Visibly different

Arun Elassery

Shishuvan is a large school with over a thousand students in a very busy part of Mumbai. It looks like any other bustling ‘mainstream’ school when you walk in. Look a little closer and the differences start becoming visible. Boys and girls both wear the same uniform – a very comfortable looking style of yellow half-sleeved kurta and green pants. Dig a little deeper and you discover that the uniform is made of khadi that is spun at a women’s cooperative.

About the uniform, the Shishuvan website says:
The pant and kurta are worn by boys and girls, establishing their status as a STUDENT rather than emphasizing their gender and giving the girls the same sense of freedom as the boys in their ability to sit, exercise, run and climb.

The design provides maximum coverage to the body, keeping away harsh sunlight, mosquitoes, and lending itself to rural field visits wherein children walk through grass. Over time, there develops a certain comfort with looking and feeling Indian.

I thought that was pretty remarkable.

They were having a busy day, but I got to speak to Neha Chheda the director of the school and Shubhadra Shenoy the principal. What I will do now is to share some of the things they told me about the structure of the school and its uniqueness.

Preschool-Nursery, Junior KG and Senior KG – The children learn by going outside the classroom or by bringing the outside into the classroom. The class teacher moves up with her children.

Primary-Standards I to IV – The children learn through hands-on activities. The same teacher moves up with her class.

Middle school-Standards V to VII – All children become part of the school council where they get a voice to discuss and solve daily issues. The children also create their own syllabus and track their learning. The class teacher spends the full day with her class.

High school-Standards VIII to X – The children participate in the school parliament where they work with their teachers to actually run the school. The 10 ministries include such intriguing ones as Law and Justice, Labour and External Affairs. A vocational program in the high school lets children decide what they want to do later in life.

Extending from their uniform the school also has a khadi curriculum. The children learn to understand and appreciate the skilled effort that has gone into the production of the khadi in their uniform by learning spinning and weaving.

Most alternative schools consciously limit their size to not dilute their difference. The logic goes that the larger the school the larger the effort on managing it and hence lesser the focus on the essentials of education. Shishuvan is a wonderful example of how a large school can stick to its principles and practices and not get drowned in its bureaucracy. And from what I saw on my visit, they have a good thing going.

Quick facts

Name of school: Shishuvan
Been around for: 15 years
Number of children: 1600
Classes handled: 1 to 12
USP: Boys and girls wear a similar khadi dress and the school has a khadi curriculum
Location: Matunga, Mumbai

The author got his degree from IIT Kharagpur in 1988. This article has been written under a Wipro education fellowship. He can be reached at

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