The Vision of Sri Aurobindo and Mother On Education
Sri Aurobindo and Mother did their work within an immense framework of knowledge. How much and what of this framework one has grasped is important as that will determine the scope of one’s work as a school teacher. Also it is acceptable that each has grasped a slightly different piece of this frame. Here is my understanding stated in a nutshell.
Sri Aurobindo and Mother spent a lifetime of work on how mankind could progress to the next higher level of evolution which is in their view the attainment of the Supramental Consciousness. In this perspective Education is unending and spans the whole of one’s life and future lives too. They developed the idea and practice of the Integral Yoga and Integral education.
Mother also gave guidance and directions to teachers of the Ashram school where children were being educated. It is from these directions and the overall philosophy and practice of Integral Yoga that some idea may be formed of how they envisioned schooling for young children.
In my understanding of this vision Mother and Sri Aurobindo have explained a number of psychological principles which should guide a teacher. These principles cannot be applied in a rigid and fixed way and do not lend themselves to the creation of only one-way of educating a child. I believe that the way to apply these principles is to be left to the free creativity of teachers.
The main principle is that at the core of each being there is a soul, a psychic being that needs to be nurtured, brought to the fore of one’s personality and each of us should allow the psychic being to be our guide in our path of progress and perfection. From this core principle follow most of her guidance. This is not the place to spell out my understanding of the details of her guidance. What follows are some of my experiences in the work of schooling-both as a teacher and as an administrator.
The first lesson I learnt in the running of a school was the need to consult students (certainly the high school students) before a program is offered to them. It happens too often that a teacher is interested by something and presents it to students without their agreement. This happens even when teachers are aware that it should not happen. This usually results in students going through the motions of learning but not actually interested in the program.
I worked at Last School before the present team came into the picture. At this time we planned a trip for all our students (about 40 in number) to Bangalore, Mysore and various other places of interest in Karnataka. The itinerary was typically of Museums, Temples, Palaces, Forts, etc. It was a ten-day long trip and required a tremendous organization. The students however were not at all enthusiastic about the places we were taking them to. They only came to life when they were left free to roam around on Brigade Road (the main market area of Bangalore). Later I noticed the same phenomenon in the famous museums of France and Italy. We would see groups of students, mostly from expensive American public schools, being herded through these museums quite against their own inclinations but more to satisfy the wish of the parents/school that their students should experience great works of art in the original.
“The educator should always remember he should not try to act upon the child, nor upon the needs, but upon the environment of the child”
I discovered this message from Mother a few years ago; I was really excited when I saw it as I had been following it on my own anyway and it felt rewarding that Mother has this view.
I had become sensitive to the atmosphere of spaces in Japan. Our trip to Japan had turned out to be mainly visiting different Zen gardens and we noticed the different feeling generated in the spaces of the gardens.
We worked on the Kindergarten compound – mainly pruning the trees, planting a few new ones and sometimes pulling out a tree that had grown out of place. It made a big difference to the compound. Many people noticed it and told us so.
Then I had the opportunity to manage Udavi School which has a huge campus of over twenty acres. First it had to be fenced properly to stop goats, cows, and thieves to enter freely. This took a long time, as the boundaries are very long. To maintain the garden / trees in such a huge campus turned out to be unaffordable. We did what we could. Apart from maintaining the trees and the grass; we also needed to keep the campus clean. We got the students involved in the cleanup. Every morning the students sweep the main courtyard of the school. Once a month, they spread over the whole campus with cloth bags to collect the rubbish – mostly sweet wrappers etc. The campus began to look clean, the trees tended, the grass cut occasionally. Once again people told me of the special quality in the space of the campus. I do not have any scientific proof that a beautiful environment has a positive effect on the growth of a child but I am sure it does – particularly in the nurturing of the psychic being.
