SHIKSHAMITRA is a process for learning to live better. It is a space where one

learns to keep well and to help others keep well too. Shikshamitra has an address.

However, it goes beyond this – permeating into the lives of many, influencing

one’s choices in life and ways of life. To be associated with Shikshamitra is to assume

the responsibility of trying to live better. It is a continuous attempt to search for

activities that inspire life and build trust, or, it is an attempt to keep away from

anything to the contrary. Shikshamitra is a means toward becoming aware of

how much one can be and knowing exactly what one’s limitations are.

December 15, 2008


We had been dreaming about this exhibition for a long time. We wanted it to be held in our school or in the neighborhood – for parents, friends, well-wishers, teachers, anyone interested in seeing...something different. We wanted to show how at Shikshamitra, drawing, painting, sewing, stitching, doing claywork, book binding, various other crafts, watching art, listening to music, singing, theatre, dancing, watching and analyzing films was all just part of our daily classes. Art is everywhere, all the time, with any subject. And it involves the maximum recycling of used and waste materials.

Eventually it was decided that it would be held on 12 and 13 December (Friday & Saturday) in the school. For two weeks, all the teachers and students, and especially Sudeshna and Maura, were extremely busy. They needed to select pieces from the last three and half years of work, write labels, and think about How? What? Where? to display these. Some grungy looking walls had to be painted. An invitation letter and envelope designed by students out of used brochures had to be sent out in both hard and soft copies; numerous phone calls had to be made. Most of these preparations were being done while normal school sessions were going on. The last two days, 10 and 11 December, were really hectic with the teachers and students doing the final selections, and Maura just starting to put into shape what was till then only in her head. There was also some “damage” done, when Biswajit stepped on Sipra’s toe in the ensuing melee and it actually wound up broken! Sipra cried for not being able to attend the exhibition. Students did some last minute “touch up” jobs and the teachers designed a bilingual leaflet. It was touch and go as displays were finally completed at 8:45 pm on the evening of the 11th in all the five rooms; duties were assigned to students and teachers; and everyone went home excitedly tired.

For the inauguration we invited the local Chetla Ward Commissioner, Bobby Hakim. Instead of the usual flowers and singing, with the lighting of an oil lamp and cutting the string, we first asked him to have a look at the whole school. He was taken aback when we then asked him to do a drawing on a piece of paper for us. He drew a man’s figure holding up the Indian flag and wrote, “We are all equal.” Seeing this, our student, Shajahan, cheekily whispered, “this is not right; one has to add “un” before equal!” This set the tone of the exhibition – with most of the visitors over the next three days being pleasantly surprised at the originality of the children’s comments, stories, compositions, drawings, etc. Mr. Hakim also mentioned that he would like to see if Shikshamitra’s talents and expertise could be utilized in the government schools in the ward, which is certainly something for us to follow up on.

Some of the many highlights of the exhibition included:
● The mystical song, Gharer Bhetore Ghar, by the group Mokaam.
● The story of a fight between the moon and the sun.
● Illustrated renderings of the Maori film, Whale Rider
● A chart showing how to do various kinds of book binding.
● A sales display of colourful, hand-bound diaries in various sizes made by the book binding group (more than Rs. 1000 worth of diaries were sold)
● Vibrant paper masks made from papier mache.
● Two posters that we have printed and are selling as a classroom teaching-learning material: one has a quotation by Picasso and another tells a famous Cherokee tale in ENglish that has been interpreted in Bengali by our student, Anita.
● Creative Math activity sheets.
● A colourful time-line of major life happenings made by a girl student.
● A book on the history of the school’s neighbourhood (Chetla) written by the senior students and their teacher, Sandip Bandopadhyay, and now being used as a guiding text by other students.
● Art Switch murals: a colourful square collage made by many children using pencil, paint, and various interesting waste materials, etc.
● The children’s own English storybooks made after listening to Red Riding Hood. These were re-written in their own words, typed and printed out, then pasted into booklets with their own illustrations.
● Bengali storybooks where children have written and stored their own book reviews in pockets fitted into the inside of the cover
● Bengali versions of English stories that were narrated by the teacher in class
● A prĂ©cis of the film, Children of Heaven, made by the whole class together, with illustrations by each of the children.
● Tagore’s Katakuti (where the cross-outs and corrections made while composing a poem are joined together to form a design). In the same style, children tried their own such Katakuti.
● Children’s drawings and comments on how they perceive Tagore’s activities and predicament.
● Clay ornaments made by the children
● A drawing based on Kabir Suman’s song, Ekii Thalae Charte Ruti, on how war declared by leaders forces neighboring friends to shoot and kill each other.
● Reports written by senior students in English on a visit to a local kiln and on the visit by a doctor to Shikshamitra
● Chart showing the various uses of maps
● Various quotes by children were mounted onto matching pictures drawn and painted by them
● One of the most attractive things, right at the entrance to the school, was the big board with children’s quotes on the relevance of art in school.

