Education for life: The Mirambika experience

Anjum Sibia

Adopting an ethnographic approach, this chapter examines the rich and dynamic life of teaching-learning in Mirambika—a school based on the Free Progress Education as envisioned by Sri Aurobindo and The Mother. The school ideology influences the social environment, the behaviour of its inhabitants, and provides sources and resources of support, guidance and reinforcement. The influence of the ideology of Mirambika is evident in its physical environment and organization of pedagogic processes. The interactions between teachers and children encompass a range of meanings and messages, which are largely governed by this ideology. A selective account of classroom realities in Mirambika is presented as an attempt to build up the school culture through ideas, thoughts, feelings and artefacts.

The school Mirambika attempts to practice the educational views of Sri Aurobindo and The Mother, and seeks alternatives in curriculum, content, as well as in transaction. This chapter attempts to explicate the pedagogic processes taking place in the classroom with a view to examining the relationship between the school philosophy, activities and student outcomes.

Education in India: A brief overview

Concern for education in India can be traced back to the Vedic age, from the age of the Upaniṣads, the Gītā, the Buddhist and Jain scriptures, Smṛtis etc., through the medieval and British periods to the post-colonial systems of traditional education. Education was accorded the highest priority right from the pre-historic days. However, the aims of teaching-learning have shifted in focus during different periods. As described by Altekar (1965), during the Vedic period the focus was on imparting sacred literature and family occupation to the children. Memorization was the dominant pedagogical method, along with interpretation and creativity. These, however, became less important during the Upaniṣadic period, where the emphasis was on accuracy, correct accent and intonation. In the Dharmaśāstrik period, a systematic teaching of reading, writing and arithmetic took place. The focus was also on memorizing the Vedas. The Paurāṇika period had four types of teachers: the ācārya, the guru, the śikṣaka and the upādhyāya. The ācārya was the highest level that a teacher could attain. During the Buddhist period, the upādhyāya was considered the most revered teacher, and instructed students in proper conduct, morality and notions of vinaya (humility) and dharma (duty). The nature of pedagogy during the early period was ‘oral, repetitive and exemplary’ (Altekar, 1965). Prior to colonization, the teacher or guru provided practical instruction to students in local village schools, or pāṭhaśālās. Reading, writing, arithmetic and Sanskrit were the main subjects. Teachers played an authoritative role and students related to the teachers with reverence (Dharmpal, 1983).

During the colonial period, the British introduced a complete English system of education in India. Rote learning was encouraged and British knowledge or curriculum (as embodied in the textbook) played a prominent role (Kumar, 1991, p. 14). In Political Agenda of Education, Kumar (1991) points out that the British curriculum was not related to the experiences of the Indian child, and represented a discontinuity. As a result of this discontinuity, Indian students were forced to memorize the information. As Clarke (2001) in her work on Teaching and Learning: The Culture of Pedagogy states, ‘it is difficult to conceive that the British could have transformed this pervasive practice of rote entrenched among us for generations even with curriculum that may not have represented discontinuity with our own culture and traditions’ (p. 41). Even though the British attempted to transform pedagogy through a ‘more progressive’ method of learning (through Froebel’s method of instruction), they were not successful.

The assumption that the system of education in its entirety is still completely Western-oriented has been the basis for several reform initiatives for education in India. Innovations in pedagogy after independence were attempts at indigenizing education. It was held that the education system could be transformed and enriched through the inclusion of the core elements of being Indian. One of the early initiatives in the process of indigenization of education was Gandhiji’s Basic Education (Bunyadi Talim) in the 1930s. He believed this was possible through craft learning, not as a subject of instruction, but by imparting the whole process of education through some handicraft specific to the local context. Gandhiji believed that education in India should represent the Indian ethos, and required the teachers to be virtuous. The post-independence period was characterized by a series of reforms ‘to give an indigenous identity so as to reflect the Indian ethos and concern for society’ (National Curriculum for Elementary and Secondary Education—A Framework, 1988, p. 2).

The educational system of modern India had its beginnings in the nineteenth century. Lord Macaulay could be said to have laid the foundation of the modern Indian education system through his well-known Minute on Education in February 1835. It would not be wrong to say that in Indian education, one effectively sees a continuation of an imperial culture; unfortunately, Macaulay’s ideas still dominate education in India. Elements of colonialism are evident in the position of authority teachers hold in the class, control over students’ responses, and the use of teacher-centred methods, which lead to a passive acquisition of knowledge. ‘Teachers, regulated by the primacy of the syllabus, help their students understand and know this syllabus in its entirety through repetition and memorization. Higher order thinking typified by analysis and the reasoning is largely upheld in the Indian educational system’ (Clarke, 2001, pp. 166−167). It is suggested that the culturally defined patterns of hierarchical interaction influence the teacher’s pivotal authoritative role within the classroom in India. Kumar’s study (1991) considers the dominance of the teacher in the classroom a natural outcome of the respect and authority given to age and experience within the religious, social and cultural ethos of the country. From a developmental standpoint, Kakar (1984) described the authority conferred on the adult by children in Indian society. Adults accede to all the demands of the child generally till the child is about five years old. After that the roles reverse: the child is required to respect and obey the adult. It is suggested that teachers are aware of and constrained by these tacit understandings of authoritative adult roles within society, and tend to fashion their pedagogy and classroom organization accordingly. Besides the teacher, textbooks have played a major role in the way teaching-learning is organized in classrooms. The Yash Pal Committee report of the mid-1990s identified the information overload in textbooks used in schools across the country as the major problem in the Indian educational system.

The educational traditions of colonial times still permeate practices in post-colonial India. This is so despite the fact that a number of education commissions and policies, such as the University Education Commission led by Dr S. Radhakrishnan (1946−1948), the Secondary Education Commission headed by Dr A. L. Mudaliar (1952−1953), the Education Commission headed by Dr D. S. Kothari (1964−1966), and the National Policy on Education 1968 and 1986 were concerned about the state of education. It has been observed that the Westernization of the education system has been far greater since independence than it was under British rule. Even after more than 60 years of independence, we have not been able to liberate ourselves from the colonial mind-set.

In present times, teaching-learning in schools is subject-specific, time-bound, focused on structured forms of learning, characterized by repetitive rote memorization, and examination-dominated. Creating a fear of failure, schools have become merely centres for selection, monopolized by tests and examinations. As Shotton (1998, p. 32) observed, ‘what one effectively has in Indian education is a continuation of an imperial culture, something that is essentially elitist and autocratic’. Variations through innovations within traditional mainstream schooling do exist, but are nominal, marginal and peripheral. These alternatives challenge the existing culture of rote learning and cramming, arising from prescriptive teaching, teacher dominance in classroom transactions, learning focused on securing marks, and evaluations that create feelings of inferiority and insecurity. In view of the existing realities, there is a need to address the question: what is the aim and function of education? The educational ideas of Indian thinkers provide a base upon which to build a perspective for a new system of education.

