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.

September 26, 2013

Shikshamitra on youtube

Everyone at Shikshamitra is very proud to present this short video on our work.  We thank our friends at A NOTSOABSOLUTE FILM for creating this succinct intro on what we do. The video gives a peek into Shikshamitra's philosophy and our goals for the new open learning centre we are presently moving forward on in a big way.  Please take a moment to watch it and provide us with your feedback!

October 15, 2012

Cards & Connections

Matisse inspired cut-out card
Shikshmitra was approached by Indienhilfe, a long-time supporter of our work, to take part in a project that had various aspects to it: an income-generation activity for children over 14 years of age, a fundraising activity for various Kolkata NGOs working in education, and creation of a product that can be sold in Germany during the year-end holiday season.  Each NGO received 200 blank cards prepared with information on back, along with a space for each child to write their name and school.  Since we don’t meet on a regular basis these days, we thank our friends at Indienhilfe for this opportunity to bring us all together in the name of art and creativity.  All the children involved took the work very seriously and worked eagerly to understand the project and create their work.  The results were beautiful.

We called several former students who we felt would both enjoy this project and be able to efficiently complete the task at hand in time for the deadline.  As some of the older students, many who are now working, came in to confirm they would work on the project … yet another story unveiled itself.


Raja Das came to Shikshamitra right in the beginning of 2005. He was 10 years old at the time and he stayed with us until 2011 – trying hard to overcome his learning difficulties while discovering his talents and polishing them. 

While Raja struggled with his Bengali, he could draw beautifully in the same class. He awaited the moments for drawing in every class – and thankfully there were plenty at Shikshamitra.  In his drawing, use of colour, and painting, Raja always shined.  He dazzled in crafts too!  Doing measurements and Maths were also some of his favourite areas.

His mother, with her congenital heart problems, gradually found it difficult to work.  Even the household work was too much for her. Raja’s father, a very irresponsible man, lived in the same house.  Soon Raja replaced his mother; looking after his little sister and mother, buying provisions for the house, cooking, washing – doing all that must be done to keep a house running.

Raja lost his mother in 2009, which meant that he now had to look after the house round the clock. His interests in studies waned. We were in touch with Tomorrow’s Foundation and in 2011, we arranged a year-long apprenticeship for Raja in their Craft and Printing Unit. He took it up, loved it and completed the year. They offered him a job in 2011. Family responsibilities and feuds pushed Raja into oblivion and he was also managing a meat shop for a relative who had loaned them a big amount of money. He stayed away from us and from Tomorrow’s Foundation.

Display of Raja's products at Shikshamitra's Growing with Art Exhibition 2010
The printing unit of Tomorrow’s Foundation became partly independent as they set up their own business as Punjali. They needed another person, so they searched for Raja this year and cajoled him to join them again in this new endeavor.  Raja made up his mind to pursue his calling for the arts. He has become an important member of the Punjali unit of Tomorrow’s Foundation. Along with this very important comeback he is also trying to pursue the Class X Open School exam. 

Recently, Indienhilfe asked us if our older students would like to create 200 greetings cards out of a total of 1000, which they got specially printed for Christmas/New Years. We happily agreed to the project. Along with other students, Raja was contacted to know if he would like to work on a few of these cards. He came by Shikshamitra to explain that he was too busy with orders at the new craft unit but as he talked, he asked if he could take a look at one of the cards.  One look from afar set him enquiring, “Does it have an image of Durga and some writing in blue at the back?" He was right!  He proudly beamed, telling us, “I printed them all – the entire order – at Tomorrow’s Foundation.”

 Thank you Indienhilfe, Tomorrow’s Foundation (Punjali) and all who stood by Raja to grow since 2005‼

Painting done by Raja on the wall of our school 2008

July 16, 2012

GALPO NIYE: Set of Reading Cards Published by Shikshamitra

We are very happy to present our latest publication: a set of beautiful reading cards called Galpo Niye (Stories All Around) with original text and illustrations.

 Children are reading less and less and want activities that can be completed quickly. This set of 25 cards (plus Note to Facilitators on how to use) is full of thought provoking stories, activities and discussion points in Bengali to be used in classrooms, libraries, homes...all around!

 Galpo Niye reading cards have been inspired by similar productions like Kathai Jharna. The cards can be used to boost reading and comprehension skills for Bangla speaking/learning children (8-12 yrs or more) as well as for adults who are able to read and write simple Bangla.

