Foundations of Education Programme

March 12, 2020

This post is to communicate some information about a Digantar programme. Links for downloading the brochure and report of the last year are given at the end.

Please read both.

The programme is not terribly popular, but those who have attended always find it very useful.

It is costly but since we have to make it self sustaining we have no choice.

It is neither spectacular nor colourful; keeps concentration on clear and critical thinking on educational theory and practice. Enjoyment comes from grasping ideas and logic; not from catchy phrases and ready-made so-called take homes.

Recommended for organizations working in the field as well as for individuals who want to participate in rigorous dialogue on education.

It is taught, often looks dull but pays in terms of understanding.

Those who are looking for easy capsules to improve education will be disappointed; this is an invitation only to those who are serious regarding education and can take pain in understanding it.

I request all the participants in the past batches to comment about their experiences candidly, share this post as widely as possible and encourage people and organisations to send participants.

Dates given in the brochure for Hindi and English batches may have to be re-scheduled depending on participants convenience; but we will stick to the announced dates as far as possible.


For REPORT click here Digantar_FOE2019

For BROCHURE click here Report FOEBrochure2020.

John Singh: Digantar’s founder president

April 16, 2016

Rohit Dhankar

I am writing this with a deeply felt loss that John Singh (Jitendra Pal Singh), our founder president is no more with us in his physical existence, he breathed his last on 13th April 2016 night. I hope we will be able to uphold his values, and be guided by his social concerns and practical wisdom.

John’s field of action, of course, was much larger than Digantar. As far as I understand Digantar was really a very small part of it. But I am neither closely acquainted with all his personal and social work nor am able to give a fuller account of his personality and social contribution. All I am trying here is expressing our indebtedness as an organization to our founder president.

I have not met anyone like John and Faith (John’s wife) who would value an educationists opinion enough to abandon search for a good school for their own children and will start one in which their children could study with the marginalized children from the locality where they lived. John and Faith could afford any school in India or actually in the world for their children. In spite of that when David Horsburgh suggested that in the same amount of money they will spend for education of their own two children, they can provide good education to 25 other children as well. They reposed faith not only in this idea of David but also in, first one and then two, young inexperienced teachers who were trained by David. And thus Digantar was born.

And this proved only to be a beginning. Digantar in its initial phases was more closely guided by Faith in the pedagogy and activities; but John’s vision of its place in human life and social concerns, in which Faith agreed with him, was also crucial in guiding Digantar’s growth. Their decision to put their own children in a school where all other children were from very poor families and much below their social and economic status, and never ever demanding any special treatment for them from two teachers who were rather fanatical regarding treating every child as equal is something rarely, if ever, seen in present-day Indian society.

John’s involvement with Digantar children in sports, taking them for picnic in his own jeep and engaging them in various activities is something that helped tremendously both the teachers and the children grow in understanding and practice of human values. I wonder how he suffered the antics of two dozen free spirited children, unpalatable food cooked by them on picnic, and ideologically rigid teachers.

Personally I feel indebted to John for my own growth as a human being and confidence in what I stand for. Running a school which is totally different from all others in that part of the world, needed confidence and commitment; which I personally was not equal to in those days, if John and Faith’s support would not have been there.

He and Faith supported the school for 10 years personally, with their own money; and when the Digantar Shiksha Evam Khelkud Samiti was founded he guided it for many years. When the school and organizational activities grew he constantly supported that growth, guided in managing that, and that completely without a trace of micromanagement; gave complete freedom to the teacher. I and Reena will always be grateful for his unflinching confidence in our abilities as well as our moral compass.

Being a bad manager and having a strong propensity to be carried away with pure beauty of rational ideas I often got Digantar in financial and organizational trouble. Now when I look back it seem to me I could do that because deep down in my heart I believed that there is a protector in John who would bail us out. And John always bailed us out, to substantial personal financial loss, as well as protecting from harsh criticism in the organizational meetings.

