Why holistic education should now take centre stage

A collective of schools in India that focuses on joyful education explains why its approach is a model that everyone can learn from
Eddie Reynolds


Why holistic education should now take centre stage

How Holistic Education In Schools Can Boost Student Wellbeing During Covid

With the first term of the new academic year bringing school life back to relative normality, the varying experiences of the pandemic for students across the world are perhaps most clearly seen by their teachers.

Whilst for some, school closures brought closer family ties and a chance to rejuvenate, many children have clearly experienced a negative impact on their mental health.

The long-term effects of the pandemic certainly remain to be seen, but studies are already showing that rates of probable mental disorders have increased.

For example, in England, an NHS study found that, in July 2020, one in six (16.0 per cent) children aged 5 to 16 was identified as having a probable mental disorder - an increase from one in nine (10.8 per cent) in 2017. This increase was evident in both boys and girls.

So how can we start to address this? One approach is to see education not simply as passing on information to achieve grades but to recognise it as something truly holistic to a young person's experience of growing up.

Holistic education to improve student wellbeing

The term 'holistic' can often raise eyebrows, but with the wellbeing of our children increasingly pulled into question, the need to utilise teaching approaches that go beyond a textbook-centric education is paramount.

Indeed, the late Sir Ken Robinson was right when he said that the key to education was "discovering the individual talents of each child, to put students in an environment where they want to learn and where they can naturally discover their true passions"

This idea of creating an environment in which a holistic model of learning can have a transformative impact on the wellbeing of students, and the lives of their communities, is at the heart of Isha Vidhya's schools.

Isha Vidhya is an initiative committed to raising the level of education and literacy in rural India and helping disadvantaged children to realise their full potential.

The beneficiaries are 8,500-plus children, primarily from poor rural backgrounds, spread across 10 south Indian schools that were consciously built in areas where access to quality education is limited.

Employing innovative teaching methods, part of the Isha Vidhya methodology is an emphasis on learning and growing joyfully, weaving a focus on student wellbeing throughout the teaching process.

But what exactly does joyful teaching, learning and growing look like? It starts with the teachers. All Isha Vidhya teachers attend regular "basic methodologies workshops" to help them learn techniques and tools to nurture and develop self-discipline among their students.

Changing mindsets

Many of these techniques are simply subtle shifts in attitude rather than a set of new teaching rules to learn.

Examples of this include: student-centric methodologies that prioritise discussion, exploration and presenting; removing emotional punishment while meeting student misbehaviour with positive reinforcement techniques and prioritising space for students to sit back, reflect and respond to their actions.

Importantly, there is a conscious focus away from exams until the children reach secondary school, instilling a culture in which testing is treated as a tool for better learning, not an end in itself.

Subjects are predominantly taught through interaction and thought-provoking questions, with the understanding that children are naturally focused, passionate and inspired when they are given agency to discover on their own.

Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev, the founder of Isha Foundation and Isha Vidhya schools, explains that these techniques can elevate learning from simply passing on information to something much more meaningful:

"The way our education system is right now, it's all about imparting information. There are so many ways in which you can impart this information, but if you remember to put a small spark of inspiration in all these young lives that come to you to learn, that will stay with them for the rest of their lives."

One father, Devi Prasad, was amazed by the transformation he witnessed in his son Krishna: "Krishna has become humble, gentle, respectful to all and, above all, appreciates what nature has provided him," he shared.

A classroom filled with pupils like Krishna, so the theory goes, creates an ideal environment for students and teachers alike to learn and grow.

This is another key aspect of a holistic approach to teaching - all adults, be they a teacher or a parent, should learn from the young people around them just as much as the pupils learn from their teachers.

Jyothilingam, a social sciences teacher with Isha Vidhya, says this is one of the biggest positives from working with Isha Vidhya: "The best thing that happened to me in this school is that students teach me, too. They are at liberty to question teachers on any topic, subject or act. This brings growth for both us and the students."

Yoga on the curriculum

It's not just in academic subjects that this can be achieved. Through extracurricular activities we can also find numerous ways to boost wellbeing among young people, with one way being through yoga.

Numerous scientific studies have shown yoga can become an instrumental tool for students and teachers in these challenging times to help boost mental and physical health.

Prominent yoga researcher Shirley Telles and Harvard professor Sat Bir Singh Khalsa both concluded in separate studies that yoga in schools helps children to improve resilience, mood and self-regulation skills pertaining to emotions and stress.

Attention and concentration take a boost, too, improving academic success.

Given these benefits, students learn yoga and have 35 minutes scheduled into their day to practise before lunch - something that quickly becomes a favourite part of the day for many children.

Raising joyful children

With the challenges that the pandemic has brought to student wellbeing not yet over, it is our collective responsibility to see how we can best make use of the resources around us to support them.

Full classrooms bring new opportunities to innovate and create a joyful teaching environment.

As our founder Sadhguru has said: "Everyone deserves a pleasant experience of life. The best gift you can give anyone is to offer them the tools to engineer themselves into joyful human beings."

Eddie Reynolds is a volunteer for the Isha Foundation. You can find out more about Isha Vidyha here.

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