Educational thought: Some Indian views

The philosophical thinking of eminent personalities like Sri Aurobindo, Rabindranath Tagore, J. Krishnamurti, Swami Vivekananda, Mahatma Gandhi, Zakir Hussain, and others has influenced the system of education in India. Gandhi’s Basic Education Scheme (Bunyadi Talim) formed the basis of various education committees that were created during the independence period. Education for Gandhiji ‘is one in which the individual develops his character, trains his faculties, and learns to control his passions in the service of the community’ (Kabir, 1961, p. 202). Tagore pleaded for an education which would lead to an ‘all-sided and well-integrated development of the human personality’. He also felt that in order to be truly creative, education should be in touch with the lives of people in their entirety—economic, intellectual, aesthetic, social and spiritual. Sri Aurobindo too placed emphasis on the all-round development of the personality, which included education of the senses, body and mind, as well as moral and spiritual education. Swami Vivekananda’s educational thought laid emphasis on the realization of the perfection already present in man. He placed the greatest stress on education as the gradual unfolding of the intrinsic quality of the individual, and was of the view that no knowledge comes from outside. For Iqbal, the essential purpose of education was to develop man’s individuality. He saw education as a process that ensures the possibility of eternal progress. Indian philosophers, according to Kabir (1961), ‘regard education essentially as process of drawing out what is implicit in the individual and to develop his latent potentialities till they become actualities’. Indian thought, as expressed in the educational philosophies of Indian thinkers, lays stress on a comprehensive education aimed at the development of the total personality of the individual, in harmony with society and nature.

Amongst the various thinkers and writers on education who contributed to the philosophy of education in India, Sri Aurobindo’s perspective is significant in the light of a comprehensive education and an all-round development of the learner. It calls for a shift in the educational paradigm, one where curriculum is individualized, linkages with life experiences established, a love for learning inculcated, and the personal growth of the learner aimed at. It seeks a new approach to schooling: it considers alternatives to curriculum planning, teaching approaches, evaluation procedures, the role of the teacher and the learner in the learning process, and aims to bridge the gap between home and school.

Sri Aurobindo’s ideas on education

The educational views of Sri Aurobindo are closely linked to his futuristic vision of human destiny. He maintains that the kind of education we need in our country is ‘proper to the Indian soul and need and temperament and culture that we are in quest of, not indeed something faithful merely to the past, but to the developing soul of India, to her future need, to the greatness of her coming self-creation, to her eternal spirit’ (1956, p. 7). Sri Aurobindo’s concept of ‘education’ is not only about acquiring information. ‘But the acquiring of various kinds of information’, he points out (1956, pp. 9−10),

is only one and not the chief of the means and necessities of education: its central aim is the building of the powers of the human mind and spirit, it is the formation or, as I would prefer to view it, the evoking of knowledge and will and of the power to use knowledge, character, culture—that at least if no more. And this distinction makes an enormous difference.

Sri Aurobindo’s chief concern is not merely with the acquisition of information placed at our disposal by the science of the West ‘in an undigested whole or in carefully packed morsels’, but

the major question is not merely what science we learn, but what we shall do with our science and how too, acquiring the scientific mind and recovering the habit of scientific discovery … we shall relate it to other powers of the human mind and scientific knowledge to other knowledge more intimate to other and not less light-giving and power-giving parts of our intelligence and nature (1956, p. 10).

The aim and principle of a true national education, according to Sri Aurobindo (1956, pp. 10−11), is ‘not, certainly, to ignore modern truth and knowledge, but to take our foundation on our own being, our own mind, our own spirit’. A truly national system of education according to him will be ‘as comprehensive as the European and more thorough, without the evils of strain and cramming’. This can only be done ‘by studying the instruments of knowledge and finding a system of teaching which shall be natural, easy and effective’ (1956, p. 19).

Sri Aurobindo (1956, pp. 20–21) elaborates certain sound principles of good teaching, which have to be kept in mind when actually engaged in the process of learning. According to Sri Aurobindo, the first principle of true teaching is ‘that nothing can be taught’. He explains that knowledge is already dormant within the child and for this reason, ‘The teacher is not an instructor or task-master, he is a helper and a guide.’ The role of the teacher

is to suggest and not to impose. He does not actually train the pupil’s mind, he only shows him how to perfect the instruments of knowledge and helps him and encourages him in the process. He does not impart knowledge to him; he shows him how to acquire knowledge for himself. He does not call forth the knowledge that is within; he only shows him where it lies and how it can be habituated to rise to the surface.

The second principle of true teaching is that ‘the mind has to be consulted in its own growth. The idea of hammering the child into the shape desired by the parent or the teacher is a barbarous and ignorant superstition.’ Sri Aurobindo has more faith in the svabhāva of the educand, that is, ‘it is he himself who must be induced to expand in accordance with his own nature’. He states:

To force the nature to abandon its own dharma is to do it permanent harm, mutilate its growth and deface its perfection. It is a selfish tyranny over a human soul and a wound to the nation which loses the benefit of the best that a man could have given it and is forced to accept instead something imperfect and artificial, second rate, perfunctory and common.

For Sri Aurobindo, the chief aim of education should be to help each and every soul to draw out its best. He firmly believes that everyone has her/his own individuality and potential, with a chance of perfection and strength, however imperfect. As he succinctly observed:

Every one has in him something divine, something his own, a chance of perfection and strength in however small a sphere which God offers him to take or refuse. The task is to find it, develop it and use it. The chief aim of education should be to help the growing soul to draw out that in itself which is best and make it perfect for a noble use.

The third principle of education is ‘to work from the near to the far, from that which is to that which shall be’. As Sri Aurobindo states,

The basis of a man’s nature is almost always, in addition to his soul’s past, his heredity, his surroundings, his nationality, his country, the soil from which he draws sustenance, the air which he breathes, the sights, sounds, habits to which he is accustomed. They mould him not the less powerfully because insensibly, and from that then we must begin.

Sri Aurobindo observed that if genuine development is to take place,

We must not take up the nature by the roots from the earth in which it must grow or surround the mind with images and ideas of a life which is alien to that in which it must physically move. If anything has to be brought in from outside, it must be offered, not forced on the mind. A free and natural growth is the condition of genuine development.

Sri Aurobindo’s philosophy of education is based on the principle of evoking the potential of the individual in all its entirety, which should be developed according to human nature. Free Progress Education is based on the assumption that a human being is good in himself, and that positive freedom is a pre-requisite to helping children by allowing them space to experiment and providing opportunities for growth. As The Mother says, ‘A free and natural growth is the condition of genuine development’. Free progress is ‘a progress guided by the soul and not subjected to habits, conventions or pre-conceived ideas’ (The Mother, 1956). According to The Mother (1956), education, in order to be complete, must contain five principal aspects relating to the five principal activities of the human being: physical, vital or affect-related, mental, psychic and spiritual.

