Sathya Sai Education In Overseas Countries
Sathya Sai Baba
Dr. Pal Dhall
THE FORMAL EDUCATION SYSTEM developed over the last two hundred years in the West and now universally adopted is flawed. It fails to meet the real needs of the children, the family, the community or the nation. It was developed in the industrial age and its main objective was to secure economic well-being of nations. It promotes inequality and competition and divides the world into rich and poor nations. Such an education with its emphasis on technical and academic achievements does not promote holistic development of the child. Crime, drug addiction, depression, anxiety, family tensions, violence, delinquency and suicides are on the increase in all the countries of the world. The natural resources are being freely exploited and the planet is reaching non- sustainability. Educationists agree that most of these problems could be solved if we reform education to meet its two goals – development of character and academic excellence. But they have not been successful in reforming education to attain both these goals.
Philosophy of Sathya Sai Education
Sathya Sai educational institutions are based on the philosophy of education propounded by Bhagavan Sri Sathya Sai Baba. He gives equal importance to educational achievements and spirituality. He emphasises that education must give technical knowledge as well as skills to lead a balanced life.
The children must develop insight and understanding into their own life’s purpose. They must develop a lively social conscience and serve society, and develop a strong identity with their family and culture, nation and humanity. Sathya Sai Schools are based on these central features of Bhagavan’s philosophy. They aim at human excellence through developing all personality domains – physical, intellectual, emotional, social and spiritual, and not just the intellectual. These schools do not charge any fees. They follow the mainstream government curriculum. In these schools, the culture is suffused with human values of peace, love, truth, right conduct and non-violence. There are now dozens of Sathya Sai Schools in overseas countries. Many of these schools were started in the 90′s, and more and more are being established all the time. They are models of how human values can be integrated with the school curriculum to achieve the real aims of education – character development and academic excellence.
Institutes of Sathya Sai Education were established to manage and oversee standards in the Sathya Sai Schools, to train teachers in Education in Human Values (EHV) and to form professional links (or partnerships) with government or private schools for EHV. They have the task of developing EHV programmes appropriate to their local culture, to create awareness and guide government schools to establish such programmes. The question arises as to what extent the Sathya Sai Schools and Institutes have succeeded in their avowed aims and objectives. What is the impact of Sathya Sai Education?
Impact of EHV on Children
There is a global trend towards a materialistic culture based on technology and commerce. In this culture, television, rapid communication, mobile phones, internet, computers and CD players are important elements. Children’s main entertainment is from watching TV, and a significant part of their time is spent with the computer, isolated from others. A lot of values, language and role models are based on what they watch on the TV. The programmes often glorify violence and are sensual. Children are, in general, more lonely now because the size of the family is smaller (with fewer children), and neighbourhood where the children can play with others is less safe. Moreover, both the parents work away from home and the time spent with the family has decreased. As a result of all these trends, children now have less well-developed social and emotional skills. Their language is not anchored in values and their morality is weak. Many children have problems with concentration because they have become passive from watching too much television. The violence that they see on the television makes them fearful and indifferent to pain and suffering. In fact, they see war and violence as a part of everyday life from watching world events.
Sathya Sai Schools counteract these by giving children capacity of focus through silent sitting. Their discrimination is nurtured as also their problem-solving skills. Many techniques used in Sathya Sai Education give children good social and emotional skills and enhance their understanding of morality. Transformation of children is the main purpose of these schools.
People observe that when children from many schools are gathered together, those from Sathya Sai Schools are identifiably different. They are more disciplined, gentle, kind, friendly, and in general have better social skills. Parents are the first to notice their children’s transformation. Their children become more respectful, assume greater responsibilities, go to bed and rise early, do not watch as much television, are more attentive and focused, more interested in their studies, and more diligent with the tasks assigned to them. Several parents have commented that their children have become aware of wastage and are conscious of the need to recycle toys, clothes, paper and water. They say their prayers before eating and show respect for food. In a number of Sathya Sai Schools – Australia, Thailand, Africa, Latin American countries, Taiwan, parents have expressed delight to notice how their children are fresh and content when they come home from the school and believe that silent sitting, daily prayers, and vegetarianism promoted by the schools contribute to this. Some parents remark on the peace and harmony in the classrooms and have observed that the school atmosphere is conducive to learning; the teachers are dedicated, caring and good role models. Many parents move from other areas specifically to be close to a Sathya Sai School in order to enrol their children.
