Understanding modern education – Online course

Registration: Visit https://learn.aslishiksha.com -> Signup -> Verify email (Check spam folder if email not in Inbox) -> Login -> Buy course -> Launch course

For bulk registration (more than 10 participants): http://www.aslishiksha.com/bulkregistration.html

For other queries: Email us at learn@aslishiksha.com

Course details are as follows:

Time investment: 6-8 hours (40 minutes of audio-visual presentations, around 3 hours of reading material and around 3 hours of contemplative writing exercises)

When: The course has NO facilitator interaction and you can go through it at your own pace.

Chapter index:

Chapter 1: The problem with modern education
Chapter 2: Historical background
Chapter 3: Introduction to Asli Shiksha
Chapter 4: Drawing the attention or dhyaanakarshan vidhi
Chapter 5: Principles of Asli Shiksha
Chapter 6: Modernity and tradition
Chapter 7: What modernity does to us
Chapter 8: Sthiti and Gati
Chapter 9: Stepping-out

Each chapter has 6 segments:

Segment 1: Introspect (Self-reflective questions to set the context)
Segment 2: Listen (3-5 minute audio-visual presentation. Some samples of the listen segment are available on our YouTube channel here)
Segment 3: Contemplate on ‘Listen’ (Writing down takeaways)
Segment 4: Read (Reading material to deepen understanding)
Segment 5: Contemplate on ‘Read’ (Writing down takeaways)
Segment 6: Know (Some points to read and ponder)

If you go through the course and like it, please share it in your circles.

Namaste!

The Isa Upanishad illuminates an aspect of modernity

This post is offered with a head-bowed pranaam in the manner of the Isa Upanishad when it says…
इति शुश्रुम धीराणां ये नस् तद् विचचक्षिरे
(This we have heard from the wise who have expounded it to us)

I don’t remember when I first started reading the Upanishads. I think it was probably just after I came out of college and started working. I remember being deeply moved by the lyrical quality of the unfamiliar language, that seemed just a little bit beyond the reach of understanding. And I remember the assurance with which the Upanishads spoke and the aura of wisdom they exuded.

I was reading the Isa Upanishad again and was struck by something that reminded me of what Pawanji talks about in our courses on Education and modernity. I thought I would present it here and see what you think…

The Isa Upanishad in its eighteen shlokas covers a vast territory. However, in its highly compressed message it still repeats twice, with only minor changes, a set of three shlokas. So, the Upanishad moves away from its terse tone and, through repetition, underlines the message given in 3 of its shlokas. With that as a preface, take a look at the shlokas and the English translation (not word-to-word) done by Eknath Easwaran.

अन्धं तमः प्रविशन्ति येऽविद्याम् उपासते ।
ततो भूय इव ते तमो य उविद्यायां रताः ॥ ९ ॥

अन्यद् एवाहुर् विद्ययान् यद् आहुर् अविद्यया ।
इति शुश्रुम धीराणां ये नस् तद् विचचक्षिरे ॥ १० ॥

विद्यां चाविद्यां च यस् तद् वेदोभयं सह ।
अविद्यया मृत्युं तीर्त्वा विद्ययामृतम् अश्नुते ॥ ११ ॥

In dark night live those for whom
The world without alone is real; in night
Darker still, for whom the world within
Alone is real. The first leads to a life
Of action, the second to a life of meditation.
But those who combine action with meditation
Cross the sea of death through action
And enter into immortality
Through the practice of meditation.
So have we heard from the wise.

अन्धं तमः प्रविशन्ति येऽसम्भूतिम् उपासते ।
ततो भूय इव ते तमो य उ सम्भूत्यां रताः ॥ १२ ॥

अन्यद् एवाहुः संभवाद् अन्यद् आहुर् असंभवात् ।
इति शुश्रुम धीराणां ये नस् तद् विचचक्षिरे ॥ १३ ॥

संभूतिं च विनाशं च यस् तद् वेदोभयं सह ।
विनाशेन मृत्युं तीर्त्वा संभूत्यामृतम् अश्नुते ॥ १४ ॥

In dark night live those for whom the Lord
Is transcendent only; in night darker still,
For whom he is immanent only.
But those for whom he is transcendent
And immanent cross the sea of death
With the immanent and enter into
Immortality with the transcendent.
So have we heard from the wise.

