After a long spell of rain during the previous night, Vidya Vanam witnessed the National Conference on Educating for a Caring Society taking off on a bright note on May 29th. With 90 delegates and 20 speakers and workshop facilitators, it was a delightfully full house.
The morning began with Swami Sarvapriyananda’s inaugural address on Vivekananda’s vision for education. Full of anecdotes and simply
understandable, his talk was a great reminder of the potential and responsibility in educators. The first paper for the day, presented by Padma Sri Dr. Shanta Sinha was titled ‘Inclusion in Schools’. With the experience of over 30 years and countless communities where she has played a role to reduce child labour, Dr.Sinha’s remarks on bringing in people from the fringes of society into the safety net of school was eye-opening. This was followed by an interesting enquiry into ‘The Role of Arts and Sports in Curbing Violence in the School, and in Society’ by noted Karnatic vocalist Vidvan T.M. Krishna.
The next session included a panel discussion with experts from various schools of thought presenting a confluence of ideas on education put forward by eminent thinkers. Dr. Uma Dasgupta, noted historian and Tagore scholar took us through the history of Shantinikethan, and through Tagore’s vision for education. Dr. Alok Mathur of Rishi Valley School spoke about Jiddu Krishnamurthi’s concerns and questions about education, and of the larger world that we live in, and briefly gave us an idea of the kind of schools that are rooted in Krishnamurthi’s philosophy. Dr. M. P. Mathai of the Gandhi Research Foundation, Jalgaon, spelled out Gandhiji’s philosophy of education, and the importance of work and of community in this process. Finally, Dr. Ananda Reddy, President of the University of Tomorrow, Pondicherry, took us through the journey of what comprised of Integral Learning, as envisions by Sri Aurobindo and the Mother.
After a hearty lunch, participants and speakers alike made their way to the classrooms in the new block to hone their finer skills through different workshops. We had Neeraja Raghavan on ‘Reflective Practices in the Classroom’, Prema Surendran of Vidya Vanam on ‘Sharing and Caring in Primary Schools’, Sulabha Subramaniam on ‘The Non-Violent Classroom’ and Dr. Kunhikrishnan on ‘Inclusion of the environment in the classroom’.
After tea and snacks, the participants joined us for a celebration of the arts in Vidya Vanam. Children of Vidya Vanam’s music group rendered simple and moving songs of national integration in many different languages, and the drama group presented an excerpt from the Tamil epic Silapathikaram in their native language and culture of Irulas. We then had the senior dance students of Vidya Vanam staged Aadu Raate, highlighting the charkha as a symbol of caring and sharing, and ended with another Bharatanatyam recital by the students of Bhakti Natya Niketan, a Coimbatore-based dance school run by Karuna Sagari who teaches Bharatanatyam in Vidya Vanam, depicting our outward and inner journeys as devotees, which ultimately finds its place in the service of others.
After dinner, delegates made their way to Coimbatore, and to the arranged accommodation in Vidya Vanam, the guesthouse at PSG Institutions and the Ashram.
The next day began on an interesting note with Dr. Sriram of Vanderbilt University and the Bhuvana Foundation speaking about biases in the classroom, and how we can use our awareness of them to dodge the damaging effects of teacher bias. This paper was followed by a presentation by Padma Sri Gowri Iswaran on how to be an innovative teacher while simultaneously satisfying curricular, testing and other requirements of mainstream schooling. Next, we had an eye-opening talk by the famed social scientist Dr. Rajan Gurrukal who spoke about citizenship, social science and the ideological nuances of the world we presently live in. Then, we had Dr. Pramod from the Salim Ali Centre for Ornithology and Natural History who captured us with his meditations on nature and methods to include the environment in every child’s life. Giving us a brief glimpse into the importance of forests, we had Mr. Unnikrishnan from Kerala. Dr. Anish Mokashi then took the stage to talk to us about his “mind blowing” experiences of teaching science to students at Vidya Vanam through exploration and discovery.
We then had Mrs. Prema Rangachary speak of her experiences and wisdom on building relationships in the area of Anaikatti, and the importance of creating a triangle of care with the student, the parents, and the teachers. Drawing the conference to an end, we had Mr. Ashok Sajjanhar, Indian Diplomat and Secretary of National Foundation for Communal Harmony, with his encouraging remarks on the conference of ideas. There was widespread enthusiasm as he wished aloud, “I hope that this will not be a one-time event, and will continue beyond these two days.” Mr. Rajesh Barasara of Vidya Vanam and Prema Rangachary with deep gratitude presented a vote of thanks to all the participants, speakers, workshop facilitators, partners, staff, volunteers and children.
The afternoon session included the second round of workshops: Dr . Pramod on ‘Inclusion of Nature’, Dr. Ravikumar on ‘Conservation of Natural Resources’, Sulabha Subramaniam on ”, Prof Balaram of DJ Academy of Design on ‘Universal Design’, and Chintan Girish Modi on ‘Crossing Borders: Physical, Mental and Emotional’.
With overwhelmingly positive feedback from the teachers who attended the conference and the workshops, we are energised to bring forward the second edition of the National Conference on Education for a Caring Society. We would like to heartily thank everybody who made this event a success.
I wrote this formal report for Ram Uncle, but there were so many more questions and insights that came out of these two days, the overarching one being: how are we going to make humanistic and empathetic education a practical reality? Always comes back to that.