There were so many more such items that it is difficult to describe them all...

There were also two activity corners. In one room visitors who felt inspired by the exhibition were free to do their own drawings/paintings. Many parents participated in this. In another corner, people could throw a colour-dipped ball at a large sheet of paper that had a dark black outline on it. By hurling the ball, they “painted” the various large pictures! New designs were put up as soon as one outline was full of colour. Not just children (many friends of our students came to the event), but many adult visitors also thoroughly enjoyed this activity.

The children put up short performances of two dances and a small skit several times on 12th and 13th when a good number of visitors had gathered. In our library. Malasree, Nandita and Poonam were in charge of selling Shikshamitra products. In the staff room, Sujata and one student, Dolly were in charge of serving tea and cakes/biscuits supplied by Maura. Biswajit, Sudeshna and Maura were all over the place. Payel was welcoming the visitors and getting their comments; Maushumi looked after the kitchen and did all of the local invitations.

The exhibitions were open from 3:00 -7:00 pm on the 12th and 13th. An announcement ran in The Telegraph on three consecutive days (11-12-13), and several people came after seeing the paper. On the 13th, many visitors started calling up their friends to tell them about the show, and they then started requesting Sudeshna to keep it open on Sunday (the 14th) as well. The teachers were exhausted but as usual, the students were quite willing so on the 14th, (Sunday) the exhibition was held from 2:00 – 6:00 pm. Even now, some more people are asking to see it before it is dismantled so we have made a decision to have the exhibits remain up through this week, till 19 December (Friday).

In most cases, it was the students who were on duty in the various rooms who were explaining the exhibits to all the visitors. Apart from the usual “good” performers, the normally more reticent girls also did a marvelous job explaining the work. It was the teachers from other schools and organizations who were the most excited. Kirsty and her teachers from Suchana, a village school in Birbhum (near Santiniketan) took detailed notes. Alokenanda from Shamil detained us till the end and had to be pushed out at 7 pm on Sunday! Education researcher, Manabi Majumdar, from CSSSC spent a lot of time at the exhibition, and said she would write notes after going home. Swati, from Learning Network, came on the first day and sent her mother and others on Saturday. Professor Subhendu Dasgupta not only read and spoke to the children in great detail, but also pointed out to other visitors what to look for and what to read. Senior teacher, Madhuchanda, from Future Foundation (one of Kolkata’s leading innovative schools) was amazed at the quality and diversity of work, and also the creativity of the teachers. She commented that even in her school this kind of commitment and output was not possible. Our friend, Soumya Chakraborty, was shown around by the petite-sized Pradeep Giri. When they came to the “Drawing Room,” and Soumya playfully asked what he would gain by drawing something here. After a few seconds, Pradip replied that, “you will go back to your childhood.” Shravan, of AID –Austin, landed up and after seeing everything in detail said that he might come again to buy the greeting cards made by the children. Laltu, visiting from Hyderabad, dropped in on the first day and gave many pointers ( he has been associated for many years with Eklavya and other such creative children’s ventures). Many people wanted a copy of the book, A History of Chetla. Zul Kalam of Swanirvar Rural came and wanted this exhibition to be taken to the village for people there to see. To this our student Shajahan commented that this will not be effective as it will needlessly produce jealousy. Instead, he suggested that Shikshamitra teachers and students should hold a two-day workshop for rural teachers and students so that they can come up with somewhat similar outputs. And at the end, there should be an exhibition of those outputs! Our first art teacher, Atreyee, who now lives in Pune, also dropped in briefly; as did ex-teacher, Ankur, with some of his friends. He sent some others the next day. Police Divisional Commissioner of South Kolkata, Mr. Subbarao, spent quite some time looking at the show. The local Police Station Officer in charge also came in at the same time (coincidentally); and so did our house owner, Arup Mitra (a professor at St. Xaviers College), and his wife, who offered to teach activity-oriented Botany and Zoology to the children. Maura’s husband, Gautam, came and entertained the children with small magic tricks. Anshuman and Malini were so happy that they called and asked DRCSC staff to come over immediately. There were many other visitors and some of the exchanges were quite interesting.

