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February 2004

“Develop an Auroville Curriculum”

- in conversation with Carel

Auroville's higher education is spread over three schools. This is an undesirable development and the students should be brought together to pursue an Auroville-designed high school curriculum, says Gordon Korstange.

Gordon KorstangeGordon Korstange was accepted by the Mother to live in Auroville and did so from 1971 to 1980, teaching in the schools and living in the community of Kottakarai. He now lives in the USA, teaching English to the students of the Bellows Falls public high school in the state of Vermont. Together with his wife Jean, he visits Auroville regularly. During this year's visit he talked about the need for Auroville to develop its own high school curriculum which could incorporate a new educational component which is increasingly finding a place in the curriculum of American public schools.

AVToday: Auroville has at present three high schools, Last School, After School and Future School. Each has its own separate building and teaching approach. This development has grown over the years. Yet, you feel that this should change.

Gordon: There may have been good reasons to have many different schools. But I believe very strongly that the Auroville schools from the 9th to the 12th level have to bring the students together. If you consider all Aurovilians ‘immigrants' to this new ‘reality' called Auroville then it corresponds to the American experience. The older people who came to the USA were still Italian, Polish, Irish, etc., but those children born in the country went together into the schools and came out of it together as ‘Americans.' I feel that this must happen in Auroville also; the children of ‘immigrants' who now live here are uniquely Aurovilian in ways that their parents aren't.

For this joining to happen more consciously, Auroville needs to develop its own high school curriculum, a course of studies that is both uniquely Aurovilian as well as global. A student who finishes the middle level would move through this high school curriculum. It would be attuned to each student's capacities, needs and expectations, but it would also prepare a student to be a citizen of the Auroville Township, India and the world (in that order). One essential course, besides English, French and Tamil, might be “The Aim of Life – My Life” so that students entering the high school would immediately start to grapple with where they're going and how. This might combat something we have in the USA called ‘prolonged adolescent drift.'

The entire curriculum could be devised in such a way that once the student has completed it and graduated from high school, he or she is ready – with some help – to take outside exams, if that is the choice, or to do something different. That outside exam itself would not be part of the curriculum. Those parents who insist that the main issue is to pass exams could be told: “That's fine, but your child should first go through the Auroville curriculum, and the exams will come later. If exams are the main goal, the children can go elsewhere.” I believe that such an approach would enable all high school students and teachers in Auroville to come together in one place – where they could also learn from and about each other. It would also ask Aurovilians to make some fundamental and difficult decisions about what it means to be a young person living and learning in Auroville.

AVToday: What is this new educational component of American public schools?

As you may be aware, the American high-school system is credit based. The students work for credits given by the teachers for ‘requirements' and for ‘electives.' ‘Requirements' are the mandatory courses which each student has to follow; ‘electives' are optional courses which the student can choose in the higher grades. In addition our school demands that every student does 40 hours of community service each school year. In our case, the community means the town of Bellows Falls and some surrounding villages.

The new component is that the high schools require students to demonstrate that they have the ability to function outside the school setting by doing a so-called ‘independent study project,' also called ‘senior project' or ‘graduation project'. Here the students choose a topic which they may know a little about, something they want to investigate or carry out. It could be anything: from yoga to dance to car engines to studying poets, doing a specific academic study, making a bicycle, training dogs, or running a soccer camp for young kids. Anything that requires an in-depth work can qualify as an independent study project. After choosing a topic, the student submits a plan on how to execute it. This plan includes some targets to meet along the way. A teacher from the school approves the plan and checks the progress of the student but is otherwise uninvolved. That role will be played by a mentor outside the school, and it is up to the student to find that mentor. If a student wants to build a bicycle, for example, he or she needs to finds someone who knows about bicycles and is willing to help. The student is required to do research and keep a journal to record the experiences. The bicycle student, for example, would read up on how bicycles are made or about the history of bicycles. The entire project must be done over several months – we prescribe at least 30 working hours – outside school time. After this period, the student presents an 8-15 page paper, photos and/or the actual product that documents what was done. Then they have to give a 15-minute public presentation to a panel of judges who are not necessarily members of the school, but can be community members or other students. The whole thing is quite an in-depth learning experience, involving investigation, research, experiential learning, writing and speaking in front of a fairly impressive audience. The graduation project is taken as seriously as the credits. Different schools put greater or lesser stress on that final presentation; some are very strict and if a student doesn't pass it, he or she will have to do it again.

AVToday: This graduation project would then be part of the Auroville curriculum?I believe that it would be a good thing if both the yearly community service and the graduation project of the final year would be part of the high school's curriculum. Both of them could be an integral part of the ‘township' part of the curriculum. These are opportunities for the students to have unique learning experiences that will enhance their relationship to Auroville. The graduation project would be a ‘final rite of passage' from the school to their next phase of life, a proof that they are ready for the immediate world.

AVToday: How have your ideas been received in Auroville?

I have discussed the graduation project idea with teachers of Future School and After School and they are interested. I hope that in due time the idea of a universal Auroville curriculum will manifest.

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