SAIIER 2013:Educational Practices and Opportunities for Adults in Auroville

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Auroville Best Practices
Educational Practices and Opportunities for Adults in Auroville



Introduction

2012 has been a year of collective reflections and endeavours to give a concrete expression to the idea of Auroville as a Campus for 'Higher Education'. One clear observation/conclusion from these was that the campus already exists on the ground level but its image as a whole is not perceptible to the outside world and this is not recognized by official authorities. In the perspective of developing AV as a broader learning centre, it became obvious that it is necessary to know better what already exists targeting adults of all ages.

This was the genesis of a research project proposed to SAIIER by a 4-member team of Aurovilians under the umbrella of Savi. It was accepted for funding. The scope of this survey is focused on post-secondary schooling education. The initial aim intends to give visibility to the educational activities that are spontaneous, decentralised, diverse, multi-disciplinary, and intricate with life. The 'protagonists' acting on the educational stage of Auroville are named 'providers' (be it coordinators, speakers, teachers, mentors, or simple contributors) in this report.

Our initial questions were:

  • Who are they?
  • How do they express both the tangible and intangible qualities of their educational activities?
  • How do they relate to the fundamental ideals and values of Auroville?
  • Is there a uniqueness in Auroville's educational experiences and activities?
  • Are those interviewed willing to participate in an enlarged and more visible offering of the existing learning opportunities?

In the initial plan, the expected outcomes intended to:

  • Develop greater visibility of the offerings: inventorying resources, contents, pedagogical approaches, components;
  • Identify the relation of the existing educational activities with the founding Auroville's aims and ideals;
  • Encourage networking, synergies and complementarities between programs, providers and learners, in view of developing semester programs;
  • Create a database and tools to serve this networking.

To achieve these, the research team, including 4 Aurovilians (who planned to be helped by 2 Savi volunteers), envisaged an iterative method, combining conceptual research and field investigation on existing practices, and based on interviews.

This core group is composed of Chali and Jean-Yves, prominent educationists in Future School and Last School; Rakhal, facilitator in the Aspiration Newcomer Program; and Dominique, coordinator of Savi, the service for students and volunteers.

I. Actual development of the research

A. Milestones of the research

The proposal was designed in August 2012 and the request for a SAIIER grant presented in September. The core team started to gather regularly on a weekly base to discuss how to implement the intended objectives of the survey, which at this point was not limited in a time frame. The grant approval was given in October, but it imposed an end to the research by the 31st March 2013.

It soon appeared that qualified assistants were not so easy to enroll and that the core group members themselves, being so involved in their own educational activities, had a limited capacity to work on the project. The initial methodological intention to pursue both levels of conceptual and empiric research at the same time that would enrich each other was too ambitious. Keeping the weekly encounters, the core team put in place a progression as presented below:

  1. October - December 2012: searching the potential of educational resources
  2. December - March 2013: enquiring on specificities of Auroville educational offerings, and at the same time, gathering data and creating databases

B. Search of the educational/learning potential within the community

The assumption we made is that any member of the community of Auroville could be potentially a resource for future programs.

We started with a short list of 300 names, selected as people we know not to be involved in formal education; a short questionnaire was used by phone to enquire about:

  • Their current activities
  • Possible learning/teaching dimensions related to them
  • Their willingness to be called upon as educational resources
  • Their preferences as to the role they could take as resource

Out of the 300 names, about 75/80 were successfully contacted; 50 said Yes to be considered as potential resources.

Furthering this first exploration, a questionnaire on Google was started to formalize this phoning trial. It is available now for any member of the community to reply, and the answers are automatically listed in an Excel database.

The conclusion we draw from the positive answers of this sample is that they can be extrapolated on a larger scale, showing that a great majority of residents are aware of the educational vocation of Auroville, and ready to respond in one way or another to participate in a more cohesive program, when the opportunity will present itself. An interesting output of this enquiry is also that a 'resource' does not equal to 'teacher' alone, as it is often thought. We have identified several roles that apply in a learning situation:

  • A contact person or reference
  • A mentor or coach for students/learners, (supervision to be defined)
  • A contributor, someone sharing his experience
  • A speaker or lecturer
  • A trainer or professor
  • A program designer
  • A program coordinator

C. Enquiry on the specificities of Auroville educational offerings

Assumptions

The hypotheses to be checked in this second phase concerned the nature and meaning of the educational practices and opportunities offered by a number of units, as they are done presently. It was decided to take a sample of these 'providers' and concerned Aurovilians, and meet them face to face for quality interviews to explore how they relate with the ideals and goals of Auroville. Towards this end, the core group members conducted 13 in-depth interviews with Aurovilians who either are already involved (or have the possibility to be) in educational activities.

