The Auroville Industrial School in Irumbai
The Auroville symbol caught my attention as I zapped through TV channels to get to my favourite news programme. It was an advertisement on a local Tamil channel announcing courses offered by one ‘ Auroville Industrial School '. Quite strange to see an advertisement caption on the top of the screen while beneath, energetic young men and women gyrated to the beat of the latest Tamil song. ‘ Auroville Industrial School . Courses Rs. 500 only. Phone: 2671757.' I decided to call.
The Auroville Industrial School is a project of Auroville's Village Action Group (AVAG) and is located next to AVAG's headquarters in Irumbai. Created with help from the German Ministry of Technical Cooperation which funded the buildings and the equipment, the school is managed by Lavkamad Chandra.
Hailing originally from Northern India , Lavkamad has a unique perspective having worked for 40 years in the aircraft industry in Germany and France before retiring and returning to India . “I was looking for a spiritual path that harmonizes meditation with work,” he says. A chance meeting with a few Aurovilians in the Ashram of Sri Ramana Maharshi in Tiruvannamalai brought him into contact with Auroville. He visited, liked the place and became a newcomer. With his background of senior manager of one of Airbus's computer departments, he was the ideal choice to take charge of the information technology institute of the Auroville Industrial School (AIS).
With its six classrooms, the school's aim is to offer and improve the technical skills of the local people of the Auroville bioregion so as to enhance their employability. “We intend to equip them not only to work for others, but also be entrepreneurial and be self-employed,” explains Lavkamad. “We plan on offering short and long term courses varying from 6 to 12 months in a variety of subjects such as electronics, computer software and hardware, English conversation, business management and social awareness. As the school is recognised by the Government of Tamil Nadu, the long-term courses like electronics, computer applications and hardware and software maintenance will also prepare the student for the official Tamil Nadu Government examinations.” He adds that short term courses in computers will not be exam oriented but will provide specialised knowledge regarding MS Office applications, PageMaker and Corel DRAW; and on Local Area Networking.
The school will function as a non-profit establishment. “During the first year of operation, the running expenses will be borne by the German donor, but afterwards we are on our own,” explains Chandra. “Our fee structure is modest, varying between Rs 10 to Rs 15 an hour which is about half the price what similar schools in Pondicherry are charging.” For very poor families the school is approaching the women's groups within AVAG to provide loans, particularly for the girls who want to study. “AVAG has created more than 100 of these women's groups, and they have demonstrated that they are very effective in managing their collective funds,” he says. “We hope that they will expand their micro-credit loan schemes to include educational loans for students.”
While short-term courses have begun, the school is yet to start its long term courses. “When I arrived in Auroville in April this year, the school buildings had just been finished and we were planning to go into operation by July. But as difficulties within AVAG came to a boiling point [see AVToday October 2004], we had to postpone the long term courses. Instead, we concentrated on offering special three to six week long courses at discount rates, particularly for those who had discontinued their schooling after the 9th Standard and who now wanted additional training.” Lavkamad adds that this time has been used to publicize the school through advertisements in the local media, and by visiting high schools in the surrounding villages. “We are also in the process of establishing contacts with the industries in the nearby industrial estates of Pondicherry . This way, our graduates will be able to find jobs once they have successfully passed the courses.”
The response has been very positive. “To my amazement many more women than men have applied,” says Lavkamad . “It means that we have to focus more on training women in areas that may be of interest to them apart from the usual computer software skills.” He feels that courses offering training for the position of secretary or personal assistant, teaching English, business management and accounting will be popular with the women students. “There are many small industries in the surrounding area, so a woman with these types of skills should have little problem finding a job.” Students from the neighbouring high schools have also shown interest and Lavkamad expects that quite a few will join the Auroville Industrial School in July 2005 for long-term courses after passing their 12th standard school leaving examinations. “From next July onwards we expect that all the classrooms will be fully utilized from morning to evening, with evening classes primarily geared towards working adults.”
The Auroville Industrial School aims at providing the same high quality education for which Auroville is becoming well-known. Says Lavkamad: “We want to link this Auroville image of quality education to our school, transferring know-how and providing a lot of opportunity for practical hands-on exercises in small class settings. The formula is sure to succeed.”
For more info email Auroville Industrial School at: firstname.lastname@example.org