Anand Niketan, a school in Sevagram ashram in Maharashtra, follows a crafts curriculum. Thread spinning, weaving, pottery, agriculture, and embroidery are a few crafts practiced at the school. The crafts curriculum is graded and runs parallel to the prescribed Maharashtra State Board curriculum. Children are initiated into the curriculum from the pre-primary grades. For instance, in the pre-primary classes children collectively grow and maintain herbs and vegetables, and by class 7 they are able to independently manage a small piece of land. They use the manure they produce from composting and sell the harvest, at market prices, to the teachers and staff of Anand Niketan.
Within the Anand Niketan campus is a cottage that functions as the Nai Talim office. The recent practice of craft-centered education evolved from Nai Talim, which is a more comprehensive education system encompassing all spheres of life. In the early days of Anand Niketan, the Nai Talim office was bustling with activity with educators from all over India discussing the curriculum, pedagogy and the administrative structure of a Nai Talim. Anand Niketan realized the curriculum and pedagogy through practice. To systematically observe the day-to-day life at Anand Niketan, its macro and micro rituals, I regularly visited the school over a three-year period from 2013 to 2016. During these visits I stayed within the ashram campus in a guest room allotted to the school. During one such visit, while arranging the Nai Talim office library on a late evening, I met a senior philosophy professor from Maharashtra. Our discussion began on education and he said, “The sole purpose of education is ananda. If a child is not happy in school, he is not learning.” In this short essay, I will discuss this statement beginning with the meaning of ananda followed by a discussion on the connection between work-based education and ananda. In the end, I will link it with Gandhi’s idea of swaraj.
Ananda is a residual feeling experienced after a complete self-immersion in the activity*. It is experienced when the individual self becomes one with the object of creation, thus, removing the gap between the self and the creation. Constructive work has the potential for such engagement. In this process, our hands guide the mind, and the mind holds the hand.
Work at Anand Niketan can be classified as what David Pye calls a workmanship of risk. David Pye was an architect, an industrial designer, a craftsman and a professor of Furniture Design at the Royal College of Art, London. He argues that in the workmanship of risk “the result of every operation during production is determined by the workman as he works, and its outcome depends wholly or largely on his care, judgment, and dexterity” (Pye, 1995, P. 52). So, it is the workman’s vigilant mind, her commitment to the work that affects the quality of their product. In such a case, a workman owns their work, which must meet the standards they have decided for themselves.
During a thread spinning class at Anand Niketan, I observed an eight-year-old girl tear away the thread spun by her friend. A few minutes before this happened, she had exchanged spindles with her friend to help her. However, due to lack of concentration, her friend was unable to establish a rhythm between the movement of her hands with that of the spindle. Thus, the thread kept breaking. Frequent breakage of thread reduces its quality. So, this girl took her spindle back, inspected the quality of the thread and tore away inferior quality thread. This ownership of work and awareness and practice of quality work is a rare observation. However, at Anand Niketan, children are conscious of the quality of the product they are creating. They have set standards for themselves. It shows ownership of their work.
Discussing quality in the production of thread, a class 5 child explained, “If I don’t spin the thread with concentration, the thread will be of low quality. It means that the thread will break if pulled. It will have a darker colour. When the weaver uses this low-quality thread, it will break often, and she will have to look for one broken thread in 1000 threads. Her work will get affected.” The child shows awareness of the link between different crafts, and the meaningfulness of his work.
“To do good quality work, we must have concentration. We must be so focused while working that we do not hear our classmates and our teacher,” explained another class 5 student. This boy was in an embroidery class when immersed in his work, he did not hear the teacher’s instructions. The teacher did not reprimand him for not listening because she was aware of the process.
The crafts curriculum at Anand Niketan gives children an opportunity to access this sphere of work to experience ananda. Children begin this practice and continue to hone their skills of concentration and dexterity. This practice of crafts is also a practice in self-awareness, self-reliance, and self-discipline. With each practice, the children get better at controlling their body, mind, and soul. These self-explorations make them aware of their physical, intellectual, and spiritual capacities. It gives them the confidence to rely on their physical, intellectual, and spiritual potential. Such an individual is on the path of swaraj; that is, she lives without fear. For fear lives in the individual. When it takes hold of the mind, the individual feels depressed, gloomy, anxious, and insecure. Lazy, inactive, passive behaviours are the physical manifestations of fear. Fear represses the self and inflicts violence at first on the individual self, and then on the ‘other’.
Gandhi advocated craft-centered education because he believed it will free the individual from the cycle of fear and violence. He believed that the path to swaraj was through craft-centered education. And the daily practice of crafts leads to the feeling of self-fulfilment. A fulfilled self is a non-violent self.
*As explained by Udayan Vajpayee, an eminent writer who has worked extensively on art, aesthetics and literature.
Reference: Pye, David. 1995. The Nature and Art of Workmanship. London: Herbert Press
The author is an academic and a researcher who has been working with children in various capacities for nearly 20 years. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also connect with her on LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/nidhi-gaur