Sampling of “education provider” Aurovilians

The 13 participants interviewed were:

Aloka Awareness Through the Body Workshops for adults & children in self discovery and consciousness growth.
Ashesh & Vera Savitri Bhavan, Russian Bells Workshop “Introduction to the Yoga of Sri Aurobindo”, education of oneness through sound.
Harini Life Education Centre Tailoring apprenticeship and self development for village girls.
Kathy Thamarai, EcoFemme Women‘s empowerment educational project for village women.
Mita & Tapas Auroville Language Lab, Tomatis Research Centre Linguistic classes Individual mentoring.
Priya Buddha Garden Voluntary services and training classes on farming
Suhasini Auroville Design Consultants Mentoring Architecture & Design students and employees
Yorit Sadhana Forest 3-year “Sustainable Leadership” program, internships, voluntary residential stays, environmental education student exchange programs, Eco Film Club
Hemant Aurore Consultant in alternative energies.
Jeff Discipline Farm Mentoring students and volunteers in the farm.
Lucas EcoPro Workshops and training in EM technology, ecology and sustainability.
Martin Auroville Consulting Auroville Green Practices training modules for student groups and external professionals, “Sustainable Habitat” workshop, summer school.
Pashi Auroservice Biomass technologies project, visits in Matrimandir.

Surprises

These conversations were amazingly inspiring for all involved. Interviewees were surprised that the focus of the questions was not on facts and practical details of their workshops/classes/education- related activities; they appreciated the opportunity to express themselves about the links of their work with the Auroville spirit, showing how deeply interwoven their 'spiritual' aspiration is with daily practicalities. “Nobody asked me that before,” someone said. The ideals and goals of Auroville are deeply, sincerely, experientially present and interconnected in the minds and hearts of each and every one of these very different Aurovilians. Another surprise for us was the unanimity of answers on the 'unending education' concept. This topic came up very regularly, with different formulations, expressed in various ways. It is the most common motivating factor of all the persons we met.

II. Research outcome

This research has provided a solid first sampling of the educational practices of a number of 'providers' and given flesh to the 'concept' of Unending Education that everyone knows as an article of the Charter of Auroville. The daily educational practices of these Aurovilians are intimately grounded in the founding principles of Auroville. Let them speak for themselves...

Qualities of the “Unending education” concept

  • “Unending Education is one of the most rewarding, inspiring things here. It’s not the only one but it is constantly there. It is part of my nature.” (Lucas).

A never ending learning process, for both teachers and learners

  • While doing these educational activities, Jeff can experience that he overcomes a feeling of separation and division; that he helps people to look at all the aspects of connectedness and togetherness rather than conflicts and differences. By this sharing, there is a sense of well being coming from the growth and the learning process, from being in a place of unending education.

A sense of serving (“sewa”)

  • There is a sense of service and offering involved in the educational activities, resulting in “it is actually becoming a servitor of the Divine Consciousness in spite of ourselves.” (Hemant)
  • Yorit mentioned that a few months back they removed the word “job” and instead started using the word “sewa” on their daily board. It is practiced on daily and weekly basis. Sewa means Selfless Service and by changing this small word it has given meaning to many more. They relate to daily tasks differently, they understand more deeply what is it that they are doing and why, it makes them feel part of something big. And they are able to surrender or give themselves completely to this sewa.
  • An important contribution of educational activities to Auroville development towards its aims is by “not doing the work for profit but as a service, with detachment and trust in the Divine; if there is an underlying 'spiritual' aspect to work, if the 12 values given by the Mother are a factor in an activity, this automatically raises the level from the mundane.” (Pashi)

Towards exemplarity

  • There are no limits to learning. Harini says she believes in unending education for herself, and this is passed on to her students as an example of never-ending search for progress.

Combining inner and outer activities

  • “Another contribution is this combination of spiritual and material research; what we are trying slowly to get into is to have the mind being involved, but also the hands and the heart. How do you combine these 3 in a workshop or in an educational project? Mind and hands are rather easy to connect. But how to invite the heart is something we need to explore.” (Martin)

