Human-Scale Education

Inventing a school that meets real needs

| November / December 2004

The following is adapted from a conversation with author and educator Satish Kumar, founder of the Small School in Hartland, England, director of programs at Schumacher College, and co-editor of Resurgence, a magazine that promotes spiritual well-being, holistic science, and creative living. Green Teacher editor Tim Grant asked Kumar to talk about how he went about starting a school that reflects his educational philosophy.

When I started the Small School in 1982, my son was nearing the age when he'd have to face a journey of more than an hour each way to a state secondary school 15 miles from our village -- a commuter's life at age 11. I had left an urban community in order to live in a rural community, and sending my child back into urban culture was not what I wanted. Nor did I want his education to be overly academic and exam-oriented.

About 30 of us from the village gathered to talk about education in general and that school in particular. The school had 2,000 children and a minimum of 30 students in each class. Apart from the problem of size, there was a lot of bullying and smoking there. By the end of our discussion, the parents of nine children were courageous enough to start a school of our own. Over the next six weeks, I raised the money we needed to buy a Methodist chapel that was for sale in the village at a good price. Seven months later, we opened the smallest school in the U.K.

We designed the Small School curriculum to have three parts. One third would be academic and intellectual, including science, mathematics, English, and French. One third would focus on imaginative themes such as art, culture, music, and painting. And the last third would be more practical and ecological, including physical training, environmental education, and manual work such as gardening, cooking, and woodwork.



We decided to teach about three basic things that every person needs but few schools address: food, clothes, and housing. In my view, a school that does not teach children how to do the dishes is not a good school. If children can cook and serve food and do dishes with respect, love, and care, they can look after trees and animals with love and care, they can look after their parents with love and care, they can treat their neighbors with love and care. So our teachers and children turned a kitchen into a classroom.

We also decided to teach the practical skills of spinning, weaving, mending, designing, and making clothes. A number of our children have since turned out to be great dressmakers and designers. As for housing, hardly any schools teach children how to make a foundation, build a roof, install plumbing and electrical wiring. At the Small School, we do teach these skills. Many of the ideas that we implemented I learned from Mahatma Gandhi, who introduced cleaning, gardening, and cooking to basic education in India.