The word pairs used in the two sets of shlokas are avidya/ vidya and asambhuti/ sambhuti (using ‘vinasa‘ instead of ‘asambhuti‘ in the 14th shloka). Both sets refer to gross/ subtle or outer/ inner worlds. And the message of the Upanishad is that, since these are two sides of the same reality, focusing on only one side leads to a dark, incomplete life. It tells us to engage with the world of action/ immanence where change and death exist and also to engage with the world of meditation/ transcendence which is the unchanging and immortal world.

And how this ties up with our course is that Pawanji keeps saying that modernity over-emphasizes the outer world of change and action and ignores or negates the inner world of unchanging Truth. In our workshops and courses we point out that a modern life focused on the outer is rudderless and leaves us vulnerable to external manipulation (by modern institutions like the market, state etc.). Whereas, taking decisions grounded in the inner leads to a spontaneous, sahaj outer life. The Isa Upanishad in its eighteen shlokas gives us a description of the territory and gives us indications on how we can navigate through this territory to live a full life.

What do you think?

Infinite energy

(The following was written as an entry to a story writing competition. It doesn’t deal with education but is a satirical look at modernity and so is 50% on topic for this blog. I hope that it breaks through the grimness of our virus-related predicament and succeeds in making you smile)

Dr Ramdas Verma, a scientist with a Phd from MIT and 25 patents in high-tech electronics, has solved man’s age-old problem- how to get infinite energy off a finite planet. It is now amply clear, even to Nobel-prize-winning economists from the ‘developed’ nations, that the era of cheap fossil fuels is over. It is in this newly opened space for innovation that Dr Verma had his world-changing epiphany. Before we get to that, a paragraph about what a world famous scientist is doing rotting in Bangalore, when he could have been getting in and out of long black cars with beautiful women on his arm. (For example, Dr Verma is younger, better looking and has more hair than Salman Rushdie)

Alongside his awards-filled modern science education in some of the best schools in India, Dr Verma also found the time to get a classical Vedic education before leaving for America on an MIT scholarship. Over the next thirty years, Dr Verma worked very hard and managed to attract great wealth to himself. At the age of fifty, after many ex-wives and their various children had siphoned off all the money they deserved, Dr Verma found himself rich beyond his wildest imaginings. This was when the Vedic component of his education boomeranged on him and he decided to give all his wealth away, stay in a mud hut, wear a dhoti and live a truly Gandhian life. (This conversation when first initiated in San Fransisco quickly led to Dr Verma’s latest divorce). As a halfway measure, Dr Verma moved into a modest ten room mansion in its own four acre parkland on the outskirts of Bangalore and used only a fuel efficient SUV for driving twenty kilometers into town for buying hand-sanitizer and potatoes and other such necessities.

Back to Dr Verma’s epiphany. Dr Verma all alone in crowded India met a social activist who told him somewhat rudely that:
a. If he wanted to give all his money away, why didn’t he just start (ideally with me said the rude social activist) instead of talking about it.
b. About helping poor Indians- has Dr Verma seen or smelt his target audience and why doesn’t he, for example, travel in a Mumbai local train during peak hour to gain this valuable and unforgettable experience.

After spending three sleepless nights over it, Dr Verma flew down (economy class on a cheap airline) to Mumbai and decided to brave it. At the railway station, automatically pushed into an overcrowded local train by the press of the crowd behind him, Dr Verma stood squashed by his target audience on all sides. A distinctly spiritual experience then slowly overtook him. He saw some flashing bright lights and had an experience of Savikalpa Samadhi (he was able to immediately identify it because of his classical education). In this heightened state of consciousness, Dr Verma noted that a young man, seen through smelly armpits and gaps in dirty beards, was shaking his right leg rhythmically. The young man was sitting opposite another young man who too was involuntarily shaking his leg. And, in his moment of insight Dr Verma saw a cross section of the entire train with thousands of nervously but rhythmically shaking men and women legs. Eureka, Dr Verma shouted and thinking that this was the name of their station many people got off and Dr Verma was un-squashed.

