Integrating life and learning

Arun Elassery

It is impossible to talk about a school set in Auroville without first talking a little bit about this unique experiment in community living. If you have been there, you can skip this paragraph. Auroville, founded in 1968 some 160 kilometers south of Chennai and 10 kilometers north of Puducherry, is a community of 2000 people, one third of them Indian and the rest from 45 nations around the world. These people are of all ages, social classes, backgrounds and cultures and probably, as their website claims, represent humanity as a whole. They have come together to experiment in their own lives with the message of human evolution that Sri Aurobindo propounded half a century ago in many thick, difficult-to-read books. What you see if you walk or cycle into Auroville today is a 5000 acre, serene, mostly wooded area, set with many small farm communities exploring all possible types of sustainable living arrangements.

alternatives There are 800 children studying in the 20 schools that are located in and around Auroville and all these schools are ‘alternative’ to various degrees. However, I am only going to talk about a small school that stays true to its name, The Learning Community (TLC), by using all of Auroville and especially its farm communities as its school infrastructure. In fact, the school building, appropriately called ‘The Basecamp’, appears to be used only in transit by the children. Sowmya, one of the six core teachers at TLC, whom I met in the spreading leisure of an Auroville late-evening, explained how their philosophy is not merely another incremental school reform idea. Rather, it integrates learning into the community where the unforced experiences of the children can lead to context-based, individualized, child-led learning.

I spent some time with the children on one of their regular farm visits the next morning and got a feel of what that actually means. Johnny, 70+ years old, tall, white-bearded, architect, clad in a blue lungi is the owner of Fertile farm and a bit of a legend in and around Auroville. Even today he is reputed to go off 60 kms to the hills around Gingee alone on his bicycle, camping outside and probably not bothering with what, if anything, he gets to eat. As I watched, and then slowly got pulled in by a girl who was having some trouble with paper or glue, the children made box kites going ‘Johnny, Johnny’ every three minutes. It was a pleasure watching the wisdom of word and hand that Johnny used to solve the children’s tiny and large problems. I came away with no doubt whatsoever that, where possible, this is what education should be like.

This ‘notice’ I found in a corner of the TLC website sums up, rather neatly, everything that Auroville and TLC stand for.

Notice
We are making a hotel for scorpions – we catch them and put them in our hotel so that we can see how they mate and make babies. It’s also interesting to watch them fight. It’s not only about scorpions, we also catch centipedes and spiders. It is a lot of work to collect food for all of them, creatures like grasshoppers and crickets. At the moment we have a huge black scorpion that Malvika, Milo, and Pele caught. Two red scorpions that Nadir and zozo caught. If you see any interesting creatures please catch them or contact us as soon as possible at the red scorpion hotel, base camp.

(Nadir, Milo, Jalin, Abhay, Barnabas, Zohar, Pele, Yam, Surya, Eden and Eunsu…if anyone else wants to join us, you are most welcome, just let us know and remember you have to work.)

Quick facts

Name of the school: The Learning Community (TLC)
Been around for: 10 years
Number of teachers/staff: 6 core teachers but the children learn from the people of the Auroville farms where they spend most of their time.
Number of children: 31
Age groups handled: 7 to 11 year old children who, as they grow, will move on to one of the twenty other schools that Auroville has.
Approximate fees per child: No money transactions happen among Aurovillians.
USP: Learning integrated into the 5000 acre, 2000 people Auroville community. The many farms of Auroville are the teachers and the infrastructure for TLC.
Location: Auroville near Puducherry
Website: http://tlcauroville.wordpress.com/

The author got his degree from IIT Kharagpur in 1988 and is currently a Wipro Education Fellow. He can be reached at arunelassery@hotmail.com.