At one particularly difficult time we spent money sanctioned for another project to keep the schools alive. When the funder was informed they demanded the money back; which was absolutely fair. John simply looked at the accounts, convinced himself there was nothing personal or wrong ethically. Asked us the reasons why did we do that? When we explained the danger of discontinuing education of 500 children he immediately understood and took on himself to negotiate a re-payment schedule with the funder, and convincing the funder that the mistake is only technical; without any financial misappropriation. I believe the funders were convinced because of John’s personality and personal responsibility for Digantar. He also helped financially with large amount to continue the work and allowed us to meet the re-payment schedule agreed upon with the funder. When I remember this incident it’s his protective instinct for Digantar which comes to my mind first, all else is just a manifestation of that.

His balanced attitude in guiding the organizational matters and appreciation of the value of the work being done was almost instinctive for him; it seems to me that all else naturally flowed from his deep humanism. Digantar at this moment is going through a crisis and John again got into action as soon as he knew about a year back. The schools are now slowly moving towards safety, and all people in Digantar are helping in that. But John’s distinctive guidance, posing faith in inherent strength of the organization and confidence in Reena’s efforts when no glimmer of hope was visible is something only he could have done. Though the executive committee as a whole is behind the efforts to get past the present crisis, I personally still get a feeling that Digantar is orphaned in a very significant sense.

John’s pride in Digantar’s work was obvious. Whenever he came to know about some new venture and success, or heard good word from someone among his numerous contacts he always shared and encouraged us. A few times he mentioned hearing good things from people who did not know that John is the founder president of the organization they were talking about. He shared such anecdotes with us with a satisfaction which showed his attachment to Digantar.

John was deeply spiritual without being religious or dogmatic. I have no trace of spirituality in me; but wish that his faith in soul and its evolution is correct; and that his spirit will continue to protect and guide us.

We will miss you dearly John.


Digantar Schools: Will we be able to continue them?

March 19, 2014

Digantar schools have been providing quality education and developing educational ideas and practices of significance for last more than three decades (read the Introduction below).

The schools now are in danger of closing down due to lack of funds. We have been in negotiation with a few donors but it seems support for running costs from 1st April 2014 onwards is unlikely to come forward.

We do have funders for modest infrastructural costs and our infrastructure for a small senior secondary school is perhaps acceptable. We also have some organisational reserves to run the schools for about a month or so. But beyond that we will be forced to close down the schools. That will immediately stop education of more than 500 children, majority of them being girls and about 50 of the girls being at the secondary and senior secondary level.

In case you happen to know any funding agency who might be interested in supporting the schools please pass this appeal with on, in case you agree with our view that the continuation of Digantar schools still have potential to contribute to educational thought and practice in the country.
With best regards

A Very Short Introduction to Digantar: for schools

Digantar is a Jaipur based organization which works in school education. (Further details could be seen at Our motto is “Education for Equity and Justice”. We work towards this ideal through education that makes learners independent in thinking and action; so that they can contribute to socio-political and economic well being of the society.

We started as a small experimental school in 1978 and subsequently registered in 1987 as a non-profit society. Digantar schools are based on the belief that aims of education should be to make the child self-motivated and independent learner; to become a critical and contributing citizen in a democracy. Towards this end, we have been making attempts to conceptualize school curriculum, and pedagogic practices which could help the children develop their rational capabilities and exercise autonomy in learning. This we see as necessary for development of active and critical citizen in a democracy that has justice and equality as its basic values.

Digantar, at present, runs two schools, where more than 500 children get their education. Over last two decades, the schools got recognition as pursuing alternative pedagogic practices where the learners’ rational capabilities and capability to learn independently are respected. The schools can also be regarded to have made a modest contribution to thinking on the issues of aims of education, curriculum design, pedagogy and teacher education. It has helped us learn and develop our thinking in education. Taking forward the learning and experiments in school, we were encouraged to contribute in educational discourse in mainstream education system.

