EXPERIMENTS IN INTEGRAL EDUCATION
One of the most recent forms under which Sri Aurobindo conceived of the development of his work was to establish at Pondicherry an International University Centre open to students from all over the world.
"It is considered that the most fitting memorial to his name would be to found this University now so as to give concrete expression to the fact that his work continues with unabated vigour", said the Mother in 1951 and on the 6th of January 1952 the Sri Aurobindo International University Centre was inauguratedits name changed, in 1959, in order to keep itself free from the conventional ideas which go with a University, to Sri Aurobindo International Centre of Education.
The Centre of Education consists of sections from Kindergarten till the Higher Coursewhich approximates to the graduation level in other colleges. But the system of learning and teaching here being very flexible, in principle a student can qualify himself much more than a graduate, if he is sincere and of the right aptitude.
Flexibility, indeed, is one of the cardinal virtues of this institution. There are no mechanical promotions taking into consideration a certain average performance of the student. If a student is observed to be better in a particular subject than expected at his level, he can very well be in a higher class in that particular subject.
The Centre of Education has these faculties : Humanities, Languages, Science and Engineering Technology. There are well-organised provisions for learning painting, music and dance (both Indian and Western), dramatics, crafts, practical ecology etc. Libraries and laboratories are well-equipped.
Physical education is given great importance. Facilities are there for athletics, gymnastics, exercises, combatives, aquatics and field games. A daily routine of activities is formulated for all the students.
Contests and tournaments continue throughout the year, but in a spirit of progress and not in the conventional sense of competition. Playground, sports ground, swimming pool etc. are maintained with great care.
The objectives of the Centre of Education are :
1. to evolve and realise a system of integral education and to make it a dynamic ideal for society;
2. to organise an environment and an atmosphere affording inspiration and facilities for the exercise and development of the five essential aspects of personality: the physical, the vital, the mental, the psychic and the spiritual;
3. to emphasise the unity of all knowledge and to attempt to bring Humanities and Science closer together into a real sense of unity for the benefit of both;
4. to develop the sense of the oneness of mankind and international collaboration; and
5. to prepare for the role that India has to play in the formation of the new international harmony.
The Centre of Education does not award degrees. The Mother explains why it is so :
"For the last hundred years or so mankind has been suffering from a disease which seems to be spreading more and more and which has reached a climax in our times; it is what we may call utilitarianism. People and things, circumstances and activities seem to be viewed and appreciated exclusively from this angle. Nothing has any value unless it is useful. Certainly something that is useful is better than something that is not. But first we must agree on what we describe as usefuluseful to whom, to what, for what ?"
"For, more and more, the races who consider themselves civilised describe as useful whatever can attract, procure or produce money. Everything is judged and evaluated from a monetary angle. That is what I call utilitarianism. And this disease is highly contagious, for even children are not immune to it."
"At an age when they should be dreaming of beauty, greatness and perfection, dreams that may be too sublime for ordinary common sense, but which are nevertheless far superior to this dull good sense, children now dream of money and worry about how to earn it."
"So when they think of their studies, they think above all about what can be useful to them, so that later on when they grow up they can earn a lot of money."
And the thing that becomes most important for them is to prepare themselves to pass examinations with success, for with diplomas, certificates and titles they will be able to find good position and earn a lot of money.
For them study has no other purpose, no other interest.
To learn for the sake of knowledge, to study in order to know the secrets of Nature and life, to educate oneself in order to grow in consciousness, to discipline oneself in order to become master of oneself, to overcome ones weaknesses, incapacities and ignorance, to prepare oneself to advance in life towards a goal that is nobler and vaster, more generous and more true... they hardly give it a thought and consider it all very utopian. The only thing that matters is to be practical, to prepare themselves and learn how to earn money.
Children who are infected with this disease are out of place at the Centre of Education of the Ashram. And it is to make this quite clear to them that we do not prepare them for any official examination or competition and do not give them any diplomas or titles which they can use in the outside world.
We want here only those who aspire for a higher and better life, who thirst for knowledge and perfection, who look forward eagerly to a future that will be more totally true.
"There is plenty of room in the world for all the others."
Pavitra, a French savant whose original name was P. B. Saint-Hilaire, who was the Director of the Centre of Education, wrote :
"It is quite clear that, according to Sri Aurobindo, the current idea that the teacher should impart his knowledgewhat he knows about a subjectto a child is fundamentally wrong. He must show the child how to learn that subject by himself, help him in devising his own methods of learning and of organizing the knowledge which he gathers or discovers.
