The Innovator from Harvard

From Teaching to Training to Co-Learning

"I started with learning to teach,
Then I was teaching to learn
Now I am just learning to learn
I remain a lifelong seeker.
(Dr Amit Nagpal)

During my recent visit to Udaipur, I met an interesting person, Mr Manish Jain, who runs an NGO called Shikshantar and is trying to bring a change in education through innovative and at times, radical concepts like 'Unschooling'. His philosophy can be summed up through the poster on his library wall, which says, “Learning is Natural, Schooling is Optional”

During my discussions with him he shared many unique and interesting ideas which I would like to share. He says that for true learning to happen, the three generations must be present (children, parents and grandparents). In a way the past experiences, the present struggles and future hopes will come together, and then we can brainstorm and look for feasible ideas for development of human race.

Mansih told me that her daughter does not go to any school and learns at his NGO Shikshantar. She chooses her own Guru and even a bird can be a Guru for a day and she can learn by observing birds and their behavior. He believes that a Guru should not be imposed on a student and in Gurukul system the student had the freedom to choose his Guru. The Guru word in Sanskrit means a source of inspiration and he rightly says that inspiration can come from anyone.

He pointed out a new term coined by an American lady viz NDD or Nature Deficit Disorder. The lady says that nowadays children suffer from nature deficit as they are locked in classrooms for entire day and miss out on nature. This is resulting in more psychological disorders in children. We have desensitized students regarding nature and need to sensitize them. Well, the idea is thought provoking.

Manish also talked of a Danish business school, “Chaos Pilots” which claims, "We are not No 1 business school in the world but we are No 1 business school for the world." The school constantly looks for ways to resolve the chaos in our society.

He pointed out that in ancient times Yoga was very well integrated in our daily lives and even the chakki used for grounding wheat was designed in such a way that one had to sit in, and exercise yogic postures. I shared with him an observation of my muslim friend who pointed out that the position in which people sit for Namaaz is designed in such a way that it has the equivalent impact of meditation. Postures can be so important but hardly anyone gives importance to such small things in life.

His personal philosophy is, "I prefer to take the company of those searching for the truth rather than those who think they have found it." So true, at no point in life we should start feeling that we have found all the truths of life and we must remain constant seekers.

Saturday night Hulchul cafĂ© happens every Saturday at Shikshantar office and like-minded (holistic living) people from different parts of the world have an informal interaction over innovative organic dishes and music. Jack, a 19 year old American (who became a friend) told the story of his life. He was highly intelligent and felt frustrated in the school (because he deserved to be in higher class) and parents took it for depression and started giving anti-depressants. He became violent and was shifted from one school to another.Now he was in Sikshantar and had finally found a school where he was happily learning.

Hulchul Cafe was really an enjoyable experience and reminded me of similar experience at my favourite international city Auroville (near Pondicherry). There is no fixed payment and you can pay as much as you wish. Manish calls this Gift Culture. Keep up the good work Manish. Life can be enjoyed without too much money. Isn't it?

He has given me a new paradigm, Co-Learning. I was moving from teaching to training and I feel training uses more experiential/practical methods which can build skills which teaching only builds knowledge. Now I have realized that a teacher/trainer is also a co-learner and learns along with students. Thank you Manish and my best wishes for all your present and future endeavours.Otherwise also Udaipur was a beautiful experience and I loved the Lake Palace and Lake Park.

On a lighter note I would say, some of Manish's projects will take society to new heights of discovery, probably thst’s why his email ID is on

Brief Profile
Manish has been a student of Harvard University and Brown University and has worked with premier organizations like UNESCO, World Bank and Morgan Stanley in USA and is now fully involved in bringing grassroot level change, the focus being Udaipur city in Rajasthan, India. The areas in which he works include creation of learning societies, developing Udaipur as a learning city, bringing innovations in education and holistic living. Manish is the co-founder of Shikshantar and Swaraj University both located in Udaipur, India.

To know more about Shikshantar, click here.

To know more about Swaraj University, click here


  1. very nice experience. Hope to catch mainsh next time.

  2. Oh sure Varun. Take the contact details whenever you want.

  3. A desire to be a student of Swaraj University has suddenly cropped up :)


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