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December 2007

It's a stage in the evolution of education in Auroville

In conversation with Alan

Future School is one of Auroville's high schools. It began functioning in January, 2003 and today it has 54 students from 19 different nationalities

Vikram, Rolf, Chali and Sergei of Future School.
Vikram, Rolf, Chali and Sergei of Future School

Auroville Today: Future School grew out of the Centre for Further Learning (CFL). The aim of CFL was to provide high-quality further education within Auroville. Students could choose what they wanted to study: the methodology was individual study and tutorials. Does Future School continue the same approach?

Chali: The intention hasn't changed. At Future School , the student can make choices on many levels, and we respect and support those choices. One big difference from CFL, however, is that now there is more structure.
Rolf: In the first year, for example, the students are required to take English language and literature and maths and a second language. They are also introduced to economics, history, geography and the three sciences. In addition to that, they follow a core programme in topics which we think are particularly relevant to Auroville Auroville philosophy, sustainability etc. and they work in an Auroville service or commercial unit one morning a week for the first six months. They are also encouraged to take elective courses like robotics and cooking.

The choices offered also include the option to study for formal examinations?

Chali: Yes. Students can also study for International O' and A' levels as part of their programme.

Why don't you offer Indian qualifications?

Rolf: The syllabus of this international exam board gives us the freedom to organize the school in the way we want to we are not dependent upon an outside board telling us how to teach and we can easily integrate O' and A' level studies into the other things we do here. Also O' and A' levels really demand an understanding of the subject from the student, unlike many of the Indian syllabi which rely primarily upon rote learning and memorization.
Chali: We did offer and implement a programme of study based on the National Indian Open School syllabus for a group of our students, but we're phasing it out because there's very little scope for making the study dynamic and new students were not choosing this programme.
Vikram: Of course, the Indian qualification is easier to get, but as our intention is to get students to think for themselves, we have chosen accordingly. Actually, many Indian schools with no foreign nationals also offer O' and A' levels.

Some local Aurovilians send their children to outside schools to study for Indian examinations. One of the reasons seems to be they believe that O' and A' levels only prepare students for entry to foreign universities and colleges.

Chali: O' and A' levels are accepted by Indian universities. We've been in communication with the Association of Indian Universities who have stated that if a student sends his or her results papers to them, they will validate the results and issue an equivalency certificate. With this the student can apply to an Indian university.
Of course, each university and graduate school in India has its own entrance exam and these exams seem to be based almost exclusively on memorizing a vast amount of information. For this reason, it could be an advantage if one's previous education was with that particular approach. However, I believe that if a student has been taught to think and to be self-disciplined, and has the motivation and ambition it takes to want to get into these kinds of competitive programmes, they will manage to do whatever needs to be done.

Other reasons given by those Indian parents who send their children to schools outside is that studying for O' and A' levels is expensive and that it takes too long at Future School to acquire qualifications.

Chali: Parents of children at Future School have to pay the exam fees, and these are definitely more expensive than fees for Indian examination boards. However, tuition is free for Aurovilian students at Future School and the students don't have to buy the textbooks they use. In most schools outside Auroville there are tuition fees and parents also have to pay for their children's textbooks, uniform and daily transport. One of our Indian parents added it all up and discovered there is little difference in cost between educating a student at Future School and other schools outside (except of course, places like the International School in Kodaikanal which are far more expensive than Future School). But at Future School the student has the added advantage not only of receiving a well-rounded education but also of being in the atmosphere of Auroville.
Vikram: Maybe some parents feel more secure sending their children for a conventional schooling outside Auroville. The teaching approach is more familiar to them, the exams are easier to pass and they may think that with an Indian qualification entry to higher education in India will be more straightforward.
Chali: Regarding the time factor, at Future School if students choose to do O' levels and three or more A' levels, it will take them five years. If we were only concentrating upon academics it could be done in four years, but we try to make our programme broad-based, which is more relevant to our situation and our ideals. Another misconception is that students in India must complete their 12th standard or equivalent (A' levels) by the age of 17 if they want to enter university. In fact, the maximum age for entry to medical college or law school is 21, and for other university courses it is 23 or 24. So our students have plenty of time to finish the programme here.

Is there any compulsion to study for exams at Future School ?

Chali: From our side there is absolutely no compulsion but most students end up studying for one or more of these exams, for various reasons.

Whose choice is it to study for exams? Theirs or their parents'?

Chali: It's hard to know the answer for sure, but because we know each other so well, we generally get a sense of what is coming from the student and what is coming from the parents.
Rolf: But the problem is not just with parents who want to push their child into taking exams. Our society in general is not clear about what it values. On the one hand, we say that our children don't need qualifications, but then in a recent News and Notes the proposed coordinators for L'Avenir d'Auroville were announced with their qualifications. In this way, we promote double standards.
The only thing that we, as teachers, can do is to try to help the students discover what they really want to do. That's why we have a mentoring system at Future School .

So what is the purpose of education in Auroville?

Sergei: Very simply put, it is the perfection of the human being.

Do you see examinations as being an integral part of this? Some Aurovilians interpret The Dream as saying that exams have no place in Auroville.

 Chali: I don't share that view. I understand Mother's words in The Dream to mean that exams should not be the aim of education in Auroville, they should not be the benchmark of success. But I believe exams can be a useful tool, one of many tools provided by our educational programme.
Sergei: Obviously the influence of exams is present in Future School . Students are affected by their exam results they are not detached yogis. Exams are a tool but they can also be a negative influence. We, the teachers, are battling against that: we are trying to find and maintain the balance.
Of course, the ideal would be if Future School developed something where the very fact of having attended the school would be equivalent to a certificate. In this way we would not be constrained by the demands of outer institutions. But we're not there yet. At present, we're trying to be a school that helps students stay in Auroville and get educated in something of the Auroville spirit.

But, ideally, you would like to evolve your own programme which would be accepted outside?

Chali: Yes. However, we've looked at accreditation institutions recently and we've decided for several reasons that this is not a direction we want to take. Getting accredited is extremely expensive and it's still very restrictive you are subject to regular inspections, the teachers have to be certified, etc.
I think it will happen in another way. Over the years, due to the further educational success of the students who have completed the programme, the Ashram school has gained recognition and I think the same thing will happen here.
Vikram: One option we are exploring is to see if our students' portfolios could be accepted by universities as an alternative to exams.
Sergei: Apart from examinations, there are problems even with the best conventional syllabus, particularly with subjects, like history, which are biased with the prejudices and ideology of present humanity. Clearly, we should try for something different because Auroville has its own road, humanity will have a new road, and what we teach and how we teach has to acquire this new spirit.
Chali: What we offer now is by no means the end of the line. It's a stage in the evolution of education in Auroville. The more evolved we become, the more evolved the programme and the school will be.
Sergei: This is not a task for the school alone but for the whole of Auroville, because without the support of the larger community, we cannot do it. Actually, the students are the most ready to accept new ideas; the most difficult to convince are the adults!

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