In contrast to the educational ideas of Sri Aurobindo and The Mother, the present-day education system in India is purely an instruction-of-information enterprise, supported by a subject and time-bound curriculum that neither relates to the needs or abilities of the learner nor takes into consideration the way children learn successfully. Instead of being child-oriented, it is subject-oriented. The schools focus on competition with others, on mastery of the subject matter for getting better marks or grades than on learning in cooperation with and from one another for personal growth and the welfare of others. This is not an exclusively Indian phenomenon; rather, education all over the world is largely reductionist, materialist, ego-enforcing, and devoid of the joys of the spirit (Cornelissen, 2003). It is in this context that there emerges a need to examine initiatives rooted in the Indian tradition; seek alternatives in curriculum, teaching, learning and measuring success; involve children in the process of learning; and focus on learning from one another and not from an authoritative pedagogue.

Against this backdrop, this chapter seeks to examine the school Mirambika, which is based on the ideals of Free Progress Education as envisioned by Sri Aurobindo and The Mother, specifically with regard to the effect of school philosophy on school organization, teaching-learning processes and student outcomes (Sibia, 2006).

The present research

Located in New Delhi, Mirambika came into being in 1981. The school, with 132 of its students aged between 3 and 12 years and 48 teachers,1 was studied using a range of ethnographic methods, the aim being to study various school aspects such as organization, culture and teaching-learning processes. It involved examining the roles and responsibilities of school functionaries and their role perception, the study of routine and formal activities (meditation, sports, evaluations etc.), the way teaching-learning is organized, the involvement of children in the process of learning, and the role of the teacher. Our understanding of the school was built through participant observation, interviews, informal talks and questionnaires, which were used for collection, documentation and analysis over a period of eight months. A thematic analysis of the data revealed the salient teaching-learning features, and interpretations of the classroom were drawn through inductive analysis. Validity of the interpretations was sought in ‘triangulation’. The interpretive analysis provided a view of curriculum organization, teaching styles, disciplining techniques, grouping and seating patterns—a kaleidoscopic vision of classroom realities in Mirambika.

It is important to state that the process of entry to the school is to be viewed as an integral part of the ethnographic research undertaken. A brief narrative of our entry into Mirambika offers an important backdrop for understanding the research findings and the possible gaps that remain.

Gaining entry

On my first visit to Mirambika, I talked to the Principal about the nature of the research work—observing the teachers and children in and outside the classroom, as well as the other activities taking place from the start to the end of the school day. The major concern expressed was that the study, especially the presence of the observer in the class, might interfere with the functioning of the school. I was briefly introduced to one of the school coordinators (core group of teachers) to work out my schedule. The teachers gave no straight answers to my questions; instead, they suggested that we get a feel of Mirambika for a couple of days by sitting in the classes, observing, watching the happenings during meditation, games etc. As they said, ‘one does not enter anyone’s house till one gets to know the occupants’, and Mirambika to them was their home. Informal talks with the coordinators helped us to develop a working schedule. We had our first formal contact with the Diyas (teachers) during one of their weekly Saturday meetings, in which I talked about the proposed research work, its objectives, and briefly about what the research team intended to do. No questions were asked by the teachers, who seemed to know about the research. My early interactions with the teachers were limited to greetings while sitting in the class. I felt my presence probably held an ‘evaluative stance’, which was erased with time through a deliberate, conscious effort. Our initial contact with the children occurred while observing their daily activities in and outside the class. Although we were silent observers and did not initiate talk, informal talk did develop when the children enquired whether we were the new teachers. We tried to answer their queries honestly. However, the children viewed us as new teachers, and addressed us as Diyas. Total acceptance on the part of the children was the key factor in making intensive observations. Informal contact was established with parents during the initial days in the school. Some of them knew about our research work and were interested in our perceptions of the school activities. Formal contact with the parents was established when interviews were held with them. They allowed us enough time in which to answer our queries and were quite open with their opinions. As the research progressed, the research team began to be viewed as a part of the school, especially by the children, which helped us in maintaining a credible research role.

Mirambika: The physical ecology

Nestled among trees in the premises of the Sri Aurobindo Ashram in South Delhi is Mirambika. The school came into being in 1981. Mirambika is approached through the ‘Sunlit Path’, which has a statue of Sri Aurobindo, and signifies the road taking Sri Aurobindo’s vision to the outside world. Wide open green spaces lined with eucalyptus trees surround the school, which has swings, slides, a neem grove—which at various junctures provide the space for learning activities for different groups. Mirambika has a number of resources, physical and material, which are characterized by the principles of ‘openness’ (Malehorn, 1978), that is, self-directed learning, enhancing uniqueness, encouraging exploration, flexibility in planning, sensitivity and affective awareness. Some of these are provided by the architectural layout of Mirambika, for instance, the wide roof terrace, which is used for various activities during the cooler months of the year. Similarly, the ‘neem grove’ and the open spaces surrounding the school are used for multiple purposes like group walks, games, exhibitions etc. Some common spaces of use located in the school include the teacher training wing, the library, the science laboratory, meditation hall, the art room, stationery room, gymnasium, computer room, talk room, the living museum and the dining hall. The physical facilities may therefore be considered resources in the school, keeping in mind their functions, activities organized, equipment, and the material they provide for school processes.

The architectural and physical organization in Mirambika has a distinct structure, and is an attempt to foster an environment that can keep the interests of all the children alive. The architectural space of the school, that is, its building, surroundings, equipment, materials, services and other resources set certain restrictions, but at the same time offer a certain degree of freedom to its inhabitants. The way each group uses the school’s environment as a pedagogic resource is of paramount importance.

The 30 or more models, charts, experiments, that were made as part of the ‘Environment’ project were displayed in the ‘Living Museum’ for a week and the children talked about their display, conducted small experiments, operated their models for other children, teachers and parents who visited (Field Note).

The importance of physical organization in Mirambika is highlighted in the context of the cultural meaning it acquires. The furniture, books, trees, all assume culturally defined meanings, which determine their limits and uses. All these set a range of opportunity, mobility, independence, flexibility and responsibility. The child’s experiences in school are thus moulded by her/his surroundings, which may have a personal or special meaning for her/him. The personal meaning the school environment has for the children is expressed in words like wonderful, peaceful, calm and quiet, different, superb, beautiful, best in the world. Some children have provided reasons for liking their school environment and related it to trees, the surroundings, building, open fields, cool breeze etc. In the children’s own words:

I like the building of Mirambika because it is very open and there are so many places to hide when you play hide and seek (Humility Group, 9 years).
I like the building of Mirambika in winters because the chilly air and fog come in the group (Humility Group, 9 years).
I like the playground and the trees, flowers, grass, plants, leaves, fresh air … ducks and the pond (Progress Group, 8 years).

