Freedom for Thinking

Rabindranath Tagore with Mahatma Gandhi and Kasturba Gandhi at Santiniketan
Public Domain, via Wikimedia

Liz Waid and Adam Navis look at Indian writer and educator Rabindranath Tagore, and his unusual school. After more than one hundred years, it still shares his ideas.

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Voice 1

Welcome to Spotlight. I’m Liz Waid.

Voice 2

And I’m Adam Navis. Spotlight uses a special English method of broadcasting. It is easier for people to understand, no matter where in the world they live.

Voice 1

It is a hot day near Kolkata, India. The children are at school. They are learning poems and songs. But they are not inside a building. The students are sitting outside under large trees.

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Is this a good way to learn? Writer and activist Rabindranath Tagore believed that it was. Today’s Spotlight is on Tagore’s life and the school that he started in India.

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Tagore was born in 1861 in Kolkata, India. He was born into a wealthy and well-educated family. Tagore did many great things in his life time. He travelled around the world. He was friends with many famous people. He wrote the national song for both India and Bangladesh. Millions of people love his poems and music. More than 100 years later, his writing continues to influence Indian culture.

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However, as a boy he did not like school. He did not want to sit in a school building. So Tagore’s older brothers taught him many things at home. He learned about music and painting. But he enjoyed writing most of all. Tagore wrote his first poem when he was seven years old. His first book of poems was published when he was only 17. He wrote poems about many things including love, life, spiritual matters, and politics.

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Tagore also wrote about education. He believed that there are many different ways to learn. And each child must learn in his own way. In one of his poems, he said:

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‘Do not limit a child to your own learning, for he was born in another time.’

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In the early 1900s the government of Britain ruled the country of India. During this time very few Indian children went to school. All the schools were like the schools in Britain. Children were expected to sit inside a classroom. They had to listen to the teacher all day long. Then, they were tested on how much they could remember.

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Tagore remembered that he did not learn well in this kind of school. So he decided to create his own school. He wanted this school to be a different place for learning. Tagore’s school opened in 1901. He named it Santiniketan. This word means “house of peace” in the Bengali language. Santiniketan began with just five students. It also had five teachers! Tagore’s aim was to have a school where children enjoyed their learning.

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Rabindranath Tagore believed that the children should feel connected to nature. The students were encouraged to play and spend time in nature. Their classes met outside. This way they learned more than just information. They learned to live at peace with the world.

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Tagore also wanted the students to be connected to their local culture. Most other schools in India were taught in English. At Santiniketan, teachers used the local Bengali language. The students also learned songs and dances from their local area. They learned skills in arts and crafts such as making shoes and dying cloth. But Tagore also wanted his students to understand the world. They studied many other cultures. The school even had teachers from other countries.

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Students at Santiniketan were encouraged to spend time thinking about spiritual and religious issues. India is a nation with many different religions. Tagore believed in respecting all religions. He thought spirituality was an important part of searching for truth. During a speech in the United States he said:

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"The object of education is to give man the unity of truth. I believe in a spiritual world that is not separate from this world. It is the most important truth. With the breath of life we must always feel that we are living in God."

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Tagore wanted the children at his school to have the same goal. He was not concerned about tests and results. He believed that it was more important for the children to learn about the world around them. He believed that children needed freedom to think and explore.

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Tagore’s school was a success. The students there did not always get the best results on tests. But they studied many different subjects. They learned many important skills. And the school made them very creative.

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Many students from Tagore’s school become famous as adults. The former Prime Minister of India, Indhira Gandhi, went to Tagore’s school. So did economist and writer Amartya Sen. Sen received a Nobel Prize in Economics in 1998.

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Famous Indian film maker, Satyajit Ray also attended Tagore’s school. Ray even made a film about Rabindranath Tagore. He believed Tagore’s school had a big influence on his success. He told the Guardian newspaper:

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“The years I spent at Santiniketan were the most productive of my life… It was there that I first saw how wonderful Indian art was. Until then I was only influenced by western art, music and literature. Santiniketan made me the combined product of East and West that I am.”

