What do the people who experienced it think?
Education has been a significant area of activity for Auroville since its inception, with many initiatives throughout its history seeking to provide for the needs of the community’s youth, while attempting to actualize the foundational aspiration of ‘Integral Education.’ While we have some record of the variety of educational developments, we have lacked a record of the subjective experiences of those who underwent an Auroville education and upbringing. Deepti, a long time educator in Auroville, was interested in this and began to draft a few “inward- looking and psychological” questions to ask Auroville youth.
Inspired by the idea, a group of young Aurovilians took up the task of circulating the survey to their peers – any adult who had been raised here and received some form of education in Auroville was eligible. This was in the summer of 2013, and over the next two years at least a third of those eligible to participate responded, close to half of whom were residing outside of Auroville at the time. The youngest respondents were born in 1991, the oldest as early as 1959, so that they collectively span over 40 years of experience of Auroville’s schools (not including all outreach schools), as well as schooling experiences outside of Auroville, in places like the Lycée Français and Kodaikanal International School.
Auroville as ‘Life Education’
Asked “Which part of your education, whether in Auroville or not, has been the most formative for your personality?” the majority answered that the time spent in Auroville was the most formative, many describing it as a form of ‘Life Education’:
My education in Auroville reached far beyond just the schools. I was given the freedom to grow as a person; was given responsibility in my own life. These things helped me learn from all my experiences… Growing up in Auroville prepared me more than just academically for the world.
The most formative part of my education for my personality was being engaged in building and creating Auroville.
Some of the early youth of Auroville, born in the 1960s and early 1970s, stated that Auroville was formative due to the lack of structured education.
My time without a formal education in Auroville taught me more than my attending school could ever have done. I am a maverick, a lateral thinker and pretty fearless. Life skills have made anything life today has to offer easy to deal with.
However, many described deficiencies in Auroville’s educational landscape at the time, characterised by the lack of training of the teachers, the lack of structure and continuity of educational opportunities, and the lack of guidance for youth in the community.
I think that my lack of education has made me so eager to want to learn, and want to achieve. I really worked hard to get my BA and MA, not for the sake of getting a diploma but to have a goal and reach it.
Not having access to school and the structure of regular adult teachers made me long for that in my life. I am very disciplined when I work or study because I have had enough chaos to last a lifetime.
At the same time, these deficiencies were accompanied by significant benefits. In answer to the question “Do you feel that you have benefited from the Auroville experience/upbringing?” close to 90% answered affirmatively, many expressing how ‘grateful’ and ‘lucky’ they felt about being raised in Auroville, describing it as ‘invaluable,’ ‘immeasurable’ and ‘priceless,’ something they would never trade and could never repay. Interestingly, especially the earlier generation expressed such a strong identification with their Auroville upbringing that they could not conceive of questioning its benefit.
Valued qualities of Auroville education
The most valued qualities of an Auroville education and upbringing were surprisingly consistent across generations. These were freedom (often correlated with responsibility), openness, teacher/community support, well-rounded personal development, exposure to the yoga of Mother and Sri Aurobindo, and a multi-cultural and multi-lingual environment.
I feel the best part of my education was the balance of freedom in a very nurturing environment that fostered a close and personal relationship with one’s teachers while at the same time developing a strong sense of self-responsibility.
The feeling of being allowed to be who one is.
The broad spectrum of skills that Auroville education provides. And by this I don’t mean just practical/intellectual skills, I mean a richness of thought, a deep awareness of my self, my surroundings and a rich perspective of life and our existence.
The philosophy and ideals of Sri Aurobindo, The Mother and Auroville, which one becomes aware of and is surrounded by have an impact and influence on one’s life.
I am happy to have been exposed to these from a young age and somehow they have become a natural part of my life.
Being Aurovilian: A Strong Connection
In answer to the questions, “Do you have a sense of connection with the idea forces as embodied in Auroville’s founding texts such as “To be a True Aurovilian” or the Charter? In what way do you connect with them?” over 80% expressed a strong feeling of connection, mostly as something they embodied and applied in their daily lives, whether they are in Auroville or not:
I feel that as children of Auroville, we were brought up with the ideas of Auroville and the Charter. Whatever much or however much we understand from the written context, I believe that we express the Charter or the ideas of Auroville better through our actions in our day-to-day life because it’s part of us, it’s deeply embedded in us whether we know it or not.