A day at Mirambika

It is Monday morning, 8.30 A.M. The children, dressed in their daily wear and not in school uniforms, are seen approaching the school building through the Sunlit Path. Some enter; others begin informal games in the grounds. No bell rings. Children move towards the dining hall for a collective breakfast. They have informal exchanges over sandwiches and fruit. Soon they are ready for studies and disappear into their ‘groups’ (classrooms) ever so quietly. Children and Diyas (as the teachers are called in Mirambika) clean their workplaces, dusting, sweeping, mopping—getting ready for the day. The term ‘Diya’ has been coined from the words ‘didi’ (elder sister) and ‘bhaiya’ (elder brother). As explained by a teacher, ‘it symbolizes beckoning the light, the one who kindles the light in children’. Music for ‘meditation’ (concentration) marks the start of the school day, and a tranquil silence prevails. Students and teachers are seen sitting, some standing with eyes closed, a few looking out of the large windows, deep in thought. Children are told to think of what they left at home and what they will do in school. As a Diya said, ‘these thoughts help them make a smooth transition from home to school and help them to set the pace for the day’s work’. This activity is seen as an attempt ‘to help children look inwards, which in turn helps them to evaluate and control one’s feelings like anger, jealousy etc.’, as expressed by the teachers. As a child said, ‘I feel peaceful after meditation.’ Meditation is clearly governed by an ideology that aims at self-reflection, and is in accordance with Sri Aurobindo and the Mother’s views on education, that is, that it should be a path towards self-knowledge, self-mastery and inner realization. The purpose of ‘meditation’ as stated by the school coordinators is to provide ‘vital education’, that is, control over emotions, impulses and desires, which also helps to link ‘psychic’ and ‘spiritual’ education. The school, however, feels that the latter (spiritual education) is a life-long process; yet, by ‘creating awareness of it in the child, a small beginning is made’. The mornings are devoted to group work where pedagogic transaction takes place through ‘projects’, wherein different subject areas are integrated to achieve the project goals. Children work individually, in small groups, or take field trips. The work done in the mornings is evaluated either through self-evaluation sheets prepared by their Diya, or by discussions in a group. Lunch at 12.00 noon is an informal affair where children and teachers sit together on durries spread on the floor. Children from each group serve the food voluntarily. After eating, each person cleans his/her own ‘thāli’ (big metal plates) and places it in specified stacks. This activity acquires particular significance because it is an attempt by Mirambika ‘to develop a sense of responsibility, duty, self-help, dignity of work, self-restraint and co-operation’, as expressed by the Diyas. After lunch, from 1.00 to 3.00 pm, there is ‘formal training’ and ‘clubs’ for the older groups. During this time mathematics and languages (English and Hindi) are taken by subject specialists, the majority of whom are volunteers (part-time teachers). Twice a week children take part in ‘club’ activities in areas like cooking, jewellery making, calligraphy, arts and crafts, pottery etc. The child is free to choose and participate in an activity of his/her interest. The day’s work closes at 3.00 pm with a ‘home session’, marked by the playing of music for concentration. The Diyas said, ‘it is meant to prepare the children to get connected to their homes, and reflect on what they did during the day’. This is followed by light snacks and milk or juice, after which the children leave for their homes.

Diyas—Teachers in school

The Diyas at Mirambika comprise of full-time teachers (those residing in the Ashram), volunteers (part-time teachers) and trainee teachers doing their B. Ed. (at the time of the research project, they were affiliated to Indore University). They are not salaried staff and are paid a token stipend, which varies for full-time and trainee teachers. The volunteers are given a conveyance allowance. The teachers are chosen on the basis of their interest in working with children, affection and motivation to do their job. When asked what their aim in life is, the teachers replied, ‘I want to be an ideal teacher’, ‘be a perfect instrument of the divine’, ‘work for The Mother and Sri Aurobindo’, ‘to make my life worthy to live’, ‘teaching is my sādhanā (devotion)’, and ‘to do sevā (service)’. Commitment to the school ideology is a common factor among the teachers at Mirambika. It provides a strong basis for carrying out their responsibilities within the stated boundaries of an ideal teacher. They view themselves as ‘reflective’ learners, and their role is to help the children discover their potential through guiding them, and helping them to know their interests.

Organising the school processes

Watching the teachers and children at Mirambika, we became convinced that the ideology of the school provides a framework for structuring and organizing its work. The manner in which the classes, the entire day, the teaching-learning is organized, the way decisions are taken, are all influenced by the ideology on which Mirambika is based. As Brunsson (1985, p. 16) states, ‘Ideology is important in that it provides the set of ideas that decision makers take with them to guide decision making and to interpret their context.’

Mirambika does not compartmentalize itself into strictly graded or numbered classes; students are grouped together keeping in view their developmental needs. When asked how groups are formed and named, a teacher said,

Children are grouped according to their age, but each group has an overlap of ages. The five groups for younger children are given names related to colours, namely Red group (3+ years), Blue group (4+ years), Green (5+ years), Yellow (6+ years) and Orange group (7+ years). Colours are chosen because at this age, children can easily relate to them. From seven years onwards the children themselves, keeping in view the qualities and virtues they want to develop in themselves, name the groups. The name decides the focus of the group for that specific year (for example, progress, receptivity, humility etc.) and the children are encouraged and guided to achieve their group goal. This gives children a focus to their being in that specific group, and at the same time is a constant reminder of what they need to develop, which helps them assume responsibility for their actions.

The day-to-day functioning of Mirambika reveals that the working relationship between members is located in an informal work organization. We observed that there are no records or written memos maintained or sent. All communication is informal, and verbally conveyed to the teachers. The functionaries view their roles in line with their commitment to the school ideology, which enhances identification with the school goals. Hence, they carry out their responsibilities in a collective and collaborative manner. We observed that

there are no peons to do office work which is normally shared amongst the members; no extra hands are employed to help the children with their personal needs, which the group teachers tend to; no office bearers are appointed to look after the principal’s paper work—he himself works on the computer along with some others (Field Note).

Hierarchy in work is not evident, and the school comprises of workers of equal status.

