Auroville Education Survey (1968-2013)

Tewari, Deepti; --, Anandamayi; E, Ashwin; --, Aurévan; A, Éric; --, Kripa; A, Manjula; --, Shrishti; --, Smiti; S, Sourya; Clarence-Smith, Suryamayi Aswini (2016) Auroville Education Survey (1968-2013). Project Report. Auroville.

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From its very inception, there has been in Auroville a vast contradiction between the ideal to be realized and the actuality of the ground reality. Auroville’s aim is vast, it is as large as human life, but the material, social and psychological conditions provided for the experiment have been quite other. To sum up some of the apparent aims of Auroville:

To build a city dedicated to the future, not repeating the errors of the past, but to do so on a dry barren, socially deprived corner of rural South India. To let the experiment be peopled by a random natural 'selection' of those who chance to show up, carrying within themselves merely a wish to try such an experiment in human unity. To locate the experiment in an inhabited area that has a resident local population with little access to the basic life amenities of the modern world: water, healthcare and education, yet to insist that Auroville’s intention is to co-evolve together.

And, if these material conditions were not challenging enough, there was an insistence that no 'rules or laws' be framed for this fledgling society’s governance, that no one be placed ‘in charge’; but rather to expect that all who choose to participate would consent to let the underlying principles of the experiment grow and develop, creating thereby the flexible working structures necessary for an organic growth. In a word, to insist primarily upon 'a growth of consciousness' but provide no prescriptive systems and methodologies for creating such a growth.

In its early years, Auroville had to secure its physical base. As with all pioneering societies, the nature of the material environment - a dry red laterite plateau facing advanced desertification - required 'doers' not thinkers. Once the land was greened and life became more settled, as housing shifted from bamboo and thatch to the permanence of cement and concrete, so too the seeking for coherence in its social and psychological collective structures came to the forefront. This was the spirit and atmosphere in which the earliest school experiment emerged in 1970. The first 'students' were the children of those who had joined the experiment, their age varying from toddlers to teenagers. Teachers were the Aurovilians who were there, inclined and available.

In this early environment, the very passion for a 'new society' created a dynamism that acted as a dissolvent for stability. This first educational experiment foundered on the contradictions of the moment. It seemed then that to build a settled school environment was to build on shifting sands. Thus, between 1975 and the emergence of Centre School (a primary school) in the early 1980s there were no structured school environments for Auroville youth to attend. Youth had to make shift with ad hoc and personal arrangements.

It is a truism in Auroville that organized structures emerge long after an activity has come into being. Thus it was in 1984 that the Sri Aurobindo International Institute of Educational Research (SAIIER), the body that is now the holding agency for all of Auroville’s educational activities, was formally created. All the manifold existing activities which had an educational orientation were incorporated within it.

But this organized structure did not stop the debate about approaches. A multi-national collectivity, with members influenced by their distinctive cultural, social, moral and educational backgrounds, seeking to create a common approach that wants to work from within outwards, does not find it easy to agree on methodologies, on contents and structures. What should be the contours of an 'Auroville Education'? This remains an animated point of discussion yet. It has been relatively easier to arrive at functional agreements in relation to the education of the very young. It is where secondary level education is concerned that attitudes have diverged vastly - should Auroville affiliate itself to some existing board or exam programme, or should it retain a 'free progress' approach? This argument has been at moments acrimonious and even led to closures of particular experiments.

In 1985, it was the teenagers themselves who succeeded in their demand to have an ‘organized’ school environment dedicated to their needs. But the stability of this experiment lasted less than a decade before it separated into 2 streams: on the one side into a programme which offered the possibility of studying and passing for one or other of external school board exams available then; and on the other to an open-ended, creative ‘free progress’ approach. For the last 2 decades, this seems to have become the settled shape of education on offer to teenagers and young adults growing up in Auroville. But the argumentation on approaches remains.

In anyone who has worked with teenagers, the question necessarily arises: what is their view of growing up in Auroville, particularly once they have the maturity and perspective of age and hindsight? After all they were the subjects, the guinea pigs, of this experimentation. The wish and intention of Auroville is to create a sense of universality, to take you out of your narrow social, familial or national background and give birth to a new and wider consciousness. How successful has this been? Aurovilians tend to have a subjective impression of the educational process the youth undergo, and anecdotal evidence that often confirms one’s point of view. But to get some empirical data would be thought-provoking indeed.

Thus the idea of a survey of Auroville youth incubated for some years. Because of this continuing question within, I put together a somewhat desultory list of (psychological rather than merely practical) questions. It was in the summer of 2013 that a group of young adult Aurovilians expressed enthusiasm about such a self-analysis and also offered to help contact their friends and fellow youth. At this point the survey began to organize itself, to manifest. A one-page introduction that described the spirit and intention of the survey was added to the list of 12 questions. It was settled that the questions would be inward looking and psychological because that was what needed to be measured more than the practical life skills that Auroville automatically seems to awaken. These could be explored at a later stage. No prescriptive direction was specified and the respondents were deliberately left free to understand and reply to the question in their own way, highlighting just what they chose.

That summer and the next year too, the team contacted people either personally or through innumerable emails, repeatedly requesting their contacts to fill out the survey. Only eighty odd of the hundreds contacted responded. Interestingly, many of those who did take the time, expressed their gladness at the effect the process of dwelling upon the questions had upon them. Because these were inward looking and demanded an introspection, a looking back and analysis this gave birth to new insights about growing up in Auroville. The answers themselves more than fulfilled expectations; growing up in Auroville is an experience that has shaped lives and provided their future trajectory. Auroville’s founder’s wish “To have a life that wants to grow and perfect itself, that is what the collective ideal of Auroville should be, and above all, not in the same way for everyone – each one in his own way” seems achievable.

Item Type: Monograph (Project Report)
Subjects: Education > Education (General)
Education > Early Childhood Education
Education > Primary Education
Education > Secondary Education
Education > Integral Education
History > History (General)
Depositing User: Admin User
Date Deposited: 17 May 2021 13:04
Last Modified: 17 May 2021 13:04

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