Dr Verma was secretive about the details of his solution. He hinted that there is an international conspiracy to steal his invention. However, he explained that the broad details involve the quantum mechanical piezoelectric effect, pre-stressed mechanical springs, lithium-ion wearable batteries, wireless micro-electric magneto-hydraulic transmissions, prana that fills the known and unknown universes and most importantly, of course, distracted men and women (which Dr Verma, Buddha-like, claims is 100% of all men and women). In other non-technical words, Dr Verma has created a revolutionary new way of harnessing the nervous energy floating free in the universe, and yes, it can be stored and can do many times more work than what our current infrastructure for Industrial Civilization needs. Being fabulously rich, as we mentioned earlier, Dr Verma could have easily funded the research and development and taking-to-market of this revolutionary new technology, but big banks from America are lining up with blank cheques outside his door. Friends, when the world is gratefully flooded with this technology, remember that you heard about it here first. This is the future of energy! The future of technology! Dare we say, the future of mankind itself! And, you know, it may soon be sidling up quietly and nestling itself next to your skin.

Two poems

This week I thought of sharing two poems that I like very much. They have their setting in very different world-views, widely separated in geography and time. One written by a modern English poet and the other from the Tamil Sangam era (>2000 years ago). I think both the poems point to some aspects of education, modernity and tradition that this blog covers. Take a look and see what resonances it sets up in you…

In Broken Images

He is quick, thinking in clear images;
I am slow, thinking in broken images.

He becomes dull, trusting to his clear images;
I become sharp, mistrusting my broken images.

Trusting his images, he assumes their relevance;
Mistrusting my images, I question their relevance.

Assuming their relevance, he assumes the fact;
Questioning their relevance, I question the fact.

When the fact fails him, he questions his senses;
When the fact fails me, I approve my senses.

He continues quick and dull in his clear images;
I continue slow and sharp in my broken images.

He in a new confusion of his understanding;
I in a new understanding of my confusion.

– Robert Graves

Every Town a Home Town

Every town our home town,
Every man a kinsman.

Good and evil do not come
from others.
Pain and relief of pain
come of themselves.
Dying is nothing new.
We do not rejoice
that life is sweet
nor in anger
call it bitter.
Our lives, however dear,
follow their own course,

rafts drifting
in the rapids of a great river
sounding and dashing over the rocks
after a downpour
from skies slashed by lightnings –

we know this
from the vision
of men who see.

So,
we are not amazed by the great,
and we do not scorn the little.

– Kaniyan Punkunran
(Translated by A.K. Ramanujan in ‘Poems of love and war’)

A slightly disturbing idea about education

I have a slightly disturbing idea about education that I want to present to you in a slow, roundabout manner that resonates with the leaves dancing and shining outside my window against the backdrop of a bright blue Bangalore sky…

Two days ago, I was on a call with some close friends and the question came up whether I was against vaccinations and why I had not got my first dose yet. I told them an old story to make my case.

Long ago, I was friendly with a nice couple who had a 3-year-old son. Whenever you asked the boy a yes/no question (for example- Do you want an ice cream?), his instant response would always be a ‘No’. Then he would think about it a little bit and sometimes he would change his mind (As in- Yes, I want an ice cream). The world is always pushing us, telling us that we ought to do something or the other because it is good for us and I remember thinking that the young boy had figured something out that would serve him well as he grew up.

Like the little boy, I find it convenient to say ‘No’ first and take some time to think about whatever is being pushed at me. It has been my experience that when something is being pushed at me, it MAY be good for me but it is DEFINITELY (economically or emotionally or in some other way) good for the person pushing it. I told my friends on the call that I was not against vaccinations but against being pushed. 🙂

Which brings me to the disturbing idea about education that I wanted to present- As parents and teachers, or educators, are we not all the time pushing things at children? Some introspection can reveal to us that teaching and learning are two separate processes and as a teacher we can only have control over one part of the process. It is not only the push of the teacher that makes learning happen inside the learner but the readiness or paatrata of the learner.

