Thursday, October 23, 2008

The art of life is to harmonise freedom with order and discipline

Deccan Herald » DH Education » An experiment worth emulating Thursday, October 23, 2008

The Sri Aurobindo International Center of Education follows its own syllabus in all subjects and is not affiliated to any centralised board. There is a continual individual monitoring of students and evaluation is comprehensive taking into account the work done throughout the year.

The Sri Aurobindo International Centre of Education (SAICE) stands out as an interesting and unique experiment in the field of education. The SAICE follows its own syllabus in all subjects. There is no affiliation either to the CBSE or to the ISC. At the graduate level, the College is not affiliated to any university. The courses and the syllabus are entirely organised by the respective Boards in charge of different subjects and areas of knowledge. There is thus complete academic freedom.

Another striking feature is the absence of annual and half-yearly examinations. The evaluation does not depend on one or two tests nor is it only academic; it is comprehensive and takes into account the work done throughout the year. Of course, there are tests held by individual teachers, but these are more for revision and self appraisal of the child. There is a continual individual monitoring of the students. One of the means is through progress reports, which are given twice a year. All the teachers fill the reports in their respective subjects. These reports are based on the quantity and the quality of work done by the student, openness of intelligence, regularity, discipline, diligent effort and good will.

No marks or grades are given in the reports. An interesting point to note is that in the higher secondary students who have opted for the free classes write their own reports and these are corroborated by their respective teachers. It is on the basis of these reports that the student is judged and his promotion decided. Another striking feature is that there are no degrees awarded; only a statement at the end of the studies indicating the subjects that the student has successfully completed. There are no marks and grades in the statement.

After completion of studies, the students do not get a degree; instead they get a certificate in the form of a statement where the subjects successfully completed by the student is mentioned. This statement has been recognised by the Government of India as equivalent to a BA or BSc degree of any Indian university.

On what basis did the Government recognise Sri Aurobindo International Center of Education? In the early 1960’s the Government sent a committee of the University Grants Commission to evaluate the functioning of the institution. They were perfectly satisfied with the quality and commitment of the work being done and gave the recognition. It must be noted that the UGC sends regularly a committee to see and report on the work being done.

What about the students who go out into the world armed only with this certificate in the form of a statement? For this statement says only that the student has successfully completed the following subjects - say, World History, Philosophy, English literature, Computer Science and so on.

Is this enough to let students apply for seats in the Indian universities or to apply for jobs? The students can sit for UPSC tests without any problems. As a matter of fact, a few of our students have joined the armed forces through this route and have done well. Others join universities who have accepted this certificate; but not all universities have accepted the certificate. Most of the students who have pursued their studies in universities have done very well and in some cases have even been given scholarships to go abroad for further studies. Others apply for jobs and have done commendably in their service.

Unique system: So what exactly makes this system of education so different from the others? The first striking feature lies in the goal of education which is to help the child to grow to the fullest development of his being according to his nature, swadharma.It is based on this concept that education must be a bringing out of the child’s own intellectual and moral capacities to their highest possible value and must be based on the psychology of the child.

For each human being is a self-developing soul and the business of both parent and teacher is to enable and to help the child to educate himself, not to be kneaded and pressured into a form.In order to fulfill this goal, a few principles have been adopted as the basis of education. These principles are:

  • The first principle of teaching is that nothing can be taught. The implication is that all knowledge is already contained in the child and that the business of the teacher is only to help the child to draw it out from within himself.
  • The second principle is that the child must be consulted in his growth.
  • The third principle is that in teaching we must proceed from the near to the far.
  • The fourth principle is that education must be integral.

This means that all the parts of the being have to be developed in the process of education. These parts are the physical, the life energy or the vital, the mind in all its aspects and the soul.

The Implementation: How are these principles implemented? Firstly, there is an elaborate physical educational programme. From the age of 6 to the age of 21, there is an extensive programme which the child has to follow. He is exposed to a variety of activities like athletics, gymnastics, body building, all games, swimming and combatives. It will be difficult to find any educational institution in India or even abroad that follows a programme of such a wide scope and range.

Regarding the education of the vital being or the life energy, the two most important areas are the development of character and the aesthetic sense. The children are exposed from a very young age to all forms of art: music - both Indian and Western - painting, pottery, literature and dramatics from a very young age.

In the field of the mind, all the subjects are taught as elsewhere in the country; but one special characteristic is the exposure to a large number of languages. These include English, French, and at the college level Italian, German, Spanish and Russian, At the primary levels, the children are taught their mother tongue and Sanskrit. Consequently, every child is well acquainted with at least four or five languages. However, the special element of education here is the freedom given to the child and the respect of his individual nature.

What is the reason that we give so much freedom to the child? Education here is based on the following concepts. Sri Aurobindo writes:

“Every one has in him something divine, something his own, a chance of perfection and strength in however small a sphere which God offers him to take or refuse. The task is to find it, develop and use it.”

And the Mother writes regarding the aim of education:

“Essentially, the only thing you should do assiduously is to teach them to know themselves and choose their own destiny, the path they will follow; to teach them to look at themselves, understand themselves and to will what they want to be…..”

But what is very important is to know what you want. And for this a minimum of freedom is necessary. You must not be under any compulsion or obligation. You must be able to do things whole-heartedly.

Few practical aspects: Consequently, after giving a sound base of knowledge to the child, he is given a great deal of freedom to choose his own line of development. Around the age of 14, those children who have sufficiently disciplined themselves are given some freedom; they are allowed to choose some subjects, their teachers and even the pace at which they will work. The pace naturally varies according to the capacity of the student.

Once the student enters college, he is given the freedom to choose all his subjects, his teachers and even the method of working. Subjects are not divided into humanities, science and commerce. The student can choose the subjects he likes and concentrate on them. Consequently the whole responsibility of education is placed on the child himself. He has to learn how to use his freedom in the right way without wasting his time. The art of life is to harmonise freedom with order and discipline. These principles are important in the growth of a human being and could be applied in all other educational institutions.The form and method of implementation will have to evolve in tune with their circumstances. Kittu Reddy Professor at the SAICE, Puducherry

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