“Holistic education”- Walk the Talk

Growing up to a certain age is always fun; it’s growing up after that, which is usually a pain. My schooling was in an era when ‘holistic education’ was something to practise and not a concept out of an education manual. In fact, my teachers or parents never used the term “holistic” at all – I doubt that it was in their lexicon at all!

My alma mater in Dehradun, in days of its former glory, was known for its education practices (for them ‘holistic education’ was the naturally organic and for many, the only form of education). In grade 11 & 12, I don’t remember leaving school before 5 in the evening throughout the academic year, and still doing extremely well in the “competitive exams” – there was so much to do and learn. The school calendar was carefully designed based on the weather conditions, inter-school events, school events, ceremonies and celebrations. It was a rare student whose evenings were spent in the homes of private tutors. The concept of coaching was non-existent and yet we made it to IITs, AFMCs, and premier colleges, universities in India and abroad.

Our teachers planned activities such that:

  • All students got opportunities to be on stage, on the field, on the courts and anywhere and everywhere our hearts desired.
  • Everyone had to do gymnastics in the primary grades and those who had aptitude and/or interest were encouraged to continue.
  • Everyone had to be involved in singing or dancing or dramatics from as early as I can remember. We could choose on stage or backstage and select between classical, folk, western styles, depending on our personal profile.
  • All had to participate in at least one Track & Field event and a game of our choice and boys and girls had the same options (except for cricket, which for some reason was a boys-only sport).
  • Everyone in grade 11 & 12 had to be involved in organising school events like Sports Day, Annual Day, school assembly, school parties, fund-raising, and picnics.
  • We all had to run cross-country marathons and hike our way to Mussoorie.

And I am talking a class strength of 35-40.

The school’s prime objective of making available these activities was to encourage participation and to help students discover themselves and to enable them to develop their skills of teamwork, competition and other left brained activities. These activities are designed to promote healthy competition among individuals, classes, Houses and other such classification or groupings.

Teachers planned and organised students’ and their own work such that in academics, we were a force to reckon with, producing the best overall results throughout the district, and sometimes, throughout the state.

Generally speaking, parents in my small town were not so rushed; ambitious but not blinded by it. They wanted returns for the fee that they paid to the school but they believed in “holistic returns”. They were willing partners to the school in their efforts to give us a well rounded education and encouraged us to participate and perform in a host of co-curricular activities.

When I look at most Grade 11 and 12 students today, I find myself resolving that my son, who is almost four, will not tread that path. He will not start playing sports just for the sake of performance and competition, dabble in music and arts for any exhibitionist reasons, gain knowledge for acing standardised tests, be so narrow-minded to believe that certain subjects will make or break his life, spend most of his life coaching for milestones in life & neglect coaching for life itself, confine learning to certain places, people and purposes, develops qualities of the head with the neglect of heart and hand, use ‘generation gap’ as a shield whenever he wishes to become incommunicado.

Whether this is wishful thinking or would actually result in one less lop-sided personality in the world – only time will tell!