Books on Education from Arvind Gupta

Image from
Arvind Gupta

Who is Arvind Gupta?

I first met Arvind Gupta at a slum school in Govindpuri. Although he is a graduate of the institute in which I work, and has won many awards for his work in science popularization, an area in which I was myself working, five years into my new job I had not heard of him. In what is a common litany of co-operation in India, it was from Mitch Resnick in Boston that I first came to know of Arvind and his work. And then, when we were to conduct a workshop in a school run by the Katha Khazana, we invited Arvind to visit us.

A bearded man in khadi kurta, he arrived with a jhola from which he produced a small plastic dabba full of thread, buttons, scissors, straws, matchboxes, marbles, empty ballpen-refills, and other throwaway items. From these, he constructed dozens of toys -- tone-changing flutes, whirling thread rings, wall-climbing critters, scampering mice . . . Along with his toymaking ran the constant patter of story. The evening lengthened, and all of us, large and small children, rich and poor, participated mesmerized.

Besides being a toymaker, Arvind Gupta is also an active network builder. Evne in the days before e-mail, he was one of India's most active postcard writers, through which he would keep in touch with hundreds of people with similar bent of mind. Although we have not met since he moved to Pune, like so many others, he keeps in touch through various snippets of work, primarily regarding the dissemination of books. Recently I discovered that he had managed to put various books online, and without waiting to talk to him, I thought I would create this page as my small offering honouring this enormous life of effort, which in so many ways is a life lived in the ideal of The Man Who Planted Trees.

Arvind Gupta has written many entertaining books about his toymaking (and about other themes), which have been published by the Eklavya educational society, the National Book Trust, and others. Currently he is the curator for a novel experiment in interactive science learning. With backing from the Inter University Centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics (IUCAA) and the Pula Deshpande trust, he is starting an interactive Museum which would have no security guards, and where kids will play freely, making toys out of boxes full of common junk, launching their own journeys through their own science. In his book Pumps from the Dump he has expressed his motto as:

The whole world is a garbage pit
Collect some junk and make a kit.

In addition to writing books, Arvind Gupta is also concerned with the manner in which books are distributed, and access by the weaker sections of society. He considers it stifling that so many books that have such educative potential should remain out of reach of the Indian child simply because of price. So over the years he has labouriously and painstakingly typed in the books that he loves, and he and his friends have released to the online world his own books, as well as some others. Wherever possible, permissions have been taken from the copyright holders. Some of these books are also linked from the Crimson Feet Magazine, which is "a space for urgent, visionary, volatile, enlightening, evolutionary words and vision".

You can read what Sandipan Deb has written about Arvind Gupta in this piece called The Toymaker, from his book The IITians (Penguin 2004).

Books by Arvind Gupta

  1. Little Science by Arvind Gupta, illustrated by Avinash Deshpande, Eklavya, Bhopal
  2. by Arvind Gupta, illustrated by Avinash Deshpande, National Book Trust
  3. Matchstick Models And Other Science Experiments by Arvind Gupta
  4. Thumbprints by Arvind Gupta
  5. Pumps from the Dump By Suresh Vaidyarajan and Arvind Gupta, illus. by Avinash Deshpande; Vigyan Prasar
  6. Toy Treasures by Arvind Gupta, illustrated by Avinash Deshpande, Eklavya, Bhopal

Books made available in by Arvind Gupta and Friends

Guruk and Turuk greet each other after their false divisions are healed by the children's play. (From Brothers of Chichibaba)
  1. Divaswapna by Gijubhai Badheka
    An inspiring tale of a teacher who rejects the orthodox system of school teaching, and institutes playful mechanisms for learning, particularly in the language arts. The book has inspired many of the educational experiments across India. [pdf version].

  2. Why the Sky is Blue by C. V. Raman
    A refreshing, clear article on the physics of scattering by one of India's leading scientists. A paradigm in science writing for the lay reader.

  3. Brothers of Chichibaba by D.P. Sengupta, illustrated by Gujjar
    An unforgettable parable of two brothers, left-handed and right-handed, who fight over their shallow differences, separate, and build big nations with big arsenals. In the end, the loving play of the children helps resolve the story.

  4. Duishen by Chingiz Aitmatov, tr. Olga Shartse; National Book Trust
    This lyrical tale, by a world-renowned Kyrgyzstan writer, tells the story of a teacher, Duishen, who lovingly helps the children in a Kyrgyz village set up a school, overcoming opposition. "Not so fast, young fellow,", Satymkul said, squinting at Duishen as if taking aim. "You'd better tell us this: what do we want a school for?"

  5. Bahuroopee Gandhi by Anu Bandyopadhyaya
    An inspiring biography of Mahatma Gandhi, written in a simple style.

  6. Tottochan by Tetsuko Kuroyanagi
    This is an un-put-down-able tale of a school in Japan, housed in a railcar, where children are given freedom to explore and learn in their own pace. The irrepressible Totto Chan, (who grew up to become a screen celebrity in Japan), says of the headmaster, Sosaku Kobayashi: "You said he was the headmaster, but if he owns all these trains, he must be a stationmaster."

  7. Deschooling Society by Ivan Illich
    This celebrated work from 1970 argues against the institutionalization of learning represented by schools. Calls for flexible student-centered processes to replace the top-down learning management of schools which disempowers the child.

  8. Preparation for Understanding by Keith Warren, illus. by Julia Warren, UNESCO
    "Science is the discovery of new patterns. This book helps children discover the patterns and arrangements of the world around them using their hands, senses and minds. Understanding is the discovery of order." (from Crimson Feet Magazine).

  9. School of Barbiana : Letter to a Teacher
    Written in 1967 by eight students of the Barbiana school in Tuscania, Italy, this book became a bestselling indictment of school system and its injustices. Originally titled Lettera a una professoressa the book was the collaborative work over a year under a project coordinated by teacher Lorenzo Milani at the end of his life. [pdf version]

  10. Teacher by Sylvia Ashton Warner
    Warner would hold "word auctions" - holding up a paper with the writing "dawn", say, she would ask, "How much am I bid for this?" To win the bidding, a child promised so many words (say, 500) in an essay using the word "dawn". In this way, the "backward" Maori children were soon writing essays longer than many high schoolers!

  11. The Man Who Planted Trees
    Merely by planting trees -- methodically, every day, over many years -- a single man changed thousands of lives throughout an entire region. "The story has been taken by some as about tree planting, and that is the perfect illustration of not seeing the forest for the trees. It is a book about how to live your life, and about how a life well lived influences countless others."

  12. My Country School Diary by Julia Weber Gordon (1946)
    An attempt to give the children a "sense that school was a part of the real world, not just a place where you did meaningless things today, so that later you might go out and do some other meaningless things somewhere else."

  13. Listen Little Man by Wilhelm Reich
    This book, based on experiences in Nazi Germany, is a warning to the average man - how he must fight the cancer of fascism. Reich, a free thinking leftist, died in an US Prison in the McCarthy era.

Arvind Gupta in the Media

You can also check out our own hands-on activity for schools, Build Robots Create Science.

Or you can do your own bit, by sharing these Storytelling Science columns with some kids near you.

BRiCS (Build Robots Create Science) Programme.