Today I came here to introduce a unique school to you, a school that maintains very close links with Nature. But, actually speaking, the person I should introduce is Dr Ashley Mulamoottil, the founder of this school, because only a unique person can set up a unique school. Let me state just a few words about him. He is an authority on ophthalmology. He took his M. S. and M. Ch. Degrees from Moorfield’s Hospital in London; Ph. D. in Cost Accounting from IIT, Mumbai; M. B. A. in Business from Harvard University; besides M. B. A. degrees from the University of London our National Law University. His academic achievements are so many that we may wonder whether it is possible for a person to accomplish so much in 50 years. His exposure to numerous campuses inspired him to establish a school with a unique identity, and he has been maintaining it like that ever since it was founded. He has very clear and scientific reasons for desiring to run his school in this manner, and those of us who are interested in Nature will profit from listening to him. All of us love greenery but we do not know why we need it or what its benefits are. Let us listen to his words.
We go to an ordinary school, see the buildings and the ground, call it a school and come away. But a school inspector who came here to check the ICSE wing, saw this not as a school but as a park. He saw the forest atmosphere here. My reason for doing this is to ensure the children experience Nature directly rather than learn about it through the television. There are certain medically deep concepts that I wish to talk about. Of all the colours of VIBGYOR, it is green and yellow that fall correctly on our retina. Green is a neutral colour and it gives peace of mind. So, when children learn in such an atmosphere, it is good for the development of the eyes. This is from an ophthalmologist’s point of view.
It is good for people who live in the midst of greenery, isn’t it?
Certainly. If you go to foreign universities, you’ll notice that they are all green campuses. The sounds of vehicles will not be heard inside. There will be no other disturbance. That has a lot of medical benefits. There is a gland in our brain called the hypothalamus. Its size will be bigger in the brains of children living in areas that have such disturbances, and much smaller in the brains of children living in peaceful surroundings. I made a mistake. I meant amygdala, not the hypothalamus. The amygdala calibrates our responses and fires our reactions. As its size decreases, our stress levels decrease. If we examine the brains of children or young adults living in slums, with the help of MRI, the size of the amygdala will be seen to be greater. That is, there is greater tendency towards violence. But children studying in such an environment will be more peaceful in nature.
Doesn’t this mean that living in the concrete jungles inside cities, and with phones beside us is harmful?
Yes. Those children will be agitated all the time. You will notice this at home itself. Children studying in such an environment will have a low threshold. But those studying in peaceful surroundings will have a high tolerance threshold. They will grow agitated only if we provoke them greatly. That is the scientific background.
So, there is such a scientific background to this, isn’t it? I didn’t know that.
Definitely. It is a very important factor. You will understand it if you observe the children here. They are very peaceful.
I thought that the children look peaceful because there is no corporal punishment here.
This natural environment is the secret behind their nature. Look at all the trees here. All of them are labelled. We display their botanical and common (English) names. The children will walk in front of them at least five or six times a day. That is, more than 1,000 times a year. So, the names of the trees will automatically get registered in their memory, and they will be able to identify them easily.
Besides, there are quotes from eminent people – from Einstein to Ratan Tata and Pablo Picasso – put up on boards. How many would there be in total?
Nearly 100. They are interesting sentences from people who are our inspiration.
Besides, they can be easily memorized.
They are meant to excite the growing minds of the children so that they learn to think right and widely or understand the possibilities of thoughts.
When I came here long back, a great part of this land was rubber plantation. There was water scarcity too. All that has changed. Now there are two ponds.
From what I see, I imagine you don’t have the problem of water scarcity anymore. How did you bring about such a change? Did you do groundwater recharging or rainwater harvesting?
We do rainwater harvesting in a big way. Our school has three main buildings. Rainwater harvested from there is directed to these ponds. Besides, we have rainwater harvesting pits all around.
Throughout the 13 acres?
Yes. Until six years back, we had to buy water to meet the requirements of the school. Especially from January to March. But for the last two years, we have been drawing water from the well. The rainwater harvesting pits have helped. With so much green cover, much water goes underground.
Not only the green cover, you have also built many walls in between . . . so much water doesn’t flow away.
Yes, the water gets trapped.
The area of the school has also been increased, hasn’t it?
We removed the rubber trees and planted fruit trees.
