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May 2002

Education: Bridging worlds

- by Priya Mahtani


The Auroville Youth Education and Training project, funded by the European Commission, benefits four Auroville schools that provide education to children and young adults from the nearby villages.

In February 2001, a strangely synchronised moment brought Greta Jensen, a development consultant to Auroville International UK, across my path. We discovered we had a common friend - a wonderfully inspirational art teacher in the same Waldorf School where I had recently completed my teacher training. From this meeting, an opportunity arose to coordinate an IT link between New Creation School and Sedlescombe Primary - a school in a village in the UK. Promoting global awareness and celebrating diversity in education through a sharing of various classroom activities between school children in England and India - it was a perfect match for my own skills and interests, and just what I had been looking for. The Development Awareness component of a much larger partially funded European Commission (EC) project, it was to be my first initiation into Auroville.

Auroville had been something of a surprise - not exactly like the India I knew and cherished, but not exactly like England, where I had been brought up. Auroville intuitively felt like a bridge between both worlds and cultures, located deep in the south of India, yet receptive and open to an emerging consciousness, where new ideas can unfold and bear fruit and the right people always seem to miraculously appear at just the right moment.
A few months later, having returned to the UK, I again met Greta and also Martin Littlewood of AVI-UK (the Project Managers). As we enjoyed a morning coffee by the Thames, Martin asked me if I was interested in supporting all the E.C. project holders by writing reports and doing some coordination. It seemed a good opportunity to deepen my connection to different people and ideas within Auroville, so I agreed.
Now in its second year, the Auroville Youth Education and Training project has gone from strength to strength. With in-depth workshops given by Greta on various aspects of project management, from log-frames to report writing, all the project holders have learnt not only how to communicate more effectively, but also how to truly appreciate and reflect on their determined efforts.

Drawing together four different educational establishments from within Auroville, it is essentially a human resource development project, building on the combined experiences and knowledge of some truly amazing individuals. Visiting Isaiambalam School, for example, and meeting Subash and his team of teachers, is clear proof of the benefits of value-oriented education. The 'Rishi Valley method' is only one example of many innovative teaching methodologies employed there, with children following an individual progress system, with an in-built assessment process, as they work through various learning cards for different activities. These include a variety of creative pursuits - for example performing small plays/songs, games, story-telling, collage-work, puppetry for language learning - as well as the regular study of subjects like maths and environmental science.

Subash commented that a noticeable benefit of this project was that it had enabled all those involved to work in a really focused manner in a daily context where everybody is co-operating and growing together.

Work at the Life Education Centre (LEC) is again different, providing a supportive and therapeutic community environment for abused young women to learn life and vocational skills. Recent input from professional educators like Hannah (UK), who initiated a self-awareness photography project, and Desarea (Sweden), who facilitated group discussions exploring the role of women in society through the use of evocative games, songs and exercises, helped to deepen self-confidence and understanding amongst the young girls.

Zerina, the overall coordinator, expressed appreciation of two aspects of the project. Firstly she had learned to compose succinct reports with relevant supportive data (Greta's voluminous guidance must be acknowledged here) and secondly, and perhaps most importantly, she now felt truly connected to the other schools involved with the project.

The work done at Ilaignarkal Tamil Heritage School is somewhat different again. The project funding enabled the construction of a new and much needed school building, substantially enhancing regular school activities. This is a school where great emphasis and pride in Tamil culture is expressed through the development of innovative educational materials. Overall coordinator and youth counsellor Meenakshi emphasises that much of the work being done at Ilaignarkal is to encourage youth to strengthen self-esteem and manage economic/lifestyle affairs independently.

The existence of the completely new New Creation Vocational Training Centre reflects the need to provide learning opportunities for non-academic children, enabling school-leavers and young adults to earn livelihoods locally. The completed woodwork and electrical workshops already benefit children attending New Creation School next door.

André, who has been responsible for holding the vision for this centre, stressed the crucial need for supporting the progress of the people surrounding Auroville in order that they may also participate properly in the development of the township. He also commented that this project is another reflection that there are many people throughout the world interested in Auroville's growth and all that emerges here. Without this support and commitment, Auroville would never have been able to flourish into the rich and diverse learning environment it is today.

Overall, the EC project has helped to facilitate a practical understanding of unity in diversity amongst all those involved. Working with this project has been a true celebration of common purpose as we share a dream and an intention to serve our children through helping them to grow and develop with joy and self-confidence.

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