Sri Aurobindo Foundation for Integral Education and Research (SAFIER), the educational wing of Sri Aurobindo Society, conducted a workshop on ‘Integral Education’ organized by Sri Aurobindo International School at their premises in Patiala, on December 5 & 6, 2019, for their primary teachers. The workshop was attended by 14 teachers including the Principal, Mrs Neerja Sethi, who came forward to learn about different aspects of Integral Education.
There were also introductory short sessions conducted for the pre-primary and higher secondary teachers. All the sessions were conducted by Shivakumar and Priti of SAFIER. The participants undertook a transformational journey through the principles and practices of Integral Education as envisioned by Sri Aurobindo and the Mother.
We started the day with the chanting of the mantra ‘Saha naavavatu’ followed by its meaning. Before the chanting, the importance of accuracy of pronunciation of long and short vowels, developing right attitude (bhaava) along with the knowledge of the meaning was elaborated. Then Priti explained how to recite ‘AUM’.
The chanting created a peaceful environment, necessary for grasping the intensity of the sessions to follow. Knowing the meanings and concentrating on the pronunciation made the session more meaningful.
An introduction to Integral Education
In this session the participants understood:
● The first thing to do in order to be able to educate a child is to educate oneself so that one never sets a bad example to one’s child.
● to educate ourselves, we need to know ourselves and eventually learn to control ourselves
Then Shivakumar explained that education should be not only child-centred, but it should also be teacher-centred. In order to know ourselves better, a skit was performed “The three monkeys and psychic being” with the help of four teachers.
Through the skit the four aspects of a human being were mirrored: the Physical, the Vital, the Mental and the important one, the Psychic Being or the Soul which can calm and guide the other three. As the skit progressed, Shivakumar addressed the different activities of the different parts. He made things clearer with the help of a questionnaire, which made us conscious about the activities related to different aspects of our being in everyday life.
Priti and Shivakumar continued the session with an exercise that made the participants aware of their breathing. Participants were asked to write the observations about their physical sensations, emotions, thoughts, and the touch of the Psychic being felt during the breathing exercise.
Next, a video clip showing emotions was played. Then an activity related to mental calculation was done. After each activity the participants observed in which part of their personality their ‘I’ was located the most, and wrote down the observations. By noting down their observations, they experienced the different parts of the being in a deeper way.
Body Scan and Expression Through Drawing
After lunch, the participants started with a body scan by focusing their attention on different parts of their physical body and then turning their focus on the mind space, the heart space and finally shifting their attention to the quiet presence behind the heart and then widening and spreading outwards. This was a meditative reflection on how they were feeling in their different parts with reference to the world around and then they translated the sensations and feelings as graphic expression on paper. Everyone expressed their feelings through beautiful drawings and shared the meaning behind their paintings. Priti internalized and energized all by bringing a widened awareness with reference to body, thoughts and feelings.
In order to become conscious of our body parts and understand how they can be harmonized to experience beauty and harmony at the physical level, two games, the balloon game and bean bag/tennis ball game were played, aiming at sense awareness, balance, coordination and focusing attention. Thus the participants learnt how to be conscious of their senses and body movements and also to conduct similar activities with young children as a body exploration for better control and harmony.
Two more shanti mantras were chanted today and participants understood a little more about the inner attitude (bhava) which was essential to chanting.
Then an energizing game was played to remove lethargy which sets in in the cold season. This also gave them a clue of how they can play energizing games with children to change the prevailing mood and create a refreshing environment.
Shivakumar gave a brief introduction of the book “On Education” by discussing and revising the four aspects of our being: Physical, Emotional, Mental & Psychic. He introduced all to the chapter ‘The Science of Living’ which starts with the maxim given by the Mother ‘To know oneself and control oneself’.
