Holistic educators do more than prepare students for the workplace. They prepare students to make a better world.
Holistic education is not an alien concept for educators in India. In fact, it is our very own ancient concept of education. Our Gurukul system ensured a holistic development of the learners or seekers of knowledge. Unfortunately, we uprooted our ancient education system and traded it for a low quality, inhuman, which created only employees not human beings. And the consequence? We created a self-centered generation with no consideration for anyone.
Our present social system and our schools value competition over compassion. So often we hear that the main goal of schooling should be to prepare our students to compete in a global economy. The emphasis on testing and standards also stresses personal competition in schools. Do we want students who are clever and compete well on tests or students who have compassion for all forms of life and a sense of responsibility that goes beyond personal achievement?
The new NEP 2020 is a breath of fresh air for educators like me who have been hoping to see sweeping waves of changes during our lifetime. Having been a CBSE student from kindergarten to grade 12 and a CBSE teacher for the last 32 years, I have been yearning to see drastic changes in our system. The NEP 2020 looks very promising and we can achieve its objectives if every individual school follows it in word and spirit. Schools should think beyond preparing children for careers and move towards preparing them for life. A few simple changes in the infrastructure and curriculum will greatly help in this regard.
Here are a few suggestions which I have been incubating in my mind for a long time:
- Learning Environments instead of classrooms in Kindergarten and Primary:
Instead of classrooms we can have learning environments for Literacy, Numeracy, Environmental Studies and a room for free play. A visually rich environment with relevant displays of concepts to be conveyed will lead children towards self -learning and discovery learning. When children move from one environment to another (instead of the teacher moving around), they will get the much-needed movement required for their age and bring down problems like hyperactivity, indiscipline, negativity etc.
There should be minimum four-legged furniture in these rooms. If we replace desks and chairs with our traditional chowkies and mats, we will have a flexible working space for art integrated activities, yoga, aerobics etc. Moreover, facing children at their eye level by squatting or sitting on their same level, allows not only for eye contact but will also let the teachers see the world from their perspective. Eye contact with a child will help a teacher detect their energy intensity level and intervene with nonverbal cues. Communicating at eye level will also allow a teacher to convey peace and security. In short, such learning environments will help promote self confidence, autonomy, and leadership skills in their structure.
- Free-Play: A space for free play will help children explore and express themselves. The teachers will get to know each individual child closely through careful observations during free play. As the children are given more independence to express themselves freely in a nonthreatening environment, the teacher will be able to step back and understand them better. They will be able to assess who needs more attention or assistance, meet them where they are, and adapt the environment or lessons as necessary to best fit each student’s interests and learning style.
- No Competition: Children should be allowed to display their talents without being judged. This will help curb unhealthy competition among students and their parents. Children will be able to shed their inhibitions and will become confident enough to express themselves through different art forms and communication channels.
- No punishments, no rewards: There should be no punishments, no rewards, but only carefully thought-out respectful interactions, encouragement, and redirection. Most children are not initially miraculously self-motivated and independent, choosing their own work, completing it, and concentrating for hours at a time. Their concentration takes time to develop and they typically need help to focus or choose a lesson. Rather than punish the child, teachers should connect them to the learning environment and teach them a new skill they will be interested in, which will in turn boost their confidence, rather than bring them down. It is human nature to respond better to a positive direction, rather than a negative one. Instead of saying “don’t do that,” teachers may say “come let’s try this instead.” Using ‘I’ messages will also help a lot in this regard. Teachers can rephrase commands using ‘I’ messages. Example: I am sure you can do this… I never expected you to do this… Let’s try again… etc.
Praise can also be a fickle friend. When a child brings over work they are proud of, rather than responding “Excellent/ very good” etc. teachers should encourage introspection, saying things like “You must be really proud of that hard work you did.” With more specific effort-focused acknowledgement, the child finds intrinsic motivation rather than constantly searching for outside approval.
Many more new practices can be developed and for this our schools should be well equipped. To ensure this we should have a dynamic school inspection team comprising of carefully chosen members who are insightful and innovative. They should be chosen from schools that are innovative and progressive.
However, it remains clear that holistic education is still an area ripe for exploration and has much to offer through its emphasis on well-being, critical thinking, and the development of solutions to societal issues.