Being human, becoming whole

Pritam L. Benjamin

As a firm supporter of educating not just the mind, but the body, heart and spirit as well, I write this in the belief that teachers, principals, founders and “owners” of schools will consider their responsibility in helping to steer education beyond its current limited horizons. College and career are vital goals, but what of the fulfilment of the potential in all that is human?

Sadly, there are too few schools who see their mission as extending beyond the old literacies (reading, writing and numeracy), science and technology, and the horizon of college and careers which are lucrative and are said to give return of investment for parents and society as a whole.

pritam-1 Howard Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences was, in this and the last decade, well received by some progressive schools in our country. There was an attempt to weave it into the curricular approach of the miniscule number of such schools. Unconvinced parents, generally continued to flock to schools which could produce ‘toppers’ and stick to “serious academic regimen”. This clearly implied a denial of the need for children to blossom in the sports, co-curricular, spiritual, and creative fields. College-readiness did not admit these needs and dismissed this as distracting and unnecessary. They were goals that were seen to be in conflict with optimal academic performance, individual and institutional.

Numerous approaches to education are holistic in nature, such as integral education, transformative education, constructivist approaches, Gandhi’s Basic Education, peace education, mindfulness education, and values education. Newer thinkers (after Dewey, Bruner, Piaget, et al) like Gandhi, Shri Aurobindo, J. Krishnamurti, and Rabindranath Tagore offered theories and belief in the need for whole education, long before the west accepted this vital need for children. They spoke of the need to nurture the development of the whole person – this includes the intellectual, emotional, physical, social, aesthetic, and spiritual. Simply teaching a new set of ideas is not enough unless the emotional, behavioural, and spiritual aspects of these ideas are addressed in the student’s life. “Heart” education featured strongly in their approaches to the social development of children. Raising them to be empathetic, caring, altruistic adults was to be the objective of parents and teachers alike.

We have long needed and used education as a tool to train the mind or prepare for a job. But education can teach us how to use our mind, how to respond peacefully, how to find and follow our passions and to move beyond viewing each child not as just a future employee, but a fulfilled, contributing member of the society to which she belongs.

The art of holistic education lies in its responsiveness to the diverse learning styles and needs of evolving human beings. Holistic education cannot be reduced to a set of techniques or ideologies. Ultimately such education rests in the hearts and minds of the teachers and students. This is also indicated in Gardner’s MI theory, where 9 “intelligences” are identified which are not necessarily supported and grown through a purely academic process. In fact musical, aesthetic, kinesthetic, interpersonal, intrapersonal, naturalistic, spatial intelligences are identified and developed outside the classroom. Including opportunities to develop these is characteristic of a well-balanced curriculum, aimed at developing whole individuals and wholesome groups.

Existential intelligence is one of Howard Gardner’s Nine Multiple Intelligences. It involves an individual’s ability to use collective values and intuition to understand others and the world around them. Individuals who excel in this intelligence typically are able to see the big picture. The ninth intelligence – Some folks call it existential intelligence, others referred to it as spiritual intelligence or cosmic smarts. Whatever it is, how can we define and understand it?

I would define existential intelligence as the ability to be sensitive to, or have the capacity for, conceptualizing or tackling deeper or larger questions about human existence. In my mind, folks who have this intelligence are not afraid to tackle questions that revolve around such issues as the meaning of life, or contemplate questions like why are we born, why do we die, what is consciousness, or how did we get here?

pritam-2 There are many people who feel that there should be a ninth intelligence, existential intelligence (A.K.A.: “wondering smart, cosmic smart, spiritually smart, or metaphysical intelligence”). The possibility of this intelligence has been alluded to by Howard Gardner in several of his works. He has stated that existential intelligence might be manifest in someone who is concerned with fundamental questions about existence, or who questions the intricacies of existence. And while Professor Gardner has offered a preliminary definition as: “Individuals who exhibit the proclivity to pose and ponder questions about life, death, and ultimate realities,” he has not fully confirmed, endorsed, or described this intelligence.

Many of these activities/learning routines have been developed out of the thinking of many contributors like Dewey and experiential learning; Vygotsky’s belief in social learning from teachers or peers, Bruner’s ideas on “discovery learning” and dozens of other thinkers who supported the concept of educating “the whole child”. There were theorists who pointed out the need to build each of the three “domains” of learning – the cognitive, affective, and psychomotor.