Earlier, you didn’t have fruit trees . . . now a lot of birds and squirrels must be coming here . . .
A lot of them. The children are greatly interested. When they sit in their classrooms, they hear the squeaks of squirrels, the songs of birds . . .
As a child, I did not study in a such an environment. I studied in a city school. Although there were plenty of fruit trees inside the school compound, going near them when they fruited was seen as a crime. The rule is that fruits should not be plucked.
If you observe the notice boards here, you’ll see that we prohibit plucking of flowers but permit them to eat fruits. That is the rule here. The children are the rightful inheritors.
I saw plenty of ripe cluster figs and rambutan.
There are five varieties of watery rose apple too.
All those are for the children, aren’t they?
Indeed, as I said, the children are the inheritors.
How many students study here?
A total of 316. We have a maximum of 25 students in each class.
And only one division for each?
That means, a maximum of 50 students.
Maybe not so many. We have only one division for certain classes right now.
You have limited it?
Yes. In my view, even an LKG teacher should know every twelfth standard student by name. And every twelfth standard student should know the names of even LKG teachers, and respect them.
So, you see this as a single campus, without any distinctions as LP, High School . . .
Teachers who taught twelfth standard students in their playschool class are still in employment here. So, there is a continuity. We don’t permit anyone lateral entry.
Are the children involved in tree-planting?
Children are the ones who do it. On World Environment Day, there is tree distribution and planting,and the children do it with great enthusiasm.
Are children involved in the maintenance of trees?
They are largely the ones who do it.
What are these seats meant for? Like in a park . . .
This is set in accordance with the Gurukulam model.
Yes, there is a board here that reads ‘Gurukulam’ . . .
When classes are taken here, they get plenty of fresh oxygen.
Are all classes taken here?
All classes are given a chance to conduct work here, once a week. Besides, the students are taken on Nature Walks. They are permitted to walk all around the campus, see all the trees and learn about them. It is a joyous atmosphere you’ll find here.
They should learn to respect Nature.
And the children here get the kind of information they don’t get at home.
True. Earlier, we used to have cows. In those days, there were children who didn’t know how milk was produced. They hadn’t seen hens laying eggs. We have a pond here that is full of pearl spot. If you merely fling a net, you can catch at least 100 fish, even if you don’t know how to cast a net. These are sights that our children see here. But the practice is to put the fish back into the pond and not kill them.
Do birds make nests here?
Of course! Plenty of them. That’s what excites the children in this campus. They see the hatchlings emerge and hear the cheeping sounds. That is so interesting, isn’t it?
The entire process is so exciting to watch. Those who have studied in campuses like CMS College, where grand trees are maintained, have nostalgic feelings . . . The other place where trees are planted in a systematic manner is the JNU with the hostel amidst a forest.
This is the only school where a forest is maintained and a campus is set right in the middle of it. A school with only 316 students right in the middle of a forest in 12 acres, and you give them access to the entire space.
Yes, in the lap of Nature . . .
I saw a building there. Is that meant for the children to sit and rest during their Nature Walk?
This is a splendid idea. Usually, people talk about such ideas but rarely implement them. But here, these ideas have been successfully put into practice. The first batch of twelfth standard students are completing their studies this year, aren’t they?
Your own children study here . . .
Yes, my son and my daughter. My daughter is one among the students of the first batch of twelfth standard students who are completing their studies here.
That is a great thing indeed. Generally, although people speak highly of such a system, they send their children to other schools.
Yes, many people have told me that. “You have not only preached but also practised what you preached.”
Yes, I remember. When I came here for the first time, your daughter was in the LKG or so.
Yes, twelve years have gone by since then.
Happy to see you, doctor. And see all this too. What I remember is seeing the rubber plantations, and for the last six years you have been changing it all. When I came here last, you were trying to plant trees near the old LKG building. You’ve come this far by now. That is a great achievement indeed.
Thank you so much.
There is another person who has worked towards the success of the school. That is the doctor’s wife – Dr Liz Jacob who is in charge of the administration of the school. She is also an ophthalmologist.
All of us can do a lot. But here, you saw a doctor who did all that and also showed the courage to put his children through the system. He started a new school, put his daughter in the LKG class in that school, and now she is about to finish her twelfth standard. People of such great courage and commitment are rare. Dr Ashley is one such person. And we need more people like him. Let us hope that will come true soon.