Let me extend that and try to express it in another way. You will probably agree that what we are trying in education is the creation of a good human being with some skills useful to society. But, how do we go about creating a ‘good’ human being? Even assuming that we ourselves are good and that we have some robust industrial process for transmitting our goodness, what the previous paragraph is indicating is that there is no guarantee that the learner will become good.

Therefore, does it not mean that as educators we must realize that the project of education we have embarked on is doomed? That, we are only throwing seeds that may or may not sprout? That, the learners who are ready will find their own ways and will anyway learn, with or without our teaching effort? And, should this realization not make us educators take ourselves a little less seriously?

Long ago, I bumped into a hostel-mate at an airport. We were both rushing and in passing I asked him, ‘You look like you have made it big, what are you doing nowadays?’ He responded with a smile, ‘Still doing what I used to do in the hostel – logo ko bewakuf banane waala kaam kar raha hoon.’ I think that when we educators become sahaj enough to say this about our work, we would have moved closer to Asli Shiksha. 🙂

What do you think?

Dharampal: Unpublished writings

Note: The following is an excerpt from unpublished writings of Dharampal available with SIDH. There is a powerful and coherent story that comes out when these unpublished writings are read together. We are looking for funds for collating and publishing this material as a book. Write to pawansidh@gmail.com if you can help us.

India does not begin in AD 1700, neither does it begin with the Islamic domination of parts of India around AD 1200 or from the incursions of Islam into Sindh in the 7th century AD, or the destruction of Somnath by Mohammad Gazni in the 9th century AD. India has had a very long existence and perhaps for most of this existence it had a very prosperous, scholarly, aesthetic society and vibrant polity. As an instance, modern western scholars have recently worked out that till about AD 1750 the China region and the India region together produced some 73% of the manufacturing output of the whole world. Even after the breakdown of the states and societies of these regions, industrial production was still around 60% of the world, till around 1830.

In recent years a few scholarly works have come out regarding the relations between India and China in the early 15th century. There is much information on the visits of the Chinese Admiral Zeng Ho to various countries of Asia and Africa including visits to India, especially several months stay in Calicut in 1405. In 1405 he was in Calicut with 300 ships and some 30,000 soldiers. Around the same time there were several Chinese ambassadors to Bengal and it is also stated that a number of ambassadors from Bengal had gone to China during the 15th century. There were probably similar links between China and other regions of India not only in the 15th century but perhaps from much before the beginning of the Christian era. If there were such links with China, it should imply that political, cultural and commercial links also existed with several other countries in east and Southeast Asia just as they existed with some of the Arab countries. The information which we get from these sources would not only help us re-build our relations with our neighbors but also may be of value in knowing more about our society of those times.

Such exploration and study of whatever is newly found could however lead man in several directions. Much of the research of the West since 1450 has led it to the conquest of the world and its plunder and the destruction of the environment as well as suppression and elimination of other human communities. In a way most of western research has been an accompaniment of despotism and worldwide imperialism.

It is possible that what has happened in the west could happen, in some distant future, in India also. But the greater chance in India, given India’s relative inwardness and pacific and non-violent nature and the slowness with which it moves, if it moves at all, is that such things would not conceivably happen in India. And at any rate, given India’s present absence of self-awareness, India must try to know itself by knowing what happened in its past over the past several thousand years.

हमारा इतिहास बोध

Note: This week’s post was published on Pawan Gupta’s blog dayaron se pare on January 22, 2020. Over the coming weeks some selected articles will be posted here but interested people may find it rewarding to visit ‘dayaron se pare’ and read all the posts there.

