Ms. Shalini Nambiar, is a progressive visionary with a liberal outlook, who does not stay shackled with the pedagogy of stereotype and conventional expectations and schemes of things that bind an educator. Very much with the times, she believes that education should be, essentially, child centered and aimed at nurturing the child and not imposing facts, figures and theories in the name of education.
Under her leadership, GEMS International School was rated as the Number One School in India under the category of 'Emerging High Potential School' by the Education World Grand Jury rankings 2017.
She is also the recipient of many awards such as Magicka Entrepreneurs Angel Award 2017, Outstanding School Leader 2016 by Franchise India, Woman Leaders Icon in Education on 20th August, 2015 by IIGlobal, etc. to name a few.
In this interview, Ms. Shalini speaks of her drive to teach, the role of parents and family in a child’s education and thanks all the teachers for impacting children positively.
1.Congratulations on winning the ‘Excellence in Education award 2017’! As a recipient of many such awards, what do you think has helped you achieve this feat?
Thank you! To be honest, I do not get too overwhelmed on receiving these awards as for me, as an educationist, what is most rewarding is when your school children and your school parents applaud you and appreciate the efforts you put in. But these rewards add a lot of weightage as they are a confirmation by the society at large that you are on the right track, pursuing your passions with dedication and sincerity. Infact, the most exhilarating feeling was when I received the first one, ‘Bharat Jyoti Award’ in 2010 at New Delhi.
To be honest, I am a dreamer and dream a lot and I believe that a dream is the starting point. It’s where we allow ourselves to create images, ideas or concepts that we would like to have occurred in our future. A dream may not always seem realistic or achievable at first, but we are filled with hope and inspiration when we think it might just come true one day. A goal is created when we decide it is time to move this dream into action! A goal occurs when we make the commitment to making our dream come true and start creating the plan to get us there.
Coming from a diverse background of Travel line and then plunging myself whole heartedly into education for the simple reason that I had that burning desire to be able to make a difference in someone’s life. I thrive on challenges, and take inspiration from life and plunge ahead wholeheartedly wanting to reach that self-made pinnacle that I have set for myself. I take life as a challenge and meet it with a lot of zeal and enthusiasm. I reached the pinnacle of success in a very short time and being an educationist to the core, I strongly feel if I can make a difference to the life of a child that would be my biggest achievement and would give me immense satisfaction at the end of the day.
2.What or who inspired you to come into the education space?
I started my career initially with the travel world as my dream at that time was to travel the world. But, as I always say that my education did not prepare me to forsee what I wanted to achieve, what was my goal so it was only when I had my daughter and had to start looking for schools for her that I was drawn towards education as I wanted to change the system. Admissions in that era was a scary thing, with both parents and child being interviewed by some scary looking Principal and I always thought it is my money, my child then why I am being interviewed.
When I joined the education sector as a Music teacher in 1994 it was like a quicksand and I was sucked in loving each moment I spent with the kids in the class. Finally, I discovered and was ecstatic as I knew this is my goal, my life.
3.At GEMS International School, a lot of prominence is given to parents and parent engagement programs. Kindly elaborate on the importance of parent-teacher-school relationship.
Families are the first educators of children and they continue to influence their children’s learning and development during the school years and long afterwards. Schools have an important responsibility in helping nurture and teach future generations and families trust schools to provide educational foundations for their children’s future. At the same time, schools need to recognize the primary role of the family in education. This is why it is important for families and schools to work together in partnership.
Research demonstrates that effective schools have high levels of parental and community involvement. This involvement is strongly related to improved student learning, attendance and behaviour. Family involvement can have a major impact on student learning, regardless of the social or cultural background of the family Thus, at GEMS, the focus is on cultivating a positive and honest relationship with the parents. To sum it briefly “We are not looking for miracles from parents, just cooperation,” “The best interactions I’ve had with parents are when they are willing to do two things: Be open to the possibility that their child may have an area of weakness and work in partnership with the teacher to help their child. When teacher, parent, and student work together as a team I’ve seen kids achieve great things time and time again.”
4.What according to you are the important values a school should impart to its students?
Looking at the present growth of civilization, it seems that society has failed somewhere in imparting non-formal and formal education to its masses. We might have developed materially but not mentally. Mental development about life, death, happiness, sorrow, moral and our usefulness to society is lacking in the people. There is a great need to equip present education being imparted to children with values of life in order to make them good human beings. With the changing mindset of humanity towards materialistic approach at the cost of others is posing a great concern for the survival of civilization in the times to come.
Education without values is not beneficial to anyone. Education devoid of values may be detrimental to society in the long run. Values bring quality and meaning to life and give a person his identity and character. Children imbibe values all the time from their parents, teachers and peers. But it is also necessary that we deliberately teach them the right values, right from their childhood. What they learn at this tender age stays with them all through their life. Hence importance should be given to imparting a value-based education.
Aim of education has to character building and equipping children with life skills. My most favourite line is teaching children how to handle failure.
5.What according you is the definition of a good teacher? What are the factors that define them? Kindly elaborate.
I think the most apt reply for this you will find on my blog ‘Become a teacher only if you love the profession’ which I wrote some years ago
6.What are the major issues/problems that schools face today? Please elaborate.