Symbols marking special status and embodying authority are conspicuous by their absence in Mirambika. The principal is not regarded as the supreme authority on school related matters. When asked who takes the decisions, the teachers replied, ‘We all sit and talk and decide what has to be done’. Teachers and children often seek the principal’s guidance and support, and he makes himself available to the children whenever required. His office is a small space with little furniture, often used by younger children as a ‘hiding’ place during play. This may be taken as evidence of his relationship with the children, irrespective of the role performed by him in the school. The perceptions of the children regarding their principal are: ‘is a pal’, ‘he is great’, ‘knows everything’, ‘is a friend’, ‘like talking to him’. Clearly, the principal is not viewed as a ‘supreme authority’, deserving deference. As expressed by a teacher: ‘he is one of us, we don’t see him differently. He discusses everything with us and if we do not want to do a particular activity he does not force us. In Mirambika we are free to decide with our children. But he has a vision which I like hearing from him.’ The principal’s influence on members of the school, that is, teachers and children, may be attributed to his knowledge, personal skill, charisma and power of persuasion.

The unpredictable nature of teaching-learning at Mirambika makes centralized monitoring difficult. Since there is intra- as well as inter-group variations in the tasks, activities and organization of work, Mirambika finds alternative ways to monitor performance and inspire the members with a sense of purpose and commitment. In line with Sri Aurobindo’s philosophy, evaluations in Mirambika are for self-improvement and personal development and not for comparison. Neither are they related to grading, ranking, certification or upward mobility of classes. On being asked how children are evaluated, the teachers said, ‘We do not assess the child to show his weaknesses, but to show him how much he has learnt. Sometimes the evaluations are done by children in groups or individually and at times jointly by teachers and children. The idea is to let the child know how much he has progressed.’ Joint collaborative efforts during evaluations are influenced by the school philosophy, which stresses the undesirability of comparisons and competition among students in any of the school processes, including evaluation.

As alternatives to authority in school, attempts are made to make teachers and children responsible for their actions by letting the responsibility of action lie with the individual member. Activities like letting the children take the responsibility of serving food, issuing oneself sports equipment and returning it after play, providing medical aid to younger children with minor injuries, issuing books on their own from the library and solving minor fights in their respective groups are some efforts Mirambika makes to inculcate responsibility, cooperation and self-discipline. Therefore, the participants at Mirambika may be seen as autonomously functioning individuals. Accordingly, Mirambika functions within flexible work groups, which have open patterns of communication and coordination amongst themselves through mutual adjustment.

Classrooms: The context of learning

The classroom is where pedagogic interactions take place and apart from the transaction of content, it is the physical organization that affects interactions. The classrooms in Mirambika have a distinct physical structure and a unique organization, which fosters ‘openness’ in learning and forms the classroom climate.

The physical organization of the classroom bestows a structure on the activities carried out. It is therefore significant to know that the classrooms or workspaces of children in Mirambika are designed keeping in mind the needs of different groups. The three younger groups (classes) have large areas of work, low tables and durries for sitting. The younger children’s classrooms have an annexe which, their teacher explained,

is used by children for sleeping or for those children requiring special attention or for attending to a crying child away from the curious eyes of the peers. The round sunken area in the corner of the room is used for activities like singing, story telling, and playing with children. Making children sit in this area helps us to be close to them, to keep them in one place without actually saying anything to them.

Diyas were seen sitting in the sunken area narrating stories and reciting poems, the children often sitting on their Diyas’ laps or climbing on their backs. The areas of work for older groups have tables and chairs arranged in a circular manner to facilitate interaction during group discussion. Since the children do not carry books home, each one has an individual cupboard (for keeping books, copies, pens, pencils etc.). Common cupboards are used by the Diyas (teachers) for keeping dictionaries, other reference materials (maps, globe), books, stationery, colours, chalk, duster etc. All the groups have spaces for photographs of Sri Aurobindo and The Mother. Low walls separate the work areas of different groups. This gives an impression of one large group space with different groups working in different areas. Large classroom windows are a notable feature of the school, as they create an impression of unobstructed space and at the same time gives the building the benefit of natural light and breeze. The following description provides a view of how teachers and children function within such arrangements:

Location ‘Neem Grove’: Receptivity group (10 years) children and Diyas carry low tables and small mats to the open grounds, which they arrange in two semi-circles. Each group has 4-5 children and one Diya. Movable display boards mark the boundaries of work areas, on which charts and write-ups are displayed. The two groups are working on the project ‘Egypt’, with one group interested in drawing the map and the other working on making a pyramid, a few sticking pictures on chart paper while others are seen participating in a quiz related to the theme. (Field Note)

In Mirambika classrooms, the traditional pattern of tables and chairs is missing and the physical space is casually organized into interest areas, with children sitting around tables, working in small groups, lying on the rug, reading or drawing alone, wandering around the room aimlessly, or approaching the teacher for attention and help. The activity (curriculum) is not centred round the teacher, but dispersed throughout the room around each child. It can be concluded that the distinctive character of the physical space in Mirambika gains importance in light of the opportunities and experiences it provides.

Teaching and learning through projects

The ideological setting influences pedagogic processes and differentiates Mirambika from other schools in Delhi, thus lending it a special character. The project-oriented teaching in Mirambika has its origin and base in the school ideology, which stresses on education according to the child’s needs and capacities and aims to provide an environment conducive to such type of learning. It is based on the school’s philosophy that learning at primary levels should not be subject-specific but instead an integrated, multi-disciplinary approach that should be followed within an evolutionary curriculum, which develops according to the needs of the children. Kerry and Eggleston (1996) state: ‘The terms topic, project, theme, integrated work are interchangeable labels which describe the approach to teaching-learning and includes all those areas of the curriculum which are explored in a thematic way. Project work exhibits a particular attitude towards the nature of knowledge or epistemology.’ Gunning et al. (1981, pp. 83-84) summed up the ethos of the philosophy underlying project work:

One of the most prolific sources of such information lies within the child’s own day-to-day experience. Everyday the child is involved in a vast range of experiences at first hand. These contacts and experiences can be used very effectively by the teacher to provide the child with developing insight into a great range of ideas since they provide very ‘concrete’ pegs on which to hang important concepts.

In accordance with Sri Aurobindo’s philosophy, the projects in Mirambika form the base of Free Progress Education, which is defined by The Mother as ‘Education guided by the soul and not by preconceived ideas’. The founder-principal of Mirambika has described projects as ‘little ships on which our children explore themselves and the beautiful world around them’. Teachers expressed that ‘academics in the conventional way are not the focus, Mirambika mainly aims at an all-round development of personality, that is, the vital, mental, physical, psychic, and spiritual, and projects are the best way to achieve our goals’. The following description provides a view on how the curriculum is transacted through projects at Mirambika.

