On Jayanti S. Ravi’s Attitude to Governance and Administration

Dec 31, 2021 | Organisation & governance, Processes by-passed

From the little that we know about Ravi’s background there are certain characteristic patterns that we can discern which are relevant to the prospects of her role in Auroville  as Secretary of the Auroville Foundation.

The bio that is presented in the magazine VIKALPA • VOLUME 37 • NO 3 • JULY – SEPTEMBER 2012  tells us that she holds a Ph.D in Technology Enhanced Education from MS University, and a Masters degree in Public Administration from Harvard. At the time of writing the article on ‘Making the Multiversity: An Open Higher Education Model’ (2012)  she was the Commissioner for Higher Education in Gujerat. Her paper is a detailed proposal to create a technology based system of higher education for India to enhance and fundamentally replace the current system of higher education. It is an ambitious plan. And it informs us of Ravi’s fundamental interest in prefabricated universalized computer-based teaching, about which she informs us she also authored a book in 2012 titled A multiversity model for transforming higher education, Lap Lambert Publisher. 

For example, she writes:

“Information and Communications Technology (ICT) comes through as a possible silver bullet offering a lot of promise and prospects. 

The world over, experiments on open education resources (OER) have demonstrated the dramatic effect of technology-enhanced education (Iiyoshi and Kumar, 2008). These include the Open Course Ware (OCW) 

initiative of Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and the Open Learning Initiative (OLI) of Carnegie Mellon University (CMU). 

The ‘Multiversity’ as developed in this paper is a conceptual model that leverages ICT to address the human resources development problems that plague the country.” 

Ravi then provides an elaboration of the “problems” that she alleges plague the country and that her computer based educational model is proposed to solve:

“The current scenario of higher education is marked by various problems of access, equity, and quality. The ills that afflict higher education in the country relate to outdated and rigid curricula, large number of vacant faculty positions, poor faculty quality in terms of both commitment and competence, poor systemic enablers for student mobility, absence of research, minimal and poor extension work, low levels of skill development, low employability, flawed and rigid system of examination, poor methods of teaching and learning, presence of strong vested interests, poor management and educational services, and problems of governance in the ecosystem of higher education.“

If we are familiar with research being conducted on a national level into the status of higher education in India at the time, we may have some grounds for accepting these allegations which are made without any specific proof of their accuracy or validity. The assertion that her model will address these ills is, however, pure speculation. But the interesting aspect of her argument, which we will see recurring in the context of Auroville, is her rhetorical style of argumentation which seems to assume that because other systems are wrought with error and failure, therefore her proposed system will succeed. We are simply meant to accept these premises and conclusions on the basis of her presumed authority.

As for the educational system she proposes, there are two fundamental structural components.  One is a very elaborate top-down administrative structure for the production and dissemination on a large scale of prefabricated learning materials, with government appointed experts at the top. And the other is the establishment of brick and mortar installations throughout the country to provide hands-on implementation and supervision of the program, with an added element of what she refers to as “integral education” as understood from her mentor Kireet Joshi, formerly head of the Mother’s International Centre of Education in Pondicherry. First, on the educational technology aspect she writes:

“The model has five main components: e-Gyan portal, National Knowledge Network (NKN), National Pro- grammes (NP), Member Higher Education Institutions (MHEI), and Halls of Culture and Training (HCT). 

The e-Gyan portal is the heart of the model. The gateway or portal would, in turn, collate and make available open education resources and services (OERS) from various ‘constituent’ MHEIs. The e-Gyan portal’, a virtual entity, would have a full-fledged presence on the web with an effective back office to carry out all the work that is required to realize the OERS offerings. The possibility of including the set of courses that are offered by not just one university but a number of universities and institutions can really multiply the choices available to our population.