The sum of these theories is that knowledge is to be gained through personal and environmental experiences, using faculties of the body, mind, and heart. Keeping in mind individual preferences and learning styles, teachers need to personalize learning as much as they can. They must give children the freedom to explore, experience, and experiment. Knowledge must become less prescriptive.

From time to time, learning must be permitted to get away from “schooling”, allowing children to develop their strengths and sense a freedom to ideate and innovate. Schools should endeavour to permit curricula and teaching schedules to integrate learning with academics. When endorsed by the “authority” of the school, teachers too will respond to newer and more interesting areas and methods to use for and with children. The objectives of teaching-learning will extend to:

Build personality, by enhancing cognitive, physical, aesthetic, emotional, and spiritual potential. Increasingly, this nurturing role is falling into the hands of teachers and other care-givers at school, as parents are building on the material and economic aspects of their lives. Schools and teachers must be willing to take on the mantle of providers at this time.

Build competencies, which include problem-solving, critical thinking, entrepreneurship, and creativity. These are essential for the evolution of children into successful, responsible, and contributing adults.

Build talent, Curiosity is often followed by creativity and innovation. A sense of adventure, to explore the unknown also results in new findings, creations and progress in many directions.

Schools then need to build and strengthen a culture of inquiry, excellence, and personal responsibility. They must see children as potentially capable of problem-solving, critical thinking, of creativity and entrepreneurship. They should encourage children to build long-term goals towards meaningful, happy and good lives. In the business of building whole men and women, schools will be contributing to a balanced, just and conflict-free society.

Feeling whole is a biological and cultural necessity for a child. Society is becoming home to an increasing number of workaholics, who live in a technologically complex, fast paced world. It requires a higher order of life-skills and competence to face the demands of life. There is an urgent need for behavioural changes, which are based not only on knowledge, but on skills and attitudes as well. To deal with these requirements we need to re-calibrate learning with the realities of this world. Awareness, reflection, insight, confidence, and determination cannot come from texts and Google alone. Mental and emotional skills learned on the playfield, in the music and art room, on field trips and excursions, in social service projects will translate into skills and competencies for 21st century living. The essential 4 Cs of living in our times are listed as
Critical thinking… beyond the present and possible
Creativity… to conceive, create, and improve
Collaboration… to share creativity
Communication… the ability to persuade

Looked at it as a multi-faceted form of potentiality, a whole child holds far greater promise of willingness, desire and inner compulsion or passion to participate in her own learning process. When motivation to learn becomes intrinsic, growth is dynamic and continuous. Academic rigour is never under threat in such circumstances. Time on task responds to the variety of activities and serious encouragement provided in a balanced and positive manner.

In the global world, knowing and doing are inseparable parts of the whole. Whole education is the sum of these two actions.

It has been rightly said, “To be well rounded, one must know both sides of the circle.”

The author is an educator who enjoys interacting and working with energetic, progressive and empathetic teachers. She considers it both a privilege and a duty to be part of the changing scenario of education in India. She can be reached at benjaminpritam2@gmail.com.

Go-Karting… an unusual sport!

akash My school has helped me achieve my goals in Go-Karting in many ways. I have permission to report for my races even on working days. The teachers supported me and they have given me simplified notes and extra support after school.

I loved it that the school has also helped to encourage me by bringing my friends to my races for moral support, as a school trip! I have had multiple opportunities to go ahead in my racing career.

The teachers send me subject material at the end of each week. I feel happy to work hard and make up for missed work.

I have been able to achieve all these records through the support of my parents who have encouraged me all the way and my school. I believe my school approves and is proud of my unusual interest and achievements. Thank you Indus!

Akash Gowda, Grade XI, Indus International School, Bengaluru

A runway for my passion

ghalib For as long as I can remember, nothing gets me more excited than a good game of football. Winning and losing is of no consequence when it comes to enjoying a sport and the rush that it brings.

Every passion however, needs a platform, a runway from where it can take off. Indus international school has been that platform to me.

I’ve been here for almost 3 years now and so far Indus has left no stone unturned to help me in my pursuit of finding excellence in the area of my interest. The support provided by the school was both intrinsic and extrinsic. I was motivated by the coaches in school and was given ample chance to participate in tournaments that not only honed my football skills but also gave me the confidence to pursue my love for the sport.

