Tilda Swinton and Ahsan Akbar discuss the education system in her unique school
Imagine a school with no exams. Imagine a teacher giving science lessons on light in a dark classroom, with blinds drawn. Imagine a school nestled in the idyllic Scottish highlands, where you are taught to carve out a Canadian canoe – learning hands-on about weights, measures and woodwork – and then actually being able to test it out on water.
Such an educational utopia is almost unimaginable, yet actor-director Tilda Swinton is determined to implement this unique, educational model. At the Dhaka Lit Fest 2018 session titled ‘On Drumduan Hill’, DLF director Ahsan Akbar spoke to Swinton on her take on education, being implemented in her own institution – Drumduan School.
Tilda Swinton’s warmth towards the audience was apparent from the beginning – when asked by Akbar what draws her to Bangladesh and DLF, she asked the volunteers to turn on the lights and enthusiastically pointed to the crowd, saying “That’s the answer – you, the audience! Meeting you is the heart of this rocking forum.”
Unlike other panels where questions are taken at the end of the panel, this one started with immediately engaging the audience and asking for their opinions. After many characterized education as humility, empathy and adaptation, Swinton pointed out that these can be learnt out of school too, and before the age of seven. Akbar added that there is immense pressure on students in the traditional system of education, which can end up hindering the natural learning process.
How then, can children be taught in a way that retains their natural energy, inquisitiveness and power of retention? Drumduan School is based on German educationist Rudolf Steiner’s model of education, Waldorf, which describes children as learning in three stages - from the age of seven to 14, a child develops his/her will, in the following seven years there is development of feelings and finally, from ages 14-21, there is the development of intellect. According to Swinton, children under the age of seven are free from bias, and hence need an exam-free environment to learn and thrive. To this, Akbar asked a question that had everyone in the audience nodding—if exams are out of the question, how does Drumduan evaluate progress? Tilda answered that by their final year, Drumduan students have a portfolio and write a thesis after a period of self-directed learning.
Akbar also addressed a crucial issue being faced by children around the world – addiction to electronic devices, but Drumduan also has an answer for this - no student is exposed to screens before the age of 16 in order to prevent what Swinton terms an “existential relationship” with devices. Sheadded that the Drumduan model created willful, inquisitive children since “with will comes joy.”
Laughter, music and sport are the lifeblood of Drumduan students. However, the students do not engage in competitive sports before the age of 10. After that, they participate in an Olympic Games simulation where they play Greek sports dressed in togas, getting clay medals for grace, kindness and helping those in the time of need.
Swinton is hopeful of making Drumduan School a model, as education should not be a “shelf to get up into, it’s all in your hands.” She also believes that courage is needed from parents to put their trust into something this innovative, but in her opinion, it is in the end worthwhile to have children educated in such a wholesome environment.