Shivakumar steered the participants to take a look at moral education as practiced today and how values if not practiced lose their merit. Participants reflected on the values they need in life and how these could help them become stronger than before, provided the values are lived in everyday life. Thus, they learnt that as a teaching community if they teach values without practicing it doesn't make much sense. We also turned our attention towards positive values and negative values and how negative values were nothing but just a distortion of positive values. Thus the emphasis was laid on fostering the positive which itself will lead to the decline of the negative.
It was further discussed how teachers can inculcate any value in the child through various activities with the help of examples, stories, activities, songs, movies, theatre, etc. while following the third principle of true teaching ‘From the near to the far’.
After a short tea break, Priti resumed the session with an interactive song based on the Mother’s advice “Let beauty be your constant ideal...” for the inner preparation of a teacher in the integral classroom. Then after understanding the need to build an inner environment to create a beautiful, harmonious outer environment so that the psychic being of the child comes to the foreground, the work of perfection of the instruments - body, mind, heart can be taken up by the facilitator. For this the three principles of true teaching were introduced and the project method was discussed with several case studies. Through practical examples, it was further enumerated in the light of the three principles how the project method is based on discovery, experimentation and research and not by giving the answers but by observing the inherent nature of the child. This session ended with a beautiful interactive song invoking Shanti by calling peace in each and every part of the body.
Session with Higher Secondary Teachers by Shivakumar
The session began with a discussion on the purpose of education. Shivakumar elucidated the current scenario which is subject-oriented and based on the exercising only or mainly the mind. He also pointed out that though we talk about all round development of the child we hardly pay attention to the expectations and basic needs of a child. For e.g., no one asks a child whether he slept properly, what dreams did he see, but on the contrary we are intent on teaching some ‘important’ subjects which have very relevance in life, beyond its basics.
Shivakumar also gave an example of what Swami Vivekananda once said to someone who asked him what he would like to learn if he went back to school. He replied that he would like to master the art of concentration and detachment. Later the teachers in groups made a mock curriculum of their choice of subjects if they were given the freedom to choose. Teachers enthusiastically came up with plenty of subjects like Time Management, Self-grooming, Gardening, Self-reliance, Communication Skills, How to control excessive emotions. Thus he emphasized that curriculum of the school should be based on the needs of the child.
He also explained how breathing is directly connected to our emotions and how pranayama helps regulate emotions and how while sleeping we gather good amounts of energy; thus good quality of sleep is required too. He concluded the workshop with this assertion that this world can be more beautiful, if we learn to be honest, sincere, calm and composed and loving individuals which will play a great role in creating a beautiful curriculum and environment for the children.
Session with Pre-primary Teachers by Priti
Introduction to Psychic Education
The session started with an understanding of ‘What is Integral education’. Then the participants moved on to understanding their inner nature and connect with their innermost core, ‘the Psychic being’, through a body scan and an experiential activity. As very small children are very close to their psychic being (soul) and their body, mind and emotions are still developing, it is important that the people around them are also in touch with their psychic being. Priti beautifully explained this through various experiential activities and songs on ‘how we can easily make kids aware about their psychic being by being in touch with it ourselves’. She also enumerated the importance of physical education and developing a sound physical culture for the pre-primary children.
The sessions were aimed at developing an experiential understanding of Integral Education in the teachers by developing inner stillness and thus being wholesome human beings and teachers, so that an appropriate environment can be created in classrooms, and in the school itself. The sessions also provided a way to develop originality in teaching methods with the help of an understanding of the three principles of true teaching and the project method. This would eventually enable the child to integrate with his true self, his surroundings and society to become the complete being.
The teachers enthusiastically participated in all the sessions and displayed their fullest enthusiasm in knowing more about Integral education practices and its implementation.
The school management and teachers expressed a further need to enhance their understanding of the Project method implementation and developing a values based curriculum in detail, with the help of a practical approach suited to their school environment. They also felt a need for the body awareness games as a part of their physical education program. It was decided that this will be taken up through further interactions with the SAFIER team.