The making of a ‘great’ school

Nandini Nayar

transforming-schools Apparently, most people in India believe they can teach children, and/or administer a school – there can be no other explanation for the number of schools that dot the landscape of our cities, towns and villages! While all schools promise a good education, they seem unable to decipher the difference between a school’s scholasticism (a ‘good’ school) and its economism (a ‘well-run’ school). Most schools execute practices that can help administrators make the school a successful venture. This commercial aspect takes precedence over everything else. What constitutes a good education and a good school? This large and perhaps unanswerable question is what Arun Kapur, director of the Vasant Valley School, addresses in his book, Transforming Schools, Empowering Children.

Kapur’s expertise in the field is evident in the organisation of this book. The author has ensured that every single element that can and does make for a good, outstanding educational institution is discussed here. Kapur’s understanding of the purpose of a school is large and gives scope for the creation of an educational institution that does far more than merely impart education to children. An ideal or great school, according to him, succeeds in imparting skills that children can use in their negotiations with the society they live in.

Kapur invests the mechanics of a school with a social relevance and locates the institution within the larger context of the world. That, perhaps, is the first lesson that other educators need to learn – how to look beyond the narrow and limiting purpose of the existence of an educational institution. Kapur, with these basic assumptions in place, proceeds to highlight and discuss each of the elements that he considers vital for the development of a ‘great’ school.

The first chapter presents the reader with a practical assessment of the place of schools in society today, and makes for a thought-provoking read. Kapur rejects the education system of a majority of schools in India, showing how a multi-dimensional individual will emerge only as a result of a more dynamic and practical education system. His other suggestions proceed from one basic premise – that the role of schools in an Indian reality is based on creating individuals who will prove an asset to society and turn into active nation builders and decision-makers.

He proposes a complete overhauling of the present education system in order to facilitate the emergence of more broadminded and far-sighted institutions. In addition to a well thought-out curriculum, a sympathetic and far-sighted management and good infrastructure, the school also requires teachers who are attuned to the needs of the children.

Kapur identifies the need for good, inspiring teachers, and suggests various ways in which their jobs can be made easy and they can be provided relevant support. He stresses the importance of involving teachers in creating the curriculum, thus reinforcing their relevance in the creation of a great school. Teachers not only have to inspire students and encourage learning, they also need to do this keeping in mind the various needs of the students. Kapur’s analysis of the role of teachers also takes into account a varied demography of children. Some model lessons plans offer teachers various insights into new avenues that can be explored while teaching.

Kapur’s ideas are backed by eminently practical suggestions on how to implement these. Thus his analysis of the role of curriculum in the creation of a great school examines the lacunae in the present day curriculum and offers suggestions on what it ought to possess. Kapur follows this with a discussion of the kind of revamped assessment structure necessary in order to chart the complete development of students.

Ideas and their effects follow each other in sequence through the book, ensuring that all of the reader’s queries are answered. The use of case studies enlivens the narrative and Kapur makes abundant use of pictorial representations in his discussion of various key issues. The significance of the title cannot be lost on the discerning reader and a concerned teacher and parent – Kapur links the transformations of schools in India to the empowering of students. He presents evidence to show how a school that adopts measures to ‘transform’ itself will be doing its students a great favour, since these policies will automatically create an atmosphere that will help empower children and make them stronger, more effective citizens of the world.

Kapur’s findings and ideas are all framed in relation to Indian schools, and the curriculum and assessment that children face through their school years. This makes it easy for educators and teachers to put into effect his suggestions. However, one cannot help but wonder how the schools that operate out of cramped, ramshackle buildings and are staffed by a floating population of often unqualified teachers, can follow the suggestions outlined by Kapur, such as in his chapter on ‘Technology’. On the other hand there are schools that actively advertise their use of technology in classroom teaching and use this as a ploy to extort large amounts of money from parents. Kapur’s analysis of the uses of technology ignores issues like the dangers inherent in permitting children to randomly access information through new technologies. Despite this, Kapur’s suggestions are timely, in an age when both parents and teachers are beginning to question the purpose of education.

Transforming Schools, Empowering Children is a thought-provoking read for students, teachers, administrators and parents – in short, anybody interested in schools and scholasticism.

The reviewer is a freelance writer based in Hyderabad. She can be reached at [email protected].

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