 Galpo Niye provides readers 
with a unique way to enjoy 
learning the Bengali language:
  •  Only one story per page.
  • The illustrations have all been created by the children of Shikshamitra and our friends.
  • Each story, no matter how short, is designed to make readers think deeply and independently.
  • The reverse side of each card presents interesting questions that exercise comprehension, rational thinking and above all, imagination.
  • The stories are mainly original pieces by children/teachers/friends of Shikshamitra with a few more borrowed from great authors like Tolstoy and Hans Christian Anderson or well-known Bengali authors, folk tales and Khushi Khushi (Eklavya).
  • Children can do the cards on their own, leaving the adult-in-charge free.
  • All of the stories and exercises have been tested and received positive response from children over a three-year period.
  •  The cards and the discussions they inspire are fun for both students and teachers/parents alike!

Price: Rs 280/- (in India)
(a donation of an additional Rs. 20 helps us to provide these cards to students at schools working on very low budgets)
Contact us if you would like to make a purchase:
We can also send outside India: US$15 outside India (includes postage)

March 16, 2012


It was to be a class without a teacher. Children had learnt about the different types of mountains, plateaus and planes almost a year back. They needed to do revisions before exploring the Indian relief, so their task was to look into the classification of landforms and make a plasticine model of each. The plasticines in our school had not been used for some time so I had to add a few fresh ones as back up. Once the task was explained, the children consulted their books and figured out how many models they would have to make. They started with the old plasticines but were struggling, so after a while I gave them the new ones.

The models revealed what the children had and hadn't learned. Their lava plateau was great, their eroded mountain and monadnocks were okay, but the block mountain was no more than a thickened version of the 2D picture from the book. So, we began to re-model the models.

The “old and hardened” could not be left out as we didn’t have enough of the plasticine. Just then, an idea struck. How about turning the “old and hardened” pieces into igneous rocks and the soft ones into sedimentary? We split a chunk of “igneous rock” and set the pieces a bit apart to become Angaraland and Gondwanaland, with Tethys in the middle. Then, we laid different color layers of sedimentary rocks in the “ocean.” Finally, Angaraland and Gondwanaland were pushed towards each other to create fold mountains. Similar steps ensured the lowering of Rift Valley. Eroded mountains were then “eroded” and dissected plateau was dissected. Mountains were raised along the border of intermontane plateau and two volcanoes were made – one with its top blown off. Finally “rocky” layers were raised or lowered to form respective types of planes, “silt” was deposited to create alluvial plane and a “river” trisected a piece of land with its distributary to form a delta.

The next morning a teacher went to see the models and came back confused about one spherical piece that was not labeled. When the teacher asked what that piece was, a senior student (now turning into a teacher himself) replied, “Earth” – an apt label for what was actually a ball of leftover plasticine!


October 14, 2011

A Little Shikshamitra?

- by Sudeshna Sinha

Shah Nawaz was initially a school dropout. He had decided to give education a chance after coming across an alternative learning space like Shikshamitra. While Shikshamitra grew, so did Shah Nawaz – drawing inspiration from each other and nurturing one another in the process. Life was not smooth for Shaw Nawaz: caught between school and his father’s shop, he stayed away from school for extended periods of time, sporadically returning with fresh enthusiasm only to disappear again. Developing fast as a thinker, a keen observer with a clear vision and a quiet, confident leader, Shah Nawaz finally managed to take the Madhyamik exam this year (2011).

On 26 March 2011, at a youth conference organized by DRCSC, Shah Nawaz gave a presentation on how Shikshamitra has influenced him. He began by describing Shikshamitra as a “different process of education” and “a relationship,” and he ended by saying that he hoped to see many more small Shikhsamitras crop up – commenting that he aspired to run one someday.

From the time Shikshamitra began in 2005, we had prepared ourselves for the fact that the school would not continue on forever. We envisioned a situation whereby it would ideally be taken over by the community we were working with in the future but this was always a hard-to-realize hope! Ideally, there should be many Shikshamitras working within different localities.

The school unit of Shikshamitra school wound up in January 2011. The decision to close was taken following a number of discussions throughout the previous year (2010). The objectives of Shikhsamitra were visited and revisited. We always took the older children into confidence with regard to the future of Shikhsamitra. In 2010, we gave an open offer to a few of them asking them to start up a Shikshamitra-type center in their community. Although some liked the idea, they did not dare take on the challenge of initiating it.

A library called Boi-Hoi-Choi (Books-Fun-and-More) was started in the community clubroom in May 2010, with 25 regular members. It was handed over to the club secretary in March 2011, once Shikhsamitra withdrew its pro-active presence from the community. At the closing ceremony, both the library members (about 25 odd) and some of the older children of Shikshamitra expressed a desire to keep the library project going. However, nothing happened as things became quite busy as our transition took place. A cupboard of books remained untouched in one corner of the clubroom.

