This paper was presented at
Psychology: The Indian Contribution
National Conference on
Indian Psychology, Yoga and Consciousness
organised by the Indian Council of Philosophical Research
at the Sri Aurobindo International Centre of Education
Pondicherry, India, 10-13 December 2004

(click to enlarge)

Integral Education:Learning Through Self

Ankita Mendiratta
Ph.D student
Department of Human Development and Family Studies
Faculty of Home Science


The paper takes up in detail the importance, components and content of integral education. It also delineates the principles of true learning, highlights the integral context and various aspects of the learning process including the role of teacher, the role of children, learning through self (attitude), development – based learning, and process – based learning. . It focuses on knowledge building not just through classroom teaching but also through integration of the cultural inputs. The paper concludes with a case study of ‘ integral education in practice’ in Chetan Balwadi, a laboratory school of the Department of Human Development and Family Studies, Faculty of Home Science, The Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda.

India is well known for the spiritual and the religious aspects. The distinct cultural identity is reflected through varied linguistic and racial group, interaction between different disciplines at various levels of society, from the most affluent to the weakest sections. In the traditional Indian society, the purpose of life was defined by the well-known doctrine of the Purusharthas, which focused on the harmony between the four ends of life—Dharma, Artha, Kama and Moksha. Both Artha and Kama are regulated by Dharma. Dharma, in its true sense, is defined and understood with reference to Moksha, the final Liberation. Moksha is considered as the ultimate goal of life, and so it was the ultimate objective of education too—that which liberates. The basic teachings of all sacred traditions emphasize that knowledge is ultimately related to ‘intelligence’, the instrument of knowledge within man, which is endowed with the possibility of knowing truth.

The inter-linking of education and culture aims to discover the inherent talent and potential of a child and develop his personality. The meaning of education is not merely knowledge, but knowledge in action. The emphasis is on purity and harmony of thoughts, words and actions. Knowledge and skills are imparted in an atmosphere of tenderness and intense love. The type of education provided ensures absorption of knowledge, accumulation of wisdom and an appreciation of the experience of ancient ideals of Sathya, Dharma, Shanthi, Prema and Ahimsa.

The Center for Cultural Resources and Training (CCRT) was set up at the national level to provide a cultural component in curriculum teaching and a number of teachers and teacher-educators trained in this institution are doing commendable work in schools and State Institutes of Education. CCRT training programmes are designed to enable teachers to acquire knowledge of the use of the arts and crafts in the service of education, to create an awareness of India's cultural heritage, and to inculcate a sense of appreciation of the multiple levels of cultural interaction in the country. CCRT also strives to sensitize the decision makers on the need for cultural education, especially to appreciate the role of the youth in the preservation of the natural and cultural heritage. School Community interaction is sought to be institutionalized by getting local artisans, craftsmen etc. to teach/demonstrate their art to schoolchildren.

In the traditional perspective, the teacher or the Guru not only transmits knowledge and instructs the students about the application of that knowledge, but also in his own person provides a living example of one who puts the knowledge into practice, and thus acts as the symbol of the ultimate goal, the goal of enlightenment. Over and above all, such teachers were extremely compassionate, and showered their compassion not only on their students but also on all sentient beings. Such great and compassionate mentor attracted students from far and wide, and the reputation of the center of learning primarily depended on its teachers — Acharyas and Gurus. It was in India that such Guru-centric universities got established and developed for the first time in world history; and for centuries after, in succession, this unique system of education flourished in India. The integral education is considered as both the part of education and the psychology.

According to Dr. S.S.Mathur (1994,pp-11), “ educational psychology is the study of human behavior as it is influenced by the social processes. It also studies those processes, which provides an understanding of the ways in which the modification is brought in the behavior. It provides a base for education. It is an area of experiment and not a collection of specific subject matter”.

