Launching into the conference, the first panel tackled the main theme of the conclave and touched upon achieving school excellence through joy, imagination and innovation.
Taking a macroscopic look at the role of teachers, Prof Raja Ram Sharma, Director of CIET and Head of DCETA & NCERT, posed thought provoking questions about what inspires people to enter the teaching profession. “What is it that inspires people to be teachers? They knowingly enter a field where they are tied in knots by seemingly repetitive tasks, a dumbed down syllabus and textbooks with which they may disagree.” Prof Sharma suggests people may become teachers for a number of reasons: a reaction to their own schooling-positive or negative, a confidence in or a love of a subject, or a belief that the individual has the power to change something for the better.
Moving to the perspective of the school head, Madhav Rao, CEO Synergy School System, compared his experience as a principal in India to his experience in Dubai. “In India, I stayed in my office and the parents stayed outside by the gate, but in Dubai, I stayed outside by the gate.” Rao, explained that in Indian schools today, “Principals spend 80% of their time on managerial tasks and only 20% on all instructional related tasks. In order to move forward, that ratio needs to switch.' He suggests that schools should shift to being accountable, integrated, dynamic institutions focused on instruction.
Voicing students' views, Ahmed of EduExcellence quoted students who described schools as “prison, depressing, military camps, interesting, stressful, second homes.” When asked what makes them happy about school, these students responded with: “friends, emotional connections and attachment to school, simple solutions to problems, good and smiling teachers, platform to showcase talents, freedom with responsibility.” Instead of merely mentioning the disconnect, Ahmed offered suggestions for how to engage students, help them enjoy being in school; and reaching the talk's title, “Creating Entertaining Schools”, he recommended that schools keep tradition and culture alive, help students connect within the classrooms and employ innovative communication methods. Other suggestions as fundamental as planning for free periods and encouraging student participation would make a world of difference in student perception about schools.
Exploring the interconnectedness of schools and society, Maya Menon gave a talk entitled “Social Norms Reflect Interaction in Schools.” Schools, as opposed to being shaped by the larger society, are in fact the spaces where society itself is shaped. If we want students to demonstrate certain traits outside of school, they must be taught and nurtured within the school. Just as students will reflect what they have been taught, they will also not embody what they have not been taught. Maya explained that too often schools do not help students demonstrate a respect for human dignity, and to settle for mediocrity, they are not encouraged to question or have deep authentic experiences and yet, as adults and citizens, we cannot expect them to do the same.
Maya asked, “Under these circumstances, how can we foster innovation or inventive thinking in a nation that doesn't give enough onus to imagination or risk taking?” In conclusion, she asked the group to attend the workshops and sessions over the three days, observe speakers who are creating new and exciting methods to help schools reach children, encourage them to develop into moral, ethical citizens who are risk takers and not satisfied with mediocrity.
Following, Ryan Pinto or Ryan International Group presented how scalability and quality can be integrated into a successful organization. Underlying the presentation was an emphasis on working with existing resources, persevering and remaining true to one's purpose and own values.