March 26 – April 7, 2007 Hosted by Baan Unrak Primary School Sangklaburi , Thailand Report by Didi Anandarama
This teacher education programme emerged from the NHE Summit in Sweden 2006. It was the first two-week seminar of a series of six to be held over 3 years in Thailand . It has proven successful and very beneficial and supportive of the local project. It may well become a model for future teacher education initiatives in other places.
Background of the Venue
Sangklaburi is a small settlement town at the border to Burma in the North-West province of Kanchanaburi in Thailand . Sangklaburi originally stems from the word ‘Shankarpuri” the city of Shiva . This area is the place of the Karen and Mon hill tribe people as well as Burmese refugees.
Didi Ananda Devamala was posted to Burma in 1991 but due to difficulties entering Burma she worked here with the Burmese people and took care of displaced and disadvantaged children. There are now about 180 children connected to the Baan Unrak (House of Love) children’s home of which about 120 are living at the home. In 2004 the home moved to its new location on top of a hill on a 5 ha land area (Master Unit) overlooking a lake on one side. Abhijit, a PROUTist from the Philippines did a great job in designing the ecological Master Unit infrastructure. The old premises became the location of the Baan Unrak Primary School under the initiative of Didi Ananda Anuraga which opened in 2004 and now has 200 children. It serves the children of the children’s home and other local children. The school was a natural outcome of continuing quality care given to the children in the home and in response to the beating and mistreatment of children in the regular school system. The school was funded by the Bicycle Club of Thailand, the Thai-Singapore Chamber of Commerce and the Banyan Tree Group hotels.During the teacher education programme, guests were accommodated at the school as well as in walking distance air-conditioned guest houses. Delicious Thai vegetarian meals and snacks were served at the school. The guests delighted at the variety of tropical fruits and delicacies they were not familiar with such as roseapple, mangosteen, big guavas, sweet tamarinds, pomelo, rambutan, sweet fresh coconut water, longan, dragon fruit and new varieties of bananas.
Didi Ananda Anuraga, the founder and principal of the school opened the seminar welcoming over 50 participants of which half were her teachers and the other half were teachers, principals, educators and volunteers that came from Ghana, Australia, Mongolia, Egypt, Sweden, Holland, Denmark, Laos, Malaysia, Philippines, USA, Germany and England.The Thai teachers welcomed the guests with a graceful dance and a thread binding ceremony that symbolizes goodwill in connecting to each other.
The day started early at 5 am with singing and meditation for those who stayed on the school premises. At 7am there were two parallel programmes. One was the most welcomed introductory yoga asana class with relaxation, meditation and kaoshikii led by Didi Candrima in Thai language. The other activity was collective meditation.
At noon time there was collective kiirtan and meditation before lunch which proved to be one of the spiritual highlights of the day where all were present connecting on a deep spiritual level. There was reading in Thai and English of a spiritual topic with someone rendering a short comment.
At 5pm the collective programme ended and the local teachers could go home.
Guest participants could go for walks, visit the bakery of the Children’s home, hire the tailors to make new cotton or linen outfits for them at the children’s home Weaving Centre, go for a swim in the lake, get a Thai massage, join the evening meditation and after dinner join the discussion on a topic that emerged each day.
Two cultural programmes were held at the Baan Unrak Children’s Home where home children and a visiting French group of children performed. Ole Brekke performed pantomime at the home too and captured all the children’s hearts. They all responded to him in a very natural way. He also performed in an interior Forest Children’s home made of bamboo and at the Three Pagoda Pass temple for the local children.
NHE Diploma Course
The NHE Diploma Course is a distance learning course for which one applies through Ananda Marga Gurukula, . After acceptance into the programme the student receives the modules, the reading material and assignments. Each student works with a coordinator with whom they communicate until they complete all the 12 modules, at their own pace. The seminars set up in Sangklaburi are to help, inspire, motivate, support and enrich the experience of the students to go through the distance learning course. Diploma students are invited to join any of the seminars for their own benefit.
During this seminar we focused on 4 modules which support the teacher’s all-round continuous self development and learning.