Our film teacher, Moupia and her filmmaker husband, Shankho, have taken many still and video pictures. We will soon make suitable docu-materials from these. Many have asked us to quickly come up with booklets that assemble all this work to show the detailed process and outputs for the benefit of teachers regarding how to do integrated teaching in "Art in Education."

- Sujit

December 08, 2008

You are all invited!

Shikshamitra will be holding an exhibition of the children's schoolwork this coming Friday and Saturday. We look forward to seeing you there!

October 17, 2008

Materials FOR kids can also be BY kids

To be sure that the teaching materials you are using are appealing to the children you are teaching, why not ask your students to help you make them? The other day. we made verb flashcards for English but these can also be used for Bengali classes, etc. Activities such as this are a nice way to move away from teacher-centered classrooms where the teacher is only passing on information in a one-way stream. We noticed that the children had a good understanding of all the words after the session.

October 04, 2008

Art exam

The art exam at Shikshamitra had two parts. The first part was written. The children first listened to a short story about the life of Picasso and then were asked to think about and then write down in Bengali what they felt was the meaning of the quote,
"Every child is born and artist. The problem is how to remain an artist as an adult."

After that they had to work in small groups and develop a theme using cloth as their medium this time. We reminded them that use of the materials and theme development were equally important as how well they worked in a group, managed time, and put away things at the end. When all the groups were finished we sat in a circle and talked about the experience. This discussion revealed a lot about each of the final pieces. Many of the kids still feel they want to add to their pieces so we will pull these works in progress out again.

September 29, 2008


Every once in a while after there has been a flurry of activity at our school, it becomes time to create a wall newspaper. Children write reports on different "happenings" going on in their daily lives and these are decorated and glued onto one large chart paper which is put up on the wall for everyone to read and comment on.

To give you an example of the kinds of things that our students write about we have translated some of the wall newspaper articles into English:

Long Hair or School?
by Shantanu Naskar

One day I decided to leave school. The first thing I did was to grow my hair out. A few days later, I was passing by school. I saw Auntie standing outside. I thought Auntie would say something to me. She did not. I felt so down. I went off to have my hair cut. The next day, I went back to school.

Ranna Pujo
By Anita Sardar

I entered the room and found everyone cleaning utensils, with color all over the room. I asked an aunt, “What’s going on? Why is there color all over the room?” She replied, “We are going to celebrate Ranna Pujo, that is why there is color all over.”
I went to my room and fell back to sleep. It was already 7:00 when I woke up. Outside my room, I found everybody had started to cook. I wanted to stay awake all night. I asked my mother’s permission and she said, “No.” I asked my father, and he said, “Yes.”

Children Get Rowdy at Shikshamitra
By Rohit Naskar

For the past two weeks children have been out of hand at Shikshamitra. Who are the troublemakers? It has been the Juniors VS. the Seniors all along. It's like India VS. Pakistan. Boro Auntie is the umpire. When Juniors say something, the Seniors have some comment. When Seniors say something, the Juniors are ready with a snide least they try to. Sometimes they are unable to. It was like a game of cricket going on until Boro Auntie, the Head Umpire, called, "OUT!" on Saturday. The umpire called a meeting with the Seniors to say, "You are cooking up so much trouble. Don't you know that the Junior students are looking and learning from you?" The Seniors admitted their mistakes and promised to stop the fighting. The Head Umpire said I am going to watch you closely this coming week, now..."Go play ball!"

