A school in a farm — Marutham Farm School

Dipon Deb
10 min readMay 17, 2019


Education can be manifolds. But, in recent times, education often points to singular style. It is the immediate solution of creating a school, in the middle of a community. No members, teachers, administrators from the community, no back and forth dialogue with it and definitely no contextualisation of education, according to the needs and wants of the community. That is where the school, which rose from the needs of the community stands out in this school, in the heart of the state of Tamil Nadu — Marutham Farm School, also spelled as Marudam.


The farming community

The ideas of sustainability and nature is, therefore, at the core of the education here at Marutham. The school is a part of a much larger community, which works with the nature on many fronts. One must become familiar with all of it, in order to understand the school better. The Marutham community came together with the objective of sustaining nature. They are based in the holy city of Tiruvannamalai, in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu. The city has a large number of volunteers who work with the community, to create green spots in and around the city. They have done an afforestation project for over 15 years now on the Arunachalam hills near the Ramanashram in the heart of the city. They also do Turtle walks on the beaches of the nearby city of Chennai.


A school in nature

As mentioned before, the school is an initiative that came into being when education for the young ones of the people involved, came into the picture. There are around 6 families, which live in the farm. Not all of them are involved with the school. The main theme of the farm is living with the nature and working with the land. The land is used for growing different vegetables, paddy etc. According to a source in the school, 80% of the food consumed is produced in the land. The school is also involved to a certain degree. The school started not only with the kids of the founders as well as children of the staff of the extended projects and village children.

The school works with children from the community, as well as from the nearby rural communities and from the urban township. The school works with 7 different age groups (rather than classes) from 3.5 to 17 year olds. The teachers are locals as well as people who got involved through different nature initiatives of the Marutham Community. There are 15 teachers as well as other staff add up to 25 in total. There are a total of 124 children. And the school feels it has hit its high point on the number of children enrolled. Some children and staff live in the farm, while others travel back and forth every day. The school buildings are placed near the entrance of the farm, while the farm houses are placed a little inwards.

The groups and their numbers

The school building have been created in student friendly way, so that children can go anywhere. The walls are broader and the shades to the windows and doors are thick. A total paradise for a curious, physically active kids. They have a kitchen space with a shade for eating together in the afternoon. Afternoon food is cooked in the campus for everyone — children and staff. The food is cooked by a local group of women. Also, they have large a playground, a rock climbing setup, a large spacious library, a science lab, a carpentry room, a projection room and a number of open spaces to have classes, discussions or just hang around. The buildings are well placed for children to run around them. The classrooms have bookshelves and small desks to work on, while the children sit on mats. This allows the classroom space to be tweaked around at ease.

The younger groups till the age of 13–14 learn through regular classroom-oriented learning. They break even into other sections when more than 15 children come into one group. Each section has an anchor teacher and 1–2 support teacher. The anchor teacher works on the curriculum and style of teaching to be put in, the agenda of the class or the materials to be used while the support teacher helps the anchor teacher in the process, manages materials and children’s needs in the classroom. These classes are based mainly on individual attention and freedom. The school is registered till the 10th board under the state government board. The children appearing for the 12th board exams, appear as private candidates.

Some of the classrooms

The space has a free flowing routine. A lot of time is spent outside or on activities within the classroom. Children usually have snacks in the open. And a little bit of play time can always be squeezed into the class time, for the young ones. The younger groups till the age of 13 to 14, have a little bit structure towards class-based academics. The elder ones have a much more free-flowing, self-initiated learning style, where they are supposed to engage the teacher into things that they want to understand. All children up to age 10, get a sense of literacy and numeracy. After that, they take up different topics and learn about them in project mode. They dive deep and understand it to the core, by even making trips or visits to different places, all over the country. The week I had visited, a group had gone to Kerala for one such trip. Regular weekly meetings between staff keeps everyone at pace with the current status of the students, classrooms, and school, in general.

The colourful spacious library-cum-study place

There is also a workshop mode every week — where teachers, volunteers or even students take workshops on different topics. It is open to anyone who wants to attend, even adults. Music, dance, drama, dialogue or new concepts all are a part of it. Creative learning is a part of the process of the learning here. On the very day of my arrival, I had the privilege to work with the elder students. They were making biscuit. It was led by one of the students, who had learned it from another elder student before. The art of learning and application right at its show. A couple of days later it was the birthday of the co-founder and teacher Poornima Akka. The 10–13 year old group made juice from different herbs and spices. It was certainly different in taste and encouraging in the approach. How many typical styled schools would have their children celebrate such events in such creative manner? They also have craft week that happens in the middle of the year, when children and adults from other schools and places come together to learn, teach and showcase their art work.

