sharma observed that he liked the eight letter the most, wherein a student wrote about the flood in Erasama, Odisha. The student alleged that government officials were not ready to help the people in need. Thus, the school students resolved to help them and supported in fundraising, food distribution, and rescue. After this rescue operation, one of the students noted that natural calamities bring people together. The differences with respect to wealth dissolves, and everyone becomes the same. In the context of the Erasama flood, the student further remarked that we should welcome sufferings that lead to equality.
This unique school in Odisha considers that such learning methods are highly meaningful to them. The notion of Aadhara Kalvi aims to eradicate the stereotypical thought that people who do not perform physical labour are more intelligent than others who do.
To know more about this book, please visit our Educational Resource Centres (ERC).
Compiled by Arunpandian, Azim Premji Foundation, Puducherry.
Term: Term 2