The CMS Lower Primary School in Muhamma, a town in the Alappuzha district of Kerala, has earned several awards from the state government and other organizations for its spectacular efforts in the field of education.
The long list includes awards such as ‘The Best Outbound Programmes’, ‘Innovative Learning Techniques,’ and the state award for ‘The Best Teacher’ and ‘The Best Scoutmaster’.
However, 15 years ago, things couldn’t have been more different.
With many of the students and teachers drifting to private schools nearby, the school was on the verge of shutting down. The authorities and panchayat members had given up and decided to close down the building and use the land for other government purposes.
But when a handful of parents and teachers of the school came together and set up a ‘school farm’ things started to turn around. From a meagre 197 students, today the school strength is 700!
Jolly Thomas has been a teacher at this school for almost 15 years now and is proud to say that she is thrilled to see how far it has come. “I had joined the school at its worst stage and to be part of the team that brought it back to life is truly honourable,” she says.
“The concept of a school farm came to our minds because we wanted to offer something that private schools weren’t focussing on. It was something we’ve all grown up with, and at the same time it was something that our children were losing out on,” she adds.
With help from the Rotary club and the Krishi Bhavan, the school put together a farm which is now home to a variety of flowers, vegetables, fruits, wheat and even rice!
A school farm in Kerala that provides to the entire village
When the final bell rings, the students at this primary school do not rush home—instead, they rush to the flourishing school farm.
“They the farm, and get on with their duties. Be it plucking weeds, watering the plants or even planting a new one, the students truly enjoy getting some soil on their hands!” adds Jolly.
The entire student community is divided into two groups, with ten teachers, to assist each group. The teachers assign the students small tasks on the farm and overlook the entire process.
The farm grows a range of vegetables like cabbage, cauliflower, carrot, bitter gourd, spinach, snake gourd, beans etc. along with flowers that are used to make pesticides and fertilizers for the farm.
“We’ve also started cultivating rice and wheat so that the students get a better understanding of the process behind it. The age range of our students is between 5 to 10, and we aim to give the best kind of learning to them over those years. For instance, for the tiny tots, we set up quizzes and competitions on the farm where they’ll have to name the maximum number of plants. Such activities will give them a better understanding of the plants around them, and it’ll stay with them for life,” explains Jolly.
Along with the teachers, the parents of these students also play a massive role in the sustenance of the farm.
“Once the children leave school, the parents come to visit after work. While some of them get involved in the physical labour, others provide us with the necessary compost and cow-dung to fertilize the soil. It’s amazing to see this entire community functioning as a family!” says Jolly.
Although the school farm started as a way to get the students to familiarize themselves with farming, today, the harvest is bountiful enough to cover the needs of the school, with lots more leftover.
“Our produce takes care of the students’ lunch, but most of the time we have enough to give out to the parents and the nearby market,” Jolly explains.
When asked about expanding the farm, Jolly laughs and says, “We’ve used up all our space for growing these plants, and we’ve also established a bio-gas plant. There’s no more space left!”
Innovative Learning Techniques
Besides the farm, the school pays a lot of attention to other learning techniques. Recently they came up with an initiative called ‘Open Exams’ where the parents attend the exams instead of the students.
“We began this initiative so that the parents get a better understanding of the curriculum and can easily help the children out with their homework,” Jolly explains.
“We also have other initiatives for parents like ‘Ammayodoppam’ where we encourage stay-at-home mothers to attend one class along with the students so that they can understand the teaching styles adopted by the school and appreciate the efforts that go into it,” Jolly adds.
The school also releases a yearbook at the end of each academic year, but unlike other school yearbooks, this one includes articles, stories and pictures from not just the students but their parents as well.
“There’s no turning back for the school now. I have three more years before I retire and I hope to make the most of it because for me this has been one of the biggest achievements in my life,” Jolly says.
(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)