Text of Report to UNESCO on Education in AV
An Integral Education for Ever Progressing Human Beings
Report presented for the Round Table of UNESCO :
“ Auroville, an Emerging World”
Organized on the occasion of the 40 th anniversary of Auroville
October 10 th , 2008 - Paris
According to Auroville's charter, Education in Auroville is to be envisioned within a society which is itself defined as a learning society: a place “ of an unending education, of constant progress and a youth that never ages ”, dedicated to “ a living embodiment of an actual human unity ”. The ideal is very attractive, its realisation rather approximate but still, there is a difference between a society aiming at unending human development and a society aiming at constantly improving professional skills so that the labour force can evolve in phase with the technological needs of a competitive economy. Both can be called a learning society but they actualize two different paradigms. The first puts the unfolding of the multifaceted human consciousness at the center while the other subordinates education to employability and economic performance.
Competitive Economy versus Education
The world lives today within an economic paradigm which has been set by Adam Smith at the end of the 18 th century: the pursuit of individual interest is the very mechanism by which collective harmony and happiness are to be achieved. The individual is therefore invited to foster his desires for satisfactions of all kinds, so that the economy may produce and provide a growing mass of goods and services, thus ensuring economic growth, employment as well as health and education for all.
The consequence on education is that the school system is oriented towards “producing” highly performing individuals, able to cooperate within a group which itself is engaged in a severe global competition. For the youth, haunted in many countries by the prospect of unemployment, the first aim of education is to provide employability. Even the attempts to foster more creative individuals seem to remain subordinated to the search of performance in the context of global competition. This might seem first to boost human development through the “search for excellence” but finally ends into the “burn out” syndrome, an exhaustion of the human resource rather than its blossoming.
In Auroville, the aim is the integral development of the multiple personality of each individual. Education is not so much a matter of training of skills than of awakening to a process of self discovery, self-becoming and self-perfecting. It is the only way to foster creative individuals who can work in a dedicated manner without “burning themselves out”: whatever excellence they may have comes from the development of their inner personality which has been allowed to come out and not from the pressure of a competitive environment which exhausts their faculties without enriching them.
The Human City in the Building
In Auroville, the youth live in a new society in the building, where people from more than 50 countries have come together to be part of this attempt towards human unity. There is no past, except the one we bring with us (and sometimes recreate), only a future possibility to be made real. Everything is to be invented. This has an educational impact of its own, which supports the growth of the children: The doors are opened to go towards new manifestations and unachieved dreams. They are invited to believe in the future, to be part of its creation, and this invitation awakens the best of what they are. Without hope and faith in a positive future their potential could not be awakened and activated. Maybe that is why Jacques Delors's introduction to UNESCO's report on Education for the 21 st Century was called “ Education: the Necessary Utopia ”. It is in this privileged context that Auroville has developed an education which aims at the integral development of human consciousness, which might extend beyond school to the whole life.
Education as a Process of Self-Becoming
Our forty years of experiment in education within Auroville can be seen as an experimentation of two important reports of UNESCO: Learning To Be (Edgar Faure, 1972) and Learning, The Treasure Within, written by the Task Force on Education for the 21st Century, under the direction of Jacques Delors (1996).
What we have observed is that education is first of all a matter of awakening and bringing out what is already latent in the child. Once the fire of aspiration to know and to master has been awakened, the greatest part of the educational process is taken up by the student's mind itself. The input given by the teachers then falls on a fertile ground instead of running off for the most part of it. Here as in many domains, the intangible values are the key to the tangible ones: The productivity of programs, budgets, books, software of all kinds, infrastructures and teachers depends largely on this awakening of the will of the student to discover and perfect the faculties of consciousness that are latent in him. In that sense, education is a double process: of self-discovery and self-becoming on one side, and of cultivating the skills of the instrumental nature on the other side. But if these two elements have to be distinguished, they cannot be separated: even the efficiency of skill acquisition depends on a process of awakening of consciousness, without which it remains mechanical in its process and uncreative in its results.
Integral education aims at developing the multifaceted personality of the children and thus encompasses the body, the life-force and the mind. Remains a central question: development of faculties but at the service of what? To what call shall we respond, to what principle or ideal shall we offer our lives, and what kind of being do we want to become? For here lies the central issue of education.
Auroville puts a lot of efforts on this physical dimension, through daily sport activities as well as a special program of Awareness through the Body applied at the primary school level. For the basis of all our activities is the physical body and building up a vigourous, well balanced and healthy physical life is the first necessity for a sound development of our faculties. Physical education develops also indispensable values like disciplined effort, team spirit, the joy of progress and self-exceeding, and also more essential ones like sincerity, honesty, courage, and perseverance. The physical thus awakened and cultivated constitutes a stable basis and a constant support on which it is easier to build up other faculties, for the body never forgets what it has learned.
