A Story of Vision and Commitment
A brief history of the school’s development from the 1970s to
The School of Total Education today is the result of the effort and sacrifice of hundreds of people over a period of nearly 40 years. Not only teachers and parents, but also a broader community of supporters, inspired by the vision of creating a working example of an educational system which addresses not only the outer development but also the inner development of the child. One in which spiritual and emotional growth would share equal importance with physical and intellectual development.
This was the vision of the school’s founder, Vijayadev Yogendra.
Vijayadev Yogendra (1930–2005) was a yoga teacher, educationalist, philosopher, author and poet who had his early experience in India and neighbouring regions. He had rare exposure to great thinkers of both East and West through the focus provided by his widely revered father, Shri Yogendra (who in 1918 founded the Yoga Institute in India to re-orientate the ancient science of Yoga to be relevant to the needs of contemporary living).
Vijayadev Yogendra came to Melbourne, Australia, in 1964 where he co-founded the Yoga Education Centre. Within a few years, hundreds of students were passing through the Centre weekly and dozens of Yoga classes were being conducted at Melbourne, Monash and LaTrobe universities.
Vijayadev Yogendra had made a vigorous lifetime study of the world’s educational, philosophical and cultural traditions, and from this study had refined his ideas for new holistic programs in education and health.
Building a Foundation
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, young people, especially in universities, were questioning prevailing social values. For some, Eastern philosophies and traditions such as Yoga offered a different path of personal development.
Through the Yoga classes at the universities, Vijay had attracted a loyal following of young people who were inspired by his philosophy and his personal example. He urged his students to look beyond superficial protest, drugs and permissive behaviour popular in youth culture at the time. Instead he encouraged a disciplined lifestyle and a positive philosophy of life based on service to others.
Philanthropic support enabled the creation in 1970 of what is now the Total Health and Education Foundation as a vehicle for implementing innovative education and health initiatives.
The Foundation established a Guest Scholar Program and brought eminent people from all over the world to Melbourne to share their philosophies of life with the Foundation’s young people. Seminars and symposia were held also to share the knowledge of these scholars with the wider community.
The Melbourne School
Plans for a school soon began to take shape, not in the form of buildings and facilities, but as a thoroughly conceived philosophy translated into practical training of young teachers.
An editorial in the Journal of the Foundation stated:
“The Foundation is attempting to create a total education which will not only provide man with skills necessary to live and earn a living in modern society, but which will also give him the capacity to be detached, responsible, selfless and become a humane being.”
Preparing teachers for the forthcoming school began in September 1974. Although all the teachers had formal teaching qualifications and experience, Vijay initiated a training program, encouraging the teachers to focus on their own personal development and to deepen their understanding of how their own character helped or hindered their teaching.
In 1975/1976 a Summer School was run, and subsequently a Sunday Morning Program was run for 34 children to give opportunities for the teachers to put into practice what had been talked about and to learn to work together. Vijay helped everyone involved to understand the value of service — a philosophy which continues in the school today.
As planning for the school gained momentum, the search for a location began. Fortunately an ideal building was found close by at 12 Chapel Street — a stately Victorian residence built in 1887 for the Chief Justice of Victoria. This once glorious mansion was run down and in use as a funeral parlour.
The Foundation purchased the property and began the monumental task of completely renovating the historical building. An immense volunteer effort by teachers and supporters restored the building to its former glory in only 2–3 months, ready for the opening of the school.
The School of Total Education opened in February 1977. An article in the Journal of the Foundation reported:
“Following the initial settling in period, a secure and happy family atmosphere has been established in the School. There are now twenty children attending the School — ten in the preparatory grade, and ten in the first, second and third grades”.
There were no fees initially and the school ran for 12 months of the year!
For those involved, this was an era of excitement stemming from the firm belief that they were creating something with the potential for influence on broader Australian and international educational practice.
Establishing a Rural Base
With the Melbourne school up and running, Vijayadev Yogendra turned his attention to establishing a rural base where his educational ideals could be more effectively realised in a natural environment away from the inner city intensity of St Kilda. A quieter rural environment would be healthier for children and families.
After an unsuccessful attempt to establish a rural base in Gippsland in 1978–79, a location in warmer climes was sought. Warwick was a sleepy country town amid the rolling hills of the Darling Downs and just a two hour drive away from Brisbane. The Warwick City Council were particularly positive and encouraging about the proposition of the school and Foundation locating in Warwick.