Shikshamitra shifted to a new address – smaller and less visible, but still close to the slum. The students and staff of Shikshamitra struggled to adjust to our new place. Working in the small rooms stuffed with furniture, we reminisced about the freedoms of the huge space we were used to in the former school.

Shah Nawaz re-emerged once again, took his Madhyamik exam while remaining closely connected to Shikshamitra. One morning, as he was chatting with all of us, he expressed that he felt the library should be re-opened; and he clearly stated that he was ready to take it on as his own project. Why? What urged him to take such a decision? He must have known that he would have to shoulder the responsibility of the library alone for the most part, with others helping out off and on!

We handed the following questions to Shah Nawaz to help him focus and to clarify his thoughts:
  1. Why am I thinking of reopening the library/activity center in the local club space?
  2. Why should this happen in my slum at all?
  3. Who will come?
  4. What will happen at the space? What can I offer?
  5. What will happen if it’s not there in the first place?
The answers to these questions flowed easily from Shah Nawaz’s pen:

There was a time when some of us were just like these children in our para (locality). Like them, we struggled to read or write something. And it was so meager that we could not cope and started disliking studies. Even if some of us did manage to read and write with ease, the textbooks, exams, the stifling rules choked us completely. There was no liberty to think or learn our way. There was no time to ourselves. Disgusted, some of us – perhaps many of us – left school. We played the whole day, went for odd jobs, started working or got ourselves into ‘trouble.’

And then some of us did change, because we happened upon Shikhsamitra. It was a school where we started learning in various ways. We read stories, we worked with our hands, watched films, went out to see plays, to exhibitions, on tours. We drew and painted, worked on studying our own history and the history of our neighbourhood, we measured the distance from our school to our homes and we continuously discussed and debated various issues and our own viewpoints. And what happened to us? We started to love learning. Every day, there were new expectations, we have come a long way.

Shikshamitra has ceased to exist at 62B Alipore Road, Kolkata 700027 but the experience was so rich and the methods were so appropriate for all kinds of children, more so for children like us. I feel we have to ensure that it reaches all of the children in our slum – children, who are not learning anything in school or not really going to any school at all. It is us, from Shikshamitra, who know how to do this – how to share what we have experienced. The library could be the right space for sharing the Shikshamitra experience and its methods.

The kids will discover their talents, have a space to express these and will really get a fresh lease on education. If such a center doesn’t happen, many kids will never know how good the Shikhsamitra system can be for them! The children will continue abusing and fighting with one another – failing to understand each other and the joy of appreciating, forgiving and cooperating. They will just continue spending each day in the dungeons of their ‘little slum.’ They will never learn to look into themselves and dare to step out into the larger world. Children between the ages of 8 and 12 would be welcome at this library (or center), as they are the most vulnerable and full of potential. The library will offer books, supported reading for those who cannot read very well, art and crafts, as well as activities that help them settle down and concentrate. For this, meditation will be an essential component.

We were obviously more than convinced that the library could not be in better hands! We made it clear, however, that we would not play a prominent role in the library project and that it would have to be his own venture...and the magic started!

Consulting with the club secretary to take permission, Shah Nawaz started off by creating an attractive poster and leaflets to announce the return of the library. Some of the other Shikshamitra students (the Madhyamik aspirants) also got involved.

Although the kids discussed some new ideas (i.e. Little Shikshamitra, Little Library, Jeebanmitr), the old name, BOI-HOI-CHOI, was retained for the library. It opened on 10 September 2011, with about 30 children between the ages of 4 and 12 years in attendance. It has been taking place every Saturday, from 2:30 to 4:30. There have been four sessions since it started and the time it closed for the holidays. Shah Nawaz and the others have learned to plan the sessions, prepare materials, and manage the children. They have made a decision to focus only on the 8-12 year old group and gently turned the younger children away for the time being, without hurting their feelings. In this process, they are also learning how to control their own tempers, listening to the suggestions coming from both the library children and each other. They are practicing withholding some of their own "brilliant" ideas for the sake of running the library more smoothly!

The children coming to the library have learned to play games with less disruption and to wait their turn. They participate in group discussions about what they want or don't want at the library. Of course, they have access to a large variety of books. They are also reading and helping the non-readers to read, playing with colors, making stories and practicing some free writing on their own – in a space they can call their very own.

The success of the first four sessions has made everyone in the library project feel confident. Shah Nawaz, in particular, is brimming with hope and new ideas – he is daring to dream of this community library shaping up into "a little Shikshamitra!"

* Name has been changed for confidentiality.

