Focus is back on holistic education


The importance of holistic education that focuses on overall growth of a child and not just academic excellence is increasingly felt by many pre-primary educators, who are now incorporating holistic development modules, says Raani Ved.

In a fiercely competitive world today, educationists are constantly looking for the ‘best’ to offer to students and parents. And, holistic education is one of the best-selling lines when it comes to schools, even for pre-school, pre-primary education and playschools.

Educators and the administrative staff associated with such pre-primary education centres, playschools and nurseries keep looking for innovative and effective modes of teaching students for holistic development. In lieu, they charge exorbitant fees promising overall development of the child thereby ensuring a bright future.

The debate is always fresh and ripe with inputs from all about how best to train future generations and ensure a strong foundation is laid for the child to be able to take up the responsibilities of a proud citizen.

The objective of such institutions should be to educate the child in all spheres of life – academics, arts, sports, communication, compassion, etc. The research on teaching pedagogy, educational philosophies and the various elements is ongoing albeit debatable. Every such educational entity decides what is best for students based on their personal prejudices and choices.

So, for some holistic education means educating children to ensure they grow up into responsible global citizens, for some it would mean environment-conscious citizens, for others it could mean cultural diversity, while for others it could mean active sports life and overall development in athletics, and so on and so forth.

In India, holistic education was the basis of traditional education system i.e. the gurukuls – a residential schooling system dating back to ancient times. Primarily existent in the Vedic times, gurukuls taught students various subject including how to live a disciplined, meaningful and responsible life. The focus of gurukuls was to impart holistic education to the students but in an environment where the pupils could learn several other attributes.

So, living and residing together inculcated virtues of discipline, love, kindness, brotherhood, etc. In gurukuls, the disciples were taught diverse skills – learning languages, understanding scriptures, debating, practising archery, learning science and mathematics, playing sports, learning music, etc. Diverse modes of teaching and learning were implemented and emphasis was given on developing logical reasoning, intelligence and critical thinking. Yoga and meditation were integral to daily routine to instil discipline, mindfulness and a healthy way of life.

In India, gurukuls had children from a very early age as parents would send their children away to become a responsible, wise and aware human beings. It is no wonder that even kings would send their sons to these gurukuls to make them fierce warriors and wise kings.

Focus on ‘curriculum’ evolved

As time evolved, with invasions and external influence, the traditional mode of education got lost in oblivion and modern-education system took over, especially under the British where focus was primarily on the ‘curriculum’ and anything else was called ‘extra-curricular’ and second priority.

In 1835, the British introduced the English Education Act. Lord Macauley produced his ‘infamous’ memorandum on the Indian education system, particularly the native (Hindu) culture and learning and declared it inferior. The new system of education was devoid of personality development, moral science, etc. and only focussed on academic excellence.

The competition, standardised format and the fact that all students are marked against the same parameters has led to unnecessary burden on young children, stress and even depression. The child is unable to explore his own potential and talent, and excellence is measured only in academics.

In the last few decades, the concept of holistic education has resurfaced and more new schools are adopting the same every day. This could arise from the fact that the generation gone by realises the importance of holistic education that was denied to them. They want the best for their children and so focus on an overall development of the child rather than the child turning into a ‘book worm’.

Pre-primary school is the right time when a growing child can be moulded into a well-developed human being. It is also the best time as the child is a blank slate and if the foundation is laid properly, with the right intention, the child will turn into a responsible citizen.
Holistic education is rooted in experience-based learning and centres education on the relationships that people create with each other. These relationships form the core of the educational environment. Holistic education is considered a form of alternative learning because of its emphasis on creating a different learning environment from what is typically practiced.

So, when the existing framework boasts of a rank-based education system, it is only obvious that the rat race fuels animosity, negative competitiveness, jealousy and contempt. A move towards holistic education is therefore important and timely so a value-based education system comes into order that focusses on treating every child as a unique individual and allows an organic growth of the child through his natural talent and potential. The idea being not to judge all children on the same parameters as every individual is different.

Holistic education is also essential for character building. An important essential of this education system is the relation between teacher and the student – it has to be friendly, inspiring, respectful and trusting. This allows the child to develop a sense of security, explore and excel in his area of interest.

‘Overall’ growth is needed

Pre-primary education sector is incorporating holistic development modules. Many playschools, day care centres and nurseries lay emphasis on overall growth and not just specific aspects. Delhi-based Yogini Sharma sends her three-year-old son Rohit to a private nursery that provides holistic education. “The best thing I like about this system is that they focus on growth in all aspects of a human being – intellectual, social, emotional and cultural. I am glad I sent my child to this place and did not get swayed by popular perception of making my child suffer just to get ‘good marks’ in academics.”

Holistic centres prepare children to be lifelong natural learners. Pune-based Kavita Tope, whose four-year-old daughter is enrolled in a playschool that provides holistic education, says “The school is making sure that my child is also learning basic human values which we are losing gradually – compassion, gratitude, respect, belongingness, etc. I learn so much from my own daughter every day.”

There are some critical components of holistic education that pre-primary education centres must offer to the children. In nurseries and playschools the children are very young and highly impressionable making it easier to inculcate a well-rounded behaviour. Most holistic education centres focus on hands-on lessons for academics, emotional development, character formation, development of communication and social skills, team work, good manners, etc.

In May 2018, Union Minister for Human Resource Development Prakash Javadekar announced the launch of ‘Samagra Shiksha’ an integrated scheme for school education extending support to states from pre-school to senior secondary levels. The scheme marked a huge shift from the existing mode of education and treats school holistically as a ‘continuum starting from pre-school’. Speaking at the occasion, Javadekar said “The scheme focuses on improving quality of education at all levels by integrating the two T’s – Teachers and Technology. ‘Samagra’ means a holistic approach to treat education as a whole and the scheme is very aptly named as it sees school education holistically without segmenting it into various levels of education.”

Need for better human beings

It is no secret what Mahatma Gandhi said about education, that it should focus on all–round education and not just literacy. ‘Education is the systematic process of training of the head, hand and heart. Head – learning to know, Hand – learning to earn a livelihood and Heart – learning to be’. He said education is needed to make better human beings and that allows them to meet basic needs of an individual.

However, to ensure holistic education is imparted, the teachers must be properly trained, curriculum must be properly designed and an environment is provided that promotes balanced relationships between children and with people and the environment.

Holistic education is a welcome alternative to the mechanised mode of education that is primarily instruction based. There are different theories on modes of discourse but the underlying goal is the same – assist children in understanding the concept of a balanced life so when they grow up they make the right decisions about their own lives.

Raani Ved

Raani Ved is a Trainer with Maverick – A DraftCraft International initiative to further reach, accountability and the law in Pre-Primary, Primary, Intermediary and Secondary Education.