After graduation in mechanical engineering followed by research work in decentralised energy systems, I had a few reasonable job offers with good salaries, but I did not want to work for money, I wanted to do the real jobs, not the jobs for money. That time, I used to spend weekends in the house of Sandeep Rai (Sandeep Rauzi), discussing various social issues. One day on one weekend at his place I met Dr Rakesh Saxena (Rakesh Rafeeq). Dr Rakesh shared his wish of opening a school and invited me for implementing my ideas of innovative education systems. I accepted the offer and started to work the first academic day of the founding year as the executive director of education in the school.
I was working there from 4:00 AM at morning to 11:00 PM at night daily, even on Sunday, but was not taking any salary. After 11:00 PM at night, I used to sleep on the typical wooden benches of the classrooms.
The school had around half an acre land. As school building, there were only three small rooms and a small area with plastic polythene roof. There was no electricity, no drinking water supply, no proper toilet in the school. The school was situated about two kilometres from a small town. Agricultural lands of villagers surrounded the school. Students were coming from the villages of 25-30 kilometres of a radius. Some of these communities were destitute, and some were wealthy.
It was tough to run a school of eleven classes, from a lower kinder garden class to the ninth grade, for more than three hundred students, with three small rooms and ten teachers. There was no room for office, also no room for the staff. All teachers were on salaries. All students were paying standard fees equivalent to the other schools in the vicinity town.
I wanted to explore new things to develop internal strength of teachers and students. I tried to generate mutual understanding between teacher and student. All teachers were postgraduates from the state universities but not knowing their subjects. For example, an M.Sc (master in science) degree holder did not know simple geometry, simple trigonometry, simple algebra and other; the MA (master in arts) in English did not know simple translations of primary standards. I could not understand, how could they get the degrees of postgraduates.
A couple of weeks after my joining in the school, some guidelines, given below, were given to me by the school owners.
- I can not hold teacher and students after school hours.
- The number of students must not be decreased because of my experiments.
- Parents of students should not complain because of my experiments. (usually, Indian parents dislike non-conventional or experimental things)
- I can not change textbooks, and I can not remove or change the dress code.
- No extra expenses will be given for my experiments.
I accepted these guidelines because I knew, once I will have a trusted relationship with teachers and students, these frivolous instructions will be in the dustbins.
The very first, I wanted to know who would like to be part of experiments at the beginning. I started to discuss my ideas with teachers, person to person interactions. I started to join their classes sitting with the students to understand teacher's abilities, method, attachment & behaviour with students and comparative knowledge of the subjects. Some teachers had ego problems with each other, so I prompted them for avoiding their egos in school hours for the sake of students.
There was a game period for one hour for all students. In one hour game period, I started to discuss with teachers collectively on education, personality development, sharing of experiences, visions, likes, dislikes of their lives and teacher-student relationship etc.
I started to teach students to help teachers. The teachers started to understand, what I want to do in the school. They began to cooperate with me. I told them that if the teachers flower themselves, then the students will flower automatically. The teachers started to see the school and students beyond a job for money and monthly salaries.
To correlate me with the students, also for gaining their trusts. Daily, I started to go in the school-vehicle to bring the children to school from their homes from various villages. I used to get up at 4:00 AM. The school-vehicle used to start the trip at 4:45 AM to bring children from their villages. The school vehicle, locally known as JUGAD, was a simple diesel-pump (usually used to lift the water from the wells) driven typical wooden vehicle with no shockers on wheels, no cushion on seats and without a roof. We used to carry a big polythene sheet with us for protection from the rain.
By going in the school-vehicle, I could have spent more time with the children out of the classrooms as one of their friends while driving from their homes to the school. It also helped me to observe the activities of the students. I started to go in the vehicle after school-time also, to drop the children in their homes, even started to meet their parents. I began to visit the homes of the teachers too on weekends to have dinner with them and their families.
I started to have lunch with the students. Daily, I was taking one bite from the tiffins of different students. I motivated them to eat from other's tiffins also they should give their tiffins to others. It helped them to generate mutual brotherhood.
I made obvious that teachers must not beat or scold any student at any circumstance even for big mistakes. I motivated them to explore constructive approach than punishments. I told teachers, if you cannot handle, please bring the issue to me, I will handle the matter. I motivated students even five or six years kids to punish themselves with their own for their mistakes. Students were not scared of me. They could have shared anything with me including their teenage feelings of sex.
I had removed all periods, also had converted all periods in three sessions for a whole day, session before lunch, session after lunch and the third session for the games. I removed the teachers' chairs from the classrooms. The blackboards were not movable, could have been removed thus I told the teachers to use the blackboards minimum.
I turned the regular class systems into the four classifications.
- Lower Primary (up to 1st standard)
- Primary (from 2nd to 5th standard)
- Upper Primary (6th & 7th standard) and
- High School (8th and above standards)
I removed the systems of classes. There were only groups according to classifications. There was no class system. A student could have chosen a subject of his choice to read or could have chosen not to read any subject. A student could have slept in the classroom, and a student could have played all day without opening a book. Students could have changed the subjects anytime and as many times as they wish in a day. Students could have chosen not to study but play games all day even for all week. Students could have chosen to sleep all day. Although there was a lunch hour, they could have had lunch anytime. No mandatory homework to the students, but they could have asked home-work if they wanted it.
I motivated students to teach others. A student of the sixth standard could have taught eighth standard students if had more knowledge in the subject than them.
I wanted to explore the possibilities of self-discipline without using mechanical and forced discipline. Gradually, I started to motivate them for a system, they could evaluate their mistakes and weakness and could decide constructive punishments themselves. I formed a joint coordination body of teachers and students that could have recommended introspection to students, teachers and me.
I was trying to form a system, where, students do not need teachers, they only need teachers to assist them in need. They should not have monitored by others because they could observe themselves with more honesty and transparency.
I had never trust in the examinations, marking systems, examination paper systems, rank systems and other related issues; so I tried to explore a different method of evaluation.
For each student, there were four types of evaluations.
- Evaluation by solving questions
- Student's self-evaluation for himself/ herself on the subject
- Assessment of the subject by other students of the class, based on mutual cooperation with stronger and weaker students of the subject
- Continuous evaluation by the teacher of the student in the subject
Children were coming to school with enjoyment and were learning happily. The more than 95% students were coming to school daily. They were not scared of schools; they were enjoying school more than homes. Many parents became pleased with the progress of their children.
I wanted these experiments continued for two years to become the inbuilt tradition by the students without needing teachers.
But I was there in the school only for some months. The contradictions between the school owners and me were increasing too high. I left the school after almost six months. Teachers and students wept for few days before I left the school. More than a hundred students gave me their personal feelings for me, in writings, and I still have those as souvenirs. Teachers wrote their feelings in a diary; they gifted to me.
The experiments I worked very hard, but the school owners terminated all and moved to the systems of the other routine schools after I left the school. Many teachers left the school within a few months after I left. Sometimes I visited that town and villages staying in the houses with the parents of students and the families of teachers. Many of them are still in touch with me as my social family.
We need schools and education systems without the hidden Violence of Competitions and Egos of Comparative Superiority.