I remember waking up before dawn in one of the home-hostels at the Centre For Learning (CFL) in the coolness of a rural Bangalore winter and going for a walk through the 20 acre campus. Then, walking out through its back gate and climbing up to a rock outcrop nearby with a view of the reserve forest behind the school and watching the spreading morning light slowly uncover the beauty of the landscape.
Another time, amidst the bustle and chaos of the city market, I boarded the clattering bus that for two hours showed me a loud mindless movie before I got off at the village where the silence began to settle on me with the noise of the bus receding in the background. As I walked the half kilometer to the school, the silence and peace of the rural landscape grew and enveloped me and I got a glimpse of the calm that must also be, everyday, invisibly, shaping the students and teachers at CFL.
Coming back into the city in one of the two school buses that evening, I sat with Venkatesh, an ex-student, who now teaches English at CFL. He told me that after the bus started and till it crossed a certain point they had ‘quiet time’ and we could talk after that. The bus had children of all ages and as it left the campus, I saw them falling silent, even the youngest ones, almost as if someone had turned off a switch. In ten minutes as the bus crossed some milestone that was too small for me to notice, the children were talking again.
Even on a casual acquaintanceship, CFL creates lasting memories.
This memory-making capacity, this intense thing about CFL may be because it is part-boarding- the children staying back on campus on Mondays and Wednesdays, and the teachers being fully available through the week. The hostels are small and homelike, each with 3-4 large rooms being shared by around 20 children and with two teachers as home-in-charges. The school is small enough for every teacher to know every child’s personal story, and the time spent together is long enough to form deep bonds. Nagini, who teaches junior school and has worked in other unconventional schools feels that the process of selection at CFL, where a prospective teacher or student spends time in the school before joining, makes the community more aligned.
CFL has no principal or management and the school is run by the teachers. At CFL, this is not a cliché and what it means is that everything related to the school needs to go through by consensus and not by diktat. Honouring 15 different points of view in a discussion takes a lot of time and the Friday dialogues the teachers have about school matters usually last four hours. The great thing, of course, is that decisions taken with slow debate are more robust and lead to less stress in the long run.
I hope that in these impressions I was able to convey the uniqueness of this gentle and effective learning space. And we haven’t even started talking academics. I suspect, however, that at CFL it may not be too much of a problem. Like the Tata Steel ad that says – ‘We also make steel’, the CFL website says – ‘We also do academics’. I am sure they do.
Been around for: 25 years
Number of teachers/staff: 15-20
Number of children: 72
Classes handled: 1 to 12
Approximate fees per child: Fees are discussed only after the child gets admission. So, fees are not important in the CFL scheme of things. In fact, whenever parents ask, the children are given scholarships with no limit on the amount or numbers of scholarships.
USP: Semi-boarding with children staying on campus 2 nights every week.
Location: Varadenahalli village 40 km from Bangalore.
The author got his degree from IIT Kharagpur in 1988 and is currently a Wipro Education Fellow. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.