It is interesting to compare how closely the original objectives for Shikshamitra match the objectives Shah Nawaz has set for his community library project:

1. Work with 9-14 year olds who are at their creative and analytical best, yet who are vulnerable1. Work with 8-12 year olds, who are vulnerable and frustrated, yet who want to learn
2. Work within an alternative environment using a curriculum that brings out the best in children2. Create an environment like Shikshamitra, where children can express themselves freely and realize their own talents
3. Use different methods in order to cater to all types of learners3. Provide a wide range of activities so that learning is enjoyable, challenging and suitable to each child's needs
4. Develop enthusiastic and independent learners, who are sympathetic, confident and good human beings4. Convert the unhappy, restless, and uncared for children into composed, happy, sympathetic learners, who can make the best of their lives
5. Support these learners so they, in turn, can be the changemakers of their community

August 19, 2011

"We Are With You!"

This week, Shikshamitra had the pleasure of hosting our friends, Etsuko and Michael Yamaguchi from Kolkata Seeds-Japan – a Japanese organization which has provided financial and moral support to us over the past four years years. We would like to show our sincere appreciation for their continued support to us despite the crisis situation in Japan. We really enjoyed your recent visit!

On Wednesday afternoon, we sat in a circle with the Yamaguchis for tea, snacks and chatting in the classroom of our new space. After reporting on our move and what has been happening with everyone at Shikshamitra, the discussion turned to the current situation in Japan. The children had many questions for Etsuko and Michael, who have also been raising money to send to areas that were affected by the tsunami in the northern part of Japan.

When the question of what the biggest obstacles are arose, Michael explained something that really impressed upon us how great the devastation there is. He said that it is difficult for people to find jobs. He added, however, that even if there is a job the person applying has lost all his/her identity so it is difficult to submit the right paperwork. Along with clothes, photographs, possessions, all personal records were also washed away: photo ID cards, computers, birth certificates AND the schools, banks, government offices that might hold records regarding the identity of the citizens. Everything is now gone and people have to start their lives all over from zero. He told us about the trauma that this can cause. Many children lost their parents and people in the Kansai area are trying to lend support by offering their homes and taking part in fundraising activities. The whole country has come together to keep Japan afloat and he said that it is amazing to be a part of this spirit.

We also asked about the accident at the nuclear power plant in Fukushima and he said that now Japanese people are questioning the safety of these plants and working to shut them down and find alternatives.

We asked what we could do from here and the Yamaguchis suggested that we send our good energy there all the time, in any form. We decided that we would make a banner that they could carry back to Japan, a banner with the message that we are thinking of them and that they are not alone in this world despite such difficult times.

On Thursday we all met again and set to work designing and crafting the banner with fabric, pencil and paint. Everyone did some work on it and we ended up putting our message, "We Are With You!" in three different languages on the piece: Bengali, English and Japanese. We all enjoyed trying to learn some words in Japanese and Bengali and being creative together! Once we had put down the design and painted it up, we all put our signatures on it and folded it up to send off to Japan with Etsuko and Michael.

We truly appreciated your enlightening visit and look forward to hearing more reports back from Japan!

May 05, 2011

In Search of True Education

We are proud to share a letter we recently received from an organization we have been working together with over the last few years,
Nibedita Seva Mandir. We are happy to have others along with us on our journey to question and explore what kind of education should be available to children.

An English translation of the letter which was written in Bengali is below:

In Search of True Education

It was the year 2002. A few of us assembled within the folds of Swami Vivekananda and Sister Nibedita’s ideals to create Nibedita Seva Mandir. Primarily, we chose to centre our activities focusing on the education system but the exact nature of our actions in an urban set up were still then not clear to us. It was necessary to conduct a survey on the prevalent system.

We conducted our first survey among the slum dwellers of the Panchanantala railway colony of Dhakuria. Our aim was to assess whether we could accommodate children who had been deprived of a formal education into a formal system. The survey to be conducted was of small stature, but our findings surprised us. We were taken aback to see at least 200 guardians and their children waiting for us along the railway tracks under the blazing sun. Each one of them wanted to study but didn’t want to go to the school!

Among them were the drop-outs, the disabled, victims of discrimination and those who couldn’t attend schools due to poverty. Most of them declared that they abhorred schools, they didn’t like going to schools. That day we felt several queries arising within us. We felt the need to question…

Is the formal education system prevalently practiced really suitable for all classes of people of our society?

Have we been able to create a truly favourable environment in schools for our future generations?

We started visiting several schools just out of personal interest. We observed the emotions and feelings of the school-going children, while they were entering and leaving their school premises. We went into dialogue with the teachers of different schools. We found that no one had bothered to give a thought to how a system of imitative education and a profession/ vocation associated with knowledge (acquisition and dissemination) could transcend to a process that aims to perpetuate happiness. No one we spoke to felt that acquiring knowledge and disseminating it could be the source of happiness.