Specificities of Auroville educational activities

Multidisciplinary approach

  • “This applied research [of the EcoFemme project] is widening our understanding towards the environment, bringing awareness about the usage of plastic and its effects on the environment.” (Kathy).
  • “Participants love this workshop because it opens their minds to something larger and more meaningful… The benefits to the external people coming into Auroville for these workshops, their greatest harvests are integrality, a linking, a larger context. This is what they find exciting.”
  • “What fascinates me intellectually is lateral thinking. I link aspects of agriculture, with aspects of health, and with aspects of aesthetics, and with history; ecology is an exciting science because it’s a connecting science, but even this connecting science would not be enough without the context of Sri Aurobindo. This is where my ecology is grounded. My audiences often get that and appreciate that. They are not inviting me because I am the best biologist or the best ecologist or the best agriculturist, which I am not. The importance is giving context and giving meaning to that context.” (Lucas)

Influence of Auroville atmosphere, allowing an “experience”

  • The workshop “Integral Yoga of Sri Aurobindo” conveys a framework, a set of keys to facilitate the understanding of the 'experience' of Auroville, which people do if they are open. (Ashesh/Vera)
  • “As for the learners, their first demand is about practical knowledge to gain, but quickly they are pushed to go deeper, and they discover that there is more. They are immersed in the Auroville experience.” (Jeff)

Enhancing a sense of evolution

  • “Research and Education are the main ideas of the Charter the EcoFemme project is relating to. The research aspect of the project is very practical, as we try to find improvements on a very common reality of women taking care of their material environment. This is a project of experimental unending education, a way to discover new forms; it goes much further than a mere knowledge transmission, it is a mentality changing factor which may introduce evolutions in these women’s lives.” (Kathy)
  • “Auroville is the pioneer of pioneers in India, who has planted seeds for new ways of doing things and thinking of things. So it is the place for evolution. There lies the uniqueness of Auroville: looking towards the Future. Again there is the notion of a laboratory where you prepare success and make failures. The learning process is that by essays and errors.” (Hemant)

No preaching, but experiential and integral

  • Aloka feels happy when she can “disappear” when facilitating a workshop. She then feels herself “plugged” to a higher energy which can be shared with the people participating in the workshop. When she is not “plugged” this energy does not flow out and the class or workshop loses quality.

It is a constant learning process for her too, an integral learning, one that encompasses her feelings and attitudes, her energy, and her thoughts. A key point in ATB is to be, as much as possible, in the witness attitude. When one is in the witness position one sees things from a different perspective and one is ready to learn from others, from each situation and from one’s own mistakes. It is important to understand that this “watcher” sees what is there without judging.

Sincerity of one's commitment

  • By hosting and training these volunteers and young people who stay in Buddha Garden, Priya works as a facilitator with all life and work situations which occur, being simply who she is, and manifesting it. She often helps people to go deeper in themselves, and to deal with their inner insights.
  • “Auroville is about opening the windows or the doors to the inner being, about facilitating a process of transformation. In Life Education Centre, we participate in this process, as we are focusing on the development of livelihood skills. How much are these skills training going to be useful? Will our students become tailors? We can’t tell, but what we are convinced is that if the exercise of touching the heart happens, then everything learnt will be useful. We follow the Karma Yoga. As a teacher there might be some frustration not to see tangible outcomes in the students; but anyway it is a process of transformation, and this is the most important.” (Harini)

Empowering people through a deeper consciousness

  • “What we create here gives power; we realize we can fulfill a dream, seeing that a different world is possible. We are not alone in our beliefs, but there are others as well who share the same visions. We are a part of something which gives a sense of connectedness. All this gives a satisfaction of knowing that we are all in it together and doing something… We help people change their life, and after they will be changing their plans, questioning the formal education. Education should not be a tool to get good positions and high salaries in life, but to learn how to be closer to oneself.” (Yorit)
  • “Auroville is a laboratory. The aspects of experiments are the ones with which I resonate most; Auroville allows a safe space to make experiments, and make mistakes and learn from them, and then share these experiences. Actually, learning, teaching and experiencing as a servitor are becoming a 'currency' and can create new values, it can create 'equity' strength.” (Hemant)

Expectations of learners

  • “People who come to Auroville, they don’t know what they will learn, or they have a mental idea about one thing they want to discover but it often ends up with something else. Their first demand is about practical knowledge to gain, but quickly they are pushed to go deeper, and they discover that there is more. They are immersed in the Auroville experience.” (Jeff)
  • “Students are coming to LEC or sent by their families in order to 'get skills', but they don’t know that they will get something else. After some times of learning and attending the school, changes are perceived by their parents and this is appreciated. Still, the families are regretting that they have not become a full fledged tailor earning 3000 rupees a month.” (Harini)
  • There are no expectations from the village women, but the learning process is efficient: “The dignity of women, which has been destroyed for so many years, is being restored through the project by helping them overcome the ignorance.” (Kathy)
  • “Many people come to Auroville with a thirst for a new meaning to their lives. Whether they express it or not, they are on a spiritual quest.” (Mita /Tapas)

Values & relationships between Auroville's ideals & educational activities

Taking a step back, we could summarize the values ingrained in these interviews as follows: Unending education appears to be the major impulse sustaining the post-schooling educational activities in Auroville.

