Article from Auroville

Educational Endeavours In Auroville Tamil Schools And Their Relevance To Indian Mainstream Schools - Subash And Lourdes


India will be the Guru of the world – so said Swami Vivekananda and Sri Aurobindo in the early decades of the 20th century. That was the time when India was totally subjugated to the British and nobody could dare to think of India’s superiority in any field. Even after 40 years of Independence, many Indians continued to think of India in inferior terms.  That situation has changed and now India is emerging as a knowledge power. Still a large proportion of the population, more than 50% of it, remains illiterate. Even though enrollment in the schools is becoming larger and larger every year, the education got by them, particularly by the rural students, is qualitatively very inadequate. If it continues like this, only the elite, composed mainly of urban populace, will hold the reins of the knowledge power and reap the benefits. The gap between this elite and the larger populace will become immense and may become very difficult to bridge. This article suggests ways to avert such an outcome by providing quality education to all levels of students.


Educational scenario in the country

Remnants of the British educational system, totally irrelevant to the emergence of the genius of Indian nation, still hold the Indian education in its vice-like grip. As a result Indian educational system still remains teacher-centered and syllabus and examination oriented. It follows this route. THE EDUCATIONIST decides what a student should have acquired by way of learning, from the preschool to higher secondary level. A curriculum to fit this decision is designed for each level and texts are prepared in bits to accord with this curriculum. Textbooks with certain number of lessons in each textbook follow. THE ADMINISTRATOR decides on a time frame for the teacher to teach all the lessons. A timetable is drawn according to which THE TEACHER TEACHES the lessons. Training, whether it is in the formal or non-formal or play way or joyous learning methods, is given to the teacher FOR TEACHING EACH LESSON. Examinations are conducted BASED ON THESE TEXT BOOK LESSONS and marks or grades given for the right answers become the basis for assessing the learning of the student. The entire educational administrative setup, from top to bottom, is geared towards this end. In this process somewhere, perhaps from the beginning, the learner’s real learning gets lost. Eagerness and enthusiasm to learn new things, with which the student enters the school, disappear. The student, around whom the entire learning/teaching process should be centered, becomes just a unit in this monolithic structure and his/her real learning needs are never taken into consideration. By the time the student completes his/her formal education, he/she is drained of all the freshness and curiosity with which he/she started his/her education. Deprived of such precious things, he/she enters the mainstream of national life. Naturally his/her contribution to the nation is not of much significance.

The Need Of The Hour

This condition should be reversed. A fundamental shift in the approach to the learning process should occur. The learner is a living and growing human being. He/she is unique, that is, he/she has a will, temperament, way of development, of his/her own. Hence the education of the student should start from where he/she is; he/she should be consulted in his/her learning and the procedures should be adopted with his consent; in that process his/her innate knowledge and potentials should be brought out and allowed statement. In short, the education system should become learner-centered. The role of the teacher should be that of a facilitator in such a learning process. Learning should be given more importance than teaching. The teacher should be somewhat like the Guru of the ancient time, who sees the student in his/her totality and accordingly imparts education. The curriculum, the classroom environment, classroom management, the learning materials and method, review of the learning, organizing the learning time, administration, all these should have the student and his/her learning level as their focus. Creation of such an educational environment is the need of the hour.


Worthwhile Innovative Educational Endeavours In This Direction

In the last 15 years many innovative experiments in education at all levels have been conducted in India. Ekalavya experiment in Madhya Pradesh, Rishi Valley experiment in Andhra Pradesh, experiments in the schools run by institutions connected with Sri Aurobindo Ashram of Pondicherry, experiments in Auroville, a city being based and created on the spiritual principles of Sri Aurobindo and Mother etc. are some examples which have produced successful outcomes. The results of these experiments show that it is possible to fulfill the need of this hour in its entirety. Many of the successful experiments have been institutionalized by converting them into appropriate methods and using them in educational institutions. Some of them are here described briefly.