But we were fortunate enough to know about a school running in the heart of this city, a school that HAD given a thought to the above concept. Shikshamitra, a little school in the city, had started. Though most of its students came from the near-by slum and were drop-outs, it was a sheer pleasure to see that how they were enjoying their studies and doing hands-on activities. We met and talked with Sudeshna-di, the head of the school. We understood from our first day at Shikshamitra that the teaching-learning process going on here did not adopt the imitative approach. Rather the school has adopted a need-based approach that has been prepared absolutely keeping in mind the psychological needs of the children. There is a subtle flow of discipline but it’s not unnecessarily stressed upon. This revealed to us that maybe we were on the look out for this kind of a system for the children of our Education Centre.

In spite of her hectic schedule Sudeshna-di extended her help to us. Not only at the beginning, but later on, whenever we approached her with our plans and programmes she never denied us. With the cooperation of Shikshamitra our children have undergone a lot of trainings in the subjects related to real-life. These trainings have led to a growth in their personality and have also given them an edge over others in the walks of life. I narrate here a few of their experiences:

  1. Maura, a teacher of Shikshamitra, a foreigner, taught our students to create art out of trash, waste materials. The end product was a collage. During our annual exhibition while answering the query of one of the visitors, a Class VII girl student of our centre replied that the tiny waste materials in the collage resemble the marginalized people of our society. If they can be connected correctly, as in the collage … only then can a spectacular society be created. These words came from her own understanding, no one had put the words into her mouth. The characteristic teaching method of Shikshamitra team had taught her to think in this manner. I take this opportunity to inform you that this girl is a resident of a near-by slum who had lost all hope within the education system, but today she is fighting all odds in her family to keep striving to study and presently she is a higher secondary examinee.

There are many other such instances.

  1. Very recently we had conducted a creative writing class with the help of Shikshamitra. Prior to this class our students used to face difficulty in expressing their views through writing. Today, however, they are able to write long answers aptly and with ease. Moreover, they are now quite actively choosing topics, writing and editing them on their own for their wall-magazine.
  1. With the help of Shikshamitra, the children have set up a library in our centre, which they themselves operate.
Based on an intensive review of different educational pedagogies and continual research, the Shikshamitra team has evolved a method which can initiate a learning consciousness within the children in a short span of time. The pedagogy of Shikshamitra takes into account the creation of a friendly, filial environment among the students by nurturing interconnectedness and cooperation. It also considers creating a simple, down-to-earth interdependency among the teachers and the students. Here students learn effortlessly and in addition to the specific kind of examination system, the students apply all that they are learning to their daily lives.

The students of Nibedita Seva Mandir who had once been trailing behind and losing their footholds in the formal education set up, who had been living a devalued life in the eyes of their family and the society at large have awakened. They are establishing themselves in their family and society, basing themselves on their self-confidence and esteem. They are earning respect and dignity.

The search for the education system that started eight years ago, has reached its vision and clarity, thanks to Shikshmitra’s free and active cooperation.

The efforts of Shikshmitra must transform into a greater movement so that in the days to come, along with the formal learning system, students can be encouraged to savor the taste of true education. Only then can the construction of lives be fulfilled.


April 10, 2011


Shikshamitra started with 17 children. We had 17 children who represented different types found in any ordinary school of about 100 students. The difference with us is that we had one, two or three representatives of each type and that made things difficult to manage. There were three school dropouts, two with delayed milestones, three with some kind of learning disability, three who had never been to school and so on… What was common to all of them? They came from the same slum or the slum next door and came to school with loads of infighting and inter-family misgivings. None of them trusted “the teachers.” In fact, they came to school with some ridicule and in the hope of having some fun by creating disruptions. Last of all, the whole concept of Shikshamitra was new to them – attractive, intriguing yet “not to be taken seriously.”

And then the journey continued. Sometimes the children led us by our hands, sometimes it was the community, or it could be a film, an incident, or an interaction with visitors. Shikshamitra evolved as a “home of learning” – open in nature, very organic in character, sensitive to the needs and emotions of the learners and thereby ready to change its content and mode of learning and growing … every day.

Throughout these five and a half years, however, the number of students never crossed the limit of 30 children. On an average it was 25, with many migrating to the village or other parts of the city, or simply wanting to stay away from any kind of “enclosed space” or “scheduled time frame.” We had never wanted a big school. We wanted a small set up but definitely wanted the students to remain constant.

It is interesting how these children kept revisiting Shikshamitra: calling us up or in some way letting us know how they were and asking how we were doing. One would drop in just to “chat” or to write down a “little story,” do a “small sketch,“ or just wander around the school and go away.

Viability of the school was a continuous issue that disturbed us in Shikshamitra. We agreed that a model, alternative school will remain small, but constant dwindling and rising of the number or students bothered us. Even the teachers came and went so frequently that at the end of it, we were tired! It has hard to plan ahead in such a situation but we continued on.

