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 School of Integral Education at their premises in Chandigarh, on December 9 & 10, 2019, for their primary teachers including the teachers taking Music, art and dramatics. The workshop was attended by 13 primary teachers and the principal, 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.
Sessions with Primary Teachers
We started the day with chanting of Shanti mantras followed by their meaning. Before the chanting, Priti stressed on the importance of accuracy of pronunciation of long and short vowels, developing right attitude (bhaava) along with the knowledge of the meaning. The chanting created a peaceful environment, necessary for grasping the intensity of the sessions to follow. Knowing the meaning and concentrating on the pronunciation made the session more meaningful. We also understood that the chanting of ‘Shanti’ (Peace) three times signifies the calming of the Physical, Mental and Vital.
The teachers then shared their names along with their favourite flower or any aspect of nature that they love, relate to and what it means to them, as an introduction.
An introduction to Integral Education
Integral Education is the total development of oneself, i.e., our physical, mental, vital (emotional) parts in the light of the psychic. It should be teacher-centric before being child-centric. A facilitator should know himself/herself before attempting to teach children.
Shivakumar explained very explicitly about the Physical, Vital, Mental and Psychic parts of our being through the skit performed by the teachers of the school.
Through the skit which was like holding a mirror in front of us, it became clear that one needs to be conscious of oneself and become aware of the physical, vital, mental and psychic aspects of oneself so as to attain an even alignment of all these aspects to bring about harmony and equilibrium within us.
Body-Scan and Expression Through Drawing
Next, Priti led us into a journey inwards where we did a body scan by focusing our attention on different parts of our physical body in the beginning and then we focused on the mind and heart spaces and finally shifting our attention to the quiet presence behind the heart space and then widened and spread outwards. Teachers were told to feel and experience, be aware intensively of every sensation, feelings and thoughts that awaken within them. This was a meditative reflection on how we were feeling in our different parts and also with reference to the world around us and then we translated the sensations and feelings and depicted them on a paper using colour and form.
Shivakumar and Priti continued the session with three exercises that made us aware of our Physical, Vital, Mental and Psychic parts of our being by going into a deeper introspection and experience. Participants were asked to write the observations about the physical sensations, emotions, thoughts, and the touch of the Psychic being felt during the exercises.
After each activity we evaluated in which part of our personality our ‘I’ was located the most and wrote down the observations. Thus by noting down our observations, we experienced the different parts of our being in a more profound manner.
Introduction to Vedic chanting
The session started with meditation whereby all the thoughts and energies are centered so that the maximum benefits of our surroundings can be obtained. Discussions began about the various forms of energy around and within us. Life energy is a higher grade of energy than the physical energy. Our forefathers came up with the science of mastering the Life Energy (Pranic Energy). A natural control of this energy takes place during the Vedic chanting where the shlokas are chanted at various levels of voice modulations which is also a form of Pranayama.
We also understood that according to our culture, the rhythm and sounds of mantras creates positive vibrations, peace and releases stress which in turn helps us to have better control over the emotions.
Through an interesting game Priti led us into a detailed discussion about the know-how of Project Method as an experiential learning process in an integral education environment. We understood that in order to facilitate and integrate the ‘Project Method’ with the ongoing learning systems in the school, we need to first create an environment where the psychic being of the student has to be developed so that his body-mind-vital instruments are perfected in its light and the student can be inspired. For this, we facilitators have to work on the same for ourselves to be inspired with new insights. This harmonious and loving environment between the student and the facilitator cultivates a relaxed, unhurried environment which is a prerequisite for project method.
We also understood that the three principles of true teaching as enumerated by Sri Aurobindo are the basis of project method:
- Nothing can be taught – the teacher can only facilitate
- The mind (i.e., inner nature) has to be consulted in its own growth – how we observe the inherent nature of the child
- To work from near to far - from concrete to abstract
The teachers were made aware about the six facets of the Project Method: reading, writing, oral presentation, art and craft work, research, personal opinion. Aspects regarding resource management and assessment by the students and the teachers of how the project was progressing was also discussed.
Through various examples it was clear how to make a beginning in managing individual and group projects with children at the primary level.