Voice 1

In 1913 Rabindranath Tagore won the Nobel Prize for Literature. He received the award for his book of poems called Gitanjali. He was the first non-European person to receive a Nobel Prize. This achievement was important to Tagore. But it was not the most important thing.

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The most important thing to Tagore was thinking. He believed all children should have the freedom to think. This idea was very new and different at that time. Even today, Tagore’s school is very different. In one of his poems from Gitanjali, Tagore explains his ideas for education. He wished these things for the people of his country:

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“Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high; Where knowledge is free; Where the world has not been broken up into pieces by narrow walls… Where the clear river of reason has not lost its way into the desert sand; Into that heaven of freedom, My Father, let my country awake.”

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This dream of Rabindranath Tagore is still alive today. It lives on through Santiniketan school. What do you think about Tagore’s school? Do you think this different kind of education is good? Email us your thoughts at

Voice 1

The writer and producer of this program was Rena Dam. The voices you heard were from the United States. All quotes were adapted and voiced by Spotlight. You can find our programs on the internet at This program is called, ‘Freedom for Thinking’.

Voice 2

You can leave your comments on our website. You can also find us on Facebook - just search for spotlightradio. We hope you can join us again for the next Spotlight program. Goodbye.


Where did you go to school? Was it a good place to learn? Did you like it?


Avatar Spotlight
incorrigible li
said on September 12, 2011

That is a great idea of learning. Freedom for thinking, in recent world, I think lots of people need freedom for thinking. It is a great idea to have such a school. really I hope I could open a similar school in my country some day soon…...

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said on September 12, 2011

yes Li I find this idea is very good, somone learn what he want….

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said on September 13, 2011

That difficult to answer!It’s really good idea. I think it just good for person, who really have study ways clearly, without fear, free knowledge, so on…But,...
In fact, many parents impose your child in their study, not only thinks but also actives. They worry about future, they want to safe and happy to their child. So they arrange everything!
Have question: Have the children got free on thinking or active? Could he/she learn what he/she like?
So I think Tagore’s idea is limited. It can apply in narrow area.

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wife beater
said on September 15, 2011

I think that thinking is most important thing.

so this school is great.
It would also need to Japan.

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said on September 16, 2011

What do you think about Tagore’s school ?...
oh very good !

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said on September 17, 2011

Hello hey everyone and good day all people in this beautiful world. My opinion is following about article: yes he created good school and gave young people the freedom of chose. But I think that children don’t need study so long time and don’t need study so many things at school and university because in the result they will need few part of that they studied like me and therefore person should by most part decides what he or she will study.It was my point of view on this idea. And always thanks all authors for this good program. Who want to add me you can do it into your Skype where my nickname is following: gelezniyden. I wish everybody good luck.

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said on October 25, 2012

I agree with that all the people need freedom of thinking most of all the children of course with our advice for a good education. They could be the better in differents things as they want to be.
Greetings spolight

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said on October 26, 2012

I believe , the teacher must provide a friendly environment for what the child feels the freedom of thinking and speaking. Then the children will development their skills and creatives. That is all.  Thanks Spotlight.

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said on January 21, 2014

Hi Spotlight’s team.
I read this program which is really interesting, even though I have a different opinion. I think that classic schools are more productive than Tagore’s school. The writer of this program brings two or three cases, like Ghandi, to illustrate the good outcome of this school. But what about the other famous politicians and other know-how people? Were there attending that school? No. Today I read another article on this topic at VOA (it deals with Asian students results on education) and if you don’t care, I would like to share with you and your readers what my statement is about that topic:  It is not the first time for me to hear about Asian student and their higher results in different competitions. Some times ago I read that Asiann students were the winers of spelling bee competition which take place every year in USA. They have to spell correctly and to learn by heart around 40000 words. What are the secrets of these results? I think that the first and foremost cause is the participation of parents in their education. Asian parents spent more time than other parents taking care of their children’s homework etc. Another reason I think is the fact that ‘smanking and spanking’ are widespread in these countries. I think it can help on achieving better results on education. I know you almost all the readers do not agree in this point but, let me explain. The education takes place during childhood. In this period of lifetime a child is not aware of the importance of education in his future life. For that moment a child like more play stations or other games than books. So for us as parents it is necessary to tell our children what to do and not to let them free to decide. They are not capable to take best decisions or choices. If we do so, we can see the results for sure, otherwise there are no chances. 