Children were given the best because all children deserve that. The rent for the 2100 square feet was high (not high compared to the market rate) at 20,000 rupees per month. There were not that many other activities going on for the open learning centre which made it difficult to justify the rent.

In the typical Shikshamitra fashion, we continued to discuss this issue with our parents and our children, especially the older and grown up ones. Many felt the school loses out on the ground of viability. Some of the students even hinted that they thought those children who spent more of their time “wandering outside in the open” might later on regret not having come into school more often. Parents obviously did not want the school to be shut off. Time and again they tried to persuade others to put their children in Shikshamitra. At the end of 2009 and most of 2010, we spent a great deal of time sitting in different group configurations (among ourselves, students, managing committee, other well wishers) in order to review our goals and weigh all the pros and cons of running the school unit.

The goals at the outset stated that after a few years it was expected that the older students would be ready as stakeholders to run the school in their neighborhood. At the end of 2010, neither the students, nor the parents, nor the local club authorities felt that way. The political interests were too high in the community and that would mean conforming to the whims of the political party. No one was game to that.

Children were often asking us about the future of the school. We would have been disappointed if they did not yet it was difficult to give them any real answers. Over the past year or two, we were often sitting and mulling over the future of Shikshamitra. Interesting observations and recommendations emerged.

By the end of November 2010, a number of children shifted their base. A few of them continued, mostly preferring to stay outside, visiting the school once or twice a week. They worked hard and well in all that they did when they came to school. The daily count of students was a steady 13-15 while the attendance register had 25 names enrolled.

Brainstorming followed. A decision was taken for good after sharing with the students and their parents. Parents were sad, especially of those 7 or 10 very regular students. They shouted and argued and blamed the others for failing to send their children to school regularly. Some parents offered money from their ‘savings’ to pay the rent! Others volunteered to pressurize the landlord to reduce the rent to half!! None of these options were reasonable or appropriate. We were so very grateful for these gestures!

Crisis brought us together. The seemingly indifferent parent was also trying her best to hold on to the last straw. Children were quiet, all of a sudden. The attendance was 98%. They hoped that by magic the show could go on.

We had an interesting role of softening the blow, helping them to adapt to the new future at government schools and to accept the present while moving toward something new. We gave them quick lessons in the “academics” that would be mandatory and expected in the government schools. We visited the government schools to talk about our school philosophy, the present situation and that the students would be enrolling with them. We were there for the children as the transition process took place.

It was in one of the English classes that the children began to discuss “the closure.” They were asked to put down six sentences about it and make some drawings. Pradip Giri came out with an excellent piece of work. It made some of us cry while others remained silent for a long time.

In December, before we closed for Christmas, we decided that along with all the children in the present batch at Shikshamitra, we should bring together all of the past students (whoever was in Kolkata) as well. The money that they had earned in the Learn and Earn Project had remained with us in their accounts and it was to be handed over to them at this time.

They poured in to the school that day, in all shapes and sizes. Many had grown up into “young men” and “ladies,” looking and behaving like “small children.” They were all above fifteen and working. However, once inside the school they chatted, pushed and teased each other. Some took to the caring of the young children the minute they entered the school. Our entire family was back together again – if only for the day. Christmas was in the air. Maura Aunty had planned a biscuit decorating session. We looked on as the children decorated their biscuits, and it felt like old times – every ‘child’ was clamouring for his/her turn and some were trying to decorate a few biscuits more! And naturally a few had to assume the role of “moral police officers,” keeping a tab on things!

Rohit, a great singer, broke into his favourite songs. We joined him. Time stopped at Shikshamitra. Many wanted to know whether the decision to close was true? And where will Shikshamitra move away to? We asked them to look for a place. They left with brave smiles on their faces and wrenched hearts.

With final exams over, results were given on 17 January 2011, the last day of school at Shikshamitra. We had asked the children what would they like as a parting gift. Of course, some of us thought of “great things” in our own adult way…

“A group photograph” – pat came the reply from Neha.

And that’s what they got, along with their report cards and transfer certificates: a group photograph for the children and a group photo for the parents, one that was taken at a parents’ meeting.

“The two envelopes carrying the photos,” we told them “have to be returned – but not as they are. They need to look different when they come back.”

Children and parents got the message. Soon the envelopes started arriving, coloured and decorated by the parents and their children. Naturally, not all the envelopes came back to us – but most did! Some of the envelopes were brought back by the children themselves, along with little gifts they handed over to us. The best gift, however, was a drawing book half filled with drawings and writings by Pradip and Kakoli Giri. The last page said,

“We have done our bit. Now it’s your turn. The book is all yours – fill it up.”