A lot of people would say, quality of teachers but I strongly feel it is the ‘Quality of Leaders’ as a good leader will motivate, inspire, train, sensitize the teachers to give their best.
Secondly a teacher builds a nation and another problem is as compared to other professions teachers are paid the least while it should be the other way round. A teacher should be the highest paid profession which automatically will attract the best.
Third important factor is in recent times safety and security has become an issue and thus a school is spending more time on ensuring the same rather than focussing on the quality of education which needs to be its priority.
7.Is introducing skill development in higher classes required to prepare the students for the outside world? Please elaborate.
About 90 per cent of employment opportunities require vocational skills. Only 20 per cent of our graduates get employed. The rest are unable to get suitable employment due to the lack of employable skills. In the present context of globalization, the demand for skilled and multi skilled workers has increased. Therefore in the context of developing countries, such as India, there is a critical need for quality skill development and training. At school level, there must be options available for skill development courses and they must be provided in the secondary stage of schooling. Many more courses in fields such as Hospitality and Tourism, Handicraft, Healthcare, Textiles, Photography, IT, Retail, Banking, Insurance can be added that would interest students to learn from skill development and training. Integration of skill development and education is essential for skilling to take wings. Skill development will remain a dream if carried out in isolation through centers alone. It has to be imparted in schools alongside academics.
In our school we have introduced Clubs to hone such skills right from an early age and also we have started sending our High school students for internship in companies of their choice to expose them to the real work environment.
8.Today, where class 8 children are preparing for class 10, do you think spending time on student engagement activities and sports help children in achieving better heights?
Student engagement activities and sports are as important and essential as academics for the development but sadly our education system is still focused on passing an examination and children’s intelligence is still judged by marks.
“Many highly intelligent people are poor thinkers. Many people of average intelligence are skilled thinkers. The power of a car is separate from the way the car is driven.” - Edward de Bono
Part of the problem may be how we value and reward intelligence, as identified through traditional testing. The word ’intelligent’ has a cache that other words, like ‘industrious’ do not. For instance, we richly reward those whose appointments are based on their academic qualifications; judges, diplomats, bankers and brokers, financiers, consultants, senior bureaucrats and the like. However, those people who make create, who tinker and take intellectual risks, are scantily rewarded in comparison. We lose too many talented and intelligent people by defining intelligence through tests that are wholly inadequate and constricting. We need to look wider and encourage the entrepreneur, the inquisitive, the creative and the downright cussed in our schools to make the most of who we are and to bring out the richness and diversity of thought and ideas in our society.
9.What according to you are the measures that schools should take for child safety?
Safety of a child is extremely important thus besides equipping schools with cameras, security checks, etc., which has become mandatory by law, the most important thing is sensitizing all staff [Support and Teaching], equipping children to deal with it and what action to take. Each school should have a code of conduct for all stakeholders and monitoring the same is most important.
Once again it all boils down to an education system which develops understanding and equips all with life skills.
10.In today’s world, is it important to have PR offices and communication cells in school? Please elaborate
The world today has changed as earlier we would never see a doctor or a school advertising but today the newspapers are flooded with advertisement on how each school is different.
In today’s scenario these play an important role as parents today are more aware so while during my times parents only visited schools during a PTM. Today’s parents have several queries and if communication and PR offices are there in the school then the teachers can focus on their prime job which is teaching.
11.What is your message to the teaching community?
On this day, when the role of the teacher is recognized as a noble and honorable profession, it is important to remember how easily we affect the lives of our children. I know that a teacher meets a challenge each and every day in his or her classroom. Please accept this small token of appreciation for your significant contribution to the lives of the children.
The dream begins with a teacher who believes in you, who tugs and pushes and leads you to the next plateau, sometimes poking you with a sharp stick called “truth.”
We are heading into an age in which jobs are likely to be invented and made obsolete faster and faster. The chances of today’s college kids working in the same jobs for the same companies for their whole careers are about zero. In such an age, the greatest survival skill you can have is the ability to learn how to learn. The best way to learn how to learn is to love to learn, and the best way to love to learn is to have great teachers who inspire.
And the best way to ensure that we have teachers who inspire their students is if we recognize and reward those who clearly have done so. In teaching you cannot see the fruit of a day’s work. It is invisible and remains so, maybe for twenty years. It is more brickbats than bouquets that come our way yet we strive to do the best we can. Perhaps we should congratulate each other on doing our job with pride, dedication, sincerity and professionalism.
12.Every Day, the spotlight is on us. However, the glare should not blind us, nor the applause please us. It is actually a day for introspection, a time for reflection, a day for new resolutions and promises for the coming year.
Let’s honour all the teachers and the greatest gifts for any teacher are words of appreciation. We need to understand the importance of praising teachers and the resulting positive impact on the morale and climate of the school. Encouragement is oxygen for the soul and we have teachers who are asphyxiating because they never hear words of encouragement and praise. Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment or the smallest act of caring all of which have the potential to turn a life around.
Thank you for reaching deep into the courses of the child’s being and seeing a part of him/her, she/he does not know exists and which others can never see.