Sarnath, Uttar Pradesh, India. “Where is the phenomenon that I perceive?” This question is the basis of the pedagogia started in the ‘80s by the Italian teachers Valentino Giacomin and Luigina De Biasi, and named “Alice Project”.
In an era of computerization and high speed exchange of information through internet, mobiles, media, western societies are seeing an acceleration in lifestyle resulting in stress and downward trend in new generations. In schools around the world, in fact, every year students have increasing behavior problems with decreasing attention and concentration skills, more cases of dyslexia and other learning disorders. For this reason many researchers in pedagogia are searching for a solution to prevent learning disorders.
A final solution seems to come from an education that combines Western and Eastern methods. Two italian teachers Luigina De Biasi and Valentino Giacomin, have brought in India, after successfully experimenting with it for ten years in three Italian governmental schools, a new revolutionary school method called “Alice Project”. It takes the name from the Carroll’s novel “Alice in the Wonderland”: in the school, as following the white rabbit, students can find the path to knowledge of themselves and the world. In 1994, Giacomin and De Biasi founded the first Alice school in Sarnath (India), intercultural and generously open to the lower social classes. Today, after 20 years of operation, the school has more than a thousand students, and is officially recognized by the Indian government as NGO “Awakening Universal Special Education”.
Sarnath, Uttar Pradesh, India. Every morning students gather in a general assembly in the central courtyard of the school for collective prayers and songs. The school of Sarnath in India is the first intercultural and interreligious school of Alice Project, founded in 1994 on the site of the Buddha’s first sermon after his enlightenment. There are other two Alice schools in India: at Bodh Gaya in Bihar and at Bodhisatta Deban village in Arunachal Pradesh.
Sarnath, Uttar Pradesh, India. “Alice in Wonderland tells the story of a girl who enters the world of his imagination. She is lucky because doesn’t get lost. We believe it is important to help our students not only to go through the world around them, but also to understand their inner world to not get lost in it.” (Creators of Alice Project)
Sarnath, Uttar Pradesh, India. When the project was born, the two teachers Valentino Giacomin and Luigina De Biasi sought a solution to the progressive deterioration of the school performance and discipline in which teachers attended in the early eighties. They took a direction opposite to that in use at the time, wondering if the external behavior could not be a sign of a breakdown in the interior balance: a “lack of communication” between body and mind, inside and outside, you and I.
The Alice Project takes as a model the delphic motto “Know Yourself” and promotes this through meditation and periodic assessments required by the teachers, in order to detect the specific difficulties of pupils. Also yoga, ayurvedic massage, and collective prayer, are practices useful to develop bio-psycho-spiritual unit, transpersonal psychology, and the emotional intelligence.
After conducting a considerable amount of research, the results were quite encouraging, and made the researchers wonder if they had in fact stumbled onto a possible solution to the problems plaguing modern societies in relation to student behavior and academic achievement.
Alice project has been studied with scientific method in order to prove that it can help even the children from the lower classes to bridge the gap towards their peers socially and economically more fortunate.
Within a few years, disadvantaged students who had failed in the early verbal and nonverbal tests proposed by the school psychologist, not only have recovered brilliantly disadvantage compared to socially higher students, but were also able to overcome them.
The Alice method include all spiritual teachings with no preferences of religion, teaching the attention to humanitarianism and ecology.
Sarnath, Uttar Pradesh, India. Schools of Alice were born to allow education to the poorest and encourage disadvantaged social classes. The costs of school enrollment are based on the census: the cost ranges of Rs 250 (about 4 euro) monthly to 1 euro; some students are free of cost. The excellent learning outcomes have recently pushed even some higher-class families to enroll their children in Alice schools.
Sarnath, Uttar Pradesh, India. In the garden of the school some Buddhist statues are under construction, while nearby there is a Buddhist temple dedicated to Tara. The school buildings cover an area of about 26,000 square meters and include 22 classrooms, a central courtyard, playground, garden and an agricultural area for growing vegetables.
Sarnath, Uttar Pradesh, India. The canteen for residents is managed by elder students themselves and offers vegetarian food sourced locally, usually rice and potatoes.
Sarnath, Uttar Pradesh, India. The gym room is used exclusively for Yoga lesson. This practice of “body education” is part of the exercises on attention, perception and self-analysis that over the years have shown an increase in concentration and learning of the students.
Sarnath, Uttar Pradesh, India. Ayurvedic massage on head. The curriculum combines traditional materials imposed by the Indian government as Mathematics, Science, Hindi, Sanskrit, English, History, Biology, Chemistry and Geography, with the ancient Indian disciplines of yoga, meditation and ayurvedic massage.
Sarnath, Uttar Pradesh, India. Today, after 20 years of activity, Alice schools are an educational establishment equalized, there are more than a thousand students and forty teachers. The classes cover the entire course of study, ranging from kindergarten to university. In Sarnath school there are 22 full-time teachers, a teacher of massage, some part-time teachers and regular volunteers.
Sarnath, Uttar Pradesh, India. The Alice methodology has been defined “the new pedagogy for the third millennium” by professor Andrea Bocconi, psychotherapist, writer, and an important representative of psychosynthesis in Italy. Also, Shankaracharya, the highest authority of the Hindus, said that “the school illuminates the students’ life, taking them into the divine world that lays in their hearts”.
Sarnath, Uttar Pradesh, India. In October 1997 the tests carried out by professor Sharma from the University of Benares, showed a notable improvement in Alice students compared to those from other schools, mostly regarding attentiveness, memory, awareness, tolerance, and discipline.
Sarnath, Uttar Pradesh, India. The hostel within the school provides free residence for 42 students, most of them are Chakmas, an ethnicity expelled from Bangladesh because Buddhist and who has never received the Indian passport. For this reason the Chakmas in Sarnath are stateless, live in the school and return home every two years, with a trip that lasts four days.
Sarnath, Uttar Pradesh, India. Although India has favored the creation of Alice schools, there are still some difficulties. “Economic problems, first of all, because we do not receive any contribution from the state. Then difficulties in training teachers. Once trained, they often opt for more lucrative jobs. It is understandable. But we have to start over. The ideal would be to work in public schools, but in Italy.” (Valentino Giacomin)
It is proved that in the Alice schools there are almost no discipline problems neither cases of students who suffer from hyperactivity and attention disorders or learning disabilities, diseases which instead concern other countries worldwide, even Italy where this research comes from. This new path in teaching, learning and human consciousness has been encouraged by Dalai Lama and sustained by private funds. In 2001 another school has been opened in Bodhgaya, and it is now partly self-managed by the students. A third school, for the Chakma ethnic minority is located in the State of Arunachal Pradesh.