How it began at Vidya Bhawan Society

Vidya Bhawan Society was founded by Dr. Mohan Singh Mehta along with his close associates Dr. K.L. Shrimali and Shri K.L. Bordia in 1931. Ahead of its time, it was modeled on the principles of the Boy Scout Movement in England, incorporating the Gandian ideals of Basic Education. The influence from the Boy Scout Movement came when Dr. Mehta was in England – he was sent there to attend boarding school, when in class 4.

Originally started as a modest effort, Vidya Bhawan has flourished into a bouquet of over a dozen institutions committed to quality and excellence in the field of education. Excerpts from an interview that I found at the Vidya Bhawan Society library explain the (then) unique principles its school was founded on. As opposed to feudalistic society (of those times), the objective was to provide uncommon education to common children. The aim was to build a responsible citizenry capable of serving and transforming society.

In the interview, Mr. Mehta says, “I was interested in education right from the beginning. But before I came in touch with the boy scouts movement, my interest was in university education. My experience of the Boy Scouts system changed my interest and I thought that it was much more important to educate young people, boys and girls, before they are 16 years old, because that lays the foundation of their character building. I have had some ideas in my mind for a long time. But my experience in dealing with boys between the age of 12 and 16 as a Scoutmaster made me very enthusiastic about education at that age.”

He goes on to say, “I went to England and took training in three sections of the Boy Scouts – Cub Mastership, Scout Mastership and Rover Leadership. I was very anxious to start a school on these lines, applying these principles to the whole life of the boys. As Scouts, they came to me 2-3 times a week. This was apart from the camps to which I took them frequently. Now, when I met them 2-3 times – I met them according to the principles. we learnt from the scout movement – I saw so many results. I thought – what would be the result, if we have the whole life of the boys and girls influenced through these methods, which we employ in the Scout movement?”

Using these very methods, Dr. Mehta went on to set up the Vidya Bhawan school – teacher-pupil relations, understanding the individual child, closeness to nature, atmosphere of freedom, spirit of adventure, progressive methods and techniques of imparting knowledge, giving due place to fine arts and handicrafts in the school curriculum and making it as broad based as resources could permit.

Primarily, Vidya Bhawan was a bold adventure in the educational field. As Mr. Mehta says, “The school I set up was, what you would call in England, a progressive school. It was not as radical as I would have liked it to be but in this atmosphere, it was very, very radical. So, we were more disliked and distrusted by older, wiser people.

The chief features were these: first, it was a whole time school. Residential partially because we could not make it wholly residential for lack of resources, lack of buildings, but we got the benefit of a residential school without making it actually a residential school. The day was spent practically with us.

Secondly, it was co-educational, which was a shock for people here that boys and girls should be together.

Thirdly, we did not recognise and distinction of caste or class. Actually, in my own mind, I meant the school to be largely for the lower middle-class people, to whom a good school was not open. And the ordinary schools were so poor and defective in quality that it meant, just education in the very literal, poor sense.

Fourthly, we did not allow any kind of corporal punishment.

Fifthly, the relations between the teachers and the boys and girls were of friendliness. The children were not afraid of the teachers, and the teachers, by order from me, were not to be sort of overbearing. The atmosphere was of love and friendship. The most important thing in education is freedom to the children, freedom for the children.

Then we brought students in very close touch with nature not only to give them the knowledge of birds, animals, plants, stars, sky but also to create self-reliance in them to be able to look after themselves, to be able to do some work with their hands, to be able to cook their food, find their way in a forest.

Then, it was essential that children should do some physical work. Promotion to higher class did not depend merely on the results of school studies in the narrow sense. They had to do some manual work, whatever class they belonged to.

The Hindu and the Muslim, the upper class and the lower class, all sat side by side; there were no distinctions. We insisted that the wives of the teachers should give up purdah and living in exclusion, which was quite a custom here.”

The school is operational till date. While it follows the Rajasthan Board Secondary Education, its foundation principles are the same.

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