As tears trickled down, we realized how truly they had all imbibed the spirit of originality and creativity at Shikshamitra and how they were ready to take it out of this place and spread it wherever they went from here. What more could we ask for?

The seeds were starting to scatter and sprout…

Akash, a little boy who was orphaned at birth and brought up by his grandmother, came to Shikshamitra in April 2009. He was a ‘terror‘ in the slum due to his abusive language and incessant fighting. Akash craved love and care. Thrown out of many schools, he finally ended up in Shikshamitra to be taught to feel good about himself and appreciated. Following this, he learned to read and write. A month after closure, a neighbour of Akash stopped one of the Shikshamitra teachers to congratulate him for the dramatic change in Akash,

“We can talk to him and he is so decent now. What did you do with this boy?”

Akash is doing fine in a government school now.

Children who need help keep coming back. Some stop to paint, to do a puzzle or some craft. Maura and children (all those who are interested – old ones with their new friends) continue to “get together for art’s sake.”

Sajahan, the oldest student of Shikshamitra has returned (he suddenly left us for some time) apparently to finish taking the secondary exam as he has three subjects remaining. But, perhaps he has actually come back to join us – to be a part of the new journey of Shikshamitra. Taking time off of his studies, he helps Maura to take art class at another school and he is with Mahua helping to keep the library in order. He joins us as an aspiring teacher, spreading the message of Shikshamitra and its practices through trainings, interactions, camps.

There are other children too, who lend us their hands. Some keep calling to remind us that they are there. Parents call to find out how we are doing and if they can be of any help. Presenting Shikshamitra at a youth conference recently, Sajahan described Shikshamitra as a “different school,” “a concept,” “essentially, a relationship.”

In fact, though we were all deeply wondering how we could go on from here, we have found that somehow – organically – people seem to understand that we have more time to work on outreach projects now that we are not running our school unit. We have had many phone calls come in each day with offers of working with other organizations who want to learn from us. We are finding a brand new energy around the whole place and it feels positive and forward-looking. It may now be time to concentrate on training and publishing, and developing small projects that carry on the Shikshamitra spirit.

Let the trust in relationship grow, good education will happen. And to grow well, one needs to stay small. Small, but many; there could be many small endeavors – many small Shikshamitras – different in their forms but similar in spirit.

- Sudeshna

Regarding this new stage, we look forward to hearing from all the friends of Shikshamitra as well. What direction do you see Shikshamitra moving in for the future?

Lastly, please contact us if you know of a space in the Chetla-Alipore area as shifting our location will be part of this transition.

April 09, 2011

Evolution of a Life Science Class

We are fortunate to have a microbiology professor as our landlord. He wanted to do something with the children and we came up with a plan to show them various things through the microscope. We started in November 2009 looking at cells from onion skin and squamous epithelium from behind the lips. We then looked at the bacteria found in curd as well as those from our mouth. We examined blood cells too. We decided to do blood group testing and blood pressure checking for all children. We discussed antigens and antibodies, and the ABO system and how it gets determined genetically. Our explorations explained why one teacher had a daughter with negative blood group, even though she and her husband both had positive blood group.

Noticing the interest level among the children, we deviated from the traditional botany --> zoology--> human physiology path and even left the respiratory --> digestive --> circulatory --> … route. We jumped straight into “blood” instead. We discussed what the blood carries from where to where and how it is linked to each system. We talked about what all goes into our body and even what all comes out. We then went system by system – respiratory, excretory, alimentary (and food types), nervous – discussing related diseases and conditions (e.g. asthma in respiratory and coma, paralysis in nervous system). We also discussed the reproductive system as well as genetics till mid 2010. Then the science class took on a geographic bend to include “where we live.”

Meanwhile at the end of 2010, we had to close the school unit. A few of these children are going to take the Open School X Standard – RMV Exam and are continuing to study at Shikshamitra. The rest of the children have shifted to government schools. These RMV children will take their L.Sc. exam in December 2011 and Geography in June 2012.

- by Swati

April 08, 2011

Discovery near the Dock

Two children (Dinesh and Noor) found a cow skull near “the dock.” They were curious to know how old it was and how one could determine the age. At the teacher’s request they brought the skull to school. We, a group of 5 children with ages spanning 9-17 years, and the teacher, had some exciting, learning moments with the skull:

  • We identified the eye sockets and the hole for the optic nerve.
  • While looking at the teeth we had a discussion on the different types of teeth and why cows do not have all types.
  • We saw where the cow’s brain had been. Some children had seen a human skull, which has a significantly larger space for the brain than cows. This led us to the topic of evolution.
  • Someone asked how everything – flesh, skin, etc. – dissolves into the soil. We discussed how bacteria decompose those things and help in recycling food back for the plants. for the plants. Otherwise we would have used up all the food!!