It is not a mental concept that Aurovilians try to address; it is a natural trend, which is grounded in deep-rooted beliefs and aspirations, drawn from their life experiences:

  • Each being is unique and determined by his/her self; self is the sustained place from which commitments and work in the world can unfold effectively and truthfully; unfolding oneself is the true goal of education.
  • Learning results from each one‘s experience; it occurs through life: only practices can confirm and give a reality to the acquired knowledge and progress.
  • Educationists of Auroville themselves are unending learners and they convey this urge to their 'students' through their own example and their aspiration to evolve.
  • The diversity of the Auroville experiences enables the student to enlarge his awareness. The present issues at stake in the world today create a pressure for everyone to understand how each activity is interconnected with many others. Sustainability can only be reached if one can learn how his major field of interest and action is linked with the other intermingled aspects. There is also a freedom, a power and a joy coming up out of this widening.

These beliefs are not dogmas; they are living and they influence the educational practices of Auroville according to each situation, field of apprenticeship, concerned target group, etc.

It was often stressed that the core of the Auroville experience is, to some extent, beyond words and mental definitions.

Even if it has not been very often worded explicitly through the interviews, a significant feature to be highlighted is that the quality of commitment from the educationists interviewed owes its consistency also to the fact that they are not primarily driven by the economical impact of their activity. There is a very strong commitment to manifest a sense of Service in their daily lives.

Gathering data and creating databases

As mentioned above, methodologies of collecting data have been defined, and tools like questionnaires, templates and databases have been designed and tested. However the quantity of data collected was not to the extent envisioned initially, mainly due to lack of human resources; we underestimated the work- load needed to collect data on the training modules already offered by Auroville units and to carry out the qualitative in-depth interviews. Nevertheless, what has been accomplished is meaningful enough to ope n the way for an extension of the project. What is achieved is listed below.

  • Questionnaire used to collect Educational Resources Profile
This questionnaire, which as used in phase 1 of the research, is now available on Google. The corresponding database has been initialized; it contains the answers to: name, telephone and cell phone, educational activities, main fields of experience, specific topics, agreed upon roles as resource, and conditions under which they agree to be a resource.
  • Interview script of the enquiry on Auroville Educational offerings
Interviews based on 10 questions have been our leading thread to go deeper and understand the relationship between Auroville‘s ideals and 'providers' of educational activities in Auroville. This was the main activity of phase 2.
  • Synthesis of transcripts of the individual interviews
This section is a summary of all the transcripts, which highlights the more significant answers to our 10 questions.
  • Overview of the existing Educational offerings in Auroville
This data collection was made in 2012: it is comprised of 1-2 day workshops and 2 to 4 hours classes. An attempt to categorize the large diversity of offerings has been made. It is a basis for expanding the collection of data.
  • Nomenclature of Auroville activity areas
This list of the main activity domains is combined with specific activity types; it has been compiled from a comparative analysis of several existing lists of research & educational activities.
  • Training module template
These profiles show all the criteria necessary to characterize/compare or combine various educational modules, be it a seminar, a workshop, or a class. On this basis a database has been initialized and is available for an extension of the data entry.

Conclusions

Coming back to the perspective in which this survey has emerged, the concern for a 'campus of Auroville', one can emphasize the following outcomes:

  • Many Aurovilians are open to this possibility and ready to contribute.
  • There is a uniqueness to Auroville educational experience, something that is present here which is not present elsewhere; this uniqueness is a reflexion of the very raison d‘être of Auroville.
  • More work is needed to give greater visibility and cohesion to the rich educational offerings existing on the ground.

The questions we have now:

  • How to build on these results, under the existing constraints in human resources?
  • How to extend the survey and collect more information on the uniqueness of Auroville educational experience and come up with a more structured view?
  • How can the results be utilised towards developing a higher education program; trainers' training modules for example?
  • How best presenting an offer of an Auroville experience without diluting its content and unique quality through a conceptual, mental approach to the living material that we have gathered?
  • Is it interesting to share these results within Auroville and if yes what is the best way to do so? And how best to gather and process the quantity of encouraging and constructive feedbacks we expect to receive on this survey.

We are grateful to all our interviewees who have contributed to this collective research. Our special thanks go to SAIIER for the support and encouragement given to this action.