The current existing National Programme of Technology Enhanced Learning (NPTEL)3 can be extended to include courses of technical, science, and humanities disciplines. It encompasses content creation ranging from course objectives, learning outcomes, course out-line, lesson plans to unit-wise lectures, class-wise, or week-wise lectures totalling to about forty hours of lectures, presentations, films, videos, text books, notes, projects, assignments, tests and practice questions, animations, films, simulated laboratory facilities, internet-based access of real laboratories, question banks, periodicity for syllabus updation, and provision of reference material in the form of a bibliography and ‘web’liography.” 

Next, she describes the local hubs that should be spread around the country in accessible population centres funded and administered by State governments:

“At the ground level, it is proposed to set up centres which are labelled as Halls of Culture and Training at district and ward locations. 

The word culture in the context of the Hall of Culture and Training is used to connote the context of ‘immersion’ that is needed for sustainable and fruitful learning. This helps create a social and sustainable culture of learning as against fragile, dysfunctional processes of ‘learning’. Thus, an HCT would be the place ‘at the proverbial last mile’, where the model touches the ground and provides actual access to students and learners from across the country. It is proposed to start with about 1,000 HCTs initially…” 

In a footnote on p. 12 this concept has been attributed to Kireet Joshi: “5 The concept of Halls of Culture and Training has been articulated in great detail by Prof. Kireet Joshi in his book ‘Education for tomorrow’. Most of the concepts of HCT presented in this paper are based on his inputs and discussions with him.”

Here we need only think of CIRHU in the architectural plans of Auroville yet to be implemented:

“Each Hall of Culture has a central quadrangle for formal assembly, informal learning, and group interactions in an open environment and a library of books, films, and e-material or resources to supplement the OER. This is flanked by two lecture rooms, one of which functions also as the Satcom reception room or Integrated e-Class room (IeCR). …The HCT includes another Lecture Room for seminars by visiting scholars and a Creativity Room for nurtur- ing the various dimensions of one’s personality related to music, dance, fine arts, craft, poetry, dramatics, etc. A sound-proofed Silence Room is planned with a glass brick opening at the top to allow some sunlight to enter the room. 

Here “integral education” of the Kireet Joshi variety is also mentioned, although it is the floor plan of the installation and its function that is emphasized:

Provision of Integral Education 

Intrinsic values such as truth, hard work, sincerity, intelligence, and character can be developed through some of the methods outlined below. 

  • Stories related to intrinsic values One such action could relate to the narration or provision of stories of truth, beauty, and goodness. A repository of about a hundred stories from various cultures could be built and further expanded. 
  • Education related to the physical dimension The jogging track and the basic gymnasium in HCT would facilitate physical education. In addition to actual physical exercise, sports and games, rich multi- media presentations on concepts related to the Beauty and Excellence of Human Body (Joshi, 2003) could be included. 
  • Education related to the inner self HCTs should also provide for a silent room for students to study, reflect or meditate in the course of their learning. The curricula proposed for the Multiversity should provide silent spaces for Buddha like qualities to be cultivated. 

We might highlight the statement about “culture” that occurred earlier in order to raise the question that will recur in the context of Auroville as to what this term might mean to others, especially members of the Auroville community, and many other communities, which might be served by an educational system like this, but whose idea of “culture” and “education” might be quite different.

“The word culture in the context of the Hall of Culture and Training is used to connote the context of ‘immersion’ that is needed for sustainable and fruitful learning. This helps create a social and sustainable culture of learning as against fragile, dysfunctional processes of ‘learning’.”

 She is referring to the culture of internet learning here, and to a methodology referred to ten years later by her in her proposal for Auroville as a ‘multiversity’ hub, where she refers to “Sri Aurobindo’s and the Mother’s philosophy of integral education” but about which she says nothing specific.  

