November 14, 2005

Education for Tomorrow

My Experiences in the Experiment for the Education for Tomorrow by Prashant Khanna
I had the benefit of receiving my education in the Centre of Education started by the Mother under her own close supervision and care. My teaching at the Mother’s International School, New Delhi, gave me enough opportunity to observe education in a cosmopolitan set-up too. Education is the art of living and therefore all life is education—this is the basic premise at the Centre in Pondicherry. It is distinctively child-oriented and the growth of the child is its pivot. Understanding the personality of the individual is the basis of education at Pondicherry.
Sri Aurobindo and the Mother held that every individual has lodged within him a spark of divinity which is his true individual Self, the ‘Psychic Being’. Alongside this are the other selves like the body, emotions and thoughts—the physical, vital and mental parts. Education must aim to help the child grow in such a manner as would enable him to realise his full potential in a harmonious blending of these various elements which constitute his personality. The Pondicherry system of education ensured that each child grew at his own pace and in a manner best suited to his individual needs and capacities.
Since its inception, this system had a unique feature, namely that it was not necessary for a student to be in the same class for all subjects! It was quite common for a child to be say in class V for certain subjects, in class VI for others and even in class VII for still some others. Such a provision imparted a very great degree of flexibility. If his personality needed more time to absorb and understand the basic concepts of a certain subject he could, without misgiving, afford to repeat his class in that subject and move forward with regard to the other subjects.
Later on, with the introduction of the ‘Free Progress’ system, as implied by its very name, the degree of flexibility became even greater as it removed even the minimal burden on the child of keeping pace with the syllabus and with his peer group. The child had the option of taking as much time as he needed on a particular lesson and moving on to the next lesson only when he inwardly felt convinced and satisfied that he had understood and exhausted the contents of that lesson. The result of such a high degree of flexibility and so much latitude was that students were able to study what really interested them and go slow on or keep for a later date what did not interest them then. In other words, education was largely something to look forward to rather than an imposition or a ‘necessary evil’.
It would be obvious that when a child studied what really interested him, his concentration and involvement became much greater, thereby greatly enhancing a qualitative retention of what he studied. The other unique contribution of the ‘Free Progress’ system was the love of learning that it fostered. The encounter with education as a student having been such a pleasant one, the eagerness to widen one’s horizons and explore new vistas in the realm of the intellect survived long after completion of formal education. There was an ambience that encouraged free discussion and even near hostile and aggressive questioning. This enabled the mental faculties to develop to an extent that one learnt the art of learning and could take flight into regions beyond formal student life.
Looking back over the decades, I feel that the Mother had largely succeeded in creating a modern day gurukul-like environment where the teacher was often like a friend and guru to the students. Life outside school tended to be a seamless extension of time spent in the school and one had ample opportunity to meet, play and discuss with the teachers issues and subjects often unrelated to pure academics. There was also always present before the students the example of the teacher himself and it is a well-known fact that the most effective teaching is by example—practice rather than precept.
That a healthy mind resides in a healthy body is now a recognised tenet of education in good educational institutions, but in Pondicherry this was implemented as far back as 40 years ago with a rigour beyond the farthest stretches of imagination of people elsewhere. It might come as a surprise that the time spent in sports, exercise, athletics was as much as in studies. It extended to almost 3 full hours, starting from 4.30 p.m. and going upto 7.30 p.m. and sometimes beyond. Alongside studies and games, a lot of importance was attached to cultural activities, and I have till date not seen cultural programmes being organised in other schools on such a scale and frequency.
The spiritual needs of the children and the youth were met by the Mother herself, who kindled in the children the psychic spark and oversaw with great care, love and sympathy the progress made by each child. There were regular classes in which she closely interacted with the children and nurtured them along the path to divinity. She went to the length of reading out children’s stories accompanied with dramatic gestures and intonation and modulation of voice and then eliciting from them a fuller and deeper understanding of the issues involved. CALL BEYOND

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