Education o f the Life Force
Our next natural instrument is the life impulse, what we call the vital being. From it we draw the impulse to spread and conquer, to enjoy and possess. It can bring motivation, energy for achievement, enthusiasm, heroism, generosity, but also great desires and ambitions, domination, frustration, depressions and anger and the possibility of a destructive power. Therefore it cannot be left to random development and has to be included in order to be refined, deepened, disciplined and enlightened. Here, History can offer a great help, when taught with a sense of the human adventure, of heroic attempts and the dreams of great ideals still to be achieved. But the greatest help comes from art, poetry and music, which address directly the emotional part of our nature, deepens and refines it and cast a sense of harmonious and meaningful order on the rest of our nature. Art liberates also the creative energies of the students who then learn how to tap this resource and to act creatively each time an issue comes to their attention. These activities reinforce mental education by giving to the mind a capacity to discriminate and the sense of shades and subtlety. It also supports the building of the ethical being by the exigency that is inherent in them. We have observed a direct correlation between the development of art and the improvement of self-discipline and the capacity of self-determination in the students.
Education of the Mind
The education of the mind is now everywhere understood as a necessity with a stress on the faculty of analysis and critical judgment. The capacity to discern and judge with clarity is always the first step of a sound mental development but it is not enough anymore. For the world in which we live reveals more and more that the very nature of reality is an intricate complexity which the simplifying analytical mind cannot grasp. Moreover, changes are now happening so fast and diffuse themselves on the global network so rapidly with unpredictable emergent properties that a new way of knowing is needed, more holistic and intuitive. One of the great lessons we can learn from the global warming is that while we act on nature in an analytical way, it responds in a systemic all embracing way that overcomes our capacity to understand the simultaneous complexity of its changes.
But the greatest need in this time of unification of humanity, which is also a time of intensification of cultural divergences, is the need for a synthetic method of thought that can reconcile the different cultures. For either synthesis is possible and humanity will find a way of harmonizing its diversity within a common all-including vision, or it is beyond our grasp and the clash of civilisation, the conflict of mutually excluding values and identities will be our next future. The emergence of a vaster and more comprehensive consciousness in humanity, where every point of view could find its place in a synthetic vision is therefore a survival imperative and should be the common effort of all cultures. This point is most important in countries where traditional values are met by the model of a conquering utilitarian rationalism which ignores them and destroys many of the resources of their cultures and identities. Therefore it is important to include in our training of the mind the exercise of finding how two points of view that seem antagonist to each other can appear complementary to each other in a deeper view of things.
But it is here also that our progress i s the slowest and we cannot pretend that we have yet validated our methods. For many parents want for their children the possibility to go to university and join the mainstream. These students then have to go back to traditional programs where they will not hear of synthesis of culture because this is part of no program in the world. In a way we have the program for it but only a handful of students, the majority preferring to follow normal academic programs. Nevertheless, it remains that Auroville has created a solid infrastructure for a value oriented education in an international environment, where the coexistence of different cultures and languages within a common human family has become a natural fact of life.
Education in Auroville and its Direct Environment
There are 400 students in Auroville covering 24 nationalities from the pre-crèche to the secondary level. To this we have to add seven village schools sheltering also 400 students and an evening school whose program touches more than 700 village youths. It is to be noticed that one of these schools, Isaiambalam, has evolved several alternative methods of learning, one of them having been adopted by the States of Pondicherry and Chatthisghar for their primary schools. The interaction between Auroville and the surrounding villages is therefore significant (28% of Auroville educational budget is allocated to village education).
One of the consequences is that many young Tamil s have applied to become Aurovilian which has produced a demographic change within the community. In the primary schools of Auroville, already half of the students are Indian (mostly Tamil) and at the end of the secondary school, we observe that many non Indian students go abroad to follow further studies while the Tamil students enter the different services of Auroville. The number of Aurovilians coming from the local area is therefore growing fast, which on one side increases the possibility of an organic interaction between Auroville and its bio-region but might affect on the long run the international character of the community.
Another consequence of this demographic change is that if will bring out the issue of Indian culture in the program of Auroville schools. The official programs of India ignore the main elements of Indian cultural heritage, which is not being transmitted to the Indian youth. The rush towards Business and Engineer Schools have made the situation worse: India produces huge numbers of specialized professionals without enough cultural background and no sense of the historical depth of their own civilisation. In Auroville, the first settlers were Westerners and our programs have therefore a western connotation attached to them, and for those young Aurovilians who wish to pursue further studies, we prepare them either to the Bristish exam system or to the Indian one (which is also quiet westernized). We have therefore not yet succeeded in evolving our own program (except for a very small minority). The work of Sri Aurobindo, which is at the basis of the foundation of Auroville, and which combines the western and eastern civilizations within a new creative synthesis that would allow the implementation of a genuine human unity, has not yet found its full recognition within our educational system.
But this is not irreversible and might be evolved out progressively in the future. The solidity of what has been created so far offers a good starting point to go farther. Auroville has a good record in implementing integrally the instrumental skills of the students in the domains of mind, life and body. But what about the person who will play the instrument?
