Vidyodaya School, Gudalur


Vidyodaya School is an exemplary model of workable and successful changemaker education for the tribal communities in India. When both the government and the tribal community itself had given up on the education of the tribal child, Vidyodaya demonstrated a system that challenges old school and elitist thinking. 

Life at Vidyodaya

The Vidyodaya School was created towards building a demand for quality education among the Adivasi communities in the Deccan rainforests. Twenty years ago, the Adivasi community in the Gudalur block of villages had systematically lost their language, culture and livelihoods. Alienated from the mainstream, this tribal community was fast losing itself even as the world around them modernized. It was at this time that the Vidyodaya School was created – to demonstrate the value of education to the community and adapt itself to face the challenges of modernity.  

The core idea

With a focus on building pride in the rich adivasi culture, the school capitalizes on local knowledge and customs, bringing them into the ambit of school systems and curriculum. Tribal music, both local and global, plays an important function for the school, so that children not only see the beauty and knowledge within their own civilization, but also connect with similar tribal movements across the world. For many adivasi children, unused to textbook learning, Vidyodaya’s picture-focused curriculum inculcates curiosity and joy in learning. Further, the in-house tribal museum, allows children to identify with their own culture, reinforcing the values of empathy, tolerance, and wisdom inherent in the adivasi ethos.

The Vidyodaya School has successfully demonstrated to over 300 village leaders and communities the importance of educating their young in the new ways of the world. Fifteen years ago, the school became community-owned, educating both adivasi and non-adivasi children using this methodology. Seeing the success within Vidyodaya, the adivasi community decided to start influencing the local government schools. To start with, they decided to enroll their children in government schools. Using simple strategies, such as appointing grandparents to take the children to and from the school, they increased enrollment three-fold in the course of one year. The community-based organisations, mentored by Vidyodaya, continue to monitor the government schools in the area, and constantly negotiate with them to raise the bar for quality of education. Indeed, several government schools have started implementing an activity-based curriculum since then, focusing on skills of empathy and collaboration, as opposed to competition and individualization. 

Today, the Vidyodaya School can claim to have made a strong impact in the local tribal community. Students from Vidyodaya have negotiated for, and won access to the forests to continue pursuing their livelihoods. The school has worked with young adivasi dropouts, and converted them into teachers and role models for the community. Now, Vidyodaya is turning its focus towards the rest of the world. Having demonstrated the value of inherent tribal skills within the community, they are looking to position themselves as a role-model for everyone – adivasi and non-adivasi. Indeed, for the team, the focus is now on transforming the Adivasi communities from objects of history, passively observed, to the subjects of new history, active and cognizant, with the consciousness and the will to transform themselves and the world around them. 

Change Leader

Bhaskaran Ramdas is the founder, and Change Leader at Vidyodaya School. A development expert, he started his career at the Centre for Development Research and Action, Chennai, which he eventually led. Following this, he moved to Pondicherry, where he worked with the Sathyalayam School and Trust with children of leprosy patients and fisher folk. 

In 1991, he returned to Gudalur, where he hails from, to establish the Viswa Bharati Vidyodaya Trust and school with his wife Rama. The two of them have been spending the last two decades building a movement for alternative education, focusing on local identities and needs. With the vision of community ownership over education and outcomes, Ramdas has today identified local champions of Vidyodaya, who have the freedom and capacity to run the school. He is now focusing his energy on engaging larger systems, and spreading the ideas to other schools and systems of education. 

Change Team

1. Dr Nandakumar, Trustee, and Surgeon at the Gudalur Adivasi Hospital

2. Smt P. Shanthi, Teacher and ex-parent

3. Mari Thekaekara, Writer, Trustee, ex-parent and founder-member of Vidyodaya Trust

4. Smt. Seetha Prakash, Trustee and Nurse, at Gudalur Adivasi Hospital

5. Kumaran N, Trustee, Adivasi Community Coordinator, ACCORD

6. Smt Bindu, Trustee, Adivasi Health Animator

7. Gangadharan P, Adivasi Education Coordinator of VBVT

8. Krishnan KCK, Trustee and Adivasi community organizer, ACCORD

9. Tony Jose, Financial Manager of ACCORD

10. Smt Rama Sastry, Trustee, and Coordinator of the Teacher Education Program