Experienced teachers who come to Sathya Sai Schools from government schools have noted that the children are eager to learn. They are loving, more friendly, caring and helpful to others. In the Australian Sathya Sai School, children were friendly even to a violent child, regarding him with affection. They are keen to look after the school, attending to cleanliness and tidiness and their honesty is obvious. In the Australian School when a newly enrolled child could not find his pencil, he said, “Someone has stolen my pencil”. The other children looked with amazement at him and one replied, “But no one steals in this school”. They take care not to damage books and computers. They are respectful towards the teacher. They trust the teachers more and are open in their communication, regarding the teacher as part of the family.
Similar results have also been seen in the government schools which have had EHV programmes introduced by the Sathya Sai Institutes. The Australian experience is a good example. In Australia, indigenous (Aboriginal) education has been a challenge to the government. Pouring in more and more money and creating better educational facilities did not provide a solution to the poor achievement levels, high dropout rates, and high educational failure in this community.
In one such school, a teacher noted that the attendance was poor, often only 5 or 6 children in a class of 30, and the children in the afternoon were not the same as the ones in the morning. There was hardly any discipline – the playground was a place of fights. The school had litter all over and the windows were broken. The children had poor social skills, and educationally the school was a failure.
A new principal appointed in the school invited the Australian Sathya Sai Institute to establish a partnership in EHV in this school. The teachers were enthusiastic about the Children programme and implemented it diligently. The results are nothing short of miraculous. Two years later, research by one of the teachers at the school for a thesis tracked the progress of the children and the school culture. He found that the school was a clean and tidy campus. The children were focused and interested in their studies. They had developed good social skills and were now able to resolve their own differences; schools fights were rare. To solve their differences they either negotiated with each other peacefully or took their problem to a teacher rather than resort to fights. Academic levels are now at par with other comparable schools.
Education Queensland (the Government Department of Education) has located a research unit in this school. The school principal was “The Queenslander of the Year” and the teacher who had acted as the human values education coordinator in this school, recognised for her work, was chosen as one of the seven teachers in the State to receive “Teacher of the Year” award. This school is now regarded as a model for Aboriginal education.
Another success story is the Sathya Sai U-Turn Training School in Australia. This school runs programmes for adolescents, boys and girls in grades 7, 8 and 9 who are identified as ‘at risk’ of educational failure by their own Government High School. The High School refers ‘at risk’ adolescents to the Sathya Sai U-Turn Training School. Here they are exposed to human values through a programme based on the teaching of Bhagavan through the word “WATCH”: watch your words, actions, thoughts, character and heart. The programme gives these adolescents social, emotional and moral skills, while the adolescents are engaged in blacksmithing, woodwork, leatherwork, sewing, painting and knitting. They work closely with the teachers. This builds their self- confidence and trust and they are transformed. To date almost all of the 43 ‘at risk’ adolescents who have attended the Sathya Sai U-Turn Training School in Australia have improved their educational performance. The local High School, the local Museum and the Municipal Council are now partners in this programme. Both the parents and the teachers recognise the U-Turn Training School as an institution to reclaim ‘at risk’ adolescents. Schools in Zambia, Thailand, Kenya, Nigeria, Malaysia and several Latin American countries have had similar experiences with EHV for adolescents ‘at risk’. There seems little doubt that EHV is an excellent method for reclaiming adolescents who are heading towards educational failure.
Impact on Education System
Because of the benefits both to normal and educationally challenged children, it is not surprising that EHV is being introduced or being contemplated for introduction into mainstream education in a number of countries. For example, in Kazakhstan, an Islamic country, EHV is being introduced widely into the government schools. In fact, it seems wherever there are favourable circumstances — open and receptive society, belief in God, general awareness of the need for values in education, generous donors (for Sai Schools) and good leadership in the Sai Organisation and Institutes — EHV is taking root and is being accepted by the government schools. Latin America is a good example. 40% of all Sathya Sai Schools are within Latin American countries. Eleven Sathya Sai Institutes are active in training teachers from government schools. In Chihuahua, with a population 1,25,000, EHV programme is being run in 35 schools. The Ministry of Education has set up its own Human Values Committee and is running its own courses in ethics and values. However, surveys by the local Sathya Sai Institute show that the teachers prefer the courses of the Institute as these are transformational.
