It was on April 24th, 2002 that I arrived at Udavi School intending to spend a few days observing the school’s working. After a week, I felt very much at home and decided to stay there and work. Many years on, I still remember my first day at Udavi and the collective assembly with Mother’s music followed by the chanting of Anandamayie Chaitanyamayie. It was very special and I felt Mother’s presence on the campus and that presence remains today.
Before joining Udavi I had done some work with progressive teaching and learning at the Mirambika Free Progress School in New Delhi. At Udavi I experienced an atmosphere of the joy of learning. Here teachers are encouraged to do new things that interest the children in the light of Mother’s and Sri Aurobindo’s principles of teaching. I believe integral education is the key to the true learning of new things. Over the years project methods have been introduced at Udavi to replace textbooks, and various activities have been adapted to the system.
I have been the class teacher of 6th grade at Udavi School for many years. Sixth grade is the last year at the Primary II level for us. We are totally free to create our own curriculum in the the primary section that consists of 4th, 5th and 6th grades. I am also the coordinator of the primary section. I will share some of my experiences with my work.
In sixth grade, some basic science is introduced to the students through practical projects where students build/make something that demonstrates a scientific principle. The projects are selected by both students and teachers through group discussion, brainstorming sessions and inputs from the teacher, if required. Once a few topics are decided among the children, activities are planned. Since we base our classwork on projects/topics it is necessary to focus on the basic concepts of the subjects introduced. By choosing or selecting projects, the children can have a number of options of activities which bring different perspectives to the teaching-learning methodology. This year the children worked in groups on topics such as: generators, electricity, circuits, and our country India. After working for a week’s time, all these topics were put together to make one project. The children felt very happy and interested in working together. I find it is very important that the children get an opportunity to decide something together and to work according to their decision. The advantage of working through various projects is for the children to learn different things while getting a feeling of ownership for what they do in the class.
I follow a similar project-based approach for mathematics; for example the class might collect data on various things on the school campus. We make stories about mathematics in the context of day to day life that deal with operations of different kinds, and practice to have a better understanding of symbols. There are various games available in the class for practicing logical thinking and reasoning. These include the abacus, which I believe increases the the students' speed and accuracy in calculation skills, allowing the children to be able to perform much faster later on.
A day before Christmas we hold a school fair where many students set up stalls offering games of skill. The children take responsibility for organizing the school fair, and it is a day that brings joy and happiness to all. In my view the fair is an opportunity for the children to do something together and to learn how to create and execute a practical plan of action. We notice that new ideas emerge from many children, and they improve their skills. The children overcome shyness just by participating. For students who are not strong in academics, such events are of immense value as they allow other strengths to shine. After a period of uncertainty, as with any new activity, this annual event has established itself as a great favorite with the students and their parents. Other schools in Auroville have been taking part in our fair, and I look ahead to further expansion of this event that promotes togetherness.
Every year we organize a trip to Agra, Delhi, and Nainital for 9th graders. This gives them an experience of being away from their parents and learning out of the box. For most of the students it is something new to travel such a long distance by train without parents. The trip is organized so that they have enough time to experience the different cultures, people, food and climates of other regions of India. In Nainital, a five day rock climbing course helps the students gain confidence in many activities related to climbing and helps them overcome fear of failure. The students look forward to these trips with great interest and excitement.
We observe the special days in Mother and Sri Aurobindo’s life to communicate to students these days' significance. For example, this last November 17th, the anniversary of The Mother’s Mahasamadhi, all the teachers and students of the primary section observed silence for half a day. The teachers, children, and everyone on campus carried on with their activities in complete silence. There was concentrated activity, joy, fun, and love. The week before had been used to prepare for this auspicious day, and every detail had been worked out in advance.
Filling the role of coordinator is a joy and an opportunity to learn from the team of teachers such that we grow together. In a place of integral education it is necessary to create a learning environment and to create harmony between the teachers and staff. I have noticed there are times when teachers are tense among themselves. The coordinator has to be conscious of the point of view of the other teachers, to allow them to express their thoughts and ideas and to create harmony within the team.
Over the years I have grown inwardly and feel I have begun to understand the true teaching-learning practices of integral education. When I look ahead I see that there is much to gain in knowledge and experience. The work I have been engaged in at Udavi is fun and interesting; this has been possible because the whole atmosphere on campus is very much integrated for true learning. Like so many others who have been here, I recognize the value of the physical surroundings in a place of learning, particularly in the case of young minds. The children at Udavi show good grasping powers and great learning abilities. I continue to work towards developing these assets in an atmosphere of joy and love so that the children may grow in appreciation of the beauty and value of life. I feel proud to be part of Udavi and proud of the children I work with.
Sudhir graduated with a degree in Economics from Utkal University, Odisha and completed Integral Education Teacher Training and Research in Delhi. He moved to Auroville in 2002 and has been working as an educator with various educational projects. He presently teaches at Udavi School.
Sudhir can be contacted at sudhir (at) auroville.org.in.