The Ideas behind Mitraniketan

The founder of Mitraniketan, Viswanathan, was born on 8 February 1928 in the village of Vellenad, Thiruvananthapuram District, Kerala, India. He did his schooling in Thiruvananthapuram and joined the Visva-Bharatu University, founded by Rabindranath Tagore. He graduated in 1953. Later he continued his studies in the US, the UK and in Scandinavia. During his stay in the US he came in touch with Arthur E. Morgan, who had an important influence on his future.

In Denmark Viswanathan came in touch with the Danish Folk High School (also known as People´s College) which is based on the ideas of Grundtvig (1783-1872). Grundtvig wanted to educate the uneducated rural population at residential schools all over Denmark. His aim was most of all to raise the cultural level of the farming population and subsequently to teach them skills (“awaken them first and then teach them skills”).

This Danish project was very successful and it enabled the farming community later on to form co-operative societies and change the whole landscape of Danish society. These co-operative societies were jointly owned by the farmers who were now able to run local services like diaries, cold-stores, co-operative shops etc. So instead of handing in their milk to large companies the farmers establisched co-operatives and produced their own cheese etc. Thus the rural society developed from a feudal society to a country with independent farmers who co-operated with each other. This development is different from many other western countries.

Watch a video from 2011 where Viswanathan talks about the aims and principles of Mitraniketan

On his return to India Viswanathan founded Mitraniketan, the Home of Friends, in 1956. Mitraniketan´s main objectives are: Education, the development of sustainable agriculture, the development of rural technology and the empowerment  of women. Over the years the organisation has grown to cover 60 acres of land housing a Residential School for tribal children, Mitraniketan People´s College, a Krishi Vigyan Kendra (a Farm Science Centre), a Rural Technology Centre, Training cum Production Centers (TPCs) at a bakery, a fruit processing institution, a pottery and coconut fibre activities, which aim to add value. Read more here.

Mitraniketan People’s College

Mitraniketan People’s College offers ‘One year Diploma course in Vocational cum Personality development’, and 6 months certificate programs and 2 month certificate programs. Read more about these courses here.

The 2 month Certificate in Motor Cycle Service and Repair (CMSR) is the joint program of Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU) and Hero Honda Motors Pvt. Ltd. aiming to certify the skills of rural mechanics all over India. IGNOU sanctioned a training centre for Mitraniketan People’s College in 2007. Every year, more than 100 rural mechanics and youth from all over Kerala get trained in 4 two month CMSR programs and were mostly placed in Hero Honda Workshops.

The Diploma program, which is of ten months duration is the main activity of MPC since its inception in the year 1996. The course aims to promote leadership and empowerment among rural youth through an integrated residential education programme which is need based and socially relevant. An average of 90 youth has been trained every year. The target group includes the youth belonging to the marginalized and vulnerable sections of the society like the tribals and Scheduled caste students, youth belonging to economically backward communities of the society like the fishermen community and school dropouts.

An association between Indira Gandhi National Open University and People’s College has been signed for recognizing the one year course as a Diploma programme, by registering the college under the IGNOU community college scheme. So this provides an opportunity for the desired students to pursue their higher education in the same discipline if they are interested.

The uniqueness of MPC course includes:
• No education qualification is fixed for enrolling students
• No formal exam is conducted to grade/judge the students
• Curriculum is need based and life oriented
• Follow the concept of ‘learning by doing’
• Participatory teaching learning methods are followed

The one year course consists of three components:
• Need Based General Education
• Vocational Education
• Associated Activities

The vocational training follows the concept of education for livelihood. The vocational education input/option include: Automobile, Agriculture, Electrical, Computer, Plumbing, Tailoring, Fruit processing, offset printing, lathe & welding and Carpentry. Students trained are linked with related industries and placed as either employees or as apprentices at the end of the year, when they completes the course. The methodology followed in training of the students includes learning while doing and learning by doing.

The general education follows the concept of education for life. The course envisages to orient the participants through a need based and integrated education program. The methodology followed is based on participatory teaching learning process and it extend to counter-culture processes and is corrective to the inadequacies of formal education.

Special emphasis is given to co-operative learning rather than competition. Emphasis on cultural heritage, dignity of labour and volunteerism is another highlighting factor of the course. The education is holistic; in the sense it instills a sense of self confidence, self reliance and responsibility to the society & environment among the participants.

So the course envisages in developing active citizenship that would contribute to the development of local areas and thus contributing to the nation building process. Functional English, basic mathematics and general knowledge are also given to the students. This helps to create interest in the minds of the students towards these subjects and especially for school dropouts as it is also helpful in orienting them towards the formal education system.

Associated activities are included in order to develop and provide opportunity to unfold the potentials of the participants to its full extend. Associated activities like the manual work help the participants to value the dignity of labour and prepare them to understand the culture of hard work and sustainable farming practices. The associated activities like the club activities, seminars, story telling hours and cultural programs organized by the students with the help of teachers helps them to open up and explore the world around them and to react to become active partakers in the social & self development initiatives.

Other than the youth empowerment programs the college also offers a variety of programs for empowering the local women by organizing them into women Self Help Groups. The groups act as a link between the local community and the college. One example is The Legal Aid Clinic at Mitraniketan or One Day Awareness Meetings at Mitraniketan for Village women:

Activities are planned and carried out at the community level through these women self help groups with the participation of the students. This provides the students an opportunity to interact with the local community and to practice what they have learned in their class rooms about community development, rural leadership building and community mobilisation.

The local community benefits from the knowledge, initiatives and help from these students. So it forms a kind of symbiotic relationship where the students use the local community as a social lab for sharpening their social skills as well for understanding the problems, challenges and needs of the community.

The concept of lifelong learning is also practiced at the community level through an association between Kerala State Literacy Mission Authority (KSLMA) and the college. The local people are encouraged to continue their education through the KSLMA which help the village women to achieve formal education and thus helping to get equivalency certificate.

Thus Mitraniketan People’s College becomes a place where students as well as teachers work together as a team to make a difference in their own life as well as in the community around them.