ISKCON Ministry of Education Conference Report (Alachua) Florida, USA
By Balimardana Das
Zonal Secretary, Ministry of Education
The ISKCON Ministry of Education’s annual education conference was held in New Raman Reti Dhama – Alachua, Florida from June 21 through June 24, 2018. Alachua is home to two devotee run schools serving in combination 250 children from Pre-K through High School. About thirty participants attended from these schools and education programs across the USA. Many more joined on line.
The main purpose of this year’s conference was to
Facilitate connections between fellow educators;
Learn best practices from peers and subject area experts;
Guide the future of ISKCON’s global educational initiatives; and to
Come away with goals and strategies to advance the educational areas of the participants interests.
Leaders from ISKCON’s various educational initiatives such as Sesa Das, Hanumatpresaka Swami, Ram Giridhari Dasa, Janmastami Das, Gopi Gita Dasi, Nrtya Kishori Dasi, Subhra Dasi, Balimardana Dasa, and Visvambhara Dasa attended the conference, representing the Ministry of Education, NIOS, Dallas and Houston Gurukulas, Little Krsna Kidz, Bhaktivedanta Academy etc.
Each day began with a Keynote Speech followed by interactive breakout sessions. Keynote speakers for this year were ISKCON Minister of Education, H.G. Sesa Dasa, and Vaishnava scholars, H. H. Hanumatpresaka Swami and Radhika Ramana Dasa.
Sesa Prabhu took a personal look at the letter he wrote 15-years ago that thrust him into ISKCON education and asked everyone and himself, “Looking at it 15-years later, did I make a mistake? Have I wasted my life?. His conclusion over and over again was to ask everyone, “What do we do?”, with the rousing roar, “We teach! We teach”. He invited everyone to join the Ministry as their priority and teach. You will never be a loser.
Hanumatpresaka Swami worked to introduce Radhika-raman Das’ personal journey in university education and recorded presentation, and gave highlights of the ISKCON projects at the University and post University level. These include the conference for the 50th anniversary of ISKCON with Harvard University, HpS/NIOS’s own projects with the National Museum of India and National Library of Peru etc. He explained that the next issue of the Ministries periodical, Viplavah, will focus on these educational areas showing the vast resources, results and opportunities in this area.
Radhika-ramana Das, Prof. Ravi Gupta, made a very cogent presentation on the historical view of how religions revolt from materialism but then repeatedly start to become popular and again become ordinary themselves. How can ISKCON deal with this standard challenge?
This conference was the 5th Annual North American Education Conference making tangible progress to:
Define precise global endorsement standards for ISKCON schools and identify resources and struggles communities have in reaching these standards.
Understand the global reach of the Ministry as explained by Ram Giridhari Das,
Understand the exemplary place of education in ISKCON Alachua from the Yatra President, Mukhya Devi Dasi.
Lila-sukha Devi Dasi highlighted the importance of Child Protection and
Visvambhara Das & Gopi-gita Dasi coordinated the breakout sessions on the Sunday School development.
Balimardana Das presented the inclusion of the Srila Prabhupada’s Bhagavad-Gita As it Is verses in the California Text books and the benefits of the education system with the spiritual vibe.
There were sessions to understand the current gaps in the broader educational systems in ISKCON including increased access to Shastric education such as Bhakti Sastri, Bhakti Vaibhava
Throughout there was a key focus on kid’s education, especially the Sunday School.
This conference was an intense, heart changing event for all the attendees and the virtual participants. Anyone engaged in the field of education – schools, teachers/administrators, Shastric and adult educators, and university level preachers and teachers are all encouraged to join the Ministries efforts by going to its webpage www.iskconeducation.org.
The 2019 Symposium is currently scheduled for Alachua again.