Glenn doman method: This method enables a child to learn a large number of things in a short time. Glenn Doman, an American, who conducted researches with brain-injured children so as to make them normal, discovered it. He succeeded in finding effective ways and made them normal. When he applied those methods to normal children he got stunning results: 5 years old children were able to read like an adult, to learn several languages, to recognize the notes of classical music, to distinguish between the paintings of great artists, to perform fantastic gymnastic feats. He continued this research with the normal children and discovered the right methods.   His method is simple and can be considered as a systemized use of flash cards. Even though his methods are designed in such a way that the parents of the children alone can undertake it, it can be used in a classroom context. In 1994, a dedicated young Tamil couple, Mr. Raghavan and Mrs. Aruna Raghavan, opened a primary school in Arasavanangkadu, which is an economically backward village in Tiruvarur district of Tamil Nadu. They successfully introduced some modifications in this method to enable a class teacher to impart reading skills to a maximum of 5 children at a time. The age of the children varied from 42 months to 54 months. A language session, whether it is Tamil or English, needed a maximum of only 15 minutes a day. In the course of 2 years these children learnt to read fluently in Tamil and English. Using the same method, the children learnt a lot of general knowledge which a 4th or 5th standard student normally learns.

Rishi valley method: Learning the subject fully at one’s own pace and acquiring a capacity for self-learning are the hallmarks of this method. Rishi Valley is a backward area situated in Madanapally district of Andhra Pradesh and mountains surround it. The famous sage, J. Krishnamurthy, founded the main school there. Sixteen satellite schools are functioning there which are run by the Rishi Valley Rural Educational Center, and they cater to the primary educational needs of the village children in that area.   In these schools a very effective and innovative system is used since 1995. Each of these schools has one teacher and 30 to 40 children, and has one multi grade multi level classroom, that is, all the 5 grades are in one classroom. The children learn 4 subjects, their mother tongue, Maths, Environmental Science and English. Some 500 cards for each of the first three subjects are prepared and stacked in a graded manner. The children study the cards one by one and learn the subject matter by themselves. A ladder system is used by the children to identify themselves the cards, which they should study next. Joyous learning as well as group activities is in-built in these study cards. The students there are fully absorbed in their studies.

Audio-tape method combined with language games: Lourdes and Roy of New Creation School, Auroville, learnt this method from Jeff from Greece. In Greece, Jeff used this method to teach English to Greek students. Lourdes improvised upon this method combining language games with it thereby making it joyous and interesting.   In this method, a short story is prepared in English. An audio version is made on a tape by reading the English sentences one by one and accompanying each sentence with its Tamil rendering. Children are given the English text and they listen to the text on the tape even while reading it. Some 10 to 15 language games are used to learn the English words and sentences in it. Further, through these games, the children learn to use the language skills they have acquired. In 10 to 15 hours children learn a good amount of English vocabulary and also acquire the ability to use them.

The phonics method: In this method children are taught to learn to read by using the phonic sounds and their corresponding letters. Some 43+ basic phonic sounds are taught with the letters mainly used to represent those sounds. Then they are given auditory training through which they learn to blend those sounds and letters to form words. Afterwards frequently used irregular words that do not correspond to this formula are taught to them. Then they are taught spelling for learning writing. Then only the names of the alphabet are taught whereby the children learn to use the dictionary. All this enables the children to learn to read any English text by themselves.

Thematic project work method: The student does project works on a particular theme and in that process learns the subject matter. In this method, he/she does not learn each lesson separately. The subject matter is learnt in a comprehensive, holistic manner. For instance, a thematic project work on air or water links science, geography, maths, language, literature, and the subject content is learnt in a context and hence comprehensively. This learning involves group activities, critical and creative thinking skills, organizing skills, cooperation and coordination etc. At the end of the Project Work the students display or demonstrate what they have learnt in front of an invited audience.   This method is increasingly used in the elite schools in India.

Education by design method: This method is an improvised method of the Thematic Project Work and was discovered and improved by Antioch University in U.S.A. Here the curriculum content is converted into a problem or challenge to be tackled, which is given to the students. Only after learning the relevant subject matter well can the students solve the problem. Students are formed into groups and each group takes necessary efforts and solves the problem. This method gets the students absorbed in their learning and equips them with all the skills necessary to lead an eventful life. Further this method brings out their innate talents and potentials in an ample measure.

Basic sentence structure method: This method was designed from the actual experience of Thiru Karmayogi when he was a teacher in a school. An S.S.L.C. student from a village, who could not memorize anything in English, never got pass marks in it. He had to pass his selection examination to appear for the final examination. He had to prepare for this selection examination in 45 days. He made a Herculean effort, from 4 in the morning till 11 in the night, to learn to write faultlessly by using some 10 basic sentence structures. In these 45 days he learnt to write English sentences on his own, wrote the examination and came out first in the class, which nobody, including himself, did expect.  This method consists of learning a certain number of basic English sentence structures and acquiring proficiency to use those structures. Afterwards the essential aspects of grammar associated with those structures are learnt. This enables the learner to use those structures for whatever he wants to express in English.