August 30, 2008

Shikshamitra Gift Shop

Did you know that Shikshamitra now has a small gift shop that is stocked with items made in the Learn and Earn Project? Some of our most popular items are the hand-stitched coasters, the eco-tote bags with brightly painted and stitched patches on front, unique terracotta ornaments, and our latest hand-bound diaries! If you visit, be sure to have a look. Many of the products make nice gift items. We hope to expand the space a bit so that we can help to sell some products for other like-minded organizations as well.

August 20, 2008


We are deep in the midst of the monsoon season here in Kolkata.

Upon seeing the wall paintings that Shikshamitra art students did on our principal's walls at her home, a well wisher made a request for posters to be painted for framing. The posters would be for a new baby's room – the theme was Sun, after the baby's name.

I liked the idea of bringing the sunshine into our class on this particularly dark day.

I chose square paper since we have never really used this shape before and it had a certain appeal and would be nice for framing. With the help of Sudeshna, I introduced the task and the theme, briefly, so as not to cap up any possible inspirations. Once the materials were set out and paper was in hand, I put on Beethoven's Greatest Hits and let the kids take it away:

- Maura

August 04, 2008

Kalighat Bridge Clay Workers Studio

Last week during our clay class period we walked to the Kalighat Bridge Clay Workers Studio to see where the ornaments, lockets and tiles we have been working on are fired.

Sajahan wrote a report on this trip in English:

We went to bharty in Gopalnagar.
We went on 29th July.
We left at 12 O’clock in the morning.
We walked to bharty from Shikshamitra.
We took 20 minutes reach to bharty.
We went with Nandita Aunty, Maura Aunty and Daniela Aunty.
We went to see clay wheel and cups
We see how did make those cups burn.
Mohan-sir helps to us.
If there not come to Mohan-sir then we did not see that, because
Mohan-sir and potter are friends.
Thank you Mohan-sir.

I think our photos tell the story of this outing. There are so many of these little bhar tea cups around us in our daily lives – and it was nice to see that behind each one, is a person with two skilled hands. As for anything, it is important to attach a face, and make the connections between the maker and the objects we use everyday, often without giving them much thought. I think that's mainly what the students got out of this wonderful local excursion.

- Maura

July 25, 2008


Boloram, Dr. Basu, Bikey, Daniela

Bikey wrote a short report in English on yesterday's health discussion:

Doctor Aunty’s Visit
24 July, 2008

By Bikey

Doctor Aunty said about our body. She teach us about care of body. She said to ask our parents to help us drink good water. The first step is care of our body. One more step is to eat good food. Wash hands with soap.

Then she talk of body organs. She teach how our body works. How beautiful is our body. How beautiful god gave us body. The heart is our body’s pump. Food is important for us. It is energy. Then she tell us digestive system.

We talk about diseases. We can help when diarrhea. We drink water, sugar, salt. Malaria does not go away. We go to doctor then. We eat medicine.

We asked questions about smoking and drinking. Companies take rupees but our body goes bad.

We first love ourselves, our bodies. Give respect. Then, responsibility to tell our parents.

We go to school. We learn love our bodies, our minds. We get good health.

Next time we get health check-up and see her tools.


July 10 -13, 2008

Praajak is an NGO working with railway platform children who asked us for assistance with teacher training. We organized a session that proved to be rather noteworthy for both sides. Shikshamitra feels that this is strength we can build upon in order to reach more children and address the fact that hands-on, independent-style learning is lacking in many of the curriculums being developed for marginalized children.

This was essentially a new experience for Shikshamitra. Prior visits to platform shelters of Praajak at Kharagpur and Malda gave us some insight into the program being tried there. We felt that the teachers needed: (a) some basic pedagogic concepts; (b) to develop basic reading/writing teaching skills; (c) to learn HOW to develop interesting materials; (d) to learn how to display them well; and (e) to manage multiple ability groups. With all these factors carefully noted, we designed the four-day workshop that was held right at Shikshamitra.

