NAL Nursery School
An idyllic world for our tiny tots


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Our Nursery School


Tucked away in a corner on the NAL campus is a small building that houses the NAL Nursery School. This pre-school was started to prepare children of NAL employees for Kendriya Vidyalaya and its syllabi. Mrs Shyamala Valluri, wife of former NAL Director, Dr S R Valluri, the School's former principal. We catch up with Mrs Valluri.

How did it all start?

There were several reasons for starting the school. First, it was to serve as a preparatory school for children wishing to enter Kendriya Vidyalaya, NAL. But even more so because both Dr Valluri and Prof Satish Dhawan felt that we must find a way to actively encourage children of NAL employees, especially from lower economic backgrounds, who might be very intelligent but who have no chance to go to a school simply because they cannot afford it.

How did you join the school?

I was actually working those days in Army Service Corps School. I was not very happy there because it was a bigger school and I was spending more time in managing the staff than actually teaching and interacting with the children -- which was what I really wanted to do. So when Dr Srinivasan asked me to suggest someone who could run the Nursery School, I offered to take up the job myself!

How has it been like? Are you thinking of expanding the school?

No. I don't want to expand this school either horizontally or vertically. Pre-school teaching is an entirely different concept which doesn't jell with the higher classes. I don't want to expand horizontally as that means more children and less time and attention.

Have you used any novel teaching approaches?

We don't follow any particular training methods. The Montessori system, for example, uses education equipment. But these are expensive and we can't afford it. So we use chalk, blackboard and oral teaching! But to tell you the truth, pre-school teaching involves many more things than this. We have to find time for every child. The children need a lot of psychological boosting and encouragement. We give this to the children. We have to make a lot of effort. The whole idea is to build the child's self-confidence and self-reliance. So it is more a psychological approach than anything else.

What are your views on exams?

At the pre-school level, we have to constantly test the children. Before we proceed each day we must see whether he or she has learnt what was taught the previous day. You have to go step by step and make sure they know. So if you look at it, the children are being tested every day. At the end of the academic year we do have exams but we try and make them as less traumatic as possible. Pre -school is really memorizing. Analyzing comes later. Writing requires physical co-ordination and comes even later. It is only in lower kindergarten (LKG) that children learn and improve their handwriting. Parents don't realize this. They ask us why their child is not able to write and don't take our explanations too kindly. We also give home work so that the children form a habit of working at home. And we don't encourage parents to help their children with the home work! Children should learn to be responsible for their work.

And reward and punishment?

Of course it is very important. We have to keep alternating continuously between reward and punishment so that the idea gets instilled in their young minds. In fact I think it is just like teaching pets. Learning not to do what is wrong takes time but once it is learnt it comes naturally to them. Actually I don't really punish them as such. I don't believe in corporal punishment. I put children in the corner when they make a mistake. They feel left out. It makes them so miserable that they never do it again. I'll give you an example. If a child is beating up another I don't let the child play and make him stay in class. It really improves him. You postpone what they want. That's the best punishment.




What about extra-curricular activities?

We actively encourage such activity. Nursery children mostly play with toys. The older children play on the ground. We also have jigsaw puzzles to improve their physical and mental skills. Playing makes them learn faster but they don't realize that.

The Annual Day functions must be a pleasure to organize.

A visual treat

Oh, they are simply wonderful! The children really love it. It is a chance for them to participate in different cultural activities. We teach the children songs in Hindi, Kannada, Malayalam, Tamil, and quite a few patriotic songs. We organize Children's Day in a big way. From November 1 to 14, we have talent competitions in a lot of things like drawing, recitation, games, songs and others. Sports Day is another big event. All children participate in everything. Practice itself takes a month or so. After this we have the semi-finals and the finals. The way the children participate is itself a treat to watch. I love to watch them enjoying themselves.

Apart from this do you have any other way to hone their skills?

We do have a timetable in which we have some time for drawing, colouring, singing and other activities.

Every school has its share of mischievous kids.

How do you handle them?

I talk to them. Make them feel a little repentant. I also separate them. They don't want to be away from the activity, so they learn. It always works. I have been very lucky to get good teachers who work whole-heartedly and really love the children. This is very important for a school to run smoothly.

Did you deliberately choose to teach younger children over older ones?

When I was at the Army Service Corps School I found it nice to be with small children. So I just continued. And now I suppose I prefer to work with younger children rather than older children. That is why I am very particular about not expanding.

What frustrates you the most?

When children don't improve. Children with learning disability are very sad and disheartening. There are one or two every year. I think I can do more with the help of the parents. If we don't do it now, when they are young, it snowballs later. And that makes me very unhappy.

What about funding for the school? Is the funding comfortable or is that too a source of worry?

Funding is pretty difficult. NAL pays for the water and electricity and I thank them for that. But we have problems in paying salaries to our teachers. For nearly 15 years, salaries didn't change. Last year we could finally raise salaries, but at a price: we find that we now can't give enough concessions to worthy students. I felt very happy when Dr Somashekar and some others created a trust to support the two most deserving poor children in each class. But apart from this we don't have anything. We don't want to increase the fees,.. but we do want to ensure that the school remains attractive. It is quite a dilemma. I wish people come forward to support our scheme to sponsor a child for a year. People should come forward! People who can afford it, like someone who doesn't have many financial worries, whose children themselves are doing well...

Do you have a role model?

Not one but several. My parents, one or two teachers. Things people have said have stuck with me and influenced me.

Your future plans?

I think I have continued for a long time already. People don't want me to leave. I want to stop.

Ending on a more general note, what do you feel about the Government's recent move to make Saraswati Vandana compulsory in schools?

I see no harm in this. The sentiments in the prayer should apply to every child. Nothing wrong. We try and make the prayers in the school as 'secular' as possible.

Sindhu Srinivasan

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