AVAG Progressive Educational Project
by Bhavana, 2010
- “For all to agree, each one must rise to the summit of his consciousness: it is on the heights that harmony is created.”
In 1997 in the villages around Auroville, children were suffering from lack of proper educational opportunities. Village schools were dilapidated and dirty; most teachers were facing classes of 45 to 60 students. Teachers were often absent and only knew the most rudimentary teaching methods (repetition reinforced by stick), and there was a great dearth of common educational materials such as paper, pencils, pens, chalk – not to mention colored paper, markers, glue, scissors, educational games and toys, etc.
AVAG (Auroville Village Action Group) took up this challenge with a small but effective programme called Progressive Educational Project (PEP). Together with various supporters such as the Commonwealth Human Ecology Council and Pondicherry Rotary, AVAG organized a program to send supplementary teachers to 35 schools in the Auroville area. The Rotary Club of Pondicherry Midtown organized health examinations for the school children, with follow up by AVAG community development workers, and collected toys and educational materials for the schools. Businesses and organizations in the United States were asked to adopt a school, donating $500-$1,000 per school per year.
PEP took AVAG Development Workers, a group of educated youth employed to help motivate villagers to form groups and take up development activities, and introduced them also to progressive educational methods which make learning fun. In weekly training sessions they were given skills and encouraged by Anbu, the Coordinator of AVAG, to become teams of animators who went out regularly into the local schools and offered classes in physical education, love of nature, indigenous and innovative songs, dances and drama. These young teachers gave the children individual attention, recognizing their talents and encouraged them to learn more, to seek excellence in whatever they do.
At its height, AVAG was working in 35 village schools around Auroville. Two days a week, the 4th and 5th standard students of these schools eagerly awaited the PEP animators who came usually in pairs. The animators conducted highly interesting classes as they:
- Had been trained in “playway” methods.
- Were equipped with educational toys, games, materials (often made themselves in the training sessions).
- Took the kids on trips to the nearby city of Pondicherry’s sites of cultural interest or into the forests and gardens of Auroville.
- Arranged in each school an annual performance by the children for their parents and other villagers, to show off talents and get them used to speaking in front of people.
- Involved the incumbent schoolteachers through training programmes and trips to progressive schools.
- Pushed the sleeping PTAs (Parent Teacher Association) to meet and take action to improve the school facilities (school buildings were badly in need of roof repair, floor repair, repairs to doors and windows, whitewashing, blackboard painting, fencing around the school to allow a playground, and planting a kitchen garden). Although there are government funds for this, they were insufficient, looking after only about one fifth of the needy schools per year. Each PTA took up the responsibility to secure as much as possible from the government, and then to make up the rest from their own efforts – voluntary labor, contributions in cash and kind. The active participation of the PTA improved the efficiency of the government department’s implementation.
- Organized tournaments, exhibitions, performances and other events involving several of the schools – widening the horizons of teachers and students alike.
This programme was ongoing from 1997-2004, and saw an enormous increase in cooperation from the local teachers, in addition to the obvious and immediate appreciation of the children and the animators, who loved to exchange their enthusiasm and joy in learning. In 1999, evaluators from the S.S. Jain School of Management Mumbai found that the students showed markedly improved performance compared to children not getting this attention. In nearly every school a Parent-Teachers Association were formed, or at least the AVAG’s youth and women’s clubs took up projects for the improvement of the school. The education departments of both Tamil Nadu and Pondicherry acknowledged the accomplishments of Auroville in innovative methods and sought AVAG’s participation in their projects. It was only the funding crisis in 2003-04 that halted the programme. The teachers and children kept asking for it long after it stopped.
- Words of the Mother - II, p.185