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said on January 21, 2014

I think education in nowadays is very formal: It has a chair to sit, a building to study in, many teachers to understand the classes, and no freedom inside the school.
Being part of a different class like Tagores’ class is a very new method to be smart and to be part of the nature as one.
Learning hst to be interesting and funny, that’s the way you can learn about the world.

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said on January 22, 2014

I think children must be grow up by natural way , freedom to thinking is one of the best way we need to apply for our children . But not at all , beside this we need to follow and spend time to listen and share with our children . we need to see that our children had or had not thinking on the right way . So we can find out the good method made our childen become the good one in the future . Thanks spotlighenglish for the good share !

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said on January 24, 2014

In my opinion, everything depends on the parents who should take part in their children’s life, on the contrary, the children should confide in parents. Only in this way the parents can lead the children correctly including as controlling their behaviour as helping them understand the necessity of having the good results at school. The parents should still explain, explain until children realize they are studying for themselves, for their success to come, for their future. It is needed to can listen to our children, participate in their feeling and dreaming too. The right leading with the endless patience have the positive outcome finally.
Greetings !

Kaleb Kolaibi's avatar
Kaleb Kolaibi
said on June 13, 2016

I think that no problem form of place for learning but kind of learning is it important. The learning which growing children for humanity and development of human life.
For me, I learnt at good places schools as building but bad places as education because that education was underdvelopment education (Islamic education). Of course, I didnt like that.

Severino Ramos da Silva's avatar
Severino Ramos da Silva
said on June 15, 2016

From: .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) (Severino Ramos)
To: spotlight programme
Subject: answer to the question above
Date: Wednsday 15, June 2016
São Paulo SP Brazil

Dear Liz Waid, Rena Dam, and Adam Navis:

First of all, I want to thank you to bring us readers and learners of English more one great article. Thanks!
Yes, I think that Tagore’s school is a good way to learn because It is not matter the place where you learn the subjects. The most important is who you learn the subjects and the quality of the teaching. Also, It is very important the result of the learning that you got with the teachers.

I went to school in Pernambuco countryside where I was born and lived for many years ago.
Yes, It was an excellent place to learn several important subjects.  Also, that school learnt for their students important manners of behavour and good ways to live.
Yes, I liked it so much and I learnt several subjects there. It was an excellent public school of the Government.
So, there I studied:
1- Kindergarten, ( in my mother language it is called Jardim da infância or alfabetização)
2- Elementary School, ( in my mother language it is called ensino fundamental)
3- And High School. ( in my mother language it is called ensino médio)
Therefore, when I moved to live here in São Paulo city, I graduated in nursing in health care at Mogi das Cruzes University. After, I got my postgraduate in Hospital Administration at UNAERP University.(Universidade de Ribeirão Preto)
However ,  I work at the hospital as a nurse so I take care of my pactients. Not as an administrator.
My basic Spanish course I got it at Wizard School next to my house. Wizard School is a private school and It is   an excellent school to learn Spanish and English.
And my intermediate Spanish course I got it at Instituto Cervante School.  Instituto Cervante School is a private school and It is an excellent school to learn Spanish, too.
Instituto Cervante is a school from Spain. So, Spanish people have a unity of it here in Brazil.
Finally, I thank these schools to give me the opportunity to learn this idiom.

Your regards,
Severino Ramos

Avatar Spotlight
said on August 09, 2018

Hi all lover spotlight’s program
In the fact education must be free and love not more information not important. ,so I love this way by
Rabindranath Tagore

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said on August 10, 2018

I got to school in a government school in my city, Belo Horizonte. It was a very good school and I continued my scholar career ever in public school. I respect schools like this Rabindranath’s school, but I think schools for a great number of students can not be like that. The societies choice the schools type they want for their children and every choice has their value. I think education must be saw like a social investment which must provide returns to every citizen of the country.