With the encouragement and support from some like-minded organizations, we began to work with different organizations, and governments. The nature of our engagements with other organizations and governments have largely been of resource support and training. Over the last two decades, we had opportunities to work with multiple organizations and various state governments. Some of the major projects that we have taken up and successfully completed in the last two decades include the resource support to District Primary Education Programme (DPEP) in Madhya Pradesh, evaluation of DPEP impact in Kerala and capacity building workshops for personnel from eight Hindi speaking states. Working with State Council for Educational Research and Training (SCERT), Chhattisgarh to help develop their textbooks for elementary classes, and subsequently to develop their Diploma of Education Programme for teacher education. We also had chance to play significant part in development of National Curriculum Framework (NCF) 2005 and subsequent textbooks. In collaboration with Government of Rajasthan, and other agencies, we undertook a large scale and major project called Quality Education Programme, in Baran district of Rajasthan. The Programme focused on developing in-service teacher education programme towards realizing quality education. We have also been working with Azim Premji Foundation to mutually contribute to each other’s programmes and initiatives.

Besides several other works and programmes, one of the initiatives which we consider worth-mentioning as part of introduction is our collaboration with Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai, in their innovative post-graduate programme in Elementary Education. We were one of five collaborators in beginning the programme with responsibility to develop curriculum, and course contents and teaching.

The purpose of this brief introduction of Digantar is to underline the fact that all this has been possible because of our schools. Digantar schools serve three purposes simultaneously.

1. They address the local need of good quality education in a community where female literacy was less than 2% when we came to work in this area in 1989. The overwhelming majority of girls in the area who have completed elementary education are Digantar students. There is a visible change in girls’ participation in education and mothers’ participation in decision making regarding their daughters’ education.
2. We learn from the experience how to run good quality schools at the same cost per-child as the government education system in Rajasthan. This learning enables us to develop new ideas in curriculum, pedagogy and teacher education. The learning from the schools is used in formulating our own projects and capacity building at the state and national levels.
3. The direct experience in running of the schools helps us develop ideas that contribute to national discourse on education and schools serve as a site for field exposure in innovative good quality education for several teacher education colleges, government projects and other organisations working in elementary education.

Thus the Digantar Schools are contributing significantly to development of educational thought and practice in the country. It is generally recognised that continuous development of new ideas and practices are essential for healthy growth of any education system. For example the whole nation for last 3 years is grappling with the idea of Continuous Comprehensive Evaluation (CCE) to better understand children’s learning trajectories and simultaneously do away with stressful and wasteful narrow examinations. Digantar schools are practicing such an evaluation system for last more than 30 years. Many of the pedagogical and curricular recommendations in NCF and RtE have been a normal way of running and organising schools in Digantar from day one of its inception.

As we all know, the funding environment in last decade and half has changed. Many of the donors have declared themselves to be direct implementers on the ground, thereby reducing Voluntary Agencies to the status of junior implementation partners without their own agendas. The other trend is to fund projects which bring about large systemic changes. There are very few, if any, who recognise that large scale systemic changes require ideas and practices concerning aims, curriculum, pedagogy and teacher education, that can be taken forward. The core ideas of change that NCF and RtE recommend are all generated and perfected at small scale schools in India and abroad. Drying out of support for schools that spot educational problems and develop solutions on the ground will emaciate the system in terms of new visions and ideas.

Digantar schools which have been running since September 1978 and have contributed to educational thought and practice in the country through last more than three decades are in danger of closing down after 31st March 2014. We have no supporter to continue the schools. It will immediately effect education of more about 500 children, majority of whom are girls; and will shut down one significant site of educational experiments.

Therefore, this introduction also becomes an appeal to seek further funding for these schools. If any reader happens to know a funding agency who might be interested in supporting such schools, we request her/him to forward this introduction and appeal to them.

Still hoping to continue the work we began 35 years back.