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December 2003

Education in retrospect

- by Emmanuelle

After twenty years of involvement in education, Suzie has started on a new path


Although she had no previous experience or training in the field, on the day after she arrived in Auroville in 1980, Suzie started teaching at Centre School, beginning an involvement in education that would last for over twenty years. She taught in Centre School until 1985, then in Transition School for the next eight years and afterwards in Last School and at Deepanam. She worked with children from the ages of four to sixteen, teaching subjects such as English, social studies and theatre. She was also involved with administration – as a member of the SAIIER coordination group and as secretary of the Auroville School Board, a forum of exchange for the different Auroville schools.

Recently, she withdrew from education. “I really felt it was the end, like the completion of a cycle,” she says. “Now that I've left formal education, my views on the subject have shifted somewhat. I've been looking at Auroville's Charter, and been thinking of what is meant by ‘unending education.' The greatest challenge is to manifest a society where education is an ongoing process that involves all its citizens, not just students. In The Human Cycle Sri Aurobindo wrote: “…Athens was the supreme achievement, a life in which living itself was an education...”* And I feel Auroville is going in that direction. There are a great number of individuals of all ages here who have gone back to studying, or are pursuing different interests in a concrete way. There is a lot of learning going on in this society, it is not limited to the school context.”

Suzie feels it is very important that the children realise that education is not limited to the years they spend in school. They have to realise that they will carry the skills they are taught into their lives. “One of the great challenges for us teachers is: what skills do you teach to prepare the child for the new consciousness, for the new world? How does one find ways to touch and work with the inner being when one is working with class structures and subject matters? Then, as a teacher, you look for tools. I myself found journal writing to be a great tool for self-discovery. Theatre was also such a tool – it wasn't about mental skills and training, but the children learned how to deal with people and with spontaneous situations which arose.”

When it comes to freedom in education, there is always the struggle to find the balance. “I believe that ideally, children should be quite free to choose their program, like it's being done in Last School at present – the whole ‘free progress' concept. It doesn't mean that you cannot have a certain structure and discipline, but when the children are willing and when they choose, they make a kind of commitment that they wouldn't make when it's all planned out. Any real progress comes from within and requires freedom. For me there's no question about that.”

Suzie feels that during a couple of years in the child's life, say from the age of eleven to thirteen, education could be radically different. She proposes that during those years, a team could take the children out into India, travelling and doing life-related activities with them, for which the children would have to find resources in themselves. “Afterwards they could go back, refreshed, to the more ‘mental' education. Of course, it would require a lot of trust on the part of the parents to let things happen that way.” But she cautions that as every child is different and has different needs, it is important to have parallel streams of development in education – to have different schools with different approaches, so that each child can find what's best for him or her. “It would also be good if schooling and work could be connected, for example if students would have the opportunity to go out into the real world for a while and then return to school. Ideally, Auroville units should be open to take in students as apprentices. And if all Auroville adults saw themselves as teachers, Auroville would be a different place for the children, for they would really feel held and supported by the community which would be involved in their education.”

Coming back to the concept of unending education for the society as a whole, Suzie says: “In Auroville, everyone, not just the children, should be given the possibility and support to progress. And all the inhabitants of our bio-region should be included in this quest for personal development. Seeing Auroville as a university centre in which everybody takes part is an idea that is spreading rapidly in Auroville. “


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