The development of educational psychology in India has a philosophical base. Attempt was made to understand the own self and its relation with the material world. The above lead to the knowledge of the human personality, its development and the processes of its upliftment to the spiritual heights. In the education process, the psychological aspects were emphasized. It includes the concept of moksha i.e. is the perfection of the Indian thoughts, kama and artha i.e. is the craving for sex, lust, wealth, riches and dharma. With the introduction of scientific knowledge and the technological advancement, the area of educational psychology has gained much importance in the present scenario (Mathur, S.S, 1994).

Culture has always been an integral part of the informal process of an Indian's education, contributing to the integrated development of his personality, sensitizing him towards his environment and his natural and cultural heritage. In the present day scenario, when the world is facing numerous problems such as dissension and intolerance, destruction of the natural environment, wars and poverty, the role of culture in the developmental effort, and particularly in education, cannot be over-emphasized. It is now widely recognized that only the integration of our artistic and cultural with curriculum teaching will make the young aware of the aesthetic dimensions of life and sensitize them towards creative expression.

Education plays a very important culturising role and vice versa. Both the National Policy on Education, 1986 and the Approach to the National Policy on Culture (NPC) constantly emphasize the cultural consequences of education and seek to strengthen its cultural components education. The cultural input in school education seeks to sensitize the child towards his environment and natural materials around him, and teach him to appreciate the aesthetic forms and rhythms he grows up with. The school child is also provided a basic core of facts about India's cultural heritage through folk songs, local history and archaeological artifacts. A sense of design and aesthetics is encouraged. Teacher training programmes also seek to enhance their capability for cultural instruction. Special books, educational material and audiovisual facilities are also sought to be provided for schools. India is striving to promote a symbiosis between local environment, indigenous technologies, oral traditions of literature and the demands of keeping pace with the rapid technological advances.

According to Singh , K (1998), in order to understand the concept of Integral Education, it is important to define the term integral. The dictionary definition is “ necessary to the completeness of, whole, complete”. Education is, of course, the most important activity that any civilization can embark upon, because it is the medium through which a civilization renews itself and passes down to generations yet unborn the quintessence of its wisdom from the Rishi/Guru to the Shishya / Disciple is concidered as essential for the same. An integral approach to education deal with these four different categories: the importance of physical growth; the importance of intellectual growth; the importance of social growth; and the importance of spiritual growth.

“Physical Aspect of an Integral Education System

Shareeramadyam Khalu Dharma Sadhanam – the Vedas say very clearly that the basis of all dharma is the body. Unless the body is properly trained and looked after, no other development is really possible. Our children have to be taught how to sit properly, how to breathe properly, how to walk. It is wrong to say that we need expensive equipment in order to train the body. If we can introduce Yoga, proper posture, proper breathing in schools at the grassroots level, we will find a much healthier version of development taking place. Unless we are able to integrate the nutritional programme, the body-strengthening programme into the school system, it is no use talking about integral education. There is, of course, mass drill and sports, PT and NCC, but there does not seem to be any national commitment to physical fitness as such So, the first element of our integral education must be a carefully structured programme of physical fitness and well being. And it must involve all the various dimensions including the education of the parents because many of these elements are to be found not only in the schools but also in the homes. When children go to school there must be some way of ensuring feedback to the parents, so that they can get involved and can also get educated in the process of education of their children.

Training of the Mind and the Aesthetic Sensibilities

The second element of our integral education is intellectual growth. There is a need for universalisation of primary education, the vocationalisation of secondary education and the rationalisation of higher education. Primary education has to become universal because we cannot talk of a functional democracy if millions of Indian citizens are illiterate.

As far as secondary education is concerned, we must have at least a three year course after the tenth standard, so that the young men and women who pass it can go to their vocations and the drift to college can be arrested.

With respect to higher education, the need of the hour is for rationalization of the whole system, because at present there is aimlessness and lack of direction in it. However, more important than the academic elements are the intellectual inputs. More important than what we learn, is whether we are developing the capacity to learn or not. Most of what we learn is obsolete even before we leave college.

India has a tremendously rich heritage of music, of dance and of art, which can introduce students to the aesthetic dimension. The study of the classics has unfortunately virtually disappeared. This study is extremely important, not so much for the classics themselves, but for the intellectual discipline they involve. Once one has been exposed to a glorious language like Sanskrit, for example, one’s aesthetic sensibility is refined..