The Emergence of the Sovereign Subject
It is not enough to think of education in terms of instrumental skills. We have to postulate the existence of a sovereign subject in the child, capable of self-determination, which has to emerge, come in front and take the lead. In order to facilitate this process, we shift the accent from ‘the obligation to learn' towards ‘the freedom to progress'. For when the child is given a guided freedom to discover and progress on any fields of his choice, his faculties develop much faster, more integrally and they then can be applied fruitfully to other domains. This has been verified and assessed even by external observers: the students who follow a “free progress” way of learning show more adaptability and readiness to find new solutions, more capacities in natural leadership as well as in cooperative work than those who followed more traditional methods. This is true also for the village schools around Auroville where new methods are being implemented (cf. in Annex “Innovating in a Village School: Udavi, a Case Study”).
Spiritual Values and Self-Becoming
Auroville is highly heterogeneous in terms of cultural and socio-economic backgrounds. There are no common codes and systems of belief, no pre-established patterns of understanding. Therefore, each issue addressed is an occasion of divergences and misunderstandings. This would be inherent to any type of experience in human unity starting with a high degree of diversity. But then what is the source of unity, if it cannot be found in the homogeneity of cultural forms, ethical codes or life styles? It must be something which is not dependent on any of these forms but is yet the secret source of them all in the authenticity of their movements. The search for human unity therefore leads naturally to the search of a common spiritual truth beyond phenomenon, which could contain and foster all these different forms within a common underlying unity.
But even when education is considered as the development of consciousness and of its faculties, there is necessarily a spiritual dimension involved. For we discover that we grow by offering ourselves to higher or deeper domains of consciousness: It is by offering continuously our energies to scientific knowledge that we become a scientist; it is by offering them to music that we become a musician. Any domain that we approach in this way becomes a part of ourselves. The offering is a process of self-becoming. That is why and how the whole life can be turned into a continuous process of self-education, self-becoming and self-perfection, a continuous growth into deeper or higher truths of ourselves. And this is the first step on the spiritual path: an opening to an unending self-transcendence. It is here that the most ancient knowledge of the East about self-discovery and the more recent aspirations of the West towards a Learning Society can meet, find a mutual confirmation and combine each other for the creation of a more comprehensive approach of education.
Because spirituality refers to our relation with the infinite and absolute transcendence, it might foster mental exclusivism and thus increase the spirit of intolerance, by attributing an absolute character to relative truths. The re-introduction of a spiritual meaning within the collective life can have a regressive or a progressive consequence. Too often, in Auroville, our conflicts have led to a regressive clash of exclusivisms rather than to a progressive line of harmonizing synthesis (but never enough to shatter an underlying sense of togetherness). It is most difficult for the mind to renounce its own exclusive convictions and to widen itself to include its opposite, for the reconciliation between two points of view cannot happen at the level where they appear antagonist: we have to deepen our vision and understanding. It is this change of level which is difficult. Spirituality can be safely approached only if we keep, in our mind and heart, the search for an all-including spirituality. The only Truth that can help our growth is the one of which each separate truth is a living part and which can reconcile all of them in its progressive and ever evolving movement of synthesis.
S pirituality is a domain that can hardly be taught as a “subject”. It can exist as a living influence in so far as it is a living reality in the environment of the child. But it can be referred to as a vast domain open to exploration, an inner discovery that each one can attempt in his own way. When we deal with the Infinite, a vast all-including liberty must be always the law of our search.
This approach of education requires a lot of faith, for it means leaving the existing programs and methods for new ones, and there is always the doubt that it might be too experimental and thus jeopardize the future of the children or their freedom to choose. We want to innovate, but we also want the apparent security of the mainstream. We want to create the future, but we also want for our children the possibility to go to university or to get jobs. We feel the appeal of the adventure into the unknown but also long with nostalgia for the security of the well trodden paths. Auroville is a laboratory where exceptional conditions have been given for the opening of new ways in many domains; it is therefore particularly interesting to observe what happens when such conditions are given. It shows that human beings, when confronted with the possibility of innovation they have asked for, finally hesitate and give themselves only half way. The advantage is that nothing is forgotten, each objection being worked out in detail; the disadvantage is that we might not be ready for the times that are coming.
For o ur world is going to confront formidable challenges in the next decades, for which the present existing educational programs offer no preparation. Our planet and its humanity are in a situation of acute disorder created by experts loaded with academic titles of all kinds. We need something else than these uninspired instrumental skills, which are locally competent but visionless and globally incompetent. We see also more and more people in all countries encouraged to run blindly after money and consumption, not realizing that the western model of development which feeds their expectations is unsustainable, cannot be extended to all, and might very soon offer no future to those who have bet on it. What we shall need more and more are men and women capable of thinking creatively, intuitively and synthetically, of finding in their inner self the soul-force that can alone confront the needs of the hour, and of inventing a new thought, a new life, a new world, if humanity is to survive. The mission of education can no longer be to produce ready-made citizens for a system that cannot find solutions for the problems it has created; it is to help the emergence of men and women able to consciously build themselves on a truer basis, while building a new world in which they choose to live together without exclusion, around common aspiration and common aims. It is for this global possibility Auroville has been created, as a necessary utopia in the future of man and a call to all humanity to a higher and truer life.
Innovating in a Village School: Udavi, a Case Study
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