In his school he ensured that the students are taught the importance of Indian inheritance and at the same time give it a universal humanist outlook. The cadres and the teachers of his school came from all over the world. The students had hardly any syllabus. They were expected to grow through their own experiences including the bad one's. The goal of learning was to synthesize knowledge and feeling. Also, learning by doing was given uttermost importance. The education was intended for both city as well as the village children. The sole aim of bringing them together was to encourage social mingling, exchange of ideas, knowledge and experiences. He hoped to give life to Upanishadic concept in his Santiniketan institution as he felt that it would lead to the regeneration the country.
The arrangements at Santiniketan were extremely primitive. The day for the students used to begin at 4.45 in the morning and would end by 9.00 in the night. However, soon Rabindranath realized that a Brahmacharya Ashram was not his idea of a new and modern education. Though he valued the primitive nature of Santiniketan, his ideal school had to do much more than that, especially with regard to opening up the student's minds to a relationship with the world. This gave birth to Visva-Bharati (a central university of the government of India).
The idea of happiness the most fundamental emotions, was used innovatively in Santiniketan. There was a minimum of curriculum but a round-the-clock routine of varied activities. His idea was that children should be surrounded with the things of nature that have their own educational value. He attached great importance to self-expression. He expected his students to feel every happiness, big or small, by being given 'a full life'. The other idea in the school was freedom. The students were encouraged to take decisions on matters concerning their life. He described Santiniketan School as an indigenous attempt in adapting modern methods of education in a truly Indian cultural environment.
Reaching out to a larger humanity was essential and hence villages surrounded the Santiniketan ashram. Students were regularly sent to learn about the conditions of the villagers. Rabindranath was of the opinion that majority of India lived in the villages and were being kept out of mainstream of Indian life. Colonial education did not reach the farmer, the oil grinder and potter. Bearing in mind the need to evoke moral responsibility among the educated class, he would encourage his students to build relationship with the villagers. Rabindranath was determined to change the situation by creating a new education, which would apply economics, agriculture, healthcare and other everyday sciences to the villages.
Rabindranath would contribute a large sum of his income to Santiniketan. Santiniketan did not have any income of its own besides the annual maintenance grant of Rs.1800 from the Santiniketan Trust established by his father. To start the school, he had to sell almost everything he possessed including his wife's jewellery, his gold watch and even his seaside bungalow at Puri. For some years at the outset, in keeping with the school's ideals, the students were not charged tuition fees. But as the financial burden grew, meeting the daily ends became difficult.
He would often go on 'fund-raising' missions in India and the West to raise funds for his institution. Those missions too proved unsuccessful. His lecture tour in America in 1916-1917 brought him recognition but failed to produce the expected financial returns. Over the years Rabindranath found a surer way of generating funds. He did it by touring the country with performances of his dance-dramas by Santiniketan students. From 1930, a regular income of around Rs.30, 000 came from that source and listed under 'Proceeds of Performances' in their accounts books.
In spite of his fragile health Rabindranath continued to make tours. Santiniketan had become central to his life. Besides the difficulty in raising funds, Santiniketan had to face other problems too. People used to look down upon the institution and did not appreciate his innovative ideas in education. He had difficulty even in getting pupils when the school was first established; those who were brought were mostly difficult children. It took years before the school was recognized as anything but a reformatory. In addition, the Britishers were suspicious of the school's objectives and issued secret circulars warning their officials against sending their children there. Rabindranath could have abandoned this experiment but on the contrary but it was just the reverse. He continued to struggle with a sense of fulfillment. Santiniketan in his words was a 'sapling', which was to grow into Visva-Bharati, 'a widely branching tree'.
The first foreign student to come to Santiniketan was Hori San from Japan. Step by step Santiniketan moved from being a collection of separate educational experiments into a well-knit whole- a school, a college, a department of higher studies and research, a center of music and art. Within two miles from Santiniketan was an institute of rural reconstruction called 'Sriniketan'. He now coined the term 'Visva-Bharati' for the whole institution, Santiniketan and Sriniketan. With Visva-Bharati's inauguration in 1921 its doors were thrown open to men and women from elsewhere to collaborate in intellectual companionship and social action. Visva-Bharati is now a degree giving university. Santiniketan College that was founded by Tagore in 1918 got affiliated to Calcutta University in 1921.