Project ‘Environment’ was taken up by the whole school as the school functionaries felt that the topic was the need of the hour, and that children needed to get acquainted with issues related to the environment. During the planning stage, the Aims, Resources, Activities and Evaluation to be undertaken were written on the ‘Planning Sheet’. The goals varied according to the learning needs of the respective groups. Keeping in view the groups’ goals, activities were listed by the Diyas after discussions with the children and among themselves. The children were divided into four levels, keeping in view their age, knowledge, and the focus on the content to be covered at a particular level. At each level different subject corners, including arts, were set up to focus on activities related to the specific subject content. For example, in an Alternative Models corner basic concepts to understand the global implications of pollution were discussed. Children traced man’s dependence on his environment in the past, the ozone layer, the Narmada Valley Project etc. Children planned an ideal city in terms of solar energy. Issues like what is real development were discussed, and teachers guided children to envisage the future they desired for themselves. During the first week children experimented in different corners to choose an area of their interest. The culminating activity of project work took the form of fairs (organized by younger groups), and exhibitions, quizzes and experiments carried out by the older groups for the younger groups. The teachers made each child’s profile covering all areas of work undertaken, and no marks or grades were given—progress was measured against the child’s own record and not with others in the group. The older children carried out self-evaluations to provide themselves feedback on their work. (Field Note)

In Mirambika, project work implies an approach to teaching-learning that deals with theme-related topics and cuts across all subjects, that is, science, social science, mathematics, languages, arts etc. The Diyas guide children, individually or in groups, towards the process of inquiry in order to develop certain skills and mental faculties. The focus is on the construction of learning experiences based on children’s interests. The choice to work in an area or activity is made by the children, and not just by the teachers. The teacher does not control the time spent on an activity; that depends on the activity undertaken, such as building a pyramid, making a model of solar energy or measuring the length of shadows, or helping to water the plants and clear the leaves. While working on projects, subject boundaries do not exist, and children are encouraged to view the relationship of one activity across different subjects. This is a combination of a ‘child-centred’ and ‘teacher-facilitated’ curriculum.

Flexibility in work

At Mirambika, the children and teachers may be seen as united by their shared experiences in a project or activity in their groups. As Thapan (1991, p. 48) states, ‘the ideology creates an ethos in which living together necessitates cooperation between participants’. An observation was made during our stay at Mirambika regarding the way teachers and children collectively make collaborative efforts and mutual adjustments while undertaking activities during project work.

Older children are required to go in small groups to the younger groups and get the survey proforma filled. The older children have developed this survey proforma. It has drawings showing the different seasons and the younger children are required to write what they would like to do in a particular season. Children visit the younger classes and one child of the older group tells the teacher the purpose of their visit, and on being granted permission to proceed, s/he explains the purpose and activity to the younger children. The younger children have queries like, ‘Do we have to write only?’ Or ‘Can we draw also?’ ‘Can I write one word?’ ‘I want to use coloured pencil ….’ Answers are provided to each query. The children in the older group were later seen helping the younger (Orange) children with their spellings, at times giving examples, clarifying doubts …. The older group teachers stand aside and watch quietly. The younger group teachers take this interruption calmly, helping the children when required. They seem least disturbed by the intrusion and resume work after the children’s excitement has subsided. (Field Note)

Project work is a way of planning and organizing teaching material with spontaneity as an essential feature influencing the content of the lesson, which then begins to evolve on its own, as one cannot decide whether the topic will ‘take off’ from the very point it ended the previous day (Plowden Report, 1967). The curriculum therefore evolves according to the needs of the group. While organizing project work, the Diyas have to deal with open-ended activities, spontaneity, flexibility in organizing work, and adopt an informal style of teaching. It is difficult to pinpoint a teaching style, but the ethos of project teaching is ‘cooperative enquiry-based learning’, and therefore a range of teacher behaviours was witnessed.

The following observation conveys the relationship of Diyas with the children.

Location: Sunken Area. Blue Group (4+ years) children are all piled in the round sunken area along with one of the Diyas. They are listening to a story with the Diya dramatizing and enacting some instances. While some children are sitting ‘all over her’ (one on her lap, one on her shoulders), she seems equally comfortable with them. A solitary young artist is seen sitting in a corner, colouring intently, least distracted by the class activity. The second Diya is cleaning the cupboard and joins in the group’s laughter at times. (Field Note)

Project work gains significance in view of the affective meaning it has for the children. Some of the perceptions of 52 children regarding projects in their own words are: ‘I like projects because they are very interesting’; ‘Project time is nice’; ‘In project time I like doing drawing, reading and doing drama’; ‘When it’s project time, I like it very much, and have a lot of fun also’; ‘I feel the best doing project work’; ‘Projects help me know lots of things’; and ‘In projects the fun is in doing activities’.

Interviews with parents also revealed that teaching-learning through projects help children develop confidence, accept responsibility and take decisions regarding their learning. As a parent remarked, ‘Mirambika’s system of learning encourages the child to come forward and do whatever they like without the fear of being compared with his/her peer group. This makes the child confident. Confidence in children makes them clear about their goals, likes, dislikes, which helps them to take their own decisions.’ Another parent said, ‘Children accept responsibility for good or bad decisions, and this is because Mirambika has provided enough space to the child to experiment and learn from their mistakes.’

The child: An active learner

Special aspects of teaching need special mention as they impinge upon project teaching. Rules of work are planned out in consultation with the children; organization of work takes place in small groups, which are formed in accordance with learners’ needs and keeping in view the group goals. Diyas work together to create a peaceful conducive environment that emphasizes learning by sharing and the complete involvement of children in constructing reality, that is, in eliciting answers. Children are given the full responsibility and freedom to make observations, personally experience and use the resources in the library; creative use of space is a common feature with children as they are free to work in the open grounds, lobby, library, laboratory etc. The Diyas stated that ‘It is important to know what the child knows and start from that point, build up on the strength of the child. It is no point saying, “You don’t even know this”.’ An interview with another teacher revealed that she believed her work should suit the needs of children. As she said, ‘I don’t like to think in terms of shaping children in a pre-existing mould. I am trying to help the child develop into a complete human being.’ The teachers’ concern with the all-round development of children is in accordance with the school ideology.

The Diyas view their role as that of a facilitator, a co-constructor of children’s learning experiences, and to build on students’ strengths.

Diya: When you go to the library and want to consult a book, how do you look up a book?
Child: Have a look at the chapters.
Diya: That’s right. What if it is a big fat book and you have to get information on ‘Universe’?
Child (1): See the ‘Contents’ of the book.
Diya: Yes, that’s right. What is it?
Child (2): List of chapters given at the beginning of the book—that is contents.
Diya: Good, what more it contains? (After some time the teacher again asks, is there anything else given or not?)
Child (3): Nothing else is given.
Diya: (Picks up a book and shows it and says) One has a list of tables (Children say in some books more information is given.)
Child: Do we have a list of pictures in books?
Diya: Yes! That’s right, we have illustrations and figures also. Now tell me, what will I do if I have to find information on ‘orbit’?
Diya: If I see the chapter on ‘Life’ or ‘Earth’ I will get the information.
Child: Yes! You mean look at the most appropriate chapter.
Diya: Okay! That’s one way. Don’t you think it will take a lot of time to search for information in this manner? (Children collectively agree.)
Diya: Okay! Now let’s make small groups of 4-5 students each (Gives each group a book.) (Children are seen examining the books.)
Diya: What is an ‘index’? Where is it?
Child: At the back of the book.
Diya: That’s right! What does it contain?
Child: Words are given and nos… is it page nos?… Yes, page nos are given.
Diya: Choose a word and see the page no.
Children: ‘Orbit’ is given on pages 8, 41, 126 …

In this excerpt, we consistently see certain qualities that can be said to be the teachers’ characteristic ways of behaving with children: patience, giving them freedom to express their ideas and opinions, providing opportunities to search for information, and being basically loving and considerate.