Soon, things began to shape up for me. Eventually, we went for an All-India Tournament and won the runners-up spot. I was particularly proud as not only was I the captain of the runner up team but also won the best-defender award of the tournament. Leading the football team was a daunting task. It tried my patience and put my leadership skills to the ultimate test. Organizing the defense, motivating the players, communicating effectively and boosting the overall morale of the team was no mean task. Without the constant support provided by the school and the teachers I would not have been able to balance sport and academics. The teachers helped me outside the classroom if I needed any help with my studies. They understood my talent in the field and helped me do well both in and out of the field.

A couple of months ago, a trial was set up in Bangalore to earn a chance to train in England called The Premier Explore. They were selecting players (14-16 yrs old) from all over India. I was the only one representing my school. Out of 56 players who were training, only 16 students got selected in Bangalore. I was one of them. This is a major achievement for me: to be able to train for a different stage of football. I still have a long journey ahead of me, however, with Indus as the wind beneath my wings I feel I can fly.

Ghalib Al Halim, Grade IX B, Indus International School, Bengaluru

For a career in tennis

nama-heman Nama Heman who is in grade 10 has a desire to become a professional tennis player. He has been at Indus International School, Bengaluru from grade 6 and the school has been very supportive and co-operative right from the beginning. Without this support, it would have been difficult for Heman to reach to the stage where he is today.

Heman has chosen his career in tennis. He is a national ranked player. Looking into his growth year by year, his parents decided to send him to USA for a better exposure and to experience competition levels.

Heman took up both academics and the sport. He has a challenge and has worked very hard to balance both.

The school, with no hesitation, has accepted his request looking into his desire to become a pro. He is currently getting trained under a world class coach in Florida. The school also sends him the weekly required material for study/preparation. He can take tests online, so that his assessments are in line with others in his class.

Young to take this responsibility, but with all the extended support from school, parents and coaches he is definitely going to be in the limelight in the future. He has won a couple of tournaments in USA and started playing junior ITF. His aim is to reach the top 10 players in junior ITF by 18 years. Heman believes that hardwork and dedication and dreams is the road to success.

Super Support

ariya My school has been my home ever since I joined. My mother managed to find me a coach who was willing to travel one hour each way, thrice a week in order to reach my school on the outskirts of Bangalore, so that my training could continue. The school has generously permitted me to train and continue my bold journey. I have also been granted permission to travel around India and attend all my tournaments. I have nothing but praise and gratitude for my school’s super support. When I was out for tournaments, the teachers were in touch daily, encouraging me and sending me class work and home work, so I don’t fall behind in my academics whenever I went for tournaments.

Indus International has been amazing in ensuring I feel as normal as a regular student would. And when I am swinging my racquet and ghosting and contesting – my win will be unquestionably dedicated to my Indus.

Ariyaa, Grade VIII, Indus International School, Bengaluru

Taking giant leaps

shrikrith Football has always been my passion and dream. The grit and determination the sport necessitates moves me and brings out a different side of my personality.

The school consolidated my baby steps into what now feels like giant leaps in the field of football. Without the help provided by the school my dreams would have been just that… dreams. The school helped me hone my skills in the sport and gave such impetus to my passion that I feel I am finally finding my foothold in this field. I would never have made it to the State team and also to one of the best clubs In India, BFC (Bangalore Football Club) without the help and support extended by the school. For as long as I can remember I wanted to be a part of such an esteemed club.

With the help and coaching provided by the school I have improved leaps and bounds and have never looked back. I represented the under 15 I-League for Bangalore Football Club (BFC) which was held at Inventure Academy from 19th to 30th January. The team secured Runners in South zone and got qualified to play in All India under 15 I-League Inter Zone. I got great reviews and everyone talked about how my performance and contribution to the team was significant.

All this was only possible because the school went out of the way to accommodate my needs. I had exams during the football event at Inventure. The school shifted the dates for me and I could go for the event without having to worry about missing out on my exams.

The teachers at Indus encourage me to pursue my dream and the coaches at Indus made those dreams come true. I’m positive the school will continue to support my endeavors in the area of sports as the school not only says that it believes in whole education but also walks the talk. I am proud to be associated with such a school.

Shrikritt Poddar, Indus International School, Bengaluru

Related articles

Navigating the non-curricular stream
Fuelling students’ interests