We concluded with a short body-scan where the participants were reminded of their learnings through a recap and then they again expressed their sensations, feelings and thoughts through an art expression to see how they have progressed in their state of being, in their awareness of themselves and their surroundings.
Sessions with Higher Secondary Teachers by Shivakumar
An Introduction to Integral Education
The session commenced with a skit performed by the teachers, facilitated by Shivakumar. The skit mirrored the three parts of our being:
- The Body showing the need for food and comfort
- The Vital showing ups and downs of emotions like happiness and sorrow
- The Mind showing the need for perfection, planning and thinking
Shivakumar explained that that every human being has also a fourth element i.e. the inner soul (Psychic) which is always ready to resolve the conflicts and maintain harmony and peace if we turn towards it.
Later there was a discussion around some thought-provoking questions like
‘What is the meaning of integral?’
‘What does child-centric mean?’,
‘Is education of present day child-centric?’
Through a meaningful quotation of the Mother “You can never give a good advice to anyone unless you are able to give it to yourself first, and to follow it.” we were led into a very stimulating conversation and discussion about how we can overcome extreme emotions through meditation and daily exercises. Later an informative film was shown which encompassed these aspects beautifully via a poignant short story. This was followed by a discussion about the importance of the psychic within us.
The session ended with a documentary which gave us a glimpse of integral education being practiced by a Japanese school teacher where he blended the academic learning beautifully with values like compassion, sensitivity, insight and empathy.
A short recapitulation of learnings of the previous day was done through a questionnaire.
Then the discussion was steered in the direction of state of moral education today and how values lose their merit if taught without practising them oneself. The values and traits of the Japanese teacher (from the short film aired the previous day) were reflected on.
We reviewed the values we need in life and how they could help us become stronger than before, provided we lived them in our everyday life. Thus, we understood that as a teaching community if we teach values without practising 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 the positive values. Thus the emphasis was laid on fostering the positive which itself will lead to the decline of the negative.
Sessions with Pre-primary Teachers by Priti
Introduction to Psychic Education
The session started with chanting of mantras and understanding the significance of chanting with correct pronunciation and attitude along with the meaning. Then we were led to an understanding of ‘What is Integral education’ through a discussion. As little 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 and 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 mainly developing a sound physical culture for the pre-primary children.
In this session we played some sensorial, balancing and cooperative games in order to get conscious of our body parts and understand how they can be harmonised to experience the beauty and harmony at the physical level. The balloon game was played aiming at sense awareness, balance, coordination and focussing attention. Thus we learnt how to be alert and aware of our senses and body movements and conduct similar activities with young children as a body exploration for better control and harmony.
We understood that so many ideas are within us, that we can create a story on any simple topic; our imagination is very strong. The session was very interesting as we understood how one can develop writing and listening skills through games and interactive activities with the children. The teachers were encouraged to write a story of their own and draw illustrations and they were even told the importance of story-telling for pre-primary students.
A short discussion on Project Method
The teachers were keen on how to implement project method at the kindergarten level so a discussion ensued to elaborate the need. We exchanged views on the possible themes that could be taken up at the pre-primary level and how the facilitator could conduct a whole theme throughout a month integrating various activities related to the different parts of the child like playing, eating, drawing and painting, theatre, songs, circle time value discussions, stories. The facilitators were keen to take up some projects immediately as they got a fair understanding through some case studies that were discussed.
The sessions were aimed at developing an experiential understanding of Integral Education in the teachers by being conscious and aware of the different parts of their being and thus being wholesome human beings and teachers, so that an appropriate environment can be created in classrooms. The sessions also provided a way to develop originality in teaching methods with the help of the project method. This would eventually enable the child to integrate his learnings with his immediate environment.
The awareness games were very appealing as it would help the kids to develop their senses and faculties in an enjoyable manner and the discussions regarding ‘Applying Values’ were very meaningful.
The teachers cheerfully 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 in detail with the help of a practical approach suited to their school environment. They also felt a need for the body awareness and cooperative games as a part of their physical education programme.
In a nutshell, the workshop was interesting, inspiring, thorough, well organized and based on interaction and sharing of experiences. It will definitely help in understanding the child in a better way. There was a lot of learning from the various activities done during the session. All the teachers particularly enjoyed the experiential sessions which made the content easily understandable.