A ‘child-centred’ orientation on the part of Diyas is also reflected in behaviours such as asking questions, interest in and responsiveness to children’s individual needs, a great willingness to give children latitude in responding, and greater tolerance and approval of their behaviour. The discernment and development of uniqueness in children is highly valued by the Diyas. Their view is that ‘each child has his/her personality which needs to be developed, and our role is to channel the personality’. This is nicely illustrated in the following excerpt, which shows the interaction between a teacher and children. All through, the children are encouraged to express their personal ideas and opinions.

Diya: We have been doing a project on environment. Let us talk about types of environmental pollution. Can you tell me what causes pollution?
Child (1): Smoke in the air is pollution.
Diya: (Writes this on the board) Do you know other things which cause pollution?
Child (2): Smoke from buses, cars and scooters …
Diya: Yes, you are right, there are many sources of smoke which cause air pollution.
Child (2): Didi, also smoke from factories and cigarette smoking.
Diya: Good, are there other kinds of pollution?
Child (3): Water pollution, when we throw garbage in water, it causes many diseases.
Diya: That is very good! Who else is affected by water pollution?
Child: Animals in water … fish, whale … (The other children add on).
Child: Didi, even plants in water are affected.
Child: Sometimes animals die and become less (A discussion on dinosaurs followed, and how they became extinct).
Child (2): For this we have to protect animals from hunters.
Diya: What else can we do to help the animals?
Child: The animals can be protected in a Zoo … or such places.
Diya: You are used to a particular environment, how would you feel if your home is shifted elsewhere? A discussion followed on this.
Child (2): No! I think they should live where they are used to.
Child (3): We should not pollute their environments and let them live in their own places.
(The discussion continued to show the inter-dependence of man, animals and plants.)

Diyas allow each child optimum space, time and context to develop and display his/her interest and personality. Interviews with Diyas revealed that ‘opportunities given to each child to come forward encourages independent behaviour in seeking solutions to problems and issues’. Parents felt that for children, ‘learning is enjoyable and they develop a strong craving for knowing’, which may be attributed to projects, which ‘helps them to look at things from different angles and develop a wider perspective by relating one subject to another’.

Mirambika, in view of its educational and philosophical goals, invites the child’s participation in various activities, and provides experiences to explore, create, experiment and observe.

Negotiations at work

Exchange or negotiation is the mode of interaction often used by teachers and children to maintain a working relationship. Negotiations, according to Woods (1979, p. 127), ‘enable interaction to proceed in a manner agreeable to both sets of participants, so as to achieve their goals and maximize their interests’. Children in the older groups are involved in negotiations to a much greater extent as compared to younger groups, and are aware of the (almost) equal power existing between the teachers and children. This is perhaps the result of the complete freedom they are given to express their opinions, and the absence of teacher authority. As Thapan (1991) states, ‘If pupils are encouraged to express their opinions freely they become aware of this bargaining power.’ The following observations show how children negotiate during work.

(The teacher gives them worksheets to work independently.)

Children: Didi, can we work in pairs? (The teacher wants them to work on their own and is not willing to go along with them; discussion follows.)
Diya: Do you want to work in small groups?
Child: Please, we want to work together (points to her friend).
Diya: Convince me.
Children: We are a free world. We have a right to choose our partners. (Children in this particular group had done a project on the ‘rights of children’.)
Diya: Even I have some rights—don’t I?
Children: No, you don’t—(laughingly). We want to work in pairs (they insist).
Diya: Ok, work in pairs. Who are going to be the partners? (The children decide among themselves, and the teacher agrees).

Children in Mirambika are typically frank and expressive. During an interview, a parent revealed, ‘The freedom given to the child in class allows them to put forward their views without being “ridiculed” or “laughed at”, which makes them express their opinion.’ Informal communication lines exist between the teachers and children. ‘Power’ or ‘control’ do not lie with the teacher, and negotiations help to maximize the student’s effort. Attempts are made to provide children with opportunities to increase their sense of obligation to others, and to encourage the self-reflection that helps to maintain good working relationships.

The teacher (Diya) is not viewed as the positional authority who ‘knows best’ or is the only one who is relevant and correct, and hence wiser and stronger. The next example illustrates the view of a teacher as learner in Mirambika.

During self-evaluation of the work done, a Diya writes questions on the board.

Diya (1) writes: Which experiment did not you understand at all and why?
One girl: Bhaiya, it should be ‘you did not’.
Diya (1): Asks her to sit down (ignores what she has said).
Child again: Bhaiya, ‘wrong language is written’, and again points at the mistake.
Diya (2): Talks to the teacher who is writing the question, who then corrects it.
(The other children continue writing without reacting.)

Diyas are often heard using the phrase, ‘I am also learning, no one knows everything’, in order to get the children to move, explore, seek information or facts on their own. This is clearly in accordance with the official version of Mirambika as a learning centre for all, for children as well as teachers. No sharp boundaries are maintained between the one who ‘knows’ and the one who ‘knows not’. This makes children ‘independent learners in the sense that they search for information/knowledge on their own’, as expressed by a Diya. This suggests a fundamental shift in the teachers’ thinking and in the strategies they apply to children’s learning.

Disciplining strategies

Interviews and informal conversations with Diyas reveal that Mirambika does not relate teacher success to securing silence and orderliness in their classrooms; instead, it is related to personal (self) and situational control, that is, being ‘centred’. We too observed that ‘neither corporal punishment nor verbal aggression by teachers play any role in school interactions’. The teachers said that the ‘focus in Mirambika is on developing “inner discipline” in students, that is, control of emotions and actions.’ As alternatives to punishments, attempts are made to develop inner discipline. Some controlling strategies evolved by the Diyas for the younger groups include calling peace—a symbolic gesture of the hands to quieten children down; asking children to become a ‘statue’; symbolic gestures like ‘take the rat of fight and throw it out’; putting on music to make children dance and expend their extra energy; playing tug-of-war with the trees in the grounds; and talking softly to get the attention of children and making them in turn lower their own volume. With older groups, the teachers use different strategies. The teachers stated, ‘Each child is given five sticks, each time the child speaks unnecessarily, one stick is taken away. Once the child has exhausted all the sticks, s/he is not allowed to participate or ask questions.’ Children are also encouraged to form their own rules, and are then asked to adhere to them. Assigning responsibilities to the children seemed to be a popular disciplining strategy in Mirambika; this also helps the children become aware of their actions. Informal talk with children reiterates the school’s notion of developing inner discipline. They said, ‘If you are given freedom, you don’t misuse it but in a strict environment you feel like breaking the rules.’