The need to recapture the inner beauty of language, of re-instituting the elements of intellectual inquiry and of intellectual thought is very important. The language the people learn is not important. What is important is that they learn to develop their minds. The youth of India has to be prepared, intellectually, to deal with the new knowledge that is developing so rapidly around us.

Development of Socially Relevant Moral Values

Humanity is in the throes of a transition more fundamental than any of the ones it has undergone earlier. As human beings are essentially social beings, no amount of mere individual development is sufficient to create a viable and dynamic society. To create the necessary infrastructure for a peaceful and integrated society, we need to transmit the socially desirable values at an early stage in the educational system. We, in India, live in a time of unprecedented social turmoil and violence. In this turmoil, the one fact that stands out starkly is the rapid erosion of what are called moral and social values. Its important to inculcate the values like, cleanliness, punctuality, politeness and helpfulness.

One of the contributing factors to the failure of our education system to provide the basis for our children to become good citizens has been a distorted and anti-religious view of secularism. Secularism has never meant that we should banish all moral and spiritual education from our country. Secularism means the total freedom of all religions in the country, the total equality of all religions and the fact that the State as such has no religion. But it does not mean, and should not be taken to mean, that any value that is desirable but also happens to be a religious value should, therefore, be neglected.

The Inner Dimension of Spiritual Growth

It involves the inner recesses of the human personality and the highest reaches of the human consciousness. The concept follows the need to respect the dignity of each individual and hence the fact that each individual has got to be respected and given the freedom to develop, to fan that spark of divinity within him into a fire of spiritual realization.

In conclusion, the four dimensions that we have to incorporate in any integral system of education are – physical well being in the widest sense of the term; intellectual development along with the development of aesthetic sensibilities; social integration starting from the family and going outwards in widening concentric circles until we cover the entire globe; and, finally, nurturing that divine spark within us, which really makes us unique beings and which enables us to fulfill our destiny. (Singh,k.(1998).Integraleducation.Online document[5th nov,2004).

According to Sri Aurobindo and The Mother (2001,pp-177), integral education “aims at helping children to remain in contact with their soul and helps them to develop and perfect their mind, life and body as instruments of their soul to express itself on the earth ”. Through integral education an individual becomes more conscious of his/her inner self, experiences more freedom in making choices and interprets life in his/her own ways. Integral education helps oneself to realize the inner potentials. The components of integral education are:

  • Help student to become aware of the psychic consciousness,
  • Help student to develop all the faculties, which includes the mental, the vital and the physical.

For the above, it is important to create a conducive environment, which fosters psychic living. Here in the person reflects on the inner nature and the innermost self and focus on own experiences. This journey to self and self-observation makes a person aware of possibilities and difficulties at work.

An integral school can help reach the above. The integral school nurtures the inner development of the student. The school atmosphere, the teaching-learning process, the context of the integral education should be such that the child could penetrate to the inner self, that is, the psychic being. In such a context, the teacher and student both can develop talents and can reach to their maximum potentials. Hence, while dealing with integral education it is important to aim at the integral context.

The integral context includes:

1) The Learning Process:

According to Sri Aurobindo (2001,pp-148, 151), “ learning that is based on the blossoming of the psychic being is the most fundamental process of self- development in a child or an adult ”. Learning to observe self, self-awareness is an important tool for the above. The main aspects of an integral learning process are:

  • Space for self-observation as it leads to self awareness,
  • Time and space for reflection,
  • Learning to take decision guided by inner motives,
  • Learning to take responsibility for one’s decisions,
  • Space for making real choices (there should be a balance between the child’s swadharma, the society in general and the personal ideas of the teacher or parents in specific, and
  • Time and space for development and perfection of personal qualities and capacities.

Information, assimilation and utilization are considered as three main stages in a learning process. Here in, the individual first collects the new information and organize it, the information is then meaningfully integrated and finally the information is utilized or applied in a new situation.

