Evolving approaches to Integral Education

Education and the need for growth of consciousness in every part of the being pervade every aspect of life in Auroville. According to the community’s Charter, Auroville is a place “of an unending education, of constant progress and a youth that never ages”, a learning society that is dedicated to “a living embodiment of an actual human unity”.

Schooling in Auroville

From the beginning, the Mother made it clear that Auroville’s residents should explore and try to find out how to create ‘schools’ appropriate to its unique mission. As the community has grown, structured educational processes have developed and evolved over time. At present, around 30 schools and educational spaces serve over 2500 children and youth from Auroville and the surrounding areas, all evidence of a healthy multitude of ideas, approaches and sizes along with continuing challenges.

Most of these initiatives function under the administrative and financial umbrella of the Sri Aurobindo International Institute of Educational Research (SAIIER). Funding is received from India’s Ministry of Education, the Foundation for World Education (USA), Stichting De Zaaier (Holland), and numerous units and individuals from within and outside Auroville.

From unschooling to structured schools, from ‘free progress’ to schools that offer either Indian or international board certification, the range of options available to families living in and around Auroville reflects different needs. Approximately 500 Auroville children attend Auroville schools, while 2000 children from the region attend outreach schools. There are seven facilities for the youngest children, six for primary and middle school years, four high schools, and one post-secondary degree programme. There are three facilities dedicated to physical education, four dedicated to the arts, and one dedicated specifically to STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics) learning. Another four facilities focus on complementary needs in the region around Auroville, such as programmes for children and youth with disabilities as well as after school, school drop-out and adult-centred programmes.

A student practicing arts in Last School, 2017.

Integral Education of the Being

Sri Aurobindo and the Mother refer, in their works, to the different components of the Being: the physical, the vital, the mental and the spiritual. In Auroville, Integral Education aims at developing the multifaceted personality of each child and thus encompasses all of these – while developing tools to educate the body, the life-force and the mind.

Spirituality in education

Spirituality is a vast domain open to exploration, an inner discovery. While not being taught in conventional ways, spirituality can become a living reality in the environment of the child. In accordance with the Mother and Sri Aurobindo’s words, this needs to be done far from all dogmas.

Education of the mind

The education of the mind emphasises the faculty of analysis and critical judgement. These capacities are trained within Auroville through usual educational means, and go hand-in-hand with teaching knowledge – be it in the field of sciences, history or literature. However, the capacity to discern and judge with clarity is not enough. A new way of knowing is needed, more holistic and intuitive – a method that synthesises thought in a manner that can reconcile different perspectives and different cultural influences. That is, finding how two points of view that seem antagonistic to each other can be seen as complementary to each other in a deeper view and higher synthesis of things.

Physical education

The Mother and Sri Aurobindo considered physical education to be an essential component of growth, an integral part of one’s development. Physical education develops indispensable values like disciplined effort, team spirit, the joy of progress and self-exceeding, as well as sincerity, honesty, courage, and perseverance. Auroville offers a wide range of daily sport activities, including martial arts and dance. Awareness through the Body (ATB) is a program created and developed in Auroville, which explores breathing, sensory awareness, states of consciousness, and play. It is aimed at the refined management of one’s mind, emotions, and body. ATB is included in the educational programs of the Auroville schools until high school level. Additionally, workshops and sessions are offered on a regular basis for the wider community.

Refining the life-force through art and beauty

The life impulse, what we call the vital being, is cultivated in Auroville’s education, primarily through art, poetry, drama and music, which deepens and refines the emotional part of our nature. Art also liberates the creative energies of the students and forges a capacity to perceive shades of subtlety. As art and beauty are intrinsically part of the Yoga set forth by the Mother and Sri Aurobindo, they pervade most aspects of Auroville. The most common opportunities to express oneself are performing arts such as singing, dancing, music and theatre; visual arts such as painting, sculpture and pottery; and also less-known artistic mediums such as Ikebana, traditional kolam-making, or creating fashion with trash.

