"Aspiration School, Auroville – A Glimpse"
Truth, Harmony, Liberty.
Aspiration School, Auroville, was opened on December 15th, 1970, with 35 children and 12 adults. Now in 1973, 105 children, representing 10 nationalities, 9 Indian states and a wide diversity of social and cultural backgrounds are experimenting together along the lines laid out in the teachings of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother. Our endeavour in the two and a half years of the school's history has been to discover and manifest the conditions in which education can be a joyful and truly progressive process. We have tried to rely solely on the aspiration and enthusiasm of every individual involved and on the mutual stimulation and direction that have arisen naturally among them under such diverse and harmonious conditions – free as they are from conventional demands and guided and inspired by the highest educational ideals. There are no examinations or imposed standards to be met and the groupings of students and teachers are not made arbitrarily. The children are encouraged to learn for the joy of learning and are free to move from one area of interest to another as they will. We aim at a full and natural integration of our children into the life of the community, where they will find their place by following their own natural interests and aptitudes. The school has evolved as a dynamic organism embracing many diverse elements. It is not confined to a building or a programme - our education takes place throughout the community of Auroville in an increasing variety of environments and activities.
In the 2 to 5 age group there are 33 children. 10 live in Aspiration and the others come by bus from various parts of Auroville. Many of them were born in Auroville. They arrive at 8:30 a.m. and spend the morning in a large garden playing in sand and water and on the climbing frame or slide; there are huts and shades providing areas for construction and mathematical games, for painting, for dancing and gymnastics, for play of all kinds. There is a special place for the very smallest children and a silence room where beautiful pictures are displayed and meditative music is played. The children come together for games, to sing in French, English, Tamil and Sanskrit and to listen to stories. There are six adults working here, four French/English speakers, one German/English and one Tamil – three men and three women. All meet under the mango tree at 10:00 each day for a morning snack. They go home at noon.
In the 5 to 10 age group there are 38 children. 19 live in Aspiration and 19 in other parts of Auroville or in Pondicherry. They have formed themselves quite naturally into five distinct batches, each with its own environment. Derek is an Englishman whose background is in science and mathematics. He now works with six boys, three Tibetan, one Indian/Swedish, one from Orissa and one from Andhra, all aged 8 to 9. They like to make kites and clay models, to experiment in the science room as well as to pursue regular studies in reading, writing and mathematics. They visit the school workshop for carpentry and metal work. The Tibetan boys like doing embroidery with a young American woman from the community. They keep a small garden and make expeditions to the Success tree nursery near ‘Forecomers’ or the farm at ‘Utilité’ to learn about and share in the work there. Recently they were involved in a project on numeration that included Roman, Greek, Babylonian calculations and other number systems. They prepared an exhibition on the topic which was displayed in Last School. This is a typically energetic and versatile group.
Renate is German and with the help of a French girl, Manon, she looks after two groups, the first consisting of one Tamil boy and four Tibetan boys and girls, the other of four girls, one from Orissa, one from Andhra and two from local villages. All these children are 6 to 8 years old. Two German girls and one Tamil girl of this age divide their time between here and Last School. With Renate the children especially like to draw, paint, do embroidery, crocheting, knitting and to 'keep house', maintaining an immaculately clean room decorated with flowers. Some of these children join in the singing and dance classes at Last School. Once a week they go to the education / recreational area on the beach which is kept by an American couple. There they bathe in the sea, do clay work, painting and prepare their own lunch. This beach environment is also used by eight boys, seven Tamil and one Bengali, aged 6 to 10, under the care of Jean and Gordon, a Tamil-speaking American couple who have two of the boys living with them, and Ursula, a young German woman who has many years of experience with this age-group. These boys especially like to build houses, paint, draw and study reading and writing in English and Tamil. They spend a lot of time listening to stories and looking at picture books. Jean and Gordon have taken their Tamil boys on expeditions to nearby towns, giving them the experience of travelling in a train and seeing the world outside their local village and Aspiration. These children are extremely observant and know all about the habits of local animals, plants and birds.
At Last School there is a group of about 12 children of German, Italian, French, Indian and American origin, aged between 6 and 10. Working with them are one Englishwoman, two German men, a Frenchwoman, and volunteer-visitors of many nationalities. To Last School come visiting teachers from the Auroville community and from the Sri Aurobindo Ashram in Pondicherry to give classes in singing, Indian dance, acting, art, instrumental music and handicrafts, which are open to all children who are interested. Last School also houses the Auroville Library of about 5000 volumes on a wide range of subjects, mostly in English and French, but some in other European and Indian languages, as well as a newly established French environment which is intended to make the French culture and language available in an integral way. In addition to these activities, the children who are based at Last School are learning Sanskrit, English, French, geography and mathematics in an informal but often very concentrated way, working on various projects according to their interests. One of these projects was the development of the faculties of concentration, memory and sense-receptivity through games led by one of the adults. In the course of the project they made a video-film showing some of the games that they have developed for memory training. All these children are working at the moment on an exhibition showing different systems of writing and in this they are joined enthusiastically by visiting children from other groups.