2)The Teaching Process:

It is an ongoing process and the three principles of teaching process as given by Sri. Aurobindo (2001, pp- 133, 137, 140) are:

  • “ Nothing can be taught. The teacher is not an instructor or taskmaster, he is a helper and a guide. His business is to suggest and not to impose ”.
  • “ The mind has to be consulted in its own growth. The idea of hammering the child into the shape desired by the parent or teacher is a barbarous and ignorant superstition…To face the nature to abandon its own dharma is to do it permanent harm, mutilate its growth and deface its perfection. It is a selfish tyranny over a human soul and a would to the nation, which loses the benefit of the best that a man could have given it…”
  • “ Work from near to the far, from that which is, to that which shall be. We must not take up the nature by the roots from the earth in which it must grow or surround the mind with images and ideas of a life, which is alien to that in which it must physically move. If anything has to be taught in from outside, it must be offered, not forced on the mind. A free and natural growth is the condition of genuine development ”.

As per the above principles, the aim of integral education is to invoke the inner knowledge of the children. There should be a development –based learning and a process-based education. The teacher should provide a warm, welcome and non-judgemental environment. The role of the teacher is more like a participant and helper rather than the taskmaster. There is a need to change the attitude of the teacher. He/She should develop the qualities of a guide or facilitator. The teacher has to experience that from with in. Learning should be there for both the teacher and the student. For the above the teacher should create a stimulating environment, where the children can get both educational cum recreational experiences. The teacher should give adequate freedom to the children, and respect the child’s “swadharma” .The teacher should make an attempt to understand the child’s mind, his attitude / perspectives / capabilities / qualities and the like. And should help the child to gain confidence in his own capacities. The teacher should provide children the space for experimentation but within the boundaries of discipline and socially accepted behaviour. The teacher needs to learn the psychological skills. Child’s observation is required to understand the child better. The teacher’s preconceived ideas should not dominate the observation that the teacher makes about the child. Child observation is an important component of process-oriented education. The teacher should be flexible and should expose children to different variety of settings / materials in the classroom. There should be a shift from “ society – based to dharma – based ” education.

3) The Content Of Integral Education:

For true integral education to take place , the classroom environment, content, should be such that promotes the psychic education.

a)The Classroom Set Up:

  • Invoking the knowledge from within and not just teaching the subject matter,
  • Focus on the development rather than the content,
  • The child should be exposed to various learning experiences,
  • Focus should be on the process rather than on the product,
  • Several unique individual learning processes should be guided to the children,

b) The Learning Material:

  • Variety of learning material should be there in the classroom. The materials should be with in the reach of the children. The students should have free access to the material,
  • The material should cater to the different learning levels of the children,
  • Diversity in learning material should be there , so that the children who learn predominantly with their eyes, or their ears, or through movement feel welcomed,
  • Adequate material for practicing skills related to the subject should be present,
  • Psychic concepts can be introduced in the regular subject taught in school,
  • The material should be carefully selected and offered according to the age, level, need and the interest of each child

c) The Psychic concepts in regular subjects taught in schools:

The content to be taught should have a psychic touch. Introducing the psychic concepts, like, to reveal beauty, to reveal the inner world in the subject of art, and focusing on aspects like the wonder of script, expressing emotions in the subject of language, etc. are few examples for the same. It leads to the self-directed learning. Minimum common syllabus should be introduced in the class. The aim of introducing it is not to reduce the workload of the children but through the extension activities allowing variety for self-development of the children.

d)The Environment:

For a child to get an overall integral education, both physical and the psychological environment have to be taken care. The physical environment includes the outer setting of the classroom. The environment should be clean; things should be placed in order and in harmony with each other. It should be beautiful and peaceful. The psychological environment includes the inner preparation of the soul. The individual should experience the inner peace, warmth and harmony. One should trust the innate goodness of everybody. Observe self while working and reflect upon the things.

