1. Academic goals and objectives
New Era Secondary School adopted the new NCERT syllabus in 2007 and became affiliated with the CBSE in 2008. The primary purpose for taking this direction was to raise the level of learning for the students of Aikiyam (then New Creation Bilingual School) and After School (now NESS ) by adopting one of the best educational programs available in the country. The education reforms of 2005 made this program particularly appropriate because the curriculum is activity based, child centered, and generally recognized by institutions of higher education.
In 2009 we had our first graduating class of seniors. Of the group of eight students, seven passed all examinations and received the CBSE National Examination Certificate. They all were enrolled in colleges this year, and two have become the top ranking students in their classes. Three of our graduates have also received private scholarship grants from friends of Auroville in India . We will have another graduating class of about 10 students in 2010.
In 2009 we had sixteen students appear for the 10 th standard examination, eight passed all exams and eight failed math. Meanwhile, the CBSE has eliminated the 10 th standard examination requirement from 2010, in accordance with its education reform strategies adopted in 2005. This means that our students can now enjoy four years of continuous learning, in addition to the three prior years at Aikyam School/New Creation, which has also adopted the CBSE program, without the pressures and diversions of national examinations. This was one of the original goals of our application to become an “autonomously affiliated CBSE school” but it has become unnecessary because of nationally adopted education reform legislation. At the same time, the CBSE has adopted the principle of “continuous comprehensive assessment”, which means that formative assessment, such as the child-centered portfolio evaluation system that we use, is now being advocated and required in all CBSE schools. Many of the progressive educational practices, such as “activity based learning” and portfolio assessment, already adopted in Auroville and other progressive schools, are now becoming the focus of national educational training and practice. Consequently, we hope to be able to share our experience and methods with other schools in the future through teacher training programs that we can offer as a part of NESS development.
2. General organization and structure
In June, 2009, the New Era Secondary School Trust was officially registered as a unit of the Auroville Foundation. All assets and accounting responsibilities were transferred to NESS Trust by SAIIER during the course of 2009. While in fact NESS had operated independently, and was not financially supported by SAIIER, from the beginning, and we have had our own Managing Committee, we have now also become eligible for independent direct funding under the Auroville Foundation. If the AV Foundation and central Auroville administration continue to be supportive, along with friends and supporters abroad, we may look forward to becoming not only an educational provider to students and families of the local community, but an important educational institution for the region.
At present we have a team of 7 highly qualified teachers – for math, science, economics, political science, history, English and Tamil – each of whom commutes from Pondicherry and the surrounding area. They are all dedicated and open to innovative practices, and they are an energetic and enthusiastic team. During the past three years we have had 40-45 students in three levels, either 9,10, 12 or 9,10,11 and in 2010 we have all four levels – 9,10,11,12 – for the first time, with a total of 50 students. The student population in 2009-10 was 10% Aurovilian, and also included three non-Aurovilian international students, in addition to the majority of local students from the surrounding villages.
Students are evaluated continuously, as part of the educational process, but we have done summative progress reports for each student at the end of each semester in order to keep students and families up-to-date on their progress. At the end of each semester the faculty analyses the results for all student performance – mental, vital, and physical as well as academic - and makes a concerted effort to address the special needs of all, in order to ensure that all are learning and progressing. At the end of each semester portfolios and exhibitions of learning are presented to the whole school and community guests by each class. In addition to the daily academic program from 8:30 am to 3:00 pm, all students are transported to the sports program every afternoon, and regular Friday morning art classes are offered at the Last School Pyramids. Saturday morning classes are also offered periodically to address individual and small group needs.
Our students took major field trips to regional river systems to the south and the west in 2009-10, in order to become familiar with their importance to the natural environment. And all have participated in community-wide environmental education projects. Interactions with other schools in the area have included a multi-school debate of education reform, basketball and volley ball tournaments, and two of our students have participated in national sports events. It is very rewarding, to say the least, that at the end of the first three-year cycle, we are able to report that all of our goals, educational and developmental, have been achieved with measurable success, and we are most grateful to all who have supported our attempt.
3. Plans for the future
In 2009 a proposal was submitted to L'Avenir and to the Auroville Foundation for construction of a science lab complex with additional classrooms. The plans were prepared by Suhasini along with surveys and engineering approvals. Although funding for the building was not allocated, the operational costs for the school did receive government grants in 2009 and 2010, and a five-year development plan and budget was submitted in 2010, along with a revised building plan. The proposed building construction budget is Rs. 78 lakhs, and operating expenses are approximately 15 lakhs per year, making a total five-year budget requirement of approximately Rs. 1.5 crore. This development will enable the school to add the CBSE science stream to its curriculum and expand student enrollment to 120 over the next five years. This is especially important because the number of Tamil students of Aurovilian families is increasing rapidly, and many are interested in pursuing a science education. Many of these families currently send their secondary students to private schools in Pondy. The mission of NESS `is to reverse that trend and provide a high quality, nationally recognized secondary education as a model for the region.
Photos of NESS students and activities, 2010