  • Finally, Moinnuddin took the bull firmly by the horns (so to speak) and “rode a scooter!
- Swati

March 02, 2011

Art Exhibition in Santiniketan

11-12 MARCH, 2011

Raja Mohan Das from SHUKTARA and Noor Islam from SHIKSHAMITRA will be exhibiting their work at ALCHA in Santiniketan next weekend. Please come show your support -- and spread the word!

The seeds of this show were planted way back in September when the owner of Alcha, a small cafe and boutique in Santiniketan, came to see our Growing With Art Exhibition. Keya liked the feeling of Raja and Noor's work together and suggested that they organise an art exhibition at her cafe in early 2011. Raja and Noor have been 'growing' their art portfolios since then and have chosen some of their favorite pieces to appear in the show. Another happy outcome of this exhibition is that Noor and Raja have become steadfast friends and have been influencing and inspiring each other in their pursuit to find their own approach, their own art voice.

February 13, 2011

Was this art class or English class...?

We tried making a video based on a poem that we learned. The kids noted their mistakes but we haven't done a remake yet. I think it's pretty good this first time around. What do you think?

January 24, 2011

Doors to the Future

As the Year 2010 grew to an end, and we were all sensing some of the transition happening around us, our final art project to usher in a new year was called 'My Door to the Future.' The children made a door from paper and glued another sheet behind it and in that door way, they collaged and wrote and drew what they envision for themselves in the year ahead. I think the beautiful display adorning the entrance and hallway at Shikshamitra shows how deeply the children took up this task and how much they enjoyed pouring themselves into it.

January 13, 2011

Let School Begin with a Different Song

The theme of the 2011 SHIKSHAMITRA CALENDAR is Let school begin with a different song...

At Shikshamitra, we listen to a set of songs which might seem out of the ordinary as the morning prayer song. Appreciating these songs we create a unique world in Shikshamitra, where we think originally, draw, paint and write down however we are feeling. We have created this year's calendar as a tribute to the artists who inspire us every morning: Pratul Mukhopadhyay, Kabir Suman, Amar Pal and Anup Ghoshal. The children always sing along in their own style and often paint as they think about the songs. The artwork represents how these songs make us feel.

We hope you will enjoy the beautiful artwork and comments from the students.

Thanks for supporting our work to design education alternatives:
Calendars are Rs 85 each.
For those individuals and organizations who would like to help sell the calendar, we are offering a bulk rate of Rs 70 when 10 or more copies are purchased at one time.

Call us on 9830076919 (maura) or just stop in during regular working hours to buy your copy.

September 07, 2010


During the Growing with Art Exhibition at Shikshamitra, our student was interviewed by a local English newspaper. He enjoyed this experience to talk about his ideas very much.

Here is the link to the piece:

And the text:
Art out of nothing at all

RECYCLE ARTIST: Noor Islam, 16, at the exhibition in Chetla. Picture by Sanjoy Chattopadhyaya
For Noor Islam nothing in the world is worth throwing away, especially when it can be turned into something pretty.

The 16-year-old recycle artist was the showcase of an art exhibition organised by Shikshamitra, an open learning centre in Chetla, over the weekend.

Noor was born in Delhi but moved to the Kalabagan slum of Chetla in Calcutta when he was seven years old. The son of Abdul Khalique, a driver, and the youngest of four siblings, Noor was a good student who dabbled in drawing. But it was only when he joined Shikshamitra after Class IV that he found his path.

“I was afraid to use paint till I came here; now I don’t shy away from colour. I have in fact moved on from painting just on paper,” said the Class X boy.

The love of painting could not keep Noor in school for long as he had to head off to a whistle-making factory to supplement his family income.

He was gone from Shikshamitra for a year after which he came back a changed teenager. “He was disruptive and aggressive and his grades were slipping. He even stopped painting for a while. But I have seen this boy turn his life around with his own hands,” said Sudeshna Sinha, the school principal.

Since then this Michael Jackson fan — yes, he can do the Moonwalk — has devoted himself to learning English and making art, often out of nothing at all.

Noor’s neighbours bring him things they are ready to discard and urge him to “make something”. His dedication to recycling has even seen the broken wall clock in his house being transformed into a wall hanging using a collage from magazines.

The display at the Growing with Art included painting on speaker covers, a paperweight made from wood whittle, a decorative item from the frame of a bouquet, a boot from rolled newspapers....

“It is more satisfying when I am able to innovate. In fact, sometimes I wake up with some idea in my head and I have to work it out immediately or at least make an outline so that I remember,” said Noor, who hopes to join an art school once he finishes school.