A four and a half hectare block of land was purchased on the northern outskirts of the town together with a larger farm property some 26 km to the east. Construction of a new school building and associated dwellings began in 1980, and these were ready for the Warwick School of Total Education to open at the start of 1981 with just six students from Grade 1 to Grade 6.
Although the Melbourne school continued to operate for another five years, the Warwick school became the primary campus and the focus of Vijay’s continued development of the school. A rural environment had fewer distractions than the big city and, with most teachers and school families living nearby, people were able to concentrate on developing and supporting the school.
From a single building in 1981, the school’s facilities were progressively extended, following Vijay’s plan for a series of six buildings with hexagonal classrooms arranged around a central play area. The last of these buildings was completed in 2008.
Now, the school conducts classes from Prep to Year 12 with around 150 students in all. Class sizes average just 12 students with one teacher.
The School Community
Alongside the development of the Melbourne school was community living for those who wished — apartments near the school, a residence for young people and a community dining room which provided lunches and evening meals.
A similar pattern followed the school to Warwick — an accompanying residential development grew alongside the school, giving families of teachers and parents the opportunity to raise their children in a safe, supportive environment.
For over 20 years the school was closely tied to the broader fabric of this community. Children experienced the school as an harmonious extension of the home and the neighborhood, where the philosophy and values upon which the school was based extended into the life of the community.
The school community was also crucial for supporting the school and its growth. Voluntary involvement by community members helped keep running costs down and fees affordable. There was a strong culture of co-operation. People experienced the practical benefits of working together and curbing individual gain and ambition in return for creating a collective asset — the school and community — which benefited everyone.
Business with An Altruistic Motive
Vijayadev Yogendra did not want to create an elite school affordable only to the wealthy. He believed that education of children was the most important task of a society and deserved to be funded as a social responsibility.
He encouraged the creation of businesses specifically to fund the school so that fees could be kept as low as possible.
The first was a hot bread shop in the Melbourne suburb of Ashburton which opened in 1975 as “The Old Style Bread Centre”. Soon more shops were added and by the early 1980s there was a chain of bakeries generating income to sustain the school and other Foundation activities. These were eventually franchised and changed their name to Brumby’s Bakeries. (In the late 1980s the business was sold to new owners.)
With the move to Warwick in 1981, other businesses were established in such areas as: natural agricultural pest control products, environmental technology, herbal medicine, engineering and publishing. These innovative businesses were not conducted with a purely commercial motivation, but with an attitude of service for a socially beneficial purpose.
While all these enterprises were eventually sold or wound down, for a time they supplied the majority of funding for the school which allowed it to grow and innovate with minimal outside interference.
Vijayadev Yogendra’s 20 Year Contribution
Vijayadev Yogendra remained closely involved in the School for its first 20 years. His love for and connection with the school was total — observing, participating, advising, guiding, inspiring, educating, training. He would engage in play with the children, meet with student groups and have weekly meetings with the teachers. He was always seeking to develop in the teachers greater self-understanding (self-discipline, responsibility, consistency, perseverance and self-reliance) and appreciation of subtleties, of seeing beyond the obvious and the outward to the inner motivation and reasons for human behaviour.
Under Vijay’s guidance, the school was a work in progress for everyone involved — teachers, parents, volunteers, philanthropic supporters. Something to be worked at and constantly improved. Everyone regarded the school as a learning experience not just for the children but for themselves as well.
Although he retired from his involvement in the school in 1999 (and passed away in 2005), Vijayadev Yogendra’s influence remains palpable amongst those who knew and worked with him and who want to see this vision passed on to new a new generation of people who can work together to sustain an ideal.
Realising the potential of Total Education requires teachers and parents who understand the underlying principles and are willing to make an effort to put these into practice in their own lives.
Total Education needs teachers who are looking for more in teaching than just a career and a secure income. Teachers who regard themselves as students of life, who are interested in their own journey of personal growth, who are open to thinking beyond the box of conventional educational dogma.
It needs parents who want to be involved in a school that is a community of people with a shared vision and philosophy and who are willing to work together for the benefit of their children and their families. Parents who are willing to work on understanding themselves.
Building connections with people who are interested in education that reaches beyond the limitations of materialistic thinking is an important task for the school today.
If this educational ideal appeals to you as a teacher or a parent, we’d like to hear from you.