हमारा इतिहास बोध लगभग खत्म सा हो गया है। अंग्रेज़ी और अंग्रेज़ियत के चक्कर में। पढ़े लिखे समूह में एक मोटी समझ यह बन गई है कि इतिहास में/से सीखने समझने जैसा कुछ नहीं है। हमारे यहाँ विशेषकर, सिवाय गंध, कूड़े, खराबी, छुआ छूत, गरीबी, भूखमरी, दीनता के अलावा कुछ है नहीं। और संसार के स्तर पर भी यह मान लिया गया है कि हमने तो हर क्षेत्र में पहले के मुकाबले “प्रगति” ही की है, तो विगत को देखने, समझने का कया फायदा? यह मोटी समझ बन गई है।

जब भी मैं अपने यहाँ के किसी उजले पक्ष की कोई बात करता हूँ तो यह तोहमत लगती है कि ठीक है पर सब कुछ अच्छा ही अच्छा था, ऐसा भी नहीं। तो भई, ऐसा कौन कह रहा है? मैं तो मोटे तौर पर बने narrative को चुनौती दे कर कुछ और देखने को प्रेरित करने की कोशिश करता हूँ। बस। मुझे जो narrative प्रचलन में आ गया है, जो सत्य नहीं है, जो आम पढ़े लिखे के दिमाग पर छा सा गया है उसे थोड़ा हिलाना डुलाना है। वह भी हो सके तो। सब कुछ अच्छा तो कभी भी नहीं रहा होगा। न राम के ज़माने में, न कृष्ण के ज़माने में, न बुद्ध और महावीर के ज़माने में और न ही ईसा या मोहम्मद के ज़माने में। सब कुछ अच्छा कुछ होता नही। साधारण ही श्रेष्ठ है और साधारण अपनी कमियाँ और त्रुटियां लिए होती हैं। प्रश्न सिर्फ यह होता है कि कुल मिला कर कैसा हो। सब कुछ अच्छा या सब कुछ बुरा यह either/or वाली आधुनिक सोच है जो सिर्फ असत्य के बीच झूलती रहती है। एक असत्य से दूसरे असत्य की ओर पेंडुलम की तरह। क्योंकि सत्य छोर या extreme पर नहीं होता। उसे कहीं बीच में, दाँये बायें तलाशना पड़ता है। मेहनत करनी होती है।

पर विगत से सम्बंध बनाये बगैर, अपना व्यक्तिगत विगत और सामाजिक विगत, दोनों, आगे का रास्ता खुलता नहीं। यह एक सत्य है। विगत को समझे बिना, उससे सुलह किये बिना, बगैर लाग लपेट के उसे देखे बिना, आगे के रास्ते खुलते नहीं। विगत पर झूठा गर्व जितना खतरनाक है, उतना ही खतरनाक या उससे ज़्यादा है उसे दुत्कारना, उससे नफरत करना।

हमारी आधुनिक शिक्षा ने हमारे विगत से हमारा या तो सम्बन्ध विच्छेद कर दिया है या उससे नफरत करना सीखा दिया है और अब उसकी प्रतिक्रिया में कुछ लोग उसका महिमामंडन करने लगे हैं। कुछ चीज़ें गौरवशाली होते हुए उसके दूसरे पक्षों को भी देखने की ज़रूरत है।

Drawing the attention or dhyaanakarshan vidhi

Last week I shared an extract from our soon-to-be-launched online course on understanding modern education. Today I thought of sharing some more information on how it works. The course is meant for parents, teachers and other interested adults. It will take some 6-9 hours to go through (depending on whether you follow or don’t follow the links for extra study) and is divided into 9 chapters:

  1. The problem with modern education
  2. Historical background
  3. Introduction to Asli Shiksha
  4. Drawing the attention or dhyaanakarshan vidhi
  5. Principles of Asli Shiksha
  6. Modernity and tradition
  7. What modernity does to us
  8. Sthiti and Gati
  9. Stepping-out

Each chapter has 6 segments:

  1. Introspect (Self-reflective questions to set the context)
  2. Listen (3-5 minute audio-visual presentation)
  3. Contemplate on ‘Listen’ (Writing down takeaways)
  4. Read (Reading material to deepen understanding)
  5. Contemplate on ‘Read’ (Writing down takeaways)
  6. Know (Some points to read and ponder)

Here is a sample, work-in-progress audio-visual to give you a glimpse of what the course looks and feels like…

I hope you liked the presentation. Namaste!

