Saturday, May 4, 2013

A visit to Alice Project, Universal Education

The Alice Project, a place nearby beautiful the Buddhist ruin in Sarnath, laden with green trees and plants, provides not only a home for many animals and birds, also a place for young children to discover their inner true self. The following paragraphs are the brief reflection of a weeklong visit to it.  
Chiao Aunty! children in a corridor call out to Luigina- It is an Italian language to say, good morning/evening. Chiao!, she replies immediately. She is like a mother, holding the hands of students in gentle, tugging their uniforms, hugging and kissing. She spends couple of minutes talking with each student despite her busy schedule. She has an inspiring quality as a teacher, that I have discovered while she was interacting with the children. Personally I feel, that the teachers should have these values as a part and parcel. Her love and kindness to all the children with no discrimination has gained the children's love equally in turn and they have in fact strong family relationship rather than a teacher and students. I know during my schooling teacher is teacher and student is student. There was a big gap between teachers and students, which created fear, confusion, unfriendly and lot more. Teachers are viewed as fearsome, that I once vividly remember jumping off the wall to escape their sight. I am sure I learned very important skill from her about how to establish good relationship with children. Yet, I admit there is always a room to grow and learn more.     
Alice project is a non-governmental organization that is formally authorized by the Indian government in 1994. Its purpose is to develop an integrated education through experiences and researches. So two schools were founded: one in Sarnath and another one in Bodhgaya. Today these schools offer education to more the one thousand students. Recently another school had been opened for Chakma children in Arunachal Pradesh. Alice project methodology is based on the concept of unity. There are no division due to different nationality, tradition, religion in a multicultural and pluralistic society. It is not only a social concern but it is also a personal concern of the relation with ourselves. It's here that a  research for psychological unity starts, a unity that goes beyond division created by confusing mind.  
They are following the state government syllabus for the traditional disciplines, which are taught according to western methodologies, plus the curriculum of their special educational programme- Yoga, concentration, art, mythology, comparative religion, moral science and ecology.
"Like Alice who embarked on a great adventure and did not lose herself in Wonderland - a place inside-but found an inner guide (in the form of the White Rabbit). In a same way we should guide our students to discover their true self," says Luigina De Biasi, co-founder of Alice Project. "Our students need to be able to find their way in the world around them through understanding their internal world" she added. "Understanding the internal world needs experiences and we are providing those to our children," she added.
When asked about the inner world Luigina said, 'What is going on in yourself? What can we see? what are our thoughts? our feelings? our emotions? what is our reality? we call all this our internal world, which cannot be separated from external reality.'
Today's education system is built on separation and on classification. In school we tell the children to look at a tree. The tree is divided into three parts - roots, trunks, leaves. Is it really that the trees are divided into three parts or they were long ago, some botanist took a pen and wrote down that the trees are divided into three parts-and the idea came to an existence. Now we tell students, this is a truth, go memorise it, if you don't, you will fail in your exam.
According to Luigina, this kind of knowledge is poison. It is not truth that the trees are divided into three parts. What is true is that we project what is in our mind. Everything we perceive outside comes from our filter- our thoughts, believes, cultures, religion, principles and an environment we are raised.
The first bang of a bell calls their attention to take their seats on the plastic carpet. They take out their shoes and slippers around the rim of plastic carpet and sit in their respective lines. At once, hundreds of heads dressed in sky blue shirts, dark purple pants and skirts, dangling purple ties from the middle of their chests for junior grades. long blue knee length skirt with its two sides tore apart appearing upside down 'V' shape which looks like a night outfit and a white long flat strip of cloth decorated in 'V' shape over the breast and shoulder. The morning breeze from the green tall trees, plants and flowers fill the gathering. A pigeon, on the 'Y' shaped branch listens to the melodies prayer and often in between sparrow chorus their chirps but it was dominated by a tune of hundred below. After the prayer they sit on the plastic carpets cross legged. A teacher stands on the floor in front of the gathering with a small bell on his right hand.  He shakes it vigorously so that the sound of a bell is audible at the rear. He speaks in Hindi language through a microphone held on his left hand ''Students, sit straight, close your eyes, think about an enemy to whom you hurt. Ask yourself why did you hurt him or her. Dissolve their harsh words and pay attention to your breath. Know that you are inhaling when you inhale and exhaling when you exhale. Visualise 'OM' in your mind.'' Then in an ascending tone they chant OM...OM...OM... three times. Thus, a day begins with looking into the Internal world of self.
Being a Buddhist myself, and born and brought up in a society where Gross National Happiness concept gave birth to. To me exploring the nature of a mind and discovering its inner most quality has become basic reliable foundation to qualify my background, while it can be universal path of internalizing into one's own unexplored working of a mind. I realized that simple daily contemplative practices in school are very important from an early age of human race. Because the education we give to our children must benefit throughout the individual's life and even in next life which I think is possible through training our mind-meditation or whatever we call it. If taken into consideration it would provide a unique platform for our young and unspoiled mind to discover the mind system at earliest possible. At times it becomes investigational lab to experiment the mind chemistry of our children to become mind scientists. Production of hundreds and hundreds of mind scientist should begin from schools and one example could be Alice project.
There is always sometime reserved from an assembly hour to sing together in union. Most of the songs are praise to god, value embedded and peace related. One of the songs which was sung in different languages (Hindi, English, Italian, African, Bhutanese etc) goes like this ''We will be in peace...'' followed by rhythmic claps. ''Bless the lord my Soul...'' is another inspiring song amongst many. I learned that singing songs together give opportunities for students to union as one, respect each other, learn and visualize the value images, work out  with tunes and compose their own songs.
I learned, that to cultivate the seed of a pure and good mind one should have an inspiring  environment as a fertile land and that must be constantly encouraged in our children's daily practices. Such a setting was a Tara temple which was dedicated to an universal peace; the long life of H.H. the Dalai Lama; Lama Zopa Rinpoche and Lama Yeshey- holy Gurus who inspired the Alice Project. There the students from the Alice project recite the prayer taking turns. The cosmic female energy is generated constantly by 24 hours uninterrupted recitation of her prayer. Many lamas have blessed the temple.
Yoga is a science of a body and a mind. I learned that there is an important relationship between yoga and meditation. Both the practices basically help in the development of children's concentration, calming the mind, and right growth of the body. To provide with an opportunities for students to practice and learn yoga the school has separate yoga room and made schedule for all the classes.
I observed several yoga classes and every time they begin with motivational prayer and meditation for few minutes. They dedicate their learning and again mediate for few minutes to end the session.