Providing the right school environment will shape children into adults who are physically healthy, intellectually alive and spiritually conscious. This was the focus of an international seminar in the city that saw educators and doctors discussing holistic education.

Emil Molt owned the Waldorf-Astoria Cigarette Company and he wanted to initiate some welfare activities for his employees. So, he invited Rudolf Steiner, who worked with an educational initiative for working class adults, to talk to his employees. But the workers appealed to Steiner and Molt that what they really desired was a school for their children.

Molt agreed and a school was set up. Steiner had already begun to articulate his views on education and his 1907 essay, The education of the child, where he had set out his comprehensive ideas of the three major phases of childhood had already made news.

The Waldorf system

Steiner believed in a holistic approach that paid attention to the physical, intellectual and the spiritual growth of a child. The school that he set up with the unstinting support of Molt was the beginning of the Waldorf system of education.

An eight-day international conference in Coimbatore, organised by Yellow Train, brought together professionals from both education and health – doctors, therapists, healers, psychologists, curative educators and art therapists – to discuss and implement the teachings of Steiner, who founded the spiritual science of Anthroposophy. Dr. Michaela Glocker, a medical doctor and Anthroposophist (Head of the Medical Section, at Goetheanum, Switzerland) spoke at the conference on holistic education. She is responsible for taking this movement to over 70 countries worldwide.

A better life for kids

Glocker described the Waldorf movement as a grassroot one born out of parent initiative and a genuine desire for a better life for children. The Waldorf system of education serves children from all social classes, abilities and interests. And the conference reinforced the philosophy of special education, inclusive education and curative education. She spoke of Salutogenesis. A term coined by medical sociologist Aaron Antonovsky, this prescribes an approach focusing on factors that support human health and well-being rather than on what causes disease. By creating school environments that can foster health and well-being in children, education becomes health giving. The concept of Health Promoting Schools (HPS ) was established by the World Health Organization. It acknowledges that the good health of the individual cannot be attained just through their own efforts – but that health is shaped by the environment in which we live. This is particularly important for children who spend a large portion of their growing years at schools.

Fragile, handle with care

Children are vulnerable in their formative years, said Glocker. It was especially important therefore that teachers handle them with care. “Each child grows day by day. And teaching stimulates growth.” Glocker spoke of age specific potential of children and the importance of teachers, doctors and parents to be on the same page about this.

According to her it was crucial to work with the children’s potential and not thrust too much on them before they are ready for it. The first seven years should be all about motor skills. She said, “Let the children live in the real world, not in the virtual one. Television, mobiles and computer screens only nourish the eyes and the ears. This should be the time of free play, where all faculties are integrated. It is a period of non-verbal education. Let them meet reality. For children in the age group of one to three, play is serious life. From seven to 14-years of life there is emotional activity and development. And soon with the right nourishment to the body, emotions and intellect, the children grow up into healthy, caring, responsible, right thinking and emotionally stable adults. There is scientific data to prove how the early years of an individual have a corresponding impact on his or her adult life. By putting certain things in practice now, one can make a generational change.”

Santhya Vikram of Yellow Train says: More and more people are disillusioned by the frenetic pace of our lives and what our young children are subjected to in the name of education. They want the schooling years that are joyful and healing in an environment of love and care. At Yellow Train we believe that education does not merely serve the human head and its intellect but the whole being.

Every year this conference is hosted in different locations. This year it was chosen to be held here. Some of the work that happens in the conference with educators/therapists/remedial educators is beyond the reach of what we can afford in India and we hope that people will benefit from this. Among the 148 delegates who came from all over India and the world, there were 21 people from Coimbatore. I hope the seeds have been sown.