The problem with modern education

This week’s blog post is extracted from an online course that we will be launching soon. The course is designed to make a participant contemplate on his/ her educational experience and connect the dots to better understand modern Indian education. The course is made up of short audio-visual presentations, reading material and self-reflective writing exercises. A relevant screen-grab from the audio-visual part of the course is shown below.

And, here is an extract from the online course…

Pawan Gupta, the co-founder of SIDH, has a favourite story about the fundamental problem with our education system. When they moved to Mussoorie, some village women seeing that Pawanji and his wife Anuradhaji seemed to have a lot of free time and seemed to be educated, asked them to start a village school. When some time had passed and the village women got comfortable with him, they told Pawanji that this system of education was destroying their children. “What is your education system doing to our children?” they asked. They felt the education seemed to be alienating the children from their families, villages, culture and their ways of doing things. The children started developing a sense of shame towards whatever was their own. An old woman seeing the effect of education on young boys, who now preferred to move around with their hands in their pockets, told Pawanji that he should teach children to ‘Be’ rather than focus only on the appearance. “Hona sikhao,” she said, “dikhna dikhaana nahin.” Pawanji considers this his mantra in education and he says that this was the turning point where he became aware of his hidden assumptions and his real education started. Pawanji says that another lady had asked him about the objective of the modern education system. “Was it,” she asked, “designed to take the village boys to Delhi and the Delhi boys to America?”

Ananda Coomaraswamy, the great philosopher and scholar, criticizing the British education system in an essay written in 1909, titled ‘Education in India’, gives us indications about this problem when he says:

“The system of education set up by the British creates anti-national tendencies by ignoring or despising almost every ideal of the Indian national culture. Most students lose all capacity for the appreciation of Indian culture and become strangers in their own land. The education is really based on the general assumption- nearly universal in England- that India is a savage country, which it is England’s divine mission to civilize.”

The problem started much earlier. This can be seen in what William Bentinck the governer general of India wrote in a letter to the secretary of state in 1827. This was 3 years after the rebellion by the Indian soldiers at the Barrackpore cantonment rattled the British empire. In the letter he said:

“There is nothing to worry now as the educated Indian has started leaving his ways and stopped giving alms to mendicants and sadhus and, with the money thus saved, is busy entertaining the British and imitating their ways.”

Mahatma Gandhi has spoken eloquently about the alienation that this type of education brings to us. In an article titled ‘The present system of education’, written in 1916, he says:

“An impartial English writer has said that as long as there is no continuity between schools and homes in India, the pupils will not have the benefit of either. Our youths learn one thing from parents at home and from the general environment, and another at school. The pattern at school is often found incompatible with that in the home. The lessons in our textbooks are regarded as of little relevance to conduct. We cannot put the knowledge so acquired to any practical use in our daily life. The parents are indifferent to what is taught at school. The labour spent on studies is considered useless drudgery which has to be gone through that one might take the final examination, and once this is over we manage to forget as quickly as possible what we had studied. The charge levelled against us by some Englishmen that we are mere imitators is not entirely baseless.”

The problems in modern Indian education, which began 200 years ago under the British rule, have not been addressed till date, as fundamentally nothing much has changed from those times. And the problems seem to afflict all types of people whatever be their linguistic, social or economic background. So, the first generation learners begin to look down upon their illiterate parents and their local culture. And the children of affluent educated parents despise the very idea of India without knowing anything very much about it.

We go through an elaborate, time-and-life-consuming, expensive process of national education that finally results in us becoming mindless imitators, self-conscious about who we are, losing our real confidence and becoming asahaj. Do you not think that it is time that we did something about it?

Schools: Anand Niketan

This is the fifth post in a series on alternative learning spaces. The original article appeared in the Teacher Plus magazine and is available here.

