The second week of the job shadowing period in Jeevan Rekha Parishad (JRP), Bhubaneswar, India, occurred from March 5th to 10th. Different topics could be spotlighted in this article, considering that the activities were varied and, in a way or another, I felt invited to reflect on many interesting themes – from daily life challenges experienced by a European citizen in India to educational paradigms as well as (un)equal opportunities, social welfare system(s), sense of community belonging, meaning of (life) change or even willingness to embrace uncertainty, unknown, risks. However, as this learning experience is meant to allow the identification of best practices that are proven to be successful and can be replicated in several contexts (of course, without neglecting specificities of different natures), it became much easier to select the educational model of Blossoms School as main subject for (potential) further discussion.
Established by an Iranian family in 1984, this private school provides services to about three hundred children from pre-school to secondary education levels. While entering the school and walking through its corridors towards the meeting room where we were welcomed by the coordinator, the environment, the joy reflected on each staff member’s attitude and the images that beautify the walls suggest the existence of a specific pedagogical paradigm, shared and upheld by everybody, as well as a strong organisational culture, where the sense of belonging is vital and each person’s contribute to the School success (and its educational model) is valued. Indeed, Blossoms School follows the Montessori Method of Education, a child-centered educational approach. From this perspective, a child is regarded as being naturally eager for knowledge and capable of initiating learning in a supportive and thoughtfully prepared learning environment. Teacher, child and environment are key concepts and essential parts of the learning triangle. Furthermore, child development is valued as a whole, including its physical, social, emotional and cognitive dimensions.
During that morning, I reinforced my strong belief that formal and non-formal approaches to education have greater potential when implemented in a complementary way. At the Blossoms School the (formal) academic curriculum is complemented by skills development programs, such as the following: one related to overall values and principles of citizenship; another aiming to provide guidance concerning the changes experienced during adolescence and inherent processes of decision-making that may be required in this particular (and challenging) life stage. Education is perceived as requiring both material and spiritual training. Therefore, along with the formal and mandatory subjects, Blossoms School offers an ongoing programme called Peace Education – which envisages the development of various key skills including self-expression, critical thinking, conflict resolution, problem solving, anger management, active listening, respect for others, environmental awareness, inclination towards service, group consultation and capacity for leadership.
The founders of the School are key actors when we ask about the genesis of this “philosophy” and organisational culture. They are responsible for privileging this overall pedagogical model and educational strategies – which are influenced by different programs observed worldwide during several years and considered as examples of best practices in the field of Education. Practices observed were replicated, without neglecting the need of adapting some features to the specificities of their target-groups. Additionally, other core dimensions of this educational model have been prioritised as important areas of investment (in the wider sense of the term): ongoing training programs to all staff members (initial training to get familiar with pedagogical strategies upheld as well as with the School’s culture, policies and procedures; workshops related to key topics occur on a regular basis, promoting critical reflection and continuous improvement); promotion of different civic activities for the students since early ages including the skill development programs in order to “embody” and give meaning to those core values learned during classroom sessions; the preparation and organisation of the learning environment with positive and assertive messages about the importance of education in our lives, a clear invitation to learn, explore and share.
Regardless the children (socioeconomic) background, a key ingredient to prevent early school leaving is applied in each case: engaging the family is determinant for a successful learning process and, considering the Blossoms School experience, initial commitments lead to greater achievements because the families have a clear vision of the investment that attending School represents.
JRP is perceived as a key community partner that nourishes this learning environment going far beyond the walls of the School and promotes a wide range of educational activities.