Ciefl method: CIEFL stands for Central Institute for English and Foreign Languages, Hyderabad. This institute has designed an intensive course to acquire a very good proficiency in English in 400 hours. This course consists of 5 books with 10 units in each book. In each unit some 12 aspects of English language learning are taken care of. To supplement this, a set of 500 brilliantly arranged reading cards is used. The subject content of the cards is written in increasing complexity and the texts cover a wide range of interesting topics.

Spiritual methods: Real knowledge is knowledge through identity with the object of knowledge, the Divine being the supreme object of knowledge. Meditation, concentration, consecration, and prayer are some examples of the spiritual methods used to achieve this aim. In ancient times not only were the Divine sought after but also knowledge of the world. Astronomy and herbal medicines were some examples of the knowledge got by the sages through identification with the corresponding objects. Mother of Sri Aurobindo Ashram knew the psychological properties of flowers by identifying her consciousness with their consciousness.   During the practice of spiritual methods the mind falls silent and knowledge is received by the silent mind. The students can learn to make their mind silent and receive solutions to their learning problems and difficulties. Through prayer the student can observe his/her learning difficulties disappear. Through consecration the student can learn to abide by the dictates of his/her inner divinity and in that process intuitive faculties can emerge. Deeper values will become internalized in a spontaneous manner.


Relevance Of These Endeavours To The Mainstream Schools

The glenn doman method: Through the Glenn Doman method, children can learn to read well at a very early age, which will make their learning at the primary and secondary levels not only faster but also more complete. Children have inexhaustible thirst for learning and to quench it what better instrument can there be than proficiency in reading? Why should it not be acquired at the earliest possible age if it can be done with the willing, joyous involvement of the child?

Rishi valley method: In Rishi Valley Method, children in the same class, who are at different levels of learning, learn their subject matter fully well and acquire the capacity for self-learning. Further they learn joyously and help each other in this process.   There is plenty of flexibility in the preparation of their study cards because, according to the learning level and need of the child, subject content can be decided and the study card designed and prepared. Text material can be easily prepared in accord with the local context of the children. Further, in the organization of the Environmental Science class the use of the cards is such that a lot of discussion and eliciting of conclusions or solutions from the data by the children themselves occur. They interact freely with each other as well as the teacher. review of the learning of the children is an ongoing one and the teacher on the basis of this assessment plans classroom activities, group or remedial. There is a lot of scope in this method to involve the community in the children’s learning process.  All the aspects of this system work together and remove more or less all the learning difficulties, which the primary school children normally encounter.  A tenth standard level student can be trained as a teacher in such a classroom.   This system has been adopted successfully in all the government primary schools in Mysore district of Karnataka from this academic year and is in use in states like Uttar Pradesh, Kerala, Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh.

Audio-tape method combined with language games: The present level of English language proficiency of Indian students, even at the collegiate level is very poor; in the case of rural students a sheer dread is felt by the very phrase English learning. This method not only removes the dread totally but also imparts confidence, joy and enthusiasm in learning English. Further it takes care of all the four skills – listening, reading, speaking, and writing – in language learning. Language games facilitate the learning of new words, use of those words, and sentence making on one’s own to say or write what one wants to. Using this method a first-generation school-going student can easily and joyously learn English sufficiently well. Also a student can learn any second language through this method. In India, where more than 15 distinct regional languages are spoken, this method can make it easier for any student to learn any other Indian language other than his mother tongue. Experiments of this method in Government Panchayat schools by the staff of New Creation and Isai Ambalam Schools have produced very rewarding results giving assurance that this method can be used effectively even in a class of 45 children.

The phonic sounds method: If one of the reasons for the dread felt by rural students towards learning English is mentioned, it will appear innocuous: they do not know even the physical process of reading an English text ! That is, even though they learn all the 26 alphabets of English, no serious thought is given for teaching them how to read by combining these alphabets to form words. Unless a student reads a large amount of words in English, he/she will find every new word a challenge. Unlike the urban students, rural students are not much exposed to reading in English. Hence the difficulty extends till the end of his life making him a practical illiterate with respect to English.   This method makes the process of learning to read any English text on one’s own much easier.