I don’t think Gandhiji will be pleased to see what they have done to his ashram at Sevagram. Everything is manicured and tourist-ready and there is a souvenir shop. To top it all, there are small boards put up everywhere saying things like, ‘Gandhiji took his sunbath on this lawn’. The atma has left the place and only the immaculately preserved mummy exists. However, Gandhiji will be very happy to see Anand Niketan in the adjoining compound. This school, originally started in 1940 by Gandhiji to experiment with Nai Taleem and shut down in 1975, was revived in 2005 and is now doing very well.

Sushama Sharma, the head of Anand Niketan, was in the middle of working with some children when I reached the school. She told me that she could stop what she was doing because her time was flexible or that I could wait for half an hour. It was almost lunch time so I went, had lunch, and came back to find her free. Sushama is a soft-spoken, polite, gentle, and wise woman. During our walk around the school, many teachers and children spoke with her. Her tone with everyone, whether adult or child, was courteous and her interactions had the completeness of wisdom. It seemed as if Sushama was a part of everything happening in the school. As we were passing by a class, we heard some children talking loudly and laughing and stopped to ask what was going on. The children explained that some of their friends had not kept their footwear in the designated place outside the classroom and so they were teaching them a lesson – when these friends were away, the children in the classroom hid their chappals under some bushes in the garden. The children told Sushama all this as if she were part of their gang and would see the justness of their actions. I noticed that Sushama enjoyed the exchange but gave no adult value judgment like – ‘OK, after they learn their lesson please return their chappals’; or ‘That is a good thing that you have done.’ Wisdom and compassion probably go together in people.

The school campus is spread out and the buildings are the same ones that Gandhiji walked through. I don’t know exactly what it is – the location next to the ashram, or the spread out buildings, or the large trees everywhere – but there is something utterly charming about this school. It felt like the farm, and the trees, and the buildings with their tiled roofs and the small and big people moving through it all fit into each other perfectly. There was a completeness to the picture; perhaps it was in the simplicity of the buildings and the people, or their connection with the local. (This is not an elite English medium school, the teachers and students speak Marathi all the time.)

Some things that stick out from my visit:

– The Montessori-like preschool with its two large rooms with the work of the children visible everywhere. The children finishing their meals before leaving for home. Their teachers, quiet and efficient and mother-like.
– The crafts room where among other things the children weave the floor mats they use in school and also sell to make money for the school.
– The farm area where every child helps in the growing of the food for the school.
– The large Maulsari tree in full bloom with its small delicately scented flowers.
– The museum where the history of the school is chronicled in old black and white photographs.

Let me wind up this impression with an excerpt from a story of how the old school used to be.

“Awaking early in the morning, the entire school community, consisting of its students and teachers, would undertake an hour’s safai (cleanliness) of the entire premises, including classrooms, dormitories, buildings, grounds, latrines. Time for bathing, washing clothes, and attending to personal cleanliness followed. The community then assembled for prayers, after which there was breakfast. Three hours of Sharir Shram (manual labour) formed an integral and perhaps the most important part of the curriculum. Here too, students and teachers worked together whether in the fields, or the spinning shed, or later, when the subject was introduced, in the mechanical engineering shed.

Study periods would be in the afternoons, after lunch and rest. No textbooks were followed, but all that was taught was related to the work done in the morning, not just math or economics, but science, social studies, language, literature also would be based on the work done. A session of games, in which students and teachers participated, helped to build an atmosphere of harmony and co-operation. At about 6.30 p.m., the entire ashram would meet for prayers. When Gandhiji was there he would always attend and on occasions, he would give a talk after prayers.”

Quick facts:

Name of school: Anand Niketan, Sevagram, Wardha
Been around since: Restarted in 2005 at the original Nai Taleem campus that Mahatma Gandhi set up at his ashram in Sevagram in 1937. (The original school had shut down 40 or so years ago.)
Number of teachers/staff: 20 including balwadi teachers
Number of children: 110 including balwadi children
Classes handled: Pre-primary to class 9
USP: Continuation of Mahatma Gandhi’s Nai Taleem school
Location: Sevagram, Wardha
Website: https://anandniketansevagram.wordpress.com/