"We can understand this better if we observe how a young child gains spontaneously the knowledge of his surroundings. He does it through a ceaseless activity which is natural to him whenever he finds interest in the objects at his disposal. He examines, touches, manipulates every object he can lay his hand upon, studies how he can use it for his own purposes (often very different from his parents ends and views). He explores every nook and corner of the room, of the house, of the garden, sees how he can make use of them for his activities, his games (with little care for the purpose and the tranquility of the grown-ups). All this is done and pursued in conformity with the needs of his stage of growth. It is the learning by doing, as named by Dewey. When we say that a child is amusing himself or playing (alone or with playmates), it is almost always the purposeful activity (alone or with playmates), it is almost always the purposeful activity (solitary or collective) of a growing being deeply engaged in the process of building up and perfecting his instruments of knowledge and action. We are indeed in presence of a genuine education, leading to discovery and inventiondiscovery of the world around and of its meaning (for the childs mentality), invention of the usage he can put it to (for the childs aims and interests)and it is a self-education as it does not require lectures or books. An adults intervention is in most cases not sought for, nor is it effective, as the adults understanding is too remote from the childs mentality.
"But the adult has an important part to fulfil. When a child is idle, restless or mischievous, it is either that his natural activity has been hampered or distorted, or that he had exhausted the opportunities given to him by his surroundings and his activity has no outlet. It is for the adultparent or teacherto keep the environment supplied with elements of interest. These objects should act by their presence, not by their purpose. Their aim is to satisfy an immediate and actual need of the child, not a future need as anticipated by the parent or teacher (pass an exam, get a good job, raise a family). The purpose of a child is always immediate : the satisfaction of an actual need, which is one of the forms taken by the deep fundamental urge in him to grow physically, emotionally and mentally. He does not paint with the aim of becoming an artist (such an aim belongs to the adult mentality, but it is often unwisely and untimely instilled into a childs receptive mind), but for the satisfaction of the creative impulse in him. He does not try to solve a problem of mathematics to become a mathematician or a good engineer, or even to know geometry and algebra, but for the satisfaction of the discovery, the lightning that suddenly flashes into his mind when he gets it, for the inner joy of having overcome a difficulty and succeeded. He does not play the mouth organ to have a large audience and be recognized as a musician (if he has these ambitions, he got them by the praises bestowed upon him by elders), but for the joy of self-expression and the pleasure he gives to his nearest mates and friends."
A salient feature of the educational methods followed here is known as the Free Progress stream. The Mother says, "Free Progress is progress guided by the soul and not subjected to habits, conventions and preconceived ideas."
According to the Centres brochure :
"All education aims at the progress of the individual."
But the basic question is : What is progress ? For the word progress can and does have many meanings and implications widely differing in their content and scope.
The view the Centre takes is that progress is essentially a growth of consciousness, discovery and increasing awareness of an inner power and principle of guidance, which holds in it the light and truth of the development, harmony and perfection of our body, life and mind. It could be said that true progress is an ever-open step towards a total evolution of our entire being and consciousness so as to transcend and transform all the limitations to which man as an evolutionary being is at present subject. And this can only be done by a constant living contact with mans true self, the soul.
And once we accept this view, it would then be irrational to set a standard of progress which is uniform for all. It would be wiser although more difficult, to consider each individual as a special centre having his own unique rhythms and modes of progress and thus to assess each individuals progress by standards appropriate to him. Moreover, "If the individual can progress at his maximum, the group will necessarily benefit by it. If the individual is submitted to the possibility and capacity of the group, he loses his chance to total progress", says the Mother.
On this basis, education would become a process of free growth and not a rigid system. For, if man is not the last term of evolution, if reason is not the true or highest governor of life, if the aim of human life is to discover ones inmost and highest principles and to transform by their light and power the entire mode of ones present embodied mental life, and if the specific aim of each individual is to be a special or unique centre of a higher action, then education must be a process of Free Progress.
Some features of the Free Progress approach are :
1. The structure is oriented towards the meeting of the varied needs of the students, each one of whom has his own special pace and process of development.
2. It is not merely the subjects of study that should count in education; the aspiration, the need for growth, the experience of freedom, the possibility of educating oneself, of self-experimentation, the discovery of the inner needs and their relation with the programme of studies, and the discovery of the aim of life and the art of lifethese are much more important and the structure of the organisation must provide for them.