Summary/Highlights of the workshop
• 8 Praajak teachers and 3 Shikshamitra teachers participated in the workshop.
• The profiles, attitudes and habits of the platform children were written down. Based on that the content, methods, and management techniques of a classroom were decided. Emphasis was placed on “what a child could learn in very short teaching-learning slots.”
• Sessions on Reading, Writing and Text Creation were conducted. The children’s own writings are used as texts and activities are developed around them.
• A day of basic Maths with diversified activities created around the basic operations was also conducted.
• On the final day, participants chalked out a monthly programme.

Although most of the teachers had never been exposed to the pedagogic concepts and skill development techniques being introduced, they were able to pick up the ideas quickly and were soon able to develop their own texts with activities for further learning. They took the material being shown seriously and within 10 days of the workshop they developed many of their own new materials. They submitted a two-week work plan. Two of the participants, along with the Coordinator came over to show the materials they developed based on the workshop and to clarify a number of doubts they had. We were impressed with how they utilized the concepts we explained and incorporated them into a plan for their own particular students.

We realize that as far as pedagogy is concerned, Shikshamitra’s involvement needs to be long-term, continuing upon this first four-day workshop. Shikshamitra staff will soon need to visit the platforms and assist in some class transactions in order to build up teacher capacity and confidence. So all in all, we have started a good relationship for more community outreach and we all feel a bit more empowered to do it together.


July 08, 2008


INTEL launched a competition for students and teachers on the theme 21st Century Skills. Students were asked to develop Powerpoint Presentations on some suitable topic. All the students (12 students) who are taking Shikshamitra's Advanced  Computer classes participated in the Intel challenge and we are very proud to announce that two of our students took home prizes in the student segment:

Ms. Khairun Nisha for her project on A Healthy Diet

Sonia Khatoon for her project on our locality, Chetla

They received their prizes on in a state level seminar on 21st Century Skills at Jadavpur Indumati SabhaGriha in the presence of some great educationalists and other people from varied backgrounds.

We are very proud of all of our computer students!! This encourages us to continue to expand the computer program as we also try to develop new, motivational ways for teaching.

- Shankar

July 05, 2008

Reaching Out on Sunday

For a change of pace, we held a very informal Sunday Drawing & Writing Workshop on 22nd June from 10:30am to 12:30 pm for local community members to get to know a little bit more about our school and what we believe. There was one hour for Sudeshna’s writing corner and one hour for Maura’s art corner. There were 33 participants from five different local neighbourhood clubs. Though we invited eight clubs we got response from only five. All participants were school-goers, most in the age group of 10-15. We were surprised that three of our participants were less than nine years old, one who is in Class 1 and two from Class II.

In the Writing Corner, they were asked to write and draw whatever comes to mind after listening to a song. As they were not accustomed to this kind of exercise, it took a few minutes to actually realize what was happening. After a bit of time warming up, some of them did really well.

In the Drawing Corner they did one of our popular art exercises, known as Art Switch, which also appeared to be a new concept to them because there was no given theme or expectation of what they should put on the paper or create. The first group went wild and jumped into the spirit of the exercise, while the next group didn't grasp the flow so easily. We realized that it is important to conduct follow-up workshops if we want to unlock the creativity in the room!

We asked for feedback from the club secretaries as well as from the parents who were present, and this revealed that what took place was totally a new concept to them. They praised the group efforts involved in it. We had suggestions for the future, that this be a 2-3 workshop or that we offer dance workshops. Ms. Soma Dhar, who runs a coaching class, wanted to have a teachers’ workshop to gain the inputs of teaching from the trainers at Shikshamitra. She commented that she, “would like to put these kind of inputs into her own teaching at the coaching centre.”

There were a few parents who were not as happy because they were expecting their children to go home with some prizes, as is the case in most of the conventional “drawing competitions” held at schools. Here, we wanted the focus to be that everyone adds to the fun, and everyone was treated equally – so we had a lot of winners, and no losers! We tried to steer their mindset away from the idea of a competition, explaining that this is a workshop where participation counts. This was totally different from what they were accustomed to.