Looking over the GB Minutes and listening to Ravi’s early references to the ‘Multiversity’ in her various presentations it is apparent that this notion was brought forward, probably long before the GB Meeting, as part of her resume of interests and qualifications that she would bring to the job of administering Auroville. Since neither she nor the GB seem to have known anything about Auroville other than what they read in the minutes of previous meetings, they could easily have assumed that using phrases like “Sri Aurobindo’s philosophy of education” and “the Mothers philosophy of integral education” would be a useful background to rouse the faithful to loyal adherence to her leadership, as if they were articles of doctrine that everyone would know and believe. This is also the way her words and phrases appear to have been used in her proposal to the Government of Gujerat in 2012, where her assumptions might have worked better. And yet her proposals didn’t materialize there, although they were a fair blend of her technological rhetoric with Kireet Joshi’s educational rhetoric. 

2. On the GB Minutes and Ravi’s interventions in Auroville

One gathers from these minutes of the Governing Board on Nov. 2, 2021, that Ravi dominated the meeting from the start by making a detailed presentation, on the basis of which the GB, which seems to be made up of persons not known to Auroville and who may have never been to Auroville, and therefore were entirely dependent on Ravi’s opinions, proceeded to “take decisions”. The first of these minutes indicates the assumption by the GB of the belief that Auroville governance and organization are in need of their intervention. To quote just a few articles of the action section for example:

The Board is of the view that the following action needs to be taken in relation to Auroville governance and organization: 1.1. Decision-taking in Auroville needs to be driven by the ideals given by the Mother. 1.2. There is a need for the preparation of work plans for each work area of Auroville by the respective working groups. These work plans must relate to the realization of the ideals of Auroville including township development, governance, economy, education and research. 2.4. There is a lack of focus on the development of the township amongst the various working groups and Auroville residents.

This statement clearly implies that the Board believes that Auroville’s organization is not currently driven by the ideals of Auroville, especially in those crucial areas which now require “workplans” to ensure that its economy, education, research, etc are so driven. One wonders whether the members of this Board have any idea of what and how the development of Auroville has actually proceeded over the past 50 years, and the things it has achieved. The impression that they have been given by Ravi has, in any case, apparently disposed them to believe that the development has been incompetent and deficient, as indicated by their comments, as we have seen, in the first and in later sections of the minutes. For example, from the first opinion section:

The Board noted the following in relation to the present status of governance and organisation in Auroville: 1.1. There is a proliferation of groups and discussion forums. 1.2. There seems to be decision paralysis or the inability to put decisions into practice. 1.3. The Residents Assembly is seen by many as a decision-making body for even operational issues that are under the responsibility of working groups. 1.4. The absence of work plans or governance and organisation that ensures implementation of work plans. 

There follows a series of “decisions” taken by the Board to intervene in Auroville’s development in two specific areas, both of which have caused division in the community and in one case actual harm, and both interventions have been rejected by the community. The former was the arbitrary destruction of forests and community structures, at Ravi’s behest, and the latter was the idea of creating the “Multiversity” as a model of education reform centered in Auroville. This, as we have seen, is an idea that she formulated in 2012 in a different context and is not at all related to Auroville’s actual educational initiatives. Both interventions derive from Board “decisions” apparently in response to Ravi’s directions to the Board and not as the result of any actual developments or initiatives of the residents of Auroville. It seems clear that such considerations are unimportant and inferior to her notions of what should be happening. As stated in the minutes, concerning township development:

  1. 2.8. All Master Plan deviations on the land earmarked for the Crown have to be cleared so that the circular Crown Road and related infrastructure can be built without further delay. A similar exercise shall be implemented for the twelve radials and the outer ring road, where land ownership permits.
  2. 5.2. Auroville to become a hub for integral education and research. 5.3. The Board noted that the establishment of the Sri Aurobindo International Multiversity as an affiliating network for integral education, research, teaching, training and extension is a good and appropriate initiative to be launched during the 150th birth anniversary of Sri Aurobindo.

