By Gouri Satya, Sr. Journalist
In Mysore, one comes across streets bearing names of prominent institutions which are on that stretch. One such road, which marks a kindergarten school, is the ‘Gopalaswamy Shishu Vihara Rasthe’.
It is in Lakshmipuram, near Nanjumalige Circle, on the southern side of the petrol bunk opposite Christ the King Convent (CKC). The popular nursery school has grown in size adding classes of higher levels over the years.
The establishment of the Shishu Vihara heralded the kindergarten movement in Mysore. Till then, little attention was being paid to pre-school children to mould their potential and make them eligible for admission to primary school. Children up to the age of 5-6 had to stay in their homes without motivation to learn during the crucial stage of childhood.
Dr. Gopalaswamy realised the need to create opportunities for the holistic development of these pre-schoolers by building their social, emotional, literacy, and fine motor skills in an open environment. To bridge the gap, he started the Shishu Vihara, the first of its kind in the country.
Department of Psychology
Dr. Gopalaswamy was a Professor of Psychology and Logic at the prestigious Maharaja’s College. He founded the Department of Psychology in the College in 1924. It was the second oldest department in the country and was initially called the Psychology Laboratory.
Psychology was one of the three optional subjects, which the degree students studied for two years. It was usually combined with Economics, Politics, Sociology, Languages, Mathematics and Mathematical Statistics. The Honours students, however, studied Psychology for three years. Degrees were awarded based on theses incorporating the results of experimental work or papers.
The subject became increasingly popular and the number of students who had passed BA, BA (Hons.) and MA courses was as many as 244 during 1946-1950. The Department developed many of the Psychology apparatus in its workshop. It also did laudable work in the field of nursery education and mass education by Radio.
First nursery school
The keen interest in nursery education was evinced by Prof. Gopalaswamy, who had obtained his B.Sc and Ph.D in London, in addition to his BA degree from Madras University, which led to the starting of the nursery school in 1928.
Apart from Mysore State, it was the first nursery school to be established in the country for young children, and the credit for establishing it goes to Prof. Gopalaswamy, who was determined to take up nursery school work as a mission in his life. The school received the patronage of the Department of Public Instruction and the Mysore City Municipal Council.
Through the newly started children’s school, he introduced a new concept of innovative education. He gave the name, ‘Shishu Vihara’, to the pioneering school he had started.
He realised that early childhood education was vital and that the kindergarten method was best suited to the socio-economic conditions of our country. He was also aware that nursery school activities helped mould the potentialities of preschool children on scientific lines.
Bearing this in mind, he tried modern methods of child education individually and collectively. Ingenious educational devices and tools were devised and put to use in his institution.
Picture story narration, dramatisation and recitation of nursery rhymes were the main features of this institution as against strictness, coercion, goading or even direct teaching. A great variety of activities were taught to promote physical, mental, moral and social talent in children.
All efforts were made to cultivate and develop healthy habits which in the long run would become their intrinsic character and mould the potentialities of the pre-schoolers on scientific lines. Gardening also played a prominent part. In the backyard of the school, a kitchen garden had been raised where teachers worked together and grew vegetables and greens.
The visionary Professor spared no effort to make the Shishu Vihara experiment a model one. He trained his mother and wife, Kamala Gopalaswamy, in nursery and Montessori methods and they became teachers for the little children. He invited Kannada poet G.P. Rajarathnam to the school.
Children’s poems that Rajarathnam recited and taught became popular among the little children who began to sing and enjoy. The compilation of the children’s poems brought him fame as a children’s poet. His popular poems like ‘Kadalepuri’, ‘Kene Haalu’, ‘Kallu Sakkare’ and ‘Thuththoori’ were the result of his participation among the children in the Shishu Vihara, thanks to Prof. Gopalaswamy.
The Gopalaswamy Shishu Vihara also had another objective. It was an experimental institution for psychology students and teachers, to understand the mental abilities of growing-up children and the fillip needed for the development of their faculties in the appropriate way to make them fit for the next stage of school learning. It served as a laboratory to study and analyse the development of preschool children.
Much valuable data regarding the comparative value of the new type and traditional examination methods were gathered which in turn helped in improving teaching methodology. It resulted in framing new types of examination papers in all subjects, except the languages in 1932.
Akashvani was another outcome
The establishment of the Shishu Vihara resulted in another fruitful outcome. It gave a fillip to Prof. Gopalaswamy to launch the experimental broadcasting station, Akashvani, at his residence in Vontikoppal in Mysore in 1935. The Broadcasting Station was aimed at promoting mass education through Radio. It also helped his students in the study of listeners’ tastes and the psychology of propaganda.
Like Shishu Vihara, Akashvani also became a household name. The Kannada name was quickly taken up by the Government and was adopted for all its stations. After the adoption of the Kannada name, stations of All India Radio came to be called Akashvani, a term which became familiar among all listeners of AIR programmes across the country.
All these visionary efforts of Prof. Gopalaswamy led to a varied nature of work in the Psychology Laboratory of Maharaja’s College, where he served for two decades as the Head of the Department and subsequently as the Principal of the College.
Thesis on valuable subjects like “Growth of Intelligence during the first year of Childhood”, “The Language Development of the Pre-school Child”, “The Development of Fear, Anger, and Laughter in Children”, “Pre-school Mental Tests”, “Personality Types” etc. were among those produced there.
Shishu Vihara became synonymous with kids
The ‘Shishu Vihara’ name he gave to his kindergarten school became so popular many Shishu Viharas came up later emulating its example. Deshmukhi Krishnamurthy had worked in Dr. Gopalaswamy’s Shishu Vihara for ten years and gained experience as a nursery school teacher.
With the background of his experience, he started Sri Jagadamba Shishu Vihara in 1939, which also became popular. He also devised ingenious educational devices and methods of nursery school education, evincing great interest in nursery and kindergarten methods.
A pioneer that Gopalaswamy was
The pioneering institution started by Prof. Gopalaswamy proudly carries his name even today. The road where the Gopalaswamy Shishu Vihara stands has been named after him and his institution. A matter of regret is the etched street sign embedded into a compound wall on the street corner is lost now. While constructing a new compound wall, the tablet, worthy of preserving, has been discarded. Probably, it has disappeared along with the rubble.
Prof. M.V. Gopalaswamy, who pioneered nursery education in the country, was born in 1896 in an affluent family of a judge. He has left solid footprints on the development of Mysore, which had a wide-ranging impact on the country. ‘Akashvani’, ‘Shishu Vihara’, and the Department of Psychology at Mysore University stand as a monument to this learned Professor of Mysore.