Module 1 – Personal Development ( Physical Health, Ethics and Morality, Emotional and Social Development, Knowledge of Spiritual Philosophy, Spiritual Practice, Neohumanism , Service) Module 2 – Intellectual Development Module 3 – Creative, Artistic and Aesthetic Development Module 4 – Foundations of Holistic Education and NHE
Didi Ananda Carushila presented thorough classes in Thai language on Neohumanism; Jinana, Karma and Bhakti; Knowing Oneself; Vibrations, Form and Colour; Life, Death and Samskaras, Cycle of Creation, Bio-psychology, Layers of Mind, Yama and Niyama and Dharma. The teachers appreciated the classes in Thai very much because they could freely ask questions and have lively discussions. Parallel to these classes, Didi Ananda Rama held classes with the English speaking participants who also enjoyed these classes as they were geared to their interests and needs.
At the end of the class all joined in a related art activity with Didi Ananda Carushila which brought the topics closer to them. Some examples:
Neohumanism : – Small groups of 3-4 observe the living world and make a piece of art in nature appreciation Cycle of Creation : – Two participants, one directs the other to unfold a roll of tissue paper and create various forms without breaking the paper (Saincara) and then the paper is rolled back to its original state (Pratisaincara). Bio -Psychology Chart : – A group of 4, one person lies on a big piece of paper and others trace around the body. Cakras and vrttis are added to the body drawing. Yama-Niyama: – Two groups – one group comes up with a story using all points of Yama and makes a book with illustrations. The other group does the same for Niyama.
Communication Skills and Personal Development
Eva Ekman from Sweden with a background in NLP (Neuro Lingual Programming) gave daily classes on essential communication skills for the personal development of the teacher. The major portion of the classes were practical exercises which participants did with each other that basically helped the teachers to be aware of “Who am I as a teacher and what do I want to communicate?”Notes from the class:
• Teachers need to develop skills of deep communication with themselves as well as a clear and open communication with other adults and children around them.
• The significance of your communication is revealed in the response you receive. • You are always responsible for the message you send. If the person you are talking to doesn’t understand, it is your responsibility to try another way to make your message understood. • The way we think affects the way we feel and communicate with others and ourselves. • What is communication? – Communication is transferring a message over a certain distance to a receiver that confirms what she or he has heard and understood the message. • What do we need to communicate in a good way? – Presence, awareness, confronting ability, approving, expression of voice, to be honest in our speech. • We communicate a message with only 7 % through words, 55% through body language and 38% through the tone of voice. • Is it possible not to communicate? – No. We always communicate something. We cannot stay silent and think that we are not giving some sort of effect.
Tara Macphail, a teacher at Ananda Marga Riverschool in Australia , teaching grade 6, presented a workshop on Multiple Intelligences as part of Module 2, Intellectual Development. The workshop intended for the teachers to become familiar with their own intelligence abilities and to validate them equally with the commonly accepted linguistic and mathematical intelligences. Tara showed Power Point slides first explaining the 8 intelligences and then picked ‘actors’ with a predominant intelligence and asked them to present their qualities. Then she had 8 big sheets of paper on the walls describing the 8 intelligences and had each participant sign up to form small groups. Each group got the task of presenting a lesson plan to children on “Honesty” using that particular intelligence. The result was a very enjoyable learning experience for all.
Didi Ananda Carushila led daily art activities and workshops for the teacher’s personal development. She started with simple exercises with individual pencil drawing to elaborate group art activities with broad themes such as ‘home.’ The teachers enjoyed the classes and would have liked more of them.
Relaxation, Concentration and Imagination
For creativity to unfold within oneself one needs relaxation, concentration and imagination according to Ole Brekke, director of The Commedia School in Denmark . They need practice so that they become our nature. He brought with him the art of moving and play and drew out the playful and expressive nature of each participant.He said that although theatre in teaching focuses predominantly on the physical and social aspects of learning it can also touch the other areas of educational objectives and be useful teaching any subject in the class .( Educational objectives can be divided into 5 categories: knowledge; inquiry and problem solving; psycho-motor skills; social skills; values. ) He demonstrated this by blending in his class with the subjects of that day and re-emphasizing them.
