For Avnita Bir, principal of Mumbai’s prestigious CBSE-affiliated K-12 R.N. Podar School (estb. 1998), the purpose of education is “to encourage learning to learn and not learning to know”. Therefore the school’s management prides itself on providing balanced holistic education to its 2,700 students. Its strong focus on academics apart, R.N. Podar School has integrated contemporary best practices such as life skills, curriculum-complementing learning and career guidance programmes into its middle and senior school curriculums.
An economics postgraduate of the Delhi School of Economics and the Central Institute of Education, Delhi, Bir began her career as an economics teacher at the Maharani Gayatri Devi School, Jaipur in 1984. Seventeen years later, while working as a lecturer in Mumbai’s Jaihind College, she signed up as a strategy and planning executive with Renful Premier Management Services (I) Pvt. Ltd, a UK-based firm providing HR consulting and support services to corporates. “It was while working in the corporate sector that I became increasingly aware that teaching tomorrow’s citizens and leaders was my natural vocation,” says Bir, who also taught senior secondary students in Bangalore’s Mallya Aditi International School (2000-2001) and at the National Public School, Bangalore (1998-2000). It was during her tenure with Jai Hind College (2001-2003) that she was invited to take charge of the R.N. Podar School.
Since then Bir has introduced several academic and extra-curricular innovations which have earned this hitherto low- profile K-12 school golden opinions. Among them: conducting specialised skills enhancement workshops for her faculty; introducing life skills education programmes for students; promoting group discussions; developing students’ relationship management skills, and facilitating new technologies-aided education. “The infirmity of school education in India is that it encourages facts accumulation rather than critical thinking and problem solving skills development. Our objective is to effect a gradual transition towards new ways of learning,” says Bir.
Looking ahead, she visualises introduction of new technologies and attracting high quality teachers as R.N. Podar’s major challenges. “Technology is not simply a challenge but also a great binder. By incrementally intensifying technology-aided education, I want to familiarise our students with the real world outside the protective school environment. This will also enable them to become self-learners and reduce the load of teachers, for whom the teaching profession will become attractive again. That’s my strategy to meet these emerging challenges of the new millennium,” says Bir.
Harshikaa Udasi (Mumbai)