It took a lot of work to explain to the teachers at Udavi – specially the hired teachers – that we do not punish the students. They were used to treating the students in the traditional, hierarchical way. To change that attitude to one of love and caring has taken time but I can say it is mostly achieved. Now the students know that the school is for them. Their relationship to their teachers is of friendship and respect. There is no element of fear in them. When they break the rules of our collective life, the consequences are known to them – mostly they are sent out of the school for a day or so. That is all. We are alert to any incidents of bullying that may occur.
Apart from the aspect of discipline, there are many other ways also where we care for the students. We celebrate each one’s birthday. We are getting regular feedback about the food they are being served. On special days there are treats of sweets etc.
In this connection I would like to mention a practice introduced by Heidi when she first came more than twenty years ago. It is a periodic getting together by teachers who all work with a set of children to share their observations of the children. This sharing helps to put together pieces of a puzzle that is a child and gives a more complete picture of the child to the teachers and hence a much more conscious dealing with the child can happen. Also many of us have noticed that when such conscious focus is put on the child, if there are any difficulties the child is facing they may begin to dissolve. Again there is no scientific proof of this phenomenon, only our experience.
I don’t think I need to belabour the point that an emotionally safe environment is a base for any positive growth to occur in the child.
Being next to Auroville gives Udavi School a huge advantage in being able to create a culturally stimulating environment. We invite visiting artists to perform for us whenever that is possible or we take our students to a performance (dance / music / theatre / circus / etc.), if that is possible. The students get exposed to a wide variety of cultural activities apart from what they learn as part of their regular program in terms of dance, music, theatre and crafts. The green spaces of Auroville – Botanical Gardens, Aranya Forest and Matrimandir Gardens are frequently visited by our students.
The exposure to a wide array of cultural activities has I believe an indirect learning impact on the students. Even though there is no teaching as such just the participation as observers plants seeds that may germinate in the future or in any event stretch their consciousness and enlarge their sensibilities.
School and Community
A school should ideally be well integrated in the community of which it is a part. The human resources of the community in terms of all kinds of skills and talent should be freely available to the student body. If this is done, it enlarges the environment of the school into that of the community, creating a healthy flow of energies between the two. I saw this being practiced in a kindergarten in Vermont, USA, to great effect. The teacher, I think her name was Claire, engaged whoever she could in her work enriching her program immensely. This link is much easier in Auroville which is not yet a compartmentalized society. The experiment of the TLC (The Learning Community) has been very instructive in this direction. It requires much planning to make these connections with the community but I believe it is necessary and worth it.
In an integral education programme we offer a large array of “subjects” to cater to individual needs of students. This offer is not possible in a traditional school where we have full time teachers for a limited number of “subjects”. A normal school cannot afford to have a large number of teachers offering many subjects. Economically it would not be viable. Hence it becomes imperative to engage the community in the functioning of the school.
For a village school like Udavi, the community of which it is a part, Edayanchavady village, is very poor in its stimulation. It is lucky to be near Auroville and have many Aurovilians as teachers and benefit from the rich international cultural life of Auroville.
In conclusion I would like to emphasize that all good schools have certain common features and also unique ones. The common feature I believe is an atmosphere of joy that comes of making an effort to progress at all levels of ones being. Students have all to learn and a good school provides opportunities to learn in a free and creative way. The uniqueness of each school is linked to the fact that the team of teachers that work in any school is different and this difference will reflect in the character of the school. Another difference will stem from the different communities of which the school is a part. Differences of culture will naturally be reflected in a school. Finally I believe that not enough work has been done to follow Mother and Sri Aurobindo's guidance in how to run a school. With time and greater experience a clearer picture will emerge of their vision of schooling.
He has been associated with SAIIER since its inception in 1983. He has also participated in Auroville administrative groups like Working Committee, Auroville Council and the FAMC.
Currently he is focusing on Research aspects of education in the light of Mother and Sri Aurobindo. The two areas being explored by him are ‘education’ or ‘caring’ of small children in the early years and Forests and Nature as important places for children and youth to spend time in. He is also co-ordinating a project for illustrating children’s stories.
His email id is sanjeev (at) auroville.org.in.