Mesmerized By India's Rich Culture, Canadian Couple Left Their Home To Build A Music School In India
It was back in 2002, that Kalkeri Sangeet Vidyalaya (KSV) was founded in Kalkeri, Dharwad district of Karnataka. Located at the nerve centre of Hindustani classical music in the southern part of the country, 18 km away from Dharwad, KSV is a residential school that offers children from low socio-economic backgrounds training in music along with regular education absolutely free of cost. Besides, they are also provided with free food, accommodation, clothing and health care facilities. The school is nurturing the talents of these children so that they break free from the chains of poverty and earn their reputation in the society.
Inception of KSV
KSV was founded by music enthusiast Mathieu Fortier, a Canadian, who came to India many years ago. His wife, Agathe Fortier and he travelled extensively across the country and were mesmerised by its rich and diverse culture. After spending several years in Shanti Niketan, West Bengal, Mathieu’s interest grew in Hindustani classical music. And thus, his journey took him to Dharwad, which opened new possibilities of learning. He took up Hindustani Shastriya Sangeet and started taking lessons from Rajshekar Mansur, the son of the late Pandit Mallikarjun Mansur.
In 2000,Mathieu was joined by his brother Blaise, and they started giving free evening music lessons. Finally, in 2002, KSV started its operation at a rented farm. Initially it was difficult to get students. Parents would rather have these children work at farms. But the school built a relationship with the families from where the children were chosen. Today, there are over 250 students, close to 80% of whom are first generation students.
The Logical Indian spoke to Adam Woodward, Secretary of KSV. Here are some excerpts.
Your students are aged 6-23 years. Are all the students enrolled at the school also undertaking the academic courses?
Yes. Our academic program is from 1st to 10th standard. After class 10, many students stay back at the campus. We support these students financially, and provide mentorship. Most of them are attending colleges in Dharwad and Hubli, graduating in streams like commerce, science, arts, economics, education, etc. 80-90% of the students stay back on the campus.
Do you also receive applications from outstation students to join your school from different states? Are there boarding facilities for such students?
As of now, we don’t really have outstation students, as our curriculum is based on Karnataka state board syllabus. But we have exchange students from other states who join us for a few weeks.
And we do have boarding facilities. We are a fully residential school. Our campus can comfortably accommodate about 250-280 students with the present facilities. If we need to accommodate more students in the hostels, we will expand our infrastructure. It is an ongoing process of growth. At the moment, we have four girls and four boys hostels with 20-30 students per block.
Is there a criteria for admission to the school?
Our first and foremost criteria for admission is to ensure that the students are really not able to afford an education and are from a low socio-economic background. The next criteria is the commitment the parents are willing to show to ensure that their children study at least till class 10. Then, we see if they have any inclination towards creative, and performing arts. Our admission process is exhaustive and goes on for several months because we don’t want deserving students to miss out on the opportunity to study.
Can you give us a brief overview of the admission process?
Every year we receive about 200-300 applications. Our staff sits with every parent who wants to apply and helps them fill the application form. Speaking with the parents serves as an informal interview and gives us an idea of what the parents want for their children, and how committed they are to the cause of their education. We then narrow the pool down to 80 applicants. We visit the homes of the students to get a fair understanding of their domestic environment, keeping in mind the evaluation criteria. Following this, we narrow the applicant pool down to 40. We interview the parents and children once again. Evaluate the child’s creative and performing arts ability. This helps us decide which area to focus on. Finally we admit 20 students, and about 5 students are waitlisted.
What are the challenges in operating a non-traditional school?
One of the biggest challenges we have is the funding. So far we have had grant partners who funded the education. But the problems is that if they pull out of the partnership, we are left without funds. We provide the accommodation, food, uniforms, shoes, etc. The books are generally funded by the Karnataka Secondary Education Examination Board and other donors. We are looking to fill this gap.
Another challenge is students dropping out. Class 1 students, because they miss their parents and want to go back home. And higher class students would leave because their parents want them to help them out in the farms or get the girls married off. It has been a challenge to ensure they all stay in school. This was a big challenge especially in the initial years. But now, the rates have dropped. For the past two-three years, even class 1 students are not going back home.
What about the rewards?
We are very happy that our students are performing well wherever they go. We have students who have done their post graduation also. Just recently, three of our students completed their postgraduate degree in Music. They all achieved distinction. One of them was awarded the Gold medal in vocals, and another was awarded Gold medal in Tabla. Apart from them, our students are working in many colleges across the state as lecturers too. To see our students well placed, and settling well in different spheres of life and career that they have chosen is the most rewarding experience to us.
What do you find is the biggest challenge or drawback in the Indian education system today?
We find that there is a systemic failure of education in the rural areas, from anganwadis to universities. Soft skills, communication, etc are not taught properly. This is why there is a dearth of employable graduates in the country and the organisations hiring fresh graduates have to spend a lot of time, effort, and money to train them. We need to see progress on both sides. In the students, and the adults.
This is why at KSV, we aim to create a conducive and comfortable environment which is safe, secure, and free from fear. The students are actively encouraged to ask questions and participate in classroom discussions. Curiosity is not shunned. We also train our teachers extensively so that they can do their best to ensure all the questions are answered. Because we want our students to be critical thinkers.
We expect to see your students on global platforms one day. Are English language and communication also a part of the curriculum?
Yes. They learn English as 3rd language. We have had many international volunteers whose primary mode of communication with the students is English. Students also interact with them in English. This is why their spoken communication is really good. We are also working to improve their written skills.
Can interested readers work with/volunteer at your school? What is the process to do so?
We are looking for volunteers all the time. 90% of our volunteers so far have been foreign nationals, who take about a month to settle in. We haven’t really been able to get many Indian volunteers. If people who know the language, and the system here can come help us, we would be very glad. Any time at all that you are able to spend with the students is of great help.
You can also sponsor a student. We are currently looking to make the funding process more sustainable. The cost per student is Rs. 3800 per month which includes food, accommodation, books, uniform, etc. At the moment we have one donor per student who pays Rs.1600 per month. We are looking to make it two donors paying Rs.1600 per month which would cover the fee of the student at Rs. 3200. The rest of the fee is administrative charge, which we do not charge from the donors.
The Logical Indian is inspired by the work and contribution of all the members of KSV. To know more about volunteering and sponsorship, you can contact the school at [email protected] and [email protected] respectively. Apart from notable persons like Mr. Girish Karnad being associated with the school, KSV has also been a part of the Jagriti Yatra conducted every year. Jagriti Yatra is a 15 day, 8000 km train journey that aims to “build the India of smaller towns and villages through enterprise”. Interested readers can visit their website to know more.
Kalkeri Sangeet Vidyalaya – http://www.ksv.org.in
Jagriti Yatra – http://www.jagritiyatra.com