Located north of Matrimandir, Ilaignarkal has an anytime school for Auroville workers of all ages and their wards, providing further learning programmes and courses in essential life skills. It also conducts regular workshops on personality development and leadership training for young people, both men and women. The centre publishes a Tamil monthly “Auroville Seydhi Madal” to reach out to various educational institutions and friends of Auroville. Research materials on preservation of local heritage, history and lifestyle of the Tamil people are published regularly to bridge the past and future.
Ilaignarkal Education Centre has been in operation for 35 years in the field of educational and vocational training. From its inception, the school has been helping village workers and their children around Auroville to learn and enhance their basic skills and knowledge base. The school has been reaching out to the most difficult cases in society, such as school drop-outs, slow learners and illiterate village workers who are forced to go out and earn early in life due to economic pressures during childhood. The school has already touched the lives of more than 6,000 students since its inception, by giving an appropriate space to improve basic skills in language, math and the arts, plus gaining simple skills like typewriting, computer know-how, tailoring, gardening etc, leading to a qualitative improvement in their lives.
This project received assistance to construct a new building for the school which is better equipped with appropriate tools of education to reach out to all the surrounding 13 villages in a new location near Matrimandir with closer proximity to the Town Hall. The target population being reached is living in circumstances of illiteracy and earning capacity of only INR 2,000 to 3,000 per month. Most of the workers who have benefited from the school’s day and evening programmes are wage labourers, women workers, school dropouts among the youth, and difficult children for the day school, and staff of various units of Auroville who aspire for further learning and sharing their experiences.
Style of Education
The school’s free-progress customized style of education has been designed to fit the special requirements of its students. With only two full time staff, most of the teachers and office staff are voluntary workers from neighbouring schools, ex-students, visiting lecturers and other specialists in their field and profession.
To reach out to the students and their families and friends of Auroville, 12 issues of the monthly Tamil News Letter Auroville Girama Seithi Madal (8-10 pages) are published every year. This news letter has completed 15 years of its continuous existence. It is well received by a wider circle of readers increasing every year. Most articles are on Tamil culture, history, the words of Sri Aurobindo and The Mother, – bilingual language programmes, literary letters, extracts of biographies on great personalities. Creative writing, research articles, children’s corner, book reviews and focus on Auroville regional news is included as well. In addition, two or three special issues are released as supplements.
Students and staff are involved in research activities. The outcome of the projects is usually published in the form of booklets, reports and posters.
Student and Infrastructure Status
(a) Student profile
The school admits workers’ children, slow learners, village workers and aspirant local Aurovilians wanting to upgrade their skill levels. In the economic scenario of the villages many students are forced to abandon formal education before completing high school, in order to start earning a livelihood. Ilaignarkal Education Centre has been providing a space for such youngsters to come back to the school in Auroville, a place for unending education, training opportunities, and personality development.
(b) School infrastructure
The present school building consists of three class rooms, one library and an office room plus two open halls with kitchen and dining area, open-air centre square, shower and toilets, dormitories to temporarily shelter trainees and staff. The school is blessed with good protected water supply (from the same bore well which supplies water to the whole Town Hall region), a kitchen garden, waste water recycling plant, rain water harvesting system and a small multipurpose open play ground for outdoor games and large gatherings. One spacious room has been allocated to house SEWA (Small Employer Welfare Association) to bridge employer – employee relationship that is very close to the objectives of Ilaignarkal Education Centre from the beginning. All the rest of the activities, such as mass classes, are held outside in the open areas, usually under trees. As the school’s needs are growing dramatically of late, in the field of inter-zone cultural activities, annual Children’s Book Fair, Tamil literary workshops, teachers training programmes, youth and children exchange projects etc… there is a need for a large open hall or an auditorium to continue the cultural activities for a greater number of beneficiaries and interest groups.
The school has sufficient basic equipment to carry on the day-to-day educational activities. The kitchen of the centre is well equipped with materials for simple cooking and serving supplementary nutritive food to the students.
Beneficiaries of Expanded Programme
The main beneficiaries of the centre will continue to be the workers of Auroville who originate from nearby villages, in all a total of about 5-6,000 people. They have the freedom to come any time of the day and during any season of the year to join the school. Approximately 60-80 persons go through the training each year to improve their skills. They also develop leadership qualities, which help them participate in local development activities in their own villages. Special beneficiaries of the project are the women workers and young parents with their growing children (specially girl children) and special kids from the local area who for some known or unknown reasons are unable to attend any other normal school.
Aspirants and new Aurovilians join the special classes on Sri Aurobindo, The Mother and The Ideal of Human Unity. Certain interest groups attend our personality development courses conducted annually three to four times i.e. for taxi drivers, household workers and teachers.
Special Feature in 2011 – Solar Energy
We are happy to announce that a 3 kw solar photo-voltaic system has been installed and commissioned at Ilaignarkal Education Centre. The system is the first grid-interactive solar pv installation in Auroville.
While conceiving the plan for this project it was felt that battery banks should be avoided as these remain the weak link in solar pv systems (also from an environmental point of view). There will still be a small ups / inverter with a small battery bank for essential loads, but the solar energy is directly fed into the grid-connected load and is expected to off-set the electrical energy consumed.
Future Growth Plans
Ilaignarkal Education Centre will continue to play a key role in uplifting the living standard of the work-force of Auroville as a process of co-evolution. It will try to expand the facilities, to create a knowledge bank in the areas of health, food, hygiene, renewable energy, science of yoga, body culture and harmonious living in tune with nature.