The principal had a talk with some 6-7 children from the senior groups after hearing about the use of offensive language by a student in class. He tells them that through their misbehaviour, they are harming themselves and Mirambika. The children say that ‘he is always using’ such words, and wanted the Principal to take a tough stance. He is not willing to do so, and the children put forth their arguments in their defence. The boy in question is bewildered and explains his point, saying, ‘Boys I play with also use the same language but no one checks them’. He, however, shows willingness to make an effort to not use undesirable language. The class is adamant, ‘he has earlier made false promises’—no excuse is to be given now. The Principal asks the children to decide amongst themselves how they could find a solution to the problem. He reminds them, ‘we all make mistakes, you may also be at fault some day.’ Together they fix a date and time to discuss the solutions and opinions put forward by the children. (Field Note)

These attempts are derived from the school’s philosophy, which restrains teachers from encouraging conformity to a set of rules.

The findings are suggestive of the strengths of the project work approach followed in Mirambika. In addition to the cognitive aspect, project work also intends to develop the affective and conative aspects of development. Projects help students to become more resourceful, prone to taking initiatives and responsible for their work, and promote searching skills, reasoning power and experimentation. The role played by such experiences in shaping the personal-social development of children cannot be overlooked. The perceptions of parents, teachers and children revealed that teaching-learning in Mirambika attempts to turn children into confident ‘thinking individuals’, and inculcate values like the dignity of labour, sharing, cooperation and openness to others’ view-points. Mirambika children are perceived as being very confident, resourceful, adventurous, dynamic, responsible, sincere, hardworking, and information seekers. The results, however, also suggest the need for preparing and orienting Mirambika students to the prevalent teaching-learning-evaluation system, so as to aid them to adjust better after the students shift to other schools.

Conclusion

The basic premise of teaching in Mirambika is based on acknowledging that students have experiences, insights and talents, and that the role of the teacher is to help find ways to use them in the classroom. The project approach is inter-disciplinary, integrates arts in the curriculum and leads to collateral learning. This is accomplished through an evolutionary syllabi that emerges out of the needs of students. The use of projects is an alternative way of organizing work in such a manner that the activities taken up are designed to fit each student’s needs. Since projects are open-ended and flow in a direction determined by the children’s interest rather than by a pre-determined schema, they tend to develop the skills of inquiring, investigating and presenting the information in students. This makes children independent, responsible and confident of their learning. Frequent opportunities are offered to children to ‘reconstruct knowledge for themselves, rather than receiving it from the teacher’. Such interactions allow for an atmosphere of freedom and informality, in which lies the classroom ethos. In line with Sri Aurobindo’s philosophy, teachers at Mirambika attempt to build their teaching on what children know. The approach usually used by the teachers has a number of features: it is based on the student’s interests and experiences; it creates a climate of mutual trust and faith in the child’s capabilities; it provides the freedom to explore and experiment; and it lays emphasis on collaborative learning. The teacher’s role is that of a facilitator, a generalist. Fewer constraints operate on teachers and their success is not measured in relation to the contents covered, but calls for situational and personal control. The teaching style can be labelled as informal, participative, democratic and illuminative. In spite of a wide disparity among teachers—in terms of qualifications, background, experience and expertise—what emerges is a strong consensus to work for the ‘divine’. The teacher is a learner; as a teacher aptly put it: ‘we all make mistakes and it’s never too late to learn’. We also noted in our observations that teachers are constantly in the process of ‘self-reflection’, which, as Wade and Yarbrough (1996) stated, is a step towards professional growth. It may be said that the success of innovations in teaching-learning is dependent on the overall school climate. The new techniques used at Mirambika originate from its ideology and values, as well as from the motivation and commitment of the teachers. Such experiences at Mirambika help students to take initiatives, be self-disciplined, cooperative and responsible for their work, and play an active role in their learning.

Suggestions for future research

The success of the innovative patterns of teaching-learning followed in Mirambika, based on the educational ideas of Sri Aurobindo and The Mother, is relevant for bringing about a change in the current highly structured, time-bound system, which imparts information and knowledge in subjects separated into tight compartments, and is acquired by the learner in the same manner.

To meet the present-day challenges of the changing, inter-dependent world, there is need for a paradigm shift in the way schools impart education, the methods used by the teachers, and the total function and nature of schooling. Therefore education, besides providing cognitive skills (the traditional 3 Rs), needs to emphasize other aspects of learning that help children develop self-confidence, a sense of personal integrity, and individual personalities capable of helping and relating to others, evaluating one’s own learning, understanding relationships with people, being appropriately motivated etc. The focus should shift to learning how to learn, where to get information, and how to apply what has been learnt in everyday life. This will lead to autonomy in one’s learning and promote the development of both cognitive and affective skills—those of taking initiatives, being creative, decision-making and cooperative living. The development of cognitive and affective qualities demands a curriculum that is process-oriented and not content-based. This would require organizing teaching-learning in a manner that is sensitive to the needs of the learner, unlike the current teaching-learning in schools, which is uniformly given and tested within a rigid frame to all learners, irrespective of their liking or capacities. Teaching time and methods will have to be reorganized for self-learning, problem-solving, questioning and fieldwork, so as to encourage learner participation over a flexible time period in an activity most suited to her/his capacities. Grouping students according to their interests and capacities would be a step towards individualizing teaching and learning. The implied role of a teacher in this scheme is that of a learner and not one who ‘knows-all’ or is the sole purveyor of knowledge. Alternative methods of evaluation would facilitate learner self-evaluation for personal development, cooperative effort and further learning. Self-evaluation helps in knowing one’s strengths and weaknesses, is not judgemental, and aims at understanding oneself. The focus of such evaluation is to help the child overcome her/his weakness, which fosters personal development. It also provides the teacher with feedback on teaching techniques, learning methodologies and curriculum planning. Since self-evaluation helps in learning how much the child has covered and what more is needed, it would provide the teacher with inputs for modifying the syllabi and organizing her/his teaching to suit the child’s needs and capacities.

Endnotes

1 There are three types of teachers who work at the school: full-time, B. Ed. trainees and volunteers. The total number of teachers keeps changing, depending upon the number of volunteers in the school.

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