The first of these “decisions” of the Board which Ravi has tried forcefully to implement, against the wishes of the community and with disastrous results, is now well known. The second came to an apparently early demise after a detailed proposal was created by her with a group of educational institutions, several from outside Auroville, which proved to be untenable in the context of Auroville’s legal status. It also generated an immediate general skepticism toward its relevance in Auroville and its early rejection by the community. 

It is this example which leads us to emphasize the self-centered and authoritarian approach that Ravi has taken towards Auroville from the beginning. Her influence on the Board, as well as her interventions in Auroville, both indicate that her intention is to use the position of “Secretary of the Auroville Foundation” to take charge of Auroville’s development and impose her views and judgments about Auroville, education, and who knows what else, as though she were its appointed savior and guide, with little regard for what others might think or know to be the truth. This was also her attitude toward higher education in India in 2012, which she proposed should be replaced with her idea of the Multiversity.

It is important to examine closely the style and method of argumentation that Ravi uses to persuade her target audience. These will be apparent from reading the documents referred to here, which are attached below. To further illustrate their nature, however, I would like to suggest a fictitious set of analogous premises, from which certain erroneous conclusions may be drawn.

Ravi’s claims: 

P. 1 Building the city according to the Master Plan is necessary for the realization of the Mother’s Dream.  Justifies implementing the MP immediately.

          P. 2 Cutting trees is necessary for implementing the Master Plan. Justifies cutting trees immediately.

P. 3  The RA approved the MP in 2010. Justifies its forceful implementation as is. 

P. 4 The Avlns aren’t committed to the Mother’s Dream. Absurd. 

P. 5 The Avlns are preserving forests to delay implementation of the Master Plan. Absurd. 

P. 6 The Avlns are not loyal to the decisions of the RA. Absurd. 

The inference can be made that the three initial propositions are true based on the absurdity of the three counter propositions. But obviously the first three propositions are not true, they are only made to appear to be true, or to be valid, by the negation of the second three. Of course the Avlns are committed to the Mother’s Dream. Therefore implementing the MP is necessary. Of course the Avlns are not preserving forests to block the MP, but to restore the environment, as the whole world knows. Of course the Alvns are loyal to the RA because they are the RA. Therefore trees they have planted can be cut down immediately, and the outdated MP should be implemented without adaptive changes.

This is a rather devious form of argumentation, similar to her constantly repeated phrase “Remember the Dream”  and then asserting that the “Dream of the Mother” and “building the City” are synonymous, when in fact there is no direct relationship between the two phrases. “There should be a place on earth which…” says nothing whatsoever about either building a city or the approval and implementation of a Master Plan. For one thing, the publication of the Mother’s Dream occurred decades ago, in 1955, and is a revered statement of the Mother’s social and cultural idealism. The Master Plan was approved in 2010 and 2021 by the RA as a guide for building the township which has been subjected to many forms of delay. To insist that the two are the same, and that the delays justify arbitrary interventions on the part of an authoritarian administration that is out of touch with the actual development of Auroville, is the real absurdity.

Rod Hemsell

Dec. 29, 2021

ps: In support of the credibility of my judgments here, let me add that I have lived in Auroville for 27 years, the first 15 and recently for 12, when I served as the founder and principal of the first CBSE school in Auroville from 2007 to 2013. During the recent period I presented a paper on NCF and Integral Education at a WIPRO Educational Conference in Bangalore which has since been read online by more than 20,000 educators in India. I do know something about this subject. I have also published several books on Sri Aurobindo’s philosophy which lead me to assert that Dr. Ravi’s rationalistic mode of thinking is antithetical to the teachings of Sri Aurobindo which advocate an intuitive mode of consciousness to be developed through Yoga. And her advocacy of a prepackaged educational content with predetermined standardized outcomes is antithetical to the aims of an integral education which consults students in the manner and aims of their individual learning processes, based on the actual strengths and interests of each individual learner. I would conclude therefore that Ravi’s educational technology background, her authoritarian administrative style, and her rationalistic mode of thinking and values are highly inappropriate in the context of Auroville.