In the age group of 11 to 19 there are 34 children, 14 living in Aspiration and 20 from Pondicherry and other parts of Auroville. They also work in small batches of 6 to 8 studens where they follow a special programme to develop their mental powers. They have the help of four full time teachers, two from Bengal, one from Andhra, one from Gujarat. One of these, Ananda, was educated at the Sri Aurobindo International Centre of Education in Pondicherry. There are also three visiting teachers for language studies, two Tamil and one from Andhra, plus an Englishwoman and a Frenchwoman. The regular activities of these groups include Tamil, Sanskrit, English, French, Science and mathematics, history and literary studies. They also pursue individual interests such as flute playing, photography and mechanics, and participate in community projects such as the polyester factory, the printing press, the handicrafts centre at 'Fraternity', the vehicle maintenance and repair workshop at 'Abri', the construction of the Matrimandir and others.
The students are encouraged to help those who are younger. In addition to assistance given in the Kindergarten once or twice a week by some of the children aged 9 to 16, there are boys aged 11 to 18 teaching English and mathematics to young Tamil workers in the polyester factory and the handicrafts centre.
All those over five, and some even younger children who choose to do so, participate in the physical education programme each afternoon from 4:30 to 5:45. They do gymnastics, athletics, games – cricket, basketball, volleyball, kabbadi and others – as well as coordinated movements and exercises. Judo and sea swimming are also available at the beach.
There are at present two projects concerned with the education of children from the local villages. One is with a group who are the children of paid workers for Auroville and it is intended as preparation for their full integration into Aspiration school soon. A couple from Bihar works with 19 of these children aged 5 to 11. They have a full day's programme including lunch and sports. They employ the Montessori materials. Six children from this group have already been integrated into Aspiration School. Two of them are living in Aspiration with teachers’ families. Also, 68 children from the Kuilapalayam village near Aspiration take part in a sports programme from 5:00 to 6:00 p.m. each day on the school sports-ground. Uniforms and a nourishing snack are provided. A similar scheme has now been started at Kottakarai, another village in Auroville, for 20 children with the possibility of increasing the number to 50 soon. These have been extremely needed, welcome and rewarding projects.
The Last School building was opened on October 6, 1971. It is the first to come into use of several new buildings intended to meet a variety of educational needs. Still under construction are the Sanskrit Research building, After School 1 for science and mathematics and After School 2 designed as a library. It may be appropriate here to call attention to the names that the Mother has given to the projected educational buildings in Auroville: 'Last School, After School, Super School and No School.' These are undoubtedly significant not only of the trend of education in Auroville but also of the time spirit and the demands of universal Nature with regard to education everywhere.
In attempting to give a picture of Auroville's school today we have said nothing about teaching methods and materials, or about the psychological approach, the relationship between teacher and pupil, or learner and guide. This is because these things are still being developed. Instead we have given a kind of 'photograph' of our daily activities in late April 1973. Because of the dynamic and experimental nature of our development you should not be surprised to find that today many, perhaps most, of the details making up this picture have changed – people come and go, groups change, new activities are taken up and others put aside, new possibilities present themselves continually.
Aspiration School will surely continue to grow in the same organic and many- sided fashion as it has up to now, constantly enriching our opportunities for experience, self-discovery and growth. One or two projects that are under way may prove to be of special interest. One is the children's village. On April 4th 1973, the foundation stone was laid and work has begun to construct a complete educational environment where it may be possible to develop new ways of living together more favourable to individual and collective growth with better habits of hygiene, nutrition, work, sleep and play. Another is the Creche, being established at the moment, which will be devoted to pre- and post-natal education for mothers and infants. Here could be brought together the best psychological, medical, educational and spiritual guidance available to help the children of the future realise their highest potentialities.
The idea of a truly international centre of education presented to us by Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, with pavilions representing the true culture of each nation, where children could be taught in their own mother tongue, in the milieu of their own culture, but still be in close and stimulating contact with the children, languages and cultures of other nations, has yet to be realised. However, the small beginnings are there, ready perhaps to flower in the near future.
But whatever emerges to fulfil our outward needs, we must remember always and strive to realise the truth of Sri Aurobindo's teaching:
- The business of both parent and teacher is to enable and to help the child to educate himself, to develop his own intellectual, moral, aesthetic and practical capacities and to grow freely as an. organic being, not to be kneaded and pressured into form like inert plastic material.... The true secret, whether with child or man, is to help him find his deeper self, the real psychic entity within. That, if we ever give it a chance to come forward, and still more if we call it into the foreground as 'the leader of the march set in our front', will itself take up most of the business of education out of our hands and develop the capacity of the psychological being towards a realisation of its potentialities of which our present mechanical view of. Life and man and external routine methods of dealing with them prevent us from having any experience or forming any conception.
- Mother India, Sept. 1973
- Sri Aurobindo, The Human Cycle, CWSA 25, p. 33