Education is no longer about memorizing facts – Ms Vandana Bhatia

Education is no longer about memorizing facts and answering test questions, but about applying knowledge to real-life situations

— Ms. Vandana Bhatia, Principal, Holy Child Public School, Sector 75, Faridabad

How long have you been associated with Holy Child Public School? What is your vision for the school and how satisfied are you with the school’s current progress?

Founded in 1976, Holy Child Public School, Faridabad has completed 45 years of its existence. The School is being managed by a team of ex-army officers, educationists and prominent social workers. Holy Child family is catering to the needs of children in the field of education with branches across Faridabad.

This school, HCPS Sector-75, Faridabad was started in April 2019, and I’m fortunate to be its first Principal. We’ve a very clear vision – to imbibe 21st Century Skills with the basic human values of empathy, discipline, punctuality, honesty and hard work alongside academics. We induce moral and educational values in students for the service of humanity. The aim is to promote warm fellowship of brotherhood, a feeling of national integration, and mutual sharing and caring among students.

Coming down to the last part of your question, I feel the school is a garden wherein students are the saplings and teachers are the gardener. Hence, you won’t see the fruit in a day’s work. It is hidden and remains so, for years to come. But, soon you realise the worth of all the teachings learned and secured in the child, the child becomes a better human being with a brighter future. There is no stop for his/her growth!

Covid has forced us to shift from classroom teaching to online teaching. Most of us are digitally connected now. Do you believe that this kind of blended learning would continue and flourish even after pandemic has ended and regular schools started in full capacity?

Because of COVID-19, all over the world, blended learning is becoming a new normal. As such, blended learning has been around for a while and is the combination of traditional face-to-face instructions with some aspects of online instructions, all the while when students are in the classroom with the teacher. Blended classrooms include face-to-face instruction techniques such as direct instructions or lectures, recorded lectures, group discussions, and small-group activities, while also using digital technology to provide online teaching that students can do at home provided they have access to necessary technology.

In recent years, it has been harder and harder to educate students in the age of social media. Gone are the days when students would be docile and compliant while sitting and listening to a teacher lecture for an hour. How do teachers cater to the needs of the 21st century students? The only way we can address this is by re-engaging students through blended learning. Blended classrooms can empower students who are introvert or shy to share their ideas and learn from others using discussions where conversations that were started in a classroom, can continue well after the class ends. Students are attracted to this model because they can work at their own pace while having teachers on hand to give guidance in areas that they need help in. It is important to note that with blended learning, the content of education does not change as much as the mode of communication through which it is conveyed. With mobile devices that can literally let students carry their classroom in their pocket and the vastness of the internet as an alternative to textbooks, blended learning teaches students two key lessons:

•    It is impossible to memorize all of the available information and knowledge, so education is no longer about memorizing facts and answering test questions, but about applying knowledge to real-life situations and knowing where to find reliable information.

•    If you have the desire to learn, you can learn anytime anywhere. Educating yourself is a continuous process that follows you everywhere.

That is why blended learning is now the new flourishing way to prepare students for the future in the technology-assisted classrooms, where knowledge is not a fixed set of facts but a constantly increasing, self-updating, interconnected reservoir that requires a high degree of independence, flexibility, and willingness to learn in order to be a productive member of the society.

What according to you are the three most important 21st century skills for teachers? What challenges you face in developing those skills among your teachers?

To create a holistic and well-rounded personality, the children need to be equipped with the key 21st Century Skills. These are broadly divided in three categories upon which we are strategically working –

•    Learning Skills 4C’sCreativity, Critical thinking, Communication, Collaboration

•    Literary Skills IMTInformation Literacy, Media Literacy, Technology Literacy

•    Life Skills – FLIPS –  Flexibility, Leadership, Initiative, Productivity, Social Skills

The major challenge is that all the educators are of the 20th Century whereas learners are from the 21st Century. So, rigorous and regular teacher training programs help the educators to upgrade their skills as per the pertinent needs.

Their updating with the technology is not hidden from anyone in the past one year. Other skills are also being honed through continuous and comprehensive professional training programs and workshops.

As a head of the institution, you have to take everyone – teachers, administrative staff, etc. many of whom may be older and experienced – with you. How do you motivate and lead them from the front?

Teamwork is a collaborative effort of a group to achieve common goals. In a bigger framework, when team members work together, communicate effectively, anticipate and meet each other’s demands, and inspire confidence, then this automatically results in a coordinated collective action oriented towards the goal.

As a principal, I believe in “Unlearn, Learn and Relearn”.‍ So experience and expertise of elders is valued and ideas of young members are always appreciated, this helps in synergistic way of working.

