In 1937, an unconventional school in Japan used old train coaches as classrooms, symbolising the journey of learning.

Inspired by Japanese WW2 story Kerala school transforms classes into train coaches
news Human Interest Friday, June 01, 2018 - 11:32

In 1937 Japan, there was a school called Tomeo Gauken, in Tokyo, which was destroyed during World War 2. The school, founded by educator Sosaku Kobayashi, followed an unconventional teaching style, perhaps even by today’s standards. Its classrooms were old train coaches symbolizing the journey of learning, and children were allowed to study whichever subject they chose, whenever they felt like it.

A former student Tsetsuko Kuronayagi wrote about this school in her bestselling memoir ‘Totto-chan – The Little Girl at the Window’. The memoir came to be prescribed as an educational text all over the world. And, inspired by this story, DVUPS Thazhathu Kulakkada, a tiny government-aided school in Perur, Kollam, decided to transform its walls into a blue southern railways train.

“The story is part of the English curriculum for students of Class 5 of our school. In the last annual day, the students performed the story as a play. The story is all about what a great teacher and a great school should be like. Watching this, we teachers were inspired and during a PTA meet, decided to paint the walls of the upper-primary classrooms Classes 5 to 7 – in the form of a train. We call it the DVUP Express after our school,” says TN Hemanth, the headmaster of the school.

The idea was conceived by the teachers and a team of 6 artists were roped in to transform the classrooms. They worked day and night to complete the train before the school reopened. The artsy train now extends through 6 classrooms, with 2 divisions in each grade from Classes 5 to 7.

“We have 145 students in the upper-primary section and children in this age are highly imaginative So what better way to get them excited than transform their classrooms into a train, based on a story they studied in school?” asks Hemanth.

A few people visited the school to take pictures of the train during the summer holidays. But a large chunk of the students will be witnessing it for the first time after getting back to school on the re-opening day.

Certain that the DVUP Express would excite his students when they returned, Hemanth says “The train coaches in the story are Japanese. But we decided to transform our classrooms into an Indian Railways train, which is familiar to everyone,”

Although Hemanth says that this is the first time that the walls of the school have been turned into art, the school attempts to do something different for its students every academic year. Last year, the school grew a bamboo grove and, during the hot months, classes were held inside the grove.

“The Japanese story is about a school that teaches children to love nature and follow a natural way of learning. We also try to inculcate this in our school. Last year, we had a bamboo grove grown in the school grounds. Whenever it got too hot, the teachers would conduct classes in the grove,” Hemanth says.

The DVUP school is also, according to Hemanth, the first in the state to hold farming classes for its students.

“Four years ago, we got our students to grow vegetables in the school grounds. It became a big success and many schools are now getting their students to farm and experience nature. We are very happy that this idea took off,” he says.

The school firmly believes in adopting alternative methods of learning within the limited and conventional curriculum they follow. This way, students would be motivated and learning would be a joyful experience for them, just like the students in the Japanese tale who loved going to their school.

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