Founded in 1986 as a protest against the “oppressive, rote-centred and examination-obsessed” traditional school system, Study Hall has matured into one of Lucknow’s most respected primary-secondaries
In Uttar Pradesh — India’s most populous (166 million) state — it’s a rare island of academic excellence. Founded in 1986 in a single classroom with six students, over the past two decades, Study Hall has grown into one of Lucknow’s most well-respected CBSE affiliated day schools with 1,550 students (including 850 girl children) tutored by 94 teachers. Spread over a 1.5-acre campus in the city’s upscale Gomti Nagar suburb, the school was founded by Urvashi Sahni, an alumna of Lucknow University who was awarded a Ph D in English language and literacy from the University of California, Berkeley, USA, in 1994. She promoted Study Hall as a protest against the traditional school system, which she found “oppressive, rote-centred and examination obsessed”.
“Children are unique, powerful and important persons, worthy of our respect. They have a right to enjoy their childhood, which is an important phase of their lives and deserves to be understood respectfully rather than treated simply as a preparation for adulthood. This is the key ethical and organising principle around which everything in our school is structured,” she says.
According to Sahni, the disting-uishing feature of Study Hall which sets it apart from other K-12 institutions, is that students filter classroom lessons through the prism of larger societal issues such as poverty, caste, gender, religion and communalism. Thus a maths lesson on ratio and proportion might require students to visit a slum to size up shanties, which will then be compared to their own homes to calculate variations in living spaces of differentiated socio-economic groups. “There is extensive use of project-led pedagogies, and special attention is paid to language development,” says Sahni.
Nevertheless, despite this almost quarter century old school’s different take on teaching-learning, students excel in traditional board exams. In the 2009 CBSE class X pan-India exam, the top two positions in Lucknow were bagged by Study Hall students, with the school’s 105 students who wrote the exam averaging a healthy 76.8 percent. Students also feature regularly in the merit list of the annual National Science Talent Search Exam conducted by NCERT, Delhi.
“There’s an unfortunate tendency in Indian education to over-spoil children and under-estimate their capacity to think deeply. Consequently, school education has been reduced to mere transfer of information. But at Study Hall we are constantly pushing their limits. Our teachers are encouraged to think about and discuss larger issues, and assume that the problems of the world are their troubles too. As for exams, we tell students that they should be regarded as a game which needs to be mastered,” says Sahni.
The school management’s calculated strategy of de-emphasising academics and information absorption is reflected in its institutional attitude towards testing and assessment. “All testing and evaluation is done with the sole motive of helping children learn better and not with the objective of passing judgement. We believe our students are with us to learn and to be helped in learning, not to perform and be judged. Learning is too complex a process to be gauged adequately by marks and grades. Moreover in most schools, grades and marks occupy disproportionate importance in the minds of children, parents and teachers, perverting the learning endeavour and becoming the end towards which learning is directed. Therefore we have abandoned the minimalistic and often humiliating practice of grading, ranking or marking in our classrooms. Exams are not introduced until class VIII,” says Kevin Dacosta, an alumnus of Allahabad University who served as headmaster of Bishop’s School, Pune and Army School, Bareilly prior to coming aboard as principal of Study Hall last year.
Given Study Hall’s pronounced bias in favour of balanced, holistic education with heavy emphasis on beyond-the-syllabus co-curricular education, the school’s compact campus offers a cheerful child-friendly learning environment. “The pervasive practice of detaining children who don’t do well in classes IX and XI is not followed in Study Hall. At the same time we ensure that every student receives personal attention by limiting the strength of each class to 30 children,” says Dacosta.
Moreover in keeping with its liberal tradition, this class I-XII school welcomes children with physical and mental challenges including those with autism and Down’s Syndrome, under a programme tagged ‘Dosti’. Currently the school has 47 challenged children who participate in music, art and sports activities with mainstream children, while receiving their academic instruction from the school’s nine specially trained instructors. In addition, a ‘plus section’ for slow learners enables teachers to identify their specific problems and work on them accordingly.
In Uttar Pradesh, which in terms of education infrastructure, pedagogies and attainment is one of India’s most backward states, Study Hall’s reputation as a primary-secondary institution dispensing unusually liberal education has grown since the school was promoted 23 years ago. This is reflected in the heavy demand for admissions. Every year the school receives almost twice the number of applications for its admission vacancies.
Against the backdrop of rising demand for liberal, child-centric primary-secondary education, Sahni now wants to expand the institution to include a teachers’ training college. Simultan-eously she is drawing up plans to expand and replicate the Study Hall Foundation, which runs a school for 430 socio-economically underprivileged girls on the Study Hall campus besides managing a class I-XII school in a village near Lucknow.
Admission & fees
Study Hall is a co-educational class I-XII day school affiliated with the Delhi-based Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE). It admits children (six years plus) into class I through personal interviews. For other classes admissions are against vacancies. Admission into class XI is based on an aptitude test and personal interview.
Tuition fees: Rs.1,800-2,600 per month
For further information contact the Principal, Study Hall, Vipul Jhand II, Gomti Nagar, Lucknow 226010. Tel: 91 0522 2300977/ 2302803; e-mail: email@example.com; website: www.studyhallfoundation.org
Puja Awasthi (Lucknow)