Thematic project works method: In Thematic Project Works Method, the students are not confined to one bit of lesson at a time. Instead they learn any subject as a part of a particular theme.  They form themselves into groups and plan and organize their work. They gather information pertaining to the theme by doing activities, by reading books and by interviews and then discuss and process the information. The teacher provides them access to the resources like books and materials, arranges for field trips, group activities and brainstorming sessions etc., clarifies doubts, monitors the working of the project and guides them in completing the project. As the students do not merely learn a lesson, but learn a theme in its totality, the learning sustains the curiosity of the student continuously.   This method has been extensively used in all the schools in Auroville as well as the schools related to Sri Aurobindo Ashram of Pondicherry. In Andhra Pradesh, Ms. Ratna Reddy, a woman MBA graduate, is running very successfully a higher secondary school. The learning in all the classes of this school occurs by doing project works on a theme. The entire school takes up one single theme for a month and all the learning activities are organized around that theme. The entire staff, – teachers, librarian, lab assistants and administrative staff, – work in coordination. The school has been producing excellent results for the last 8 years. How well equipped such an Indian student would be when he/she enters the mainstream of national life ?

Education by design method: In Education By Design Method a student acquires much more – he/she acquires problem-solving skills in an abundant measure. Further this method brings out the innate talents and potentials of the student and enables him/her to be creative and resourceful. Unknown things do not threaten the students any more. He/she becomes ready to face it. Instead of submitting to things happening to him/her, he/she becomes proactive and makes things happen. Does not India need such men and women in the coming years ?

Basic sentence structure method and ciefl method: Both these methods are also learner-centered in that they start from where the student is. That is, the student can continue learning English from the proficiency level attained by him/her till then and achieve a very good proficiency. Levels of proficiency attained by lakhs and lakhs of Indian students vary very widely. Many of them want to improve their English skills but are not able to do so because they do not know how to proceed with it. These methods give them effective scope to continue with their efforts from the level attained by them and complete the process of attaining real proficiency in English.


Need For Integrating Such Endeavours

The sum and substance of all these methods are that they are all learner-centered, learning is joyous and interesting, the learners are fully involved in their learning, the capacity of self-learning is fostered in the learner and, above all, they work. But, so far, all such methods have been discovered in particular contexts and are used in an isolated fashion. Even though some efforts to integrate them in a limited context have been made, a concerted effort to incorporate many such endeavors in an integrated manner for the all-round development of the child has not yet been fully attempted.   At the primary level Rishi Valley Method has achieved a very remarkable integration. It has incorporated in its language and mathematics study cards several joyous learning components of the innovative methods discovered throughout India at the primary level. Its arrangement and use of Environmental Science study cards are nothing but a miniature thematic project work in operation.   In Arasavanangkadu, Mr. Raghavan and Mrs. Raghavan are trying to achieve it in a much bigger and wide-ranging way, from the crèche to the elementary level. In Isai Ambalam School of Auroville such an effort is initiated and continued till the completion of the secondary level of learning. Such integration needs to be done, in a continuous manner, from the pre-school to the higher secondary level.