In the end, we also collected feedback from the participants and they seemed to go home quite happy. Mr. Sukhendu Santra, who used to work at Shikshamitra as a social worker and knows the children in the community very personally, handed out the certificates and a gift – a beautifully hand-decorated packet that included a book of Bengali stories created by the students of Shikshamitra – to the proud, if not somewhat magically perplexed, participants.

- shankar

July 01, 2008


On a very dreary Monday morning, students of Shikshamitra welcomed students from The Dwight School in New York City, USA. These Dwight students were visiting Kolkata in an exchange program organized in collaboration with Calcutta International School. They came with a big black rolling suitcase that, over the course of the fun-filled morning, gradually became a lot lighter.

The morning started out a bit quiet as we went around the room and all introduced ourselves. We sat in a circle looking at each other and feeling a bit shy, perhaps -- but the Dwight coordinators, Ellen and Libby wasted no time in breaking the ice. They soon made three games of that old American favorite "stocking feet game," TWISTER, appear out of their magic black bag! We broke into three groups and got started! Then they started picking the top players from each group for a show-off that really got everyone into the spirit. It was good, healthy competition at its best, and all for fun!

Next, our students put on two exciting dance performances, a mime skit about how money talks, and one drama that the students dreampt up about one poor old Bengali man being tormented by a fly and a mosquito! These drew great applause from our very receptive audience. It was time to break for tea and biscuits.

Following our break time, we tried a project with solarization where you put objects onto photographic paper and expose it to sunlight, of which there was none to speak of. No matter - because we had a great time arranging objects and making friendship bracelets for each other out of colorful pipe cleaners, that also appeared out of the bag at some point in the course of the morning. The "special paper" was left with us and on the next sunny day, you can be sure it will be experimented with again. It is wonderful how bringing out craft materials can really bring people together, kids starting talking to one another, helping each other arrange the objects, cutting out shapes for each other and drawing pictures together.

Lastly, out of the big black bag came beautiful t-shirts that The Dwight School group had made for Shikshamitra students. We cannot begin to thank them for such a practical and useful gift. We have decided to "keep these for good" to be used when we go for outings or as representatives of our school to other NGOs. We will share the Twister game and all the silliness it mysteriously is known to unlock, with other people in the community as well.

At the very end, after adult supervisors had repeatedly yelled out, "really, we have to go, get ready....," just right after our big group photo, we all broke into song...

You are my sunshine,
My only sunshine
You make me happy
When skies are gray
You'll never know dear
How much I love you
Please don't take
My sunshine away....

I'm sure a lot of nice exchanges were made and we hope that we can continue this link with our new friends in the future! We wish to say a big thank you to all the Dwight students for coming, and for taking an interest in our school. It is encouraging to all of us. After all the excitement of the day, we had a very special goodbye at Shikshamitra – with every child quietly settling down into meditation and after being tapped on the shoulder, leaving for home, one by one in complete doubt with thoughts of all that happened at school and sunshine in their hearts!


June 28, 2008

Back in Business

Following a long break, we got back into the groove of designing fabric patches for our most popular Learn & Earn product, eco-friendly cloth tote bags. Shikshamitra students had strong ideas about what they wanted to put down and we already started discussing how stitching into the designs they painted can enhance their designs. It's been a long time since we worked on these and we all felt a surge of creative energy!

May 17, 2008

Field Trip to the Village

Our students wrote nice reports in English on our recent school field trip to visit our umbrella organization, Swanirvar, also working to develop alternative education in the rural areas of West Bengal:

Our Trip to Swanirvar

We went to Swanirvar on 25th April.
We left at 6 o'clock in the morning.
First we took taxi for Sealdah from Shikshamitra.
Then we took train to Maslandpur.
Then we took trekker to Swanirvar in Adhar Manik.
It took 3 hours to reach Swanirvar.
We saw the Ichhamati river, mango trees, and lot of greenery.
We played football.
We went swimming in the pond.
We taught the students of Swanirvar wall painting/
I liked the mango trees and the Ichhamati River.
I disliked the power cut.
We enjoyed the trip.
-- Shahjahan A.