Utopia in a school

Arun Elassery

“Mirambika started in 1981 as an experimental innovative school. Innovative it continues to be, but it is hardly an experiment any more. It has proven its success in ways more than one. Year after year, it attracts an increasing number of children who seek admission – far more than we can accommodate. It has inspired several other schools in the country, which have also made a mark as schools with a difference. It has been studied by NCERT with highly favourable results. It attracts groups of teachers and would-be-teachers not only from India but from all over the world who come to observe, understand and learn something from this fascinating school, and they all return highly gratified and amazed at the way Mirambika has made the ideal in education feasible and approachable.” – From the Mirambika brochure

Over 30 years old and set within the beautiful Aurobindo Ashram in Delhi, Mirambika is the poster child of alternative education in India. Walking around the open classrooms and seeing the happy children, I for one was convinced that Sri Aurobindo’s vision of integral education could be implemented in the real world. Here are the three main principles of integral education that Mirambika brings down from the realm of the philosophical to the practical:
“The first principle of true teaching is that nothing can be taught. The teacher is not an instructor or task-master, he is a helper and a guide. He does not impart knowledge to the pupil, he shows him how to acquire knowledge for himself.

The second principle 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 teacher is a barbarous and ignorant superstition. 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. 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.” – From the writings of Sri Aurobindo

And Mirambika, which prides itself on being a free progress school, makes it happen through a variety of mechanisms:

  • Having no school uniform.
  • The classes/groups are named red, blue, green, yellow, orange for children in the 3-8 year age bracket and progress, peace, perseverance, integrity, aspiration, endurance, and felicity for the 8-15 year age group. All groups include children of different ages and at different learning levels, yet all their needs are individually catered to.
  • There is no fixed curriculum that the Diyas (Didis and Bhaiyas), the teachers, dole out. The children learn through project work, done individually or in small groups or by going on field visits. The role of the Diyas is to assist the children in their project work.
  • There is a 3:1 children: Diya ratio (they have permanent teachers, trainees from their teacher training college and volunteer teachers).
  • The children start their days with cleaning their work areas with their Diyas, listening to meditative music and then thinking about what they would like to do through the day.
  • The spaces through which the children move through the day are demarcated by their functions as art room, laboratory, resource room, computer room, living museum, dining hall, meditation room, etc.

Sounds very utopian and impractical? Well, it probably is, but Mirambika has a long list of teachers and students and parents who have firsthand experience of this utopia. You should probably go and see for yourself.

The author got his degree from IIT Kharagpur in 1988 and is currently a Wipro Education Fellow. He can be reached at arunelassery@hotmail.com.