One of the interesting features of this school is the space they call — Circle time. Like the times of Socrates and his disciples sitting in a circles to question life and come up with different philosophies of understanding it, the children here do something similar, always being guided by the elders. Different group of learners have different circle times and the topics of discussion range from how are things at home to their feelings, fears to philosophies, beliefs and biases. Each idea is heard and debated, most of the time, with respect. It gives a whole different dimension. I have witnessed similar approaches in other schools, with different fervour and intent.

There are a lot of young faces among teachers and volunteers. Also, there are a lot of foreigners here. Some come for a few days, while others have stayed on for years. Some are very young while some have their own children as students in the school. The whole thing has a sense of ownership and commune. But the main idea of commune is not around education or learning, but around nature. The idea of working with nature and living within it, is what brings the people here, whether young or old. As mentioned before, not all living or working in the space do not work with children or education. Some who do are not even keenly interested in both of those aspects. It is all about a free life with the nature.

Children from different classes

This is an interesting phenomenon, missed in today’s compartmentalized world. Children, people, cultures, religions, races, regions, are all tucked safely in today’s world, in their safe cocoon. This is more evident in the present schooling system. Everyone is alienated in their own validating spaces, where the other one is a ‘migrant’. In today’s space, it is very heartening to find a space like Marutham and others, who strive to bring together children from all classes of life. When I say classes, I mainly focus on the idea of financial positions in society and am not aware of any other spectrum being addressed. There are kids from the super-entitled homes and from the struggling homes, as well. The ideas of getting to know what is on the other side of my well, is only by desegregation. Does it work smoothly here? Not entirely, there are patches of groups, where the mingling would be preferred with ‘my own group’. But still, it goes on a long way to encourage the children to go beyond their own realms.

No student photo policy

Another interesting facet, which I have not faced so far in any other school, is the policy of not taking any photos of the school children. That is why you would notice that all the picture have got only empty spaces. It is an essential step, according to the school, in order to not breach the privacy of the child. Although it did hamper a lot of my work there, as it stops one from showing to the reader/viewer the exact intricacies of the learning in the classrooms, it is a bold step. I do believe any headshot, should be taken with permission, for any purpose whatsoever. But upholding children’s rights is essential and this step seems a unique take at it. It is mainly put in place, because of placing of children’s photo in social media without permission from the school or the child. I have witnessed other schools, handle it in different ways. But still a bold step, if especially the children also had a say in the decision.

The nature and the school

As mentioned before the community is based on the idea of conservation of nature, but traces of it can be seen in lively ways within the school practices and amongst the children. The school being on the farm, children do a bit of farming themselves, beyond their academic learning. Each group has their own patch of land and are responsible for growing different vegetables. The younger groups do it together. The older groups work in their own patches of land. Most of the elder staff are also involved with the land work. Also, people who live in the farm compound as well as volunteers from the city, come and work on the land within the farm. The school dustbins are also sorted as paper, plastic and rubbish.

There is a park in the city, which has been curated and afforested by the community. The school children go for weekly visits and small treks in the area. They are made aware of birds & animals. And obviously, they get to play around in the garden. As mentioned before, children also go for field trips and visits to different places, all over the country. According to the co-founder Arun Anna, children have developed a keen sense of understanding of the nature, birds and animals, through these regular interventions. The school has also worked with a bird enthusiast to publish book on the birds of the area.

On one such nature walks with the school children

Freedom is a key component in the school, where children have a large say in what goes around. The work flows in its own rhythm, often in a very chaotic fashion. The whole idea of learning- what I want, when I want is ingrained. Overnight stays are also a happening. There are a lot of problematic issues that also follows in such chaos. However, problems are a key part of life. Of learning. And any issue that crops up, is dealt with open forum discussions. I was lucky to be the part of one such open discussion, addressing a gender issue. The voice belongs to all — even if you do something wrong, you can always stand up for what you did. Also, there is a lot of free time, beyond school hours, when children are allowed to just be. The eagerness of children and parents to be a part of the school, shows its progressive and inclusive nature. However, with the first flight of alumni out of the school and more to follow, what impetus do such schools create is something to look forward with eager anticipation — what kind of fruits will this form of education bear, for the nature, the people, the society and the world at large…

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Dipon Deb