This book provides a glimpse into the educational environment of Mirambika, a school situated on the campus of the Sri Aurobindo Ashram–Delhi Branch. It follows a free progress learning system based on the ideas of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, who said that education should help children to develop their entire nature—physical, vital, mental, psychic, and spiritual. The text, photographs, and illustrations all help to show the day-to-day implementation of the self-observation and reflective practices used with the children, whose ages range from three to twelve. It includes remarks, reflections, and observations from the children, the teachers, and a few of the parents.
I am but a refugee of divine Grace! Picked up from a sleepy, forlorn village in U. P. and carried graciously in Their arms through the most important phase of my life, childhood, the Mother gave me shelter in what was undoubtedly the "Dream School" of that privileged era: the Sri Aurobindo International Centre of Education. When I recount the happy, grateful time I spent in that magical little paradise we used to call school, people can hardly believe today that such a world had really existed. And yet…
On the world stage, a whole cycle of development seems to be coming to a close as a silent revolution is on. We can glimpse its stirrings as we become increasingly aware of the wrong turn education has taken. We have watched children every morning, backs bent with overburdened satchels, "creeping like snails unwillingly to school". We have seen disheartening newspaper clippings and TV shows: students, under unbearable pressure and frustrated, running away from home or even ending their lives. Apathy is writ large on the bored faces of teachers who, somewhere along the way, seem to have lost the very heart of their vocation, the thrill of exploring a world of wondrous, ever-expanding knowledge, and are now sunk into a soulless, joyless drudgery. There is a continuing, all-pervasive climate of mistrust of children unashamedly reigning among teachers and administrators alike.
Paradise lost, no doubt! But is there a way to regain it? Is there a glimmer of hope and light in the depressing world of these so-called temples of learning? Is there a system or method to reawaken in children the love and thirst for knowledge and rekindle in teachers the passion and fire for teaching and learning?
Yes, we have reason to hope. For there are people who continue to believe in the forward march of humanity, courageous dreamers who have hitched their wagon to a star and are leading us from the front, against tremendous odds, towards untrodden and more radiant pastures. One such promising endeavour is the Mirambika school! Leafing through Paths to Self-Discovery: Reflective practices with children
brought a smile back on my ever-hopeful teacher's face. Paths to Self-Discovery
is a breath of the much longed-for oxygen needed to lift the sagging spirits of our children. Published by the Sri Aurobindo Education Society (Delhi), it is generously and aesthetically illustrated with colour photographs of wide-eyed, happy-faced children absorbed in all kinds of activities amidst beautiful sylvan surroundings. The book's Introduction has two parts: the first explaining the five aspects of a child's development in Integral Education through the use of reflective practices and the second describing a child's typical day at Mirambika. Then nine chapters follow, representing the various age groups, that describe how these reflective practices are woven into a variety of activities at the different levels – stories, role-plays, introspective questions, self-observation, self-discovery, journal-writing –, dealing with classwork, project-work, self-evaluation, conflict resolution and knowledge building. We also have some very perceptive and revelatory expressions from the children, from the teachers (known as diyas
, a combination of didi
), as well as some thoughts from parents of these Mirambika children.
Reflection is at the centre of the process and fits beautifully with one of the fundamentals of the Mother's and Sri Aurobindo's philosophy of education: to go from the near to the far. This reflection is not to be understood as an active mental activity at all. It is supposed to be a discovery in quiet concentration, as if one were gazing into a mirror or a rippleless lake, the deeply intuitive Wordsworthian "intimations of immortality": There was a time when meadow, grove, and stream,
The earth, and every common sight,
To me did seem
Apparell'd in celestial light,
The glory and the freshness of a dream.
. . . . . . . .
…trailing clouds of glory do we come
From God, who is our home:
Heaven lies about us in our infancy!
Surrounded by the gentle and sensitively illuminating presence of the diyas, their guiding lights or "lamps", together with the crucial understanding of the parents, who are invited to grow along with them in this progressive self-knowledge, the children are led through a process of "flowering from within". Any truth imposed from outside will not stay with the child, but one he discovers by himself will become part of his expanding universe, as with passing time the growing child reaches into ever-deeper layers of his consciousness towards that identity which is in fact his true self. This reflection leads to self-observation as the child grows older, when the looking within becomes a more active process, and then to introspection when the mind comes into sharp focus as the learner explains, analyses and reviews his thoughts, feelings, ideas and actions.
Considering the ever-narrowing, utilitarian view of life these days and the consequent job-oriented education, with its proliferation of industry-formatted schools that litter the student's life with exasperating memory-based tests and examinations, the Mirambika school is indeed an unbelievable and an admirable endeavour. My joy was redoubled to know that Tanmay-da had been part of the team of courageous dreamers of Mirambika, for he had also been the inspirer and caretaker of my own growing years at the Sri Aurobindo International Centre of Education! I take this opportunity to remember and salute this indefatigable barrier-breaker of the Mother, for he sought ceaselessly to incarnate against much resistance one of Her most cherished dreams: the Free Progress method of education.
What is this revolutionary method of education?
The quality of education is always related to how we perceive the child. Most schools consider him a mind and the entire system is ruthlessly geared to mental development; some others think he is also a body and so a few hours are assigned in the timetable for physical training; yet others see the child's volitional and emotional needs and pepper his academic life with some artistic pursuits. But they all ignore the core reality of the child: his psychic and spiritual dimension. The Free Progress method of education is about integrating the discovery and nurturing of the psychic being or soul of a child into the daily activities of the school. It is an education that finally aims to be guided by the soul.
However, despite society, parents and, above all, children feeling a sense of deepening disillusionment with the present educational set-up, there will always be doubting Thomases ready to question and impede this natural upward human yearning for systems that express greater love, greater light and greater knowledge. This is but a premonition of Mind's pathological fear, unwilling to cede its hold on us to a greater power to run our daily existence. But Light will out, for we cannot go on living in the old ways that stifle the very life-breath of human aspiration: the Soul longing to fly once more in its native sky.
Maurice, a former student of SAICE, teaches English at the Lycée Français in Pondicherry. He also teaches English and French in the Ashram's Continuing Education Programme for adults.