Many exercises and games and a systematic development of spontaneous story telling through involvement of all brought a high energy field of creative expression and learning. A very enjoyable game was the following: Gurubaru (name of a mythical snake from Mexico that catches its own tale): Get together in groups of 6. Make a train behind A. All follow A and imitate her movements. After a while A turns around and similarly all turn facing the opposite direction. Now the last B will be first and leads with a song. After a while A runs in front of B facing her and this means B will stop singing. Now all turn and a new A is leading with movements etc. Objective: develops leadership qualities for all ages; takes away people’s shyness of being a leader; everyone has to take initiative to lead; and everyone gives encouragement to the leader.
Movement, Music and Mathematics
In the afternoons Miriam Godoshian (Mirabai), a retired elementary teacher from the USA who taught for over 30 years, took the students into more creative practical activities for teaching mathematics. The students used music, rhythm, movement and games to learn simple and complex mathematical concepts. This was a very practical activity on great demand by the teachers in the classroom who were eager to learn new methods and skills in teaching an often treated as ‘dry’ subject.
Qualities of a Neohumanist Teacher
This workshop was given by Prabha Demasson director of the Ananda Marga River School in Australia . This involved the teachers in small groups discussing what children are looking for in the personality of a teacher. This workshop connected with the personal development modules of the NHE Diploma Course.Development of a Neohumanist Teacher
Didi Anandarama maintained the flow and thread of the NHE Diploma course modules. The first three modules are intended for the benefit of the teacher. Who a teacher is teaches more than what the teacher says. In these modules, the teachers can focus on themselves and become clear on their personal most important values in life and understand ‘Who they are’ and bring their thoughts, feelings and actions into alignment on all levels.Throughout the two weeks the participants worked on formulating their own personal goals in the different areas of life. This task was an exercise related to the assignments of the first three modules and in general to the idea of ‘lifelong learning.’ The first three modules ask the students to observe their personal development and also to take up the study of an intellectual subject and a creative skill for the entire Diploma Course period.
Holistic Education and NHE
Didi introduced the general definitions of holistic education and in particular the philosophical foundations of NHE and the derived principles. She also touched on Human and Child Development, based on Shrii P. R. Sarkar’s writings, as an introduction to module 5 which will be dealt with in depth in the next seminar in October 2007.
Feedback and Closing Programme
“What did I learn in these two weeks” was the topic of a 1 ½ minute presentation for everyone, using any of the multiple intelligence ways to express it. This was a phenomenal closing programme that truly witnessed the heart of what each person really got out of these two weeks. Every topic was touched by one or the other person. Many liked the early morning asanas and meditation sessions, kiirtan and the creative, communication and personal development activities.
“The programme was well done, very practical and inspiring. I learned how to be patient, listen to people, and express myself openly so it creates harmony in living. I liked the art, philosophy, math, and especially the drama.”
“It helped me a lot in enhancing my knowledge in my spiritual, intellectual and physical development. It has changed my lifestyle which is good for my whole life.”
“I have learned very much, especially to be myself and to be accepted by everyone. I felt welcome and worthwhile. It was very inspiring and I feel very good I have joined this course. It was good getting up early! “
“Very practical. My English is better after the programme! I know how to do interesting Circle Time.”
Songkran Festival At the end of the Closing Programme the Thai teachers had a surprise for the visiting participants. They explained that very soon there will be the Thai New Year festival Songkran, which is also the beginning of the rainy season. They let us all sit outside and presented us with garlands and then started pouring water on our hands. The water pouring continued more and more and soon all were soaked in water and tapped with white powder on their faces. It was indeed a relief after days of heat rising up to 47 Centigrade. In their wet dress all joined in the typical Thai circle dance which moves counter clock wise to the rhythm of the music.
Future Plans There was a lot of sharing of resources among the participants especially among those who have projects of their own, as well as plans. Prabha Demasson will work on the Administrator’s handbook. Didi Candrima will translate the modules into Thai. Didi Ananda Carushila will read the assignments of the Thai teachers. Participants are inspired to organise similar programmes in their areas.