Children of Auroville practicing sports
Awareness Through the Body (ATB) class in Transition School, 2017
Kalamkari at Auroville's Endangered Craft Mela, February 2020

Free progress as a process of self-becoming

The primary aim of education in Auroville is a matter of drawing out what is already latent in the child: an awakening to a process of self discovery, self-becoming and self-perfecting. It is an individualised process, but not one that aims to produce either participants or leaders in competition. Instead, the aim is to foster creative individuals who can work in a disciplined manner away from competitive pressures which exhaust and deplete the faculties. Children can progress freely where there is an entwinement of these two processes: of self-discovery and self-becoming (awakening consciousness) on the one hand, and of cultivating skills of an instrumental nature on the other.

As such, teachers in Auroville schools aim to serve as guides rather than authority figures. They help the students in their own progress and support their emerging selves. Schools value communication and collaboration, and teenagers are included to varying degrees in the constitution of their individualised programmes and in school decision-making. Classes are generally small in size, allowing flexible and collaborative approaches.

Arts class in Last School, 2017.

Diverse approaches

Auroville is home to a very diverse set of people with equally diverse belief systems. This creates a fertile ground to search for a common spiritual essence and to actively research ways to embody Auroville’s ideal of human unity in diversity. Sometimes conflicts have led to a regressive clash of exclusivisms rather than to a progressive line of harmonising synthesis (but never enough to shatter an underlying sense of togetherness for the majority).

This issue touches upon the core of Auroville’s purpose and mission, and the exploration is still in its early stages. Auroville has encouraged the emergence of a variety of approaches rather than allowing one prescriptive authority to dictate any limited idea of Integral Education. This variety of approaches, which reflect our underlying diversities, needs to be celebrated for it is the only way to explore, step by step, the adventure in the unknown that Auroville seeks to cultivate.

A performance for Auroville’s 50th anniversary, February 2018

Unending education, beyond schooling

Auroville’s ethos is based upon the need to study, learn and experiment in order to create conditions that lead to a higher and truer life. Progress is an ever-evolving journey, which Aurovilians undertake consciously, each in their own way. Education is therefore interwoven with all dimensions of Auroville’s reality. The community culture of Auroville encourages an environment of open and extensive interpersonal exchange.

Student groups from external establishments regularly visit to discover and study Auroville’s broad range of activities and innovative projects. At any moment there are hundreds of interns and volunteers participating in its progression, bringing additional insight and experience, and taking Auroville’s vision with them when they return to their own settings.

Auroville is a nexus for research. Its aspirations and initiatives are the subject of numerous studies ranging from social science to psychology to sustainability. It hosts action research projects and programs around conservation, agriculture, art, energy, health, forestry, and more. A specialised research platform facilitates cooperation between Auroville and researchers from universities all over the world, and a team manages the resulting repository of academic work focused on Auroville.

‘Roots from the Sky’ collective artistic performance, March 2023

Fostering the emergence of conscious beings

Despite challenges, Auroville has created a solid infrastructure for a value-oriented education in an international environment, where different cultures and languages co-exist. Integral Education’s inherent freedom is explored from a multitude of viewpoints, which enriches the findings. The Auroville learning network has grown from simple homespun classes into a more stable, diversified environment, fueled by the selfless service of many in a decentralised, cohesive spirit.

The mission of education is not to produce ready-made citizens for a system that cannot find solutions for the problems it has created; it is to help the emergence of people who are able to consciously build themselves on a truer basis, while building a new world in which they choose to live together without exclusion, around common aspirations.

Auroville is often compared to a laboratory in its commitment to research and experimentation. The wide spectrum of ideas and activities it supports are an expression of its ideal of human unity in diversity, a healthy and precious cradle for what is yet to come.

Extracted from Voice of Auroville, Issue 04, November 2023

(This article is partly based on a report presented to the UNESCO on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of Auroville, October 2008)

Children of Auroville climbing trees and a geodesic structure, 2016