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Not just bricks on the wall

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With writable surfaces on the walls and clocks that have movable hands, Delhi-based outfit Vinyãs is changing the face of schools in India to facilitate better learning.

Mark Twain, American author and humorist, in his irreverent style had said “I never let my schooling interfere with my education.” Preeti and Kabir Vajpeyi, founders of the Delhi-based outfit Vinyãs — centre for architectural research and design established in 1994 — seem to have taken a cue from this maxim and are striving to make schools a place where children actually learn.

To this end the architect couple floated the concept of BaLA (Building as Learning Aid) in 2001.

“We work in the development sector — with governments and NGOs. Schools following the BaLA philosophy are re-designed to facilitate education in existing government or private schools, typically elementary schools from grade one to eight. They are brighter and more colourful,” says Kabir Vajpeyi.

The concept of BaLA emphasises on an innovative atmosphere. At the core, it assumes that the architecture of a school can be a resource for the teaching and learning process.

For instance, the entrance doors of classrooms in such a school are protractor-shaped, with angles aligned with the swing of the door helping students learn geometry better. The window grilles are made of English alphabets. Walls have writable surfaces on them; clocks are constructed on walls with movable hands for children to learn how to tell time and there are scales printed on children’s desk giving them an accessible yardstick to comprehend the concept of measurement.

BaLA schools are typically funded by the government directly, some times by the Government of India or by the states themselves. “For the government-run education programmes, especially under SSA (Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan), there are various examples of planning the funds allocation for BaLA, depending upon the level of intervention, administrative and political will and the seriousness of engagement. Broadly, just as the BaLA concept is interdisciplinary, the funding for the intervention can also be interdisciplinary — i.e. the funds can come from the budget-heads of different disciplines or schemes,” explains Kabir.

BaLA has been implemented by SSA Karnataka (about 10,000 schools with about 15,000 classrooms), Himachal Pradesh from 2005-06 onwards (for more than 1,200 schools). In SSA Gujarat, for each two new classrooms in a school an amount of Rs 40,000 was approved towards BaLA from 2006-07 onwards.

Teachers and principals of BaLA schools point out that there is an increase in enrolment and retention of children. The concept has become so successful that some parents have even shifted their children from private schools to government-run BaLA schools.

BaLA was first implemented by Karnataka in 2005. Followed by Jammu & Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Punjab, Delhi, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Orissa, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal. Vinyãs has successfully run this concept in close to eight to ten private schools in Bengal, UP, Bihar and Punjab too.

So, how does Vinyãs take this concept to other states? “We do not pitch directly. We work on demand. Motivation follows when they see the work and its impact in other states. Since BaLA as a concept is interdisciplinary — it requires a lateral way of thinking even at the level of the government. If an interested state is stuck, we guide and suggest them to study how it has been done elsewhere. Only then, when they are fully convinced and motivated enough do we get on-board. Else, we do not have the time or resources to run after them,” says Kabir.

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