What would you like to do today?

Arun Elassery

Anand Niketan, no relation to the Nai Talim school at Sevagram, is a chain of popular schools in Gujarat founded by Kamal Mangal, a visionary businessman. Mr Mangal has done a deep study of the various alternative systems of school education; he has visited and seen many of these in operation and he is ever willing to implement good educational practices in his schools. His schools include large schools in cities like Ahmedabad, a tribal residential school and one small experimental school in Bhopal of which we will talk about here.

Anand Niketan Democratic (AND) School started in 2012 when Kamal Mangal agreed to finance Pramod Maithil’s idea of opening a small democratic school in Bhopal. Pramod and some other parents who were coming together to start the school were connected to Eklavya and hence had a good grounding in the alternative educational conversation. The school operates out of a large two storey independent house with a very large lawn. When I walked in on a Saturday afternoon the teachers and some parents were sitting in a circle on the floor of the living room discussing school matters. I joined the circle and we had a free-wheeling conversation about alternative schooling and about AND’s evolution to its present form. Because I know Kamal Mangal and I have authored a tiny picture book for children published by Eklavya, I was treated as an honoured guest.

The school has no classrooms, just spaces demarcated on the basis of resource material. So there is a language room, a math room, a science room, etc. The children decide in the morning what they want to do through the day and move freely through these spaces. The teachers come in when the child asks them or if they see the child having difficulties and need help. Each student has a designated mentor and the mentor keeps a daily note of the child’s activity and this is how the evaluation of the child’s learning happens. There are no exams, no punishment, no school dress. The children maintain a personal portfolio of their work and this is the other thing that can be evaluated if required. The teachers, of course, need to put in much more effort in this model and they stay back in the evening for a daily review meeting. The predominant feeling I got was that the team (teachers and parents) was very enthusiastic about the work the school is doing and the discussions are dynamically improving the way the school runs.

In our discussion that day, someone mentioned that the business angle of the school was difficult to manage and finances were always constrained. So much so that they might have to shift out of their present ideal location because of the unaffordable rent. The people in the circle all identified themselves as good in operations, whose full time should go in facing and overcoming the moment-by-moment challenges of running AND and not in sorting out its finances. The discussion appeared to reach a conclusion that radical educational experiments like AND should not be thought of as money making ventures but as research that ideally some interested outside agency needed to fund. It is indeed fortunate that AND has a patron who backs it fully and whose vast knowledge and experience can help make one school in the Anand Niketan chain the designated ‘research’ School.

Quick facts

Been around for: 2.5 years
Number of teachers/staff: 10
Number of children: 30
Classes handled: 4 multigrade groups from ages 3 to 13
Approximate fees per child: Rs 25,000 per year including transportation. Around 10 children pay no fees or pay a token amount and 6 more pay between 25-50% of the yearly fees.
USP: Democratic school where children decide what to do each day.
Location: Bhopal
Website: http://anbhopal.weebly.com

The author got his degree from IIT Kharagpur in 1988. This article has been written under a Wipro education fellowship. He can be reached at arunelassery@hotmail.com.