How This Integration Can Be Done

At the preschool level themes like peacock, household animals etc. can be taken up and a project work can be designed. Learning activities appropriate to the level of the children but organized around this theme can be given. For instance, if Glenn Doman method is adopted in the school the flash cards and the books prepared for reading can contain the words associated with this theme. Activities like songs, games, drama, nature walk, field trips, painting and clay work by the children can be taken up in relation to this theme.   At the primary level Rishi Valley method can be used. This method has a great potential and a good flexibility in its implementation. In this system the task of assessment has been made simpler and easier and is an ongoing one. If the children show a capacity for fast learning, a tentative learning programme for each such child can be drawn up and followed in a Rishi Valley classroom. Through its environmental science classroom an immense range of interesting and new topics can be offered to the child. Through Audio-Tape method its children can start learning English and any other second language. Through Phonic Sounds Method the student can learn to read any English word.   At the secondary level, through a combination of Audio-Tape Method, Thematic Project Work and Education By Design Methods, the students can learn most of their subjects by themselves. Some aspects of Basic Sentence Structure method can be incorporated into the Audio-Tape Method whereby the student can learn to use many sentence structures in English. The task of his/her own English sentence construction can be facilitated to a great extent.   At the higher secondary level the subject can be learnt through Thematic Project Work Method as well as Education By Design Method. A student, who has already gone through such a learning process till the end of secondary level, would have acquired a very good capacity for self-learning. He/she could plan and organize their studies in a relevant manner and implement the plan.   Rishi Valley Method has solved the problem of a large number of students at different levels of learning levels under one teacher getting a qualitative education. Its experience shows that a class can contain a maximum of 30 to 40 such children. The experience of Lourdes, a teacher in New Creation School of Auroville, in a village called Therkkunam near Kiliyanoor, has indicated that the Audio-Tape Method can be used effectively in a class of 45 children belonging to 6th standard. There he had formed groups of 5 children with a group leader for each group and all the students in each group had learnt a considerable amount of English. The experience of Ms. Ratna Reddy in her CHIREC Public School proves that it is possible to organize the learning in the entire school by using Thematic Project Work. These results show that self-learning, peer help and group activities under a group leader, all these facilitated by the teacher; hold the key to an effective integration of such endeavours inside the classroom. Freedom as well as training to the teacher for organising the learning activities in a classroom according to the learning level and need of the student and the administration necessary for this are the effective supports for this integration.


Creation Of Model Educational Institutions

A strong felt need for a rapid improvement in the quality of education exists in the country. The methods necessary to fulfill this need are also available. Many people, – teachers, parents, administrators, even the students, – feel that education should not be pursued in the present way and that it should be different. Still, the objective of quality education is not attained. Because the present education system, which is old by more than a century, has created a certain strong rigidity in its functioning making the adaptation necessary in the new conditions very difficult. For this rigidity to go and the needed changes to be brought about, the parents, the community, the administrators, the teachers, in fact, the entire populace should come together and take up the necessary action. Creation of model schools throughout India, that achieve the qualitative results by using in an integrated manner the methods described above, will go a long way in creating such a situation.   Planning and creating model plots of land cultivating hybrid varieties throughout India enabled the Indian farmers, who were always averse to change any of their traditional practices, took to the use of hybrid wheat and rice varieties and this resulted in the Green Revolution. Model milk cooperatives throughout Gujarat led to the White Revolution. By creating model schools a similar thing can be done in education also although the process will be in a different dimension.   In the model school an individual folder for each student can be created and maintained throughout his/her schooling period. It can contain the student’s learning output as expressed in creative works like writing, drawing etc., and the assessment, by self, others and teacher, of his/her learning as expressed in project works. The teacher can use this folder, to assess the learning level attained, to keep track of his/her progress and to arrange for learning activities for him/her. Learning/teaching programme in the classroom can be according to the learning level and need of the students. Teacher can be given necessary freedom to organize and facilitate such learning. Time table can be flexible and the teacher can be allowed the needed discretion in handling it. A well-equipped library containing resource books and other materials appropriate to the learning level of the students can be made available and easily accessible to the students and the teachers. Administrators can arrange for the in-service training needed by the teacher to function thus. Parents and community can be involved in this process through parents-teachers associations.     In the initial phase of the spread of quality education, only in the model schools will it be easier to make a concerted effort at an integrated use of the appropriate methods and to achieve quality education for all students than to try it straightaway in all the schools. Once the objective is achieved in the model schools a clear experience of the things standing in the way of quality education and the process of their removal will be got. Only then whatever academic, administrative and other facilities were provided to these schools to facilitate the achievement can be made available for other schools striving towards the quality objective.


The sages and saints of India till the end of 19th century had considered education as that by which the person prepares himself/herself to enter the spiritual life to reach the Divine. But Sri Aurobindo and Mother have given a new objective and process to education. For them not only the attainment of the Divine but also His manifestation is important. The instruments through which these are to be attained are the psychic, the mental, the vital and the physical parts of a human being. Their educational objective was to discover the psychic, bring it to the front and make it active and to prepare the mental, vital and physical parts to receive and manifest the Divine. The solutions for the present crises facing the world and the actual solutions can become possible only from a spiritual perspective. India cannot only provide that perspective but also can give a lead in following it. The process of attaining the quality education through the integration of the methods mentioned above will enable the student to acquire this perspective and the necessary faculties to base his/her actions on it. For, these methods make it possible for them to grow in freedom and joy and without losing his/her uniqueness and freshness.

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