In Thailand, the government regards the Sathya Sai School as a model of education for wide adoption. Following a seminar on Human Values in Education and Family in 2003 in Malaysia, almost 60 schools expressed interest in EHV programmes in their schools. In China, the government acknowledges the need for education reform to include an emphasis on values. Apparently, the widespread single child family there is producing a generation of self-centred children with poor social skills. These effects are being compounded by the rapid economic progress, which is heightening materialistic trends in that society. A Professor of Education in Guanzao is working on a phased introduction of EHV programmes into the public school system – 6 schools at a time. He has had good results and is enthusiastic about the future of EHV in China.
In Sri Lanka, the Sathya Sai Organisation and the Institute held a seminar with the educators from the local universities and officials from the Ministry of Education in 2004. The Institute regards EHV as the programme that would spearhead education reform in the country.
Impact on Parents
Parents become aware of Human Values through the newsletters and the parent link material that requests them to support their child by practising values at home. The community service that the children undertake through the school also influences the parents as also do the courses in human values for the parents that many Sathya Sai Schools run. In many Sathya Sai Schools, the children stage an annual event, a human values school play or a musical that the parents are invited to attend. In the Sathya Sai School in Australia, parents are actively involved in service to the school. Some take classes in art, yoga and music. The impact of all these activities is enormous. The parents become aware of their role in the values education of their child. Their relationships in the family improve and are spiritualised. In some cases, the children become values activists in the family, many times correcting even their parents.
Impact on the Community
Sathya Sai Schools are acting as the nuclei for creating better understanding in communities divided by ethnic, political and religious differences. In Fiji, the division between the Pacific Islanders and the Fijians of Indian descent has been deep for generations resulting in serious political turmoil including an attempted coup.
The Sathya Sai School in Fiji is located near a local village; 40% of the children at the school are of Islander descent and the rest are of Indian origin. The children learn both Hindi and Fijian and the parents from both ethnic groups have reached levels of understanding never seen before. The Prime Minister observed in the Parliament that if politicians could follow the example of the children and parents in the Sathya Sai School, then all their problems would be solved!
In the Kesaju Sathya Sai School in Kenya, the local Imams, suspicious of the “free education” objected to their children praying with children from other religions. The Imams were invited to hold prayers in the school. Now the Muslims are accepting prayers of other religions. This has been deeply unifying for the community. Similar experiences are reported from some of the Latin American countries where Catholic nuns have run EHV in Catholic Schools. They have been able to convince Mother Superior and the Bishops that they do not see conflict between Bhagavan’s and Christ’s teachings.
Sathya Sai Schools in some instances have become useful resources for the local communities. Kesaju Sathya Sai School is located in a semi-desert area with poor water supply, and in conditions of drought the community used to lose some of its cattle due to lack of water. Bhagavan gave instructions where a borehole should be dug for water. The result is abundant sweet water for the school to grow its own food, and enough to establish a farm. The school has built a trough so that the cattle can have water even in drought. Imagine the gratitude of the local community.
The African Institute in Zambia has developed a partnership with other agencies to bring water both to the school and to the local community in Ndola.
Almost all the Sathya Sal Institutes around the world are involved in training the local teachers in Human Values Education. The teachers who go through such programmes of the Institute realise that human values cannot be taught, but only demonstrated by the teachers by their own example. They have to practise the values and transform themselves, their schools and their communities.
Sathya Sai Schools and Institutes have not been long established. They are already having significant positive impact on their communities, governments and education systems. It seems highly likely that their impact will go on increasing and in another decade or so they will transform education and herald a new era in which human values will permeate all institutions and all human enterprises.
Reference: Sanathan Sarathi pgs 337-342 & 375, November 2005
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