Oscar Southgate recites Sanskrit verses with full zeal and enthusiasm. Unlike many children who don’t enjoy going to school, this class II student of St. James Junior School in Stockport, wishes for no holidays and weekends. “It’s fun coming to school. Here, I’ve learnt to overcome my fear for maths. Now, I find Sanskrit and Maths very easy,” said the 7-year-old who’s proud to be part of this school.
Concurring Oscar, his friend Mila Patel, said: It’s fun learning Sanskrit; it has helped me to understand French better.”
Like Mila and Oscar, Kathy and her sister Valinteen too take pride in wearing their school uniforms and being called the students of St James.
St James School which was established in 1975 by Leon MacLaren provide an all through education from the age of four to 18 for both boys and girls.
St James School in Stockport was established in 2003.
The school has inspired not only two schools in London but sister schools in other parts of the world: Dublin, New York, Trinidad, Sydney, Melbourne, Auckland, Johannesburg, Durban and Cape Town.
Interestingly, the school teaches practical philosophy, from both western and eastern traditions, including the teachings of the ‘Bhagavad Gita’ along with Sanskrit and Vedic mathematics. And, the teachers are British.
Oscar’s mother, Mrs Penny Feltham said, “St James has instilled ethos and principle in Oscar. There’s been a change in his behaviour; he’s become calm and thoughtful towards others.
“And, learning Sanskrit which is the basis of all European languages, has opened a whole new world to my son,” she added.
Similarly, Mrs Agimol Pradeep, mother of Kathy and Valinteen, feels that sending her two daughters to St James School has been the best investment in her and husband Pradeep’s life.
“When I tell about my daughters to my friends and families back home, they get thrilled and surprised at the same time. They say ‘living in the UK, your daughters are learning Sanskrit whereas in India, hardly anybody cares’,” said Agimol who’s originally from Kerala.
She said, “My daughters have become very disciplined; these days, we don’t have to run around to tell them to complete their school tasks. At such a young age, they’ve realised the importance of self-discipline.”
Agimol is happier when she gets to know that recent leavers of the school have got admissions in most of the prestigious schools including Withington Girls’ School, Manchester Grammar School and Manchester High School for Girls.
Tana Blum, a parent of Christopher and James, the two ex-students of St James School, said that her sons grew up to become intelligent, well-adjusted and happy children who are now thriving at the Manchester Grammar School.
“We started the school because we wanted an education based on the philosophy of unity; we had also learnt Sanskrit and recognised the benefits of it,” said Mrs Blum, one of the founding parents of the school.
Looking at the atmosphere of calm, order and peace –words which aren’t often associated with schools, parents in unison refer to the school as “an oasis of calm, where our children are not so much valued as treasured”.
With the aim to bring out the best in each and every student, the school uses mindfulness techniques to make learning more effortless and natural. After every session, they pause for a second to clear their thoughts. “Pausing is very useful as it helps us to grasp things easily and quickly,” said Mila, a student of class 6.The students have taken the philosophy home. Mila’s father, Vijay Patel said, “These days, we’ve started to pause for a while before eating our meal, and it has made a lot of difference.”
Further, the class sizes are capped at a maximum of 12.
According to Mr Robert McNeill, the headmaster of the school, “We prefer to have around 12 to 15 students per class as this has been found to be an optimum number for effective learning. Anymore than that means the teacher has insufficient time to help each child.”
Asked about the uniqueness of the school, Mr McNeill said, “We teach all subjects that you would expect in any other school ranging from maths to language, and all practical subjects such as games. However, we also teach Sanskrit and practical philosophy which greatly enrich the learning experiences.”
Mr McNeill said, “Sanskrit gives a deep understanding of grammar and this in turn benefits the study of all languages. Likewise, Vedic mathematics greatly helps the understanding of numbers in a delightful and fun way.”
As Christopher points out that Sanskrit makes it far easier to do other languages “because you already understand the concepts of noun endings and other concepts which don’t appear in English”. “With regard to maths, I am far quicker at it, for example, long multiplication than my peers and this is because of the Vedic Maths methods I was taught at St James,” he added.
And for James, Sanskrit has provided him a good base to learn Latin and Spanish. He said, “I picked up the grammar easily. I am in the top set for maths and I am sure this is because I had such a good start at St James.”
For students like Christopher and James, the school has well equipped them with knowledge and philosophy, challenging them intellectually, and in turn, making them feel more confident and ready to take on life’s challenges.
“By studying subjects like Sanskrit and Vedic mathematics, education is greatly enhanced and invigorated. They are subjects full of light and happiness whilst aiming to inspire the intellect,” Mr McNeill said.
On the contrary, Sanskrit, has been made an optional subject in some of the schools in India where students who wish to study this ancient language will have to take it as an optional subject like any other foreign language, but at St James School, it’s different. This ancient language is the favourite subject of all the students and they take delight in learning the subject.