3. As he grows older, the student has an increasing freedom in the choice of his subjects and the organisation of his time; but his freedom has to be luminously guided. The student should experience freedom but it might be misused; the student has therefore to be watched with care, sympathy and wisdom.
4. A great stress falls upon the individual work of the students. This individual work may be the result of the students own choice to follow a particular topic of interest; or it may be the result of a suggestion from the teacher but accepted by the student. It may be a follow-up of something explained by the teacher or it may be an original line of inquiry. The essential aim is to encourage and stimulate the student to find genuine interest and joy in work.
5. This individual work may be pursued in several ways :
a. quiet reflection or meditation;
b. referring to books or relevant portions of books suggested by the teacher;
c. working on specific exercises/texts prepared for the student by the teacher;
d. consultation or interviews; and
e. carrying out experiments.
6. Apart from individual work, the student participates in group classes as these also have their value. In addition, lectures are organised; such lectures seek appeal to the sense of discovery, imagination and creativity in the student, and not merely burden him with information.
7. There are also periods of discussion between teachers and students and between students and students. However, the discussions need not pertain merely to academic subjects; they can centre round the individual needs of growth and thus provide an opportunity for guiding the students in their inner search.
8. There are topics which more easily yield to the project system. Teachers therefore announce a number of projects in these subjects and students according to their individual or group choice select a few on which they work individually or collectively and produce charts, monographs, designs, etc. which are periodically exhibited for the benefit of others.
9. The role of the teacher in this process of education may be summarised as follows :
a. to aid the student in uncovering the inner will to grow and to progressthat needs to be the constant endeavour of the teacher,
b. to evolve a programme of education for each student in accordance with the felt needs of the students growth,
c. to watch the students with deep sympathy, understanding and patience, ready to intervene and guide as and when necessary,
d. to stimulate the student with striking words, ideas, questions, stories, projects and programmesthis should be the main work of the teacher. The teacher must be a friend and a guide, must not impose himself, but may intervene when necessary. The wastage of opportunities given should not be allowed indefinitely. But when and how to intervene depends on the discretion of the teacher. To radiate inner calm and cheerful dynamism so as to create an atmosphere conducive to the development of higher faculties of inner knowledge and institutionthat may be regarded as the heart of the work of the teacher.
10. An adequate organisation for the proper working of the free progress approach would need the following :
a. A room or rooms of silence to which students who like to do uninterrupted work or would like to reflect or meditate in silence can go as and when they like ;
b. Rooms of documentation where students can find the required materials to seek answers to their questions;
c. Rooms for study, group discussion, consultation.
11. In this view of education, there is no rivalry amongst various branches or disciplines of knowledge, or any stress of their relative importance. In the study of each subject, the aim and attempt is so directed that it leads towards a discovery of the fundamental truths underlying the subject and progressively towards a larger discovery of the unity underlying these truths and the truths of other branches of knowledge, thus helping in the progressive growth of the consciousness of the student.
This sense of the unity of the truths would contribute to the reconciliation of the various branches of knowledge, thus leading to the harmony of Science, Philosophy, Technology and Fine Arts.
This evidently demands a certain maturity and a sense of responsibility. Though the training of the mental faculties begins much earlier, it is only after the age of fourteen that a child is in a position to derive the full benefit from the free progress approach.
In its essence, the free progress approach is endlessly open and innovative and the foregoing should not be taken as rigidly binding.
Experiments and adventures in education in the light of Sri Aurobindos thoughts are carried out at several other places, within their limitations.
A major field of such experiments is Auroville, not far from Pondicherry. To a question what system of education Auroville proposes to follow, a teacher, Yvonne Artand says: "It is less a system than an environment. We want to give everyone, and especially our children, the possibility of living in an environment which constantly helps them to evolve and to become that which they can become when there is no difference between school and home or between study and play.
"The learning process will no longer be something which is turned on from 7.30 to 11.30 a.m., but the natural attitude of a normally developed mind in this universe during its whole life, an attitude of inquiry, a joy of knowing, and a joy of being and of being able to do."
To another question on the nature of their syllabus, she says, "Our syllabus is the same as that of evolution. Evolution has deposited in the DNA chains of each of us a syllabus, a programme, and given us the possibility of becoming more than our parents were. We intend to help our children to find this programming in themselves, and then to realize it. Like evolution, we want them to become more than manAfterman."