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January '03

A new school takes wing

- by Dirk Kievith

The Center for Further Learning will move into a new campus, allowing new possibilities and growth for Auroville's secondary education


One of the three new science labs

Over the last few years the month of January has witnessed a number of events marking the development of secondary education in Auroville. The first occurred when the Center for Further learning (CFL) was inaugurated on January 3rd 1996 at the Last School Campus near Aspiration. Largely inspired by Luc, CFL opened with the aim of providing an alternative educational option to Auroville students, who wished to obtain an internationally recognized qualification. Many students in the age group of 13-19 were at that time studying elsewhere: approximately 15 at Kodaikanal's International School and around 12 at the French Lycée in Pondicherry, as well as at various other schools in India and abroad.

CFL currently follows a program based on the British GCE O and A level syllabi. However, exams are not compulsory and the students take them when they and their teachers feel they are ready to do so. Obtaining a certificate to be able to attend an external college is not the only reason for registering for an exam. It may be to evaluate one's own progress or be as an incentive to study more seriously. Yet, while exams continue to be important value-added features, the main aim at CFL remains the integral development of the student. The Center offers a wide choice of extra-curricular subjects such as music, art, ecology and computer studies. (However, it is surprising to find architecture and urban planning absent.) Says Chali, a full-time teacher and coordinator at CFL, "The teacher-student relationship is primarily to be a relation of trust. Students choose their own mentor, with whom they feel comfortable and we closely interact on the matter of subjects and curriculum." Currently there are thirty-two Aurovilian students at CFL, while there are only four at Kodaikanal and around five at the Lycée. This is ample proof that the aspiration and efforts of Luc and others are bearing fruit, and the program is appreciated and has taken root.

Yet the team at CFL hasn't been resting on its laurels. It has been actively exploring new ways of creating a more conducive and better-equipped environment for a larger number of students. The opportunity arose with the allocation by Gateway of one crore rupees (US$ 200,000) for a secondary education building. On January 1st 2000 a small groundbreaking ceremony, centered around the planting of a Service tree sapling, marked the start of a new school complex in the Transformation area at a stone throw from Transition Primary School. Following three years of design, planning and construction, another January 1st will see the inauguration of the new campus. The core team of the new school had aptly called it Future School. But that name was unanimously rejected by the students. They prefer a much more conventional name. Explains Jivatma: "Now it is our future school, but once we have moved there the name does not apply anymore." Philip is even more outspoken: "When someone from England comes to Auroville, all those names like Aspiration, Fraternity make no sense to him. I think, that a name like 'Auroville High School' serves the purpose better." In the end it may just continue to be called CFL.

The new high school

At the new campus I met three members of the school's core group: Chali, Mary and Sergei; the others being Anton, Bunty, Lyle and Sanjeev. They were enthused about the rapid progress in the recent days regarding painting, carpenting and especially the contouring of the landscape. Designed by Piero and Gloria and built by Sumark (Rolf and Brigitte), the two-winged, two-storied building in an inviting peach colour imparts to the visitor a sense of solidity (study is after all serious business) married with a play of color and light (studies are fun too), accentuated by the broad entrance with a colonnaded passage to the tiffin area and by generous window spaces with grills in maroon.

While finishing work is still going on, we settled down to conduct our interview in the auditorium on the first floor. It turned out to consist of a concrete mass of semi-circular steeply-rising steps facing a huge blackboard. Light falls from different angles into the space and being equipped for multi-media presentations, the auditorium can host a variety of events and guest lecturers. Opinions about the design appear to be divided, both among teachers and students. But positive consensus reigns about the rest of the rooms at the campus. Downstairs there are five classrooms, of which one has been converted into a library. There is a kitchenette with covered tiffin area and a room for teachers and administration. But the first floor houses the pride of the campus: three fully equipped science labs, the first of their kind in Auroville - one each for biology, chemistry and physics. Both Chali and Sergei, teachers of biology and science respectively, showed the labs with glowing eyes, gently touching the new equipment and carefully sliding up and down the window of the hood.

"But this is only the first phase of the campus," explains Chali. "The second phase will have a true library, art rooms and workshops and perhaps a few more classrooms." Adds Mary, "Last School, including the Pyramid group, may eventually also move here as part of the future CIRHU university complex." The school will be able to accommodate two hundred students. For the time being it will provide an exploration ground for the thirty-two CFL students when they move here by the end of February after their ongoing exams. From then onwards it will be a new journey with new possibilities. But also some apprehensions as expressed by art student Suryamai, for she doesn't know how the considerable distance from Last School and the Pyramid will influence her art classes. Explains Mary, "New possibilities may evolve through interaction with close-by art community Kalabhumi. And the proximity of Transition School may induce an interesting exchange of teachers and new subjects." Also activities centered around physical education and sports may take different shapes in collaboration with the nearby Dehashakti sports complex.

Whatever may develop, the main thing is that the students as well as the teachers are eagerly looking forward to future possibilities. Philip hopes, that "the new building will allow a better organisation of classroom spaces." Says Sergei, "The students spend several years absorbing different subjects of their own choice, exploring to discover their own interest. Only in the end we help them to prepare for the exams. With the new school there will be many more possibilities to explore and we can add new subjects." Adds Chali, "Also the fact that students need not seek education elsewhere allows them to absorb Auroville's special atmosphere for many more years."

But the team's real goal is that their efforts will result in the establishment of an Auroville educational program of international standing, which will be universally accepted and would be more in keeping with the Aurovilian educational philosophy. I left with the confidence that we will continue to witness substantial growth of Auroville's educational organizations.


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