Reviving the area
The Ilaignarkal School project is based in and around the villages of Auroville. The state of Tamil Nadu being rich in culture, heritage, traditional values, classical language and arts and crafts, and being site of one of the oldest surviving cultures in the world, is seeing some degeneration due to shift in the socio-political-economic policies. These policies of commercial agriculture, negligible education and clearing of forests have led to unemployment, illiteracy and poverty in the villages. Auroville is trying to revive the area through better agricultural practices, sustainable development, employment generation, education and revival of traditional arts, crafts and cultural values.
24 years in operation
Ilaignarkal School has been in operation for the last 24 years in the field of education and vocational training. From its inception the school has been helping village workers and their children 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 forced to go out and earn early in life due to economic reasons in early childhood. The school has already touched the lives of 3,000 students since inception, by giving an appropriate space to improve basic skills in language, maths, arts or simple jobs like typewriting etc, leading to a qualitative improvement in their lives. The school's free-progress customised style of education has been designed to fit the special requirements of its students. The school has only two full time staff: most of the teachers and office workers are voluntary workers from neighbouring schools, Aurovilians, ex-students, and other specialists in their fields and professions.
Role and mission
the special setting of Auroville, in Tamil Nadu's rural background,
the Ilaignarkal School has played a key role since the last 24 years
in the surrounding villages, through its provision of general educational
opportunities, vocational training for youth and adults of the villages,
a night school, the running of a heritage school and youth hostel, and
a monthly newsletter to disseminate information on Auroville activities
plus local culture and heritage.
Ilaignarkal keeps people informed about its activities through its newsletter, which is distributed in the surrounding area of about 10-12 villages.
The school takes up workers children, school drop-outs from village schools, slow learners and village workers wanting to upgrade their skill level. In the economic scenario of the villages a high percentage of students are forced to drop out before high school to start earning for livelihood. Ilaignarkal School has been providing a space for such students to come back to school.
The school building consists of a basic shelter of approximately 60 square metres asbestos covered roof, which is used to store materials, for office space, a small library and a simple kitchen. All the rest of the activities, such as classes and projects, are held outdoors under trees. As the school has been growing, a proper school building has come up as one of the urgent needs to continue the ever-expanding activities.
The school has very basic equipment in the form of a television and video for educational programmes, a small tape recorder, one computer and some library books. The equipment has been limited due to constraints on covered space and resources. The school sometimes gets a small grant from the Government of India for library and school books.
Ilaignarkal School has grown over the last two decades and is now involved in the following activities:
Any time School or Bharati Day school
This school is mainly for the children of village workers, workers themselves, and children who through family pressure had to drop out of school to earn a livelihood. The school, which has about 10-15 participants in the age group 5-15 years at any given time, has a free system of education where classes and projects are custom designed according to the needs of the students. The main way of imparting education is through practical projects and structured vocational apprentice training through tie-ups with some Auroville units. This leads to a practical hands-on approach for skill enhancement.
The school plans to keep students on average 2-4 years, during which time either they have learned enough to start working or get placed at a suitable enterprise, school or college for structured education and growth. The school has been successful at building confidence in its students and acting as a threshold for then to take-off for new and higher aims in life. The school normally remains open throughout the year, though it sometimes closes during monsoon time because of inability to hold classes in the open.
Evening School for day workers
The Evening School also works much on the same principle as the day school, except that it takes older students who are unskilled or semi-skilled workers. These students are usually working in the daytime and come to evening school for improving their skills and learning basic language and mathematics to advance in their area of work. The Evening School also lays emphasis on vocational training for improving the skills of the students to take up suitable jobs after passing out. The training courses started with lessons on language - Tamil and English, simple mathematics and history but the requirements of the students have now grown to include tailoring, accountancy, computer data entry, carpentry and other such skills. This has led to a need for relevant equipment and materials for training purposes.
The school usually has around 30-45 students and breaks up into 1-3 groups depending on student requirements and teacher availability. Some examples of school pass-outs are:
Ilaignarkal Mobile School
To fulfil Ilaignarkal's aim of training and helping the village workers, the school also sometimes takes itself to students' place of work, giving classes in their units after work hours. For this they arrange for voluntary teachers and trainers to take up the activities.
UNESCO Heritage projects
Ilaignarkal School has done two heritage projects
for UNESCO in the last few years, on bullock carts and kolams (floor
drawings). They are currently in the process of doing a third one on
the local Palmyra tree, which is part of the culture and heritage of
The school under the guidance of its project coordinator Ms. R. Meenakshi, a well known Tamil poet, also runs a monthly newsletter reaching out to about 1,000-1,200 people in the local area, and to friends of Auroville further afield in Tamil Nadu and Pondicherry. The newsletter, 'Auroville Gramma Seythi Madal', carries a monthly theme and has articles on local culture, latest developments in the area, and so on. It also runs articles on philosophy and poetry in Tamil. Published in Tamil, it is widely used in all the neighbouring schools and local area homes as a reference sources for articles of interest and knowledge.
The school runs a small youth hostel to accommodate young [people from faraway areas on the school premises. Most of these children are either orphaned or from broken or troubled families. Here they find guidance and support from the school teachers and volunteers, and companionship with other hostel inmates. In most cases the school tries to place the hostel youth as trainees or apprentices in units of Auroville once they have reached the age of sixteen. This leads them to start having vocational training, and build up the confidence to earn their living and survive on their own. Most of the students keep strong links with the school even after moving out, and volunteer their time and energy for school activities.
Night school teacher training
The school runs a teacher training programme for 10 night schools in the villages in and around the Auroville area. Tamil Ulaygam is the unit which runs these afterwork schools for both working children and schoolgoing children below the age of 15 years. Ilaignarkal School provides the training programme, and helps in preparing simple teaching materials for rural teachers aiming to create a joyful learning atmosphere. The school also plays the role of a model school to test the contents of "playway" methods.
Traditional arts and crafts
To promote student interest in arts and crafts, the school regularly holds workshops on special topics to revive traditional useful arts and crafts. Exhibitions, workshops and seminars are conducted in collaboration with the Centre for Indian Culture, Auroville, and local artisans.
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