Mitraniketan is a Gandhian based non profit organisation founded by K. Viswanathan in 1956 after his studies from Santiniketan and exposure to Folk high schools of Denmark. He visualised encouraging community based education with holistic development of people and society. Progress of society through the total development of individuals is the avowed mission of Mitraniketan. In today's world of transition, we must examine how we approach the concept of development and reorient our approach and methods in such a way as to put humaneness back into the equation. Our primary task in this re-orientation is the enablement of people; development will come about only when individuals as part of the family and community are of their own power in determining the circumstances of their own lives.
Mitraniketan houses a variety of development and rural higher education activities in its 65 acre campus located 25 km north east of Thiruvananthapuram city. It also houses a community of 500 members including children, youth, farmers, women, social workers, and visiting students and volunteers from India and abroad. The projects include a residential school for tribal children, people's college for rural youth, research centre for action research studies and teacher education, Rural Technology Centre for technology transfer and skill development, Farm Science Centre (KVK) for technology dissemination, and extension programmes for women empowerment, to mention some important ones.
The Mitraniketan People's College was established in 1996 with the technical collaboration of Association of the Folk High Schools in Denmark (FFD) and with the financial support of Danish International Development Assistance (DANIDA). People's College is one of the innovative development education projects of Mitraniketan based on the ideas of Danish Folk High Schools and Indian Gurukula system of education along with necessary inputs considering the local needs. It follows the concept of education for life rather than education for degrees and diplomas. The difference between People's College and a Community College is that People's College follows residential form of education to promote informal learning and community living along with life and livelihood skill development.
The college aims to empower rural youth through well integrated liberal education which keeps a focus on need based curriculum. The content of the courses put an emphasis on the development of life and livelihood skills. This has a direct impact on leadership, communication, and income generating skills while also strengthening a solid knowledge base.
Facilitators of the college are trained in participatory teaching learning method, which helps to involve the heterogeneous group of participants in the training sessions. The students are given the opportunity to unfold their potential in a non formal environment, supporting their respective field of interest.
As far as the target group of Mitraniketan People's College is concerned it mainly concentrates on empowering the rural youth and women belonging to the disadvantaged sections of the society. Having one of the highest literacy rates in India, Kerala also has the highest percentage of educated but unemployed people in the country. While the urban and elite youth in the state have the opportunity and capacity to afford formal higher education, a large number of youth in remote parts and villages don't have access to appropriate education. Due to poverty, illiteracy of parents, and lack of information, many of these students become school and university dropouts. These rural youth living below the poverty line are one of the main target groups for People's College.
Similarly, rural women and housewives are another important group that People's College is trying to educate. Often these women have productive skills that have never been realised or utilised. Normally housewives in the village spend majority of their time cooking and rearing children and are not given the opportunity for education or skill training. People's College works to change some of these traditional routines, so that women can make choices for themselves. Potential can be developed through creating awareness, developing their functional capability, and organising them in Self Help Groups. Over the last five years, Mitraniketan People's College has trained approximately 500 housewives and organised them into 50 Self Help Groups in neighbouring villages. The organisation of women's groups has exposed them to the outside world, given them confidence, given them support and a voice. Now, these women are working to improve their skills and supplement the family income. Additionally, Peoples College welcomes the participation of small NGOs that are engaged in development and education activities. When working together, all participants develop a better understanding of techniques and training which strengthens and benefits the entire programme.
Technical/vocational training is an essential part of the People's College education programme as it helps students from the target group find employment within their villages. Since most students come from economically poor background, developing livelihood skills is one of their important aims for survival. People's College provides various vocational skill courses for the students to choose from, based on their preference and viability of employment in their respective villages. The following courses available at People's College, are identified based on the potential for generating income or self employment:
- Automobile Electrical Computer
- Agriculture Fruit Processing Tailoring
- Carpentry Plumbing Metal Fabrication
These skills are readily employable in rural areas, and village communities need such service based jobs to reduce their dependency on urban technicians. People's College training concentrates more on practices; that is 'learning by doing' which helps youth to work with master craftsmen in the villages immediately after the training. Upon completion of the technical courses, students receive certification from the National Institute of Open Schooling. The students learning carpentry, plumbing, and tailoring pay less tuition fees as they also contribute to production and service on the Mitraniketan campus. The value of their service is considered in-return for the cost of training. This in fact becomes, 'earning while learning.'
Some of the trained youth remain for an additional year on Apprenticeship to gain more work experience and bring the self sustaining support Mitraniketan needs to operate. They are provided free boarding and lodging, and a stipend. This option has proved to be a practical living and working experience that reward both partners while continuing to offer a safe and stable environment for rural youth Mitraniketan operates on the concept of non-formal education, focusing on community based life and livelihood skills. The idea behind this form of education is that learning only becomes a significant part of our lives if we are actively involved and share responsibility for it. In order to realise this principle, the educational methods emphasise student participation, manual labour and democracy. There are no exams. Teaching is done in co-operation and on an equal footing between teachers and students.
The focus at Mitraniketan People's College is on the development of rural youth above the age of 18, irrespective of their educational background. The double objective is to combine general and vocational education that will enable students to improve their own lives, at the same time motivating them to work actively for development in their local community. The common goal at Mitraniketan, is to develop humanistic leaders, citizens, who as activists ensure the vitality and democratic nature of the village. This kind of leadership is the basic building block of Indian democracy as envisaged in the Constitution.
Innovative knowledge is necessary in today's changing world. Mitraniketan offers volunteer work opportunities to interested students, social workers and persons committed to development. Volunteer work in the fields of education, agriculture, women empowerment, health, development, appropriate technology and research are needed. Foreign connections help bridge the gap between countries and convey a global awareness that everyone benefits from. The uniqueness of a foreign, exchanged knowledge base brings about abundant opportunities for both volunteer educators and local citizens. Each year, a number of volunteers from India and abroad, work together to bring additional teaching, workshops, research, sports training, health care and directing of arts and theatre.
Staff and students at Mitraniketan embrace the opportunity to share cultures. As Mitraniketan is a residential campus, volunteers work, live, and enjoy recreation within the community, offering complete immersion to Indian culture and experience. Volunteers can engage in various activities throughout the week on campus and visit nearby attractions over the weekends as well. Giving the gift of time and information comes with rewards that can change a persons life and open doors to a new understanding of oneself and responsibility to society.
The founder K. Viswanathan believes that, 'we have a social responsibility to take care of the poor'. He demonstrates it by working for equal opportunity and improving the quality of lives starting within the Mitraniketan community and joining hands across the globe.