Australian school teaching Sanskrit for 37 years to help overall brain development

"The primary children love translating Sanskrit to English and often describe it as putting the pieces of a puzzle together.”

Thousands of kilometres away from India, students in a school in Sydney are learning Sanskrit as a part of their curriculum. Their chanting can leave you mesmerised.

The John Colet School in Sydney has been teaching Sanskrit for the last 37 years. It is an independent (private) school. Its sister school in Melbourne, Erasmus, also teaches Sanskrit to its students.

Headmaster of John Colet School, Julian Wilcock, told The Australia Today that teaching Sanskrit was part of the founding curriculum of the School in 1985.

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“The School was fortunate to have members of staff who were skilled and passionate in Sanskrit. JCS operates what is often termed a dual curriculum, that is we follow the NSW Education Curriculum and also incorporate subjects and practices that are central to our vision. These include the teaching of Sanskrit, Choir, Philosophy and Shakespeare and the practice of regular mindfulness ‘pauses’ throughout the day. This program is taught from kindergarten.”

Headmaster Julian Wilcock with students

Headmaster Wilcock added that the School has seen an increase in the number of students enrolling in Sanskrit over the years.

“Parents are often unaware of Sanskrit and can be hesitant. We take time to explain to parents the reasons and benefits behind its study. Once students have been at the school for some time, parents are more appreciative, and many students decide to continue with Sanskrit, which is optional from 5th Class. The School has continued to see a steady increase in enrolments.”  

John Colet School Sydney

“As our School has grown over the years, we have certainly seen more parents applying that are aware of Sanskrit and in many cases interested because we are offering its study.”

“Sanskrit has many benefits such as the grammar, sound, and history but also I believe in terms of overall brain development and transdisciplinary learning. We also teach it in a fun accessible way”, said Headmaster Wilcock.

Students at John Colet School Sydney

The Deputy Headmistress of the school, Diane Renshaw, told The Australia Today that Sanskrit has been taught at John Colet since its foundation in 1985 and was chosen for several reasons.

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“The wealth of literature and spiritual texts, the beauty of the language and the precision of its grammar. The study of the language itself confers significant benefit to the intellectual development and agility of the students. Sanskrit prayers are learned by heart which also brings benefits in the form of stillness and presence”.

The Australia Today spoke to two students at the school, Eloise and Padma, who shared their experience of learning Sanskrit with us.

Ms Carine Chane’s son is currently studying in 6th class while her daughter graduated from John Colet School in 2021. Ms Chane told The Australia Today that she feels happy that her children have the opportunity to learn and recite Mantras in Sanskrit.

“I don’t have an Indian background, but I have been practising yoga and meditation, including chanting mantras, for some time now, visiting ashrams in NSW, and even learnt to become a yoga teacher. A few of the reasons we enrolled our children at John Colet School was the School’s practice of mindfulness, meditation, and pausing. Learning Sanskrit, and chanting, were an added bonus.”

Carine Chane, parent of a student who is studying Sanskrit at John Colet School

“I feel happy that my kids have the opportunity to learn and recite mantras and prayers in Sanskrit – I feel the ones the school chooses carry some universal wisdom, that (consciously or not) may open a “spiritual door” for them to explore maybe later in life, the same way they did for me. That’s my hope”.

Ms Chane has never visited India but going to India, visiting sacred places and staying in ashrams are on her bucket list. She added that she knew a little bit about Sanskrit before enrolling her children to learn the language and had learnt and chanted mantras in Sanskrit, and attended local kirtans, prior to the kids attending school.

Renu Natarajan and Libby Levay teach Sanskrit at the School. They told The Australia Today that students have expressed experiencing Stillness when chanting.

“When we talk about the richness and the fact that it’s the origin of all Indo-European language, they are highly engaged and curious to explore words in the English language which have derived from Sanskrit.”

Students chanting at John Colet School, Sydney

“The infant children love experimenting with the various mouth positions to sound the alphabets and the novelty makes the class lively. The primary children love translating Sanskrit to English and often describe it as putting the pieces of a puzzle together”.

“The children are ever fascinated by Krishna and Rama stories and they have often talked about how these characters and their lives have enriched their appreciation of our school values – Stillness, Truthfulness, Service, Courage and Respect”, added the teachers.

Students from John Colet School recently recited Sanskrit Mantras on International Yoga Day on 21st June 2022 at a programme organised by the Indian Consulate in Sydney.