An eminent educationist and an energetic practitioner with knowledge, Ms. Vandana Bhatia has had an enriching career spanning almost three decades. After joining Holy Child Public School, Sector 75, Faridabad, in 2019 Ms Bhatia took the reins in her hands to propel the school towards greater heights and traverse uncharted territories. She has been recently awarded with the C V Raman Award for Excellence in Leadership.
Possessing an open minded, dynamic and determining attitude, she can motivate and inspire both herself and others to succeed. In tandem with her philosophy of creating leaders, she believes in “Unlearn, Learn and Re-learn”. She strongly believes Today’s Learners are Tomorrow’s Leaders and An investment in knowledge pays the best interest.
She has assiduously showcased instructional leadership and built paradigms in the field of community outreach. Reckoning that technology is all pervasive, she ensures that steady steps are taken to adopt new pedagogical practices that infuse with 21st century skills of investigating, collaborating, problem-solving, communicating, analysing, synthesizing and interpreting information, to empower the 21st Century learners.
She supports students with emotional or behavioral problems and help them in developing their social skills.  Her focus is on instruction by encouraging research-based strategies in discussions with teachers, spending time in classroom visits, providing specific feedback to teachers, and providing time for teachers to collaborate on instruction. Her passion for excellence and her all encompassing vision coupled with her indefatigable spirit has imbued the students and teachers alike with courage and confidence to reach for the skies.

Haryana state government has allowed the schools to reopen and some classes have started functioning. How has been the response so far in your school? Are parents happy with the decision, in your opinion?

As per the orders received from the Haryana state government, physical classes for the students of classes 9th to 12th were resumed first, then moving on to middle school students and finally reopening the primary school. The team of experts suggested that the schools could be reopened while strictly following covid-19 safety measures, such as social distancing, use of mask and closure of common areas such as swimming pools and assembly halls.

The decision of reopening of the school was made keeping in mind the response received from the parents. Parents feel that despite the best efforts of the teachers through online mode, the school learning system as a whole has been compromised and students, too, are feeling the pressure of online education and excessive screen time. Vaccination of most of our staff members has been done and all the health safety protocols are in place to continue with safe, offline classes.

Some parents feel that the delay in the resumption of physical classes is leading to an academic loss for the students. While others are of the opinion, that if they can go to a party, restaurant, or a crowded market, then, why should there be a challenge in joining the school? Although most of the parents were satisfied with the communication and cooperation they received from the educators during the pandemic. However, most parents still think that, in the long-run, distance learning can lead to a decline in children’s motivation to learn. They also point out that children are missing socialization with peers, and that many parents cannot provide adequate support to their children in online environment. We at the moment, are continuing with blended learning, attending to both online and offline mode of teaching.

School fee has been a major point of bitterness and discontent between parents and school authorities. During the pandemic, the income sources have diminished and people have lost their livelihood. What is your take on this?

The times that have gone by have been extremely challenging not only for the students but for the school also. Every dimension of the life was hard hit owing to this coronavirus pandemic. There were a lot of stumbling blocks in our way to provide quality education to our budding minds.

The school tried its best to prepare the students to be robust, intelligent and ready for social and economic change and for any unforeseen natural calamities. Requiring parents to spend their hard earned money at private school education is a challenge in itself which remains an on-going exercise. And the curriculum needs to show that their children get the worth in quality and variety in education.

The major challenge on parents’ part was not having the regular income to pay for the tuition fees due to lockdown. Some were also not keen to pay for online classes. Our school came up with the solution and gave the option for part payment, monthly payment, and for the needy ones, concession etc. in order to keep the teaching learning process smooth and hassle free.

There were personal losses in many families and we are giving them financial support and trying to empathize with such children. They are being handled with utmost care and sensitivity.

How do you think the relationship between the students and teachers could be enhanced?

Every relationship gathers rust and becomes dry when it lacks communication. Here communication means the flow of thoughts, feelings and ideas. In order to enhance and enrich the relationship of an educator with the pupils, it is imperative that there are talks and discussions on various topics and issues. Spending quality time and imparting quality education also keeps them ahead of others. As a consequence, the students become much more articulate. Love and respect towards them, empathy towards their situation, mindful solution from the teacher’s end makes them feel wanted and motivated.

What are your interests and hobbies? What do you like to do in your free time?

When I feel the weight of too many problems and responsibilities, I immerse myself back into the world of children and that brings me joy and relief, all at once. 

In leisure time besides taking a long walk, I do enjoy reading, solving sudoku, talking to my family members. 

My Sunday Bhagvad Geeta class keeps me focussed and I find a shift in my perspective from “impossible” to “completely do-able.”