Overall the above leads to the development of mental faculties, like, concentration, observation, expression, the development of vital qualities like, enthusiasm, discipline, honesty, the development of physical skills and qualities like, eye- hand coordination, body posture, fitness and the development of general skills, like, study skills: research, referencing, thinking skills: problem solving, logic, and social skills: communication, civic sense and the like.

Gandiji’s philosophy on education also aims to provide the child the integral education. According to him, education entails the overall development of the child. There should be a harmony between the child’s body, mind and spirit. The best can be express through the inner voice of truth. The aims of education are:

  • Child should be able to earn his living after finishing education (the bread and butter aim),
  • Inner culture must be reflected in one’s overall behavior (the cultural aim),
  • Character development in terms of non-violence and universal love should be there (the moral aim),
  • Realization of truth (self –realization aim).

Application & Reflection Of Integral Education in Chetan Balwadi

The Chetan Balwadi is a laboratory school of the Department of Human Development and Family Studies, Faculty of Home Science, The Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda. It started in 1949.The target group is children from two and a half to five and a half years of age.  The aim is to include a quality early child development program for children, training of professional and paraprofessional and research. The goal is to design and implement a developmentally appropriate program for children. It follows the philosophy of John Dewey.

It very much reflects the context of integral education. The curriculum is based on children’s experiences, interest and felt needs by the teachers. The curriculum is an integrated one. It consists of language, math, social studies, creative arts, music and story. The approach is child centered. The program is activity based, encouraging exploration of the environment, opportunities for self-expression, focuses on concrete experiences and meaningful and thematic context. Experiences are planned for the children depending on the developmental goals. Process is emphasized rather than the product. The environment of the balwadi fosters educational cum recreational learning. The rooms in the balwadi are equipped with developmentally appropriate resources. The things are placed at eye level and reach of the children. There is enough space for free movements and group sessions. Other areas include dollhouse, block play, manipulative, language and science centers. The above encourages free play and learning through self. The content is flexible and contextual. Children learn through first hand experiences. The teaching – learning strategies are designed to promote child-child, child-material and teacher-child interaction. The program includes the indoor free play, the outdoor free play, group session, creative arts, music, story and school readiness (.Mankodi ,H ., Shastri, J., Jasrai, S., & Mankodi, D.(2001).

The sessions are given to the children in three phases:

  • Review of children’s current knowledge and interest,
  • Involvement of children in working individually or collaboratively at their own level,
  • Concluding and sharing( Bhargava, S., Shastri, J., Jasrai, S.(2004).

The teacher also does assessment of the program. Parents are also involved in the balwadi programme.

Overall the integral education should be designed not only keeping in mind the curricular and co-curricular programmes, academic excellence but also keeping in focus the principles of humility and integrity, development of character, correct attitudes and values and a sense of unity and world brotherhood. What is needed are the persons who will provide the stimulus and the encouragement to bring them out. Mere preaching cannot change the world. It is only through action and practical examples, in all-educational institutions, can the impulse for change be intensified. When teachers and elders practice disciplined and regulated life and when human values are fully imbibed by them, the students will automatically follow. Truth and Right Conduct should be adhered to with pure intentions. A righteous life leads to peace. Love is to be experienced in the depths of peace. Love should find expression in non-violence . These basic values have to be demonstrated in action and not limited to preaching alone.


Bhargava, S., Shastri, J., Jasrai, S.(2004). Play based approach : Constucting meaning by self . Department of Human Development and Family Studies. Faculty of Home Science, The M.S. University, Baroda

Mankodi ,H ., Shastri, J., Jasrai, S., & Mankodi, D.(2001).Chetan balwadi – The laboratory nursery school. Department of Human Development and Family Studies, Faculty of Home Science, The M. S. University of Baroda, Vadodara.

Mathur, S.S (1994). Educational Psychology.(13th ed.). Vinod Pustak Mandir, Agra.

Resource book and souvenier for 3-day intensive workshop on education (1st to 3rd Oct, 2001). Maharashtra state committee of Sri Aurobindo Society, Pondicherry

Sri Aurobindo and The Mother.(2001). Psychic education a workbook.Sri Aurobindo Education Society, New Delhi.