I try to practically implement and live the ideals of Auroville. I work to create and get involved in projects where the ideals of Auroville can manifest.”
I connect with them on an everyday basis, whether I am in Auroville or not…I carry that atmosphere and those words in me. I try to let that feeling out and I try to express it in my everyday work. I am not a true Aurovilian, I am not sure what that may be, but I work towards it every day.
Many referred to the texts as a whole, or highlighted specific concepts within them, as ‘idea forces’ they felt especially personally connected to or inspired by at a personal level. And some saw them as the collective reference point for the community at large:
A servitor of the divine consciousness is something I am not always ready for, to say the least… But I know that the main seed, the main drive is there, it is deeply rooted… I feel it is the idea of my life on earth.
To be a true Aurovilian” makes me aspire, and I believe if one hasn’t got there yet but aspires to it or even just recognises its merits truly one can still be quite aligned with its ideal.
They are high ideals and, although they may not all be lived up to by everyone, or myself, I feel that they are the glue that holds us Aurovilians together. They create a common aim and a common language giving a unique sense of community and comradeship.
A few, however, felt disconnected from the way the ideals were interpreted by other community members:
In a very private way I often feel disconnected from the way they are publicly aired in Auroville. I feel we have turned what was once an open and free sense of adventure and quest into something of a rigid religion with dogma and rules – I don’t identify with that at all.
I believe that the higher consciousness which Mother and Sri Aurobindo speak about is not confined to Auroville. However people who live in the community believe they are superior and righteous. This creates a barrier of ignorance and does not welcome knowledge and input from outside of Auroville.
In answer to the questions “In which way do you feel Aurovilian? What are the signs of this feeling? Can you identify its characteristics?” – all but three people identified with ‘feeling Aurovilian,’ even if they had not visited Auroville in years. Three common characterisations of this identification emerged throughout the answers. These were a sense of belonging and of Auroville being “home”; an attitude of striving for progress, individually and towards the realization of Auroville; and feeling connected with others who share Auroville’s ideals and experience:
A feeling of ‘belonging’, like I am in the presence of something that – although much too profound for me to understand – is fundamental to me.
I feel Aurovilian in the way that I want to give my service for a higher purpose without expecting anything in return just like many other Aurovilians.
The resonance I feel with other Aurovilians is a sincere aspiration to live beyond the confines of the individual self by aspiring for spiritual growth (both personal and collective), and that this exists in the context of daily life rather than removed from it.
One of the survey questions asked, “Would you say that there is an ‘Auroville type’ and, if so, how would you describe it?”
As we are all so different and all trying to achieve our goals in many different ways, I am happy that we do not have to stereotype ourselves as an AV type!
The Auroville type is everywhere and not only to be found in Auroville. Auroville just provides a more “open” and accepting environment for the inner being to develop in practice. However you can find this in individual people and places around the planet.
Recognition and suggestions for Auroville’s education
An on-going concern for youth in Auroville is the lack of wider recognition for Auroville education. During periods where there was either no high school education or no externally-recognised high school education available, teenagers were faced with a painfully contradictory choice between staying in Auroville and pursuing an accredited education. The majority of respondents recommend that Auroville develop internal forms of recognition for the range of educational experiences of youth within the community, and move towards international accreditation for these. They highlight the importance for youth of being able to pursue educational, professional, and life experiences outside the community, and the benefits of interaction between young Aurovilians and the world at large (over 70% of respondents pursued higher education outside of Auroville).
Many made suggestions for an internal recognition system, which could be synthesised as a broad inclusion of educational experiences from the academic to extracurricular, personal development, social skills and life skills, and the embodiment of values that reflect Auroville’s spiritual ethos. This would be captured in an individualized certification that could be developed into an in-depth portfolio, including self-evaluation and a presentation of the Auroville context and its educational approaches.
From Auroville Today Issue No: 330, January 2017