We need to create avenues – Ms Sarika Arora, Principal, Ramjas Day Boarding

We need to create avenues wherein children, without any apprehension, are able to learn a skill that they feel will secure them in their future

— Ms. Sarika Arora, Principal, Ramjas Public School (Day Boarding), New Delhi

Ramjas Foundation has been one of the pioneers in India known for high quality and affordable education. Since how long have you been associated with Ramjas Public (Day-Boarding) School? How have you witnessed the rise of this school under your leadership?

Ramjas Foundation, undoubtedly, as you say is a pioneer in the field of education. We have proudly completed 109 years in serving the cause of education with 16 schools and a college in Delhi.  I joined the Day Boarding entity of Ramjas Foundation in 2006 in the capacity of the School Principal.

My association, of almost 15 years now with the school has been very enriching. Over the years, I have witnessed various ups and downs personally and professionally. But with the support of my Ramjas family and under the guidance of the school management, I have been able to carve a niche for myself and my institution.

I believe that in order to be an effective leader one must possess the qualities of being a visionary, gather inspiration from oneself and from others. One should be creative, flexible, open-minded and have a strong streak for interpersonal communication. I have all through my career strongly held these qualities, and slowly and steadily gained the momentum for the rise of school in the field of education.

After I took over, I studied the areas that were demanding immediate actions, and clearly crafted long term goals for the institution. We have achieved time bound goals and have converted the school to a Smart school with Smart classrooms fully equipped with smartboards, computers, projectors, cameras, state of the art science and computer labs, etc.

We at Ramjas, strive for all round holistic development of our children. So they are kept engaged not only academically but in various curricular, extra-curricular and co-curricular activities and sports. We have been delivering 100% results in the CBSE Board examination for past few years by improving and adapting to various innovative and progressive teaching techniques. Our students have represented and won accolades for their outstanding performances at National, State, Centre and Zonal levels in various competitions. Our students have made us proud by outshining in almost every field viz. sports, co-curricular and extracurricular activities.

Today we can proudly say that we are making our presence felt in the education circles across the globe. I must say that we are still on our path to grow furthermore and ensure that our children are future ready by the time they pass out of the school and reach out to achieve their individual goals and bring laurels to their school. 

What are the key challenges that you go through as a leader and head of the institution and how do you overcome them?

A school leader is constantly under scrutiny of the stakeholders, staff and parent community who are constantly on guard keeping a close tab at all your decisions.

Our daily routine brings forth a variety of challenges. As per the policies of the Government we have children coming in from various socio-economic segments. Handling their issues with same yardstick at times does not work so we have to deal with issues on individual circumstantial evidences. For example, children often bring in various family factors which result in poor study habits, difficulty in grasping course material, exam-anxiety that leads to poor performance in exams, procrastination on assignments, difficulty in planning and organizing to complete assignments etc. We need constant monitoring of such cases and ensure critical parent involvement in handling such cases.

Managing an effective size of the classroom, inconsistent class and managing the attendance, ensuring discipline, designing a curriculum are a few other challenges.

And how do we manage this herculean task? We depend upon scheduling daily task setting priorities, evaluating faculty performance, evaluating student’s outcomes, and at times managing a team with poor attitude, low productivity, low motivation, low integrity etc. Here, we have to strongly step in as a leader and provide inspiration and motivation to our staff, to assist them in developing and handling different perspectives effectively.

We, as leaders, have to constantly manage our time-invest ourselves in a daily planner and keep one calendar for assignments, exams and family events. We have to keep ourselves updated and enhance our study skills also.

Digitalization during this pandemic break has taken a great leap and we, without wasting much time kept updating ourselves by participating in motivational talks, seminars and workshops that were organized by various organizations.

Ms. Sarika Arora, Principal – Ramjas Public School (Day Boarding), is a dedicated educationist with over 30 years of valuable experience in the field of education.
She has done her graduation from Lady Irwin College and she has a Masters degree in English History and Education. She is spearheading one of the most prestigious educational institutions of Delhi, Ramjas Public School (Day Boarding) since past 15 years.
She has attended various workshops, seminars and training sessions conducted by CBSE, NCERT and NEUPA (National University of Educational Planning and Administration) on topics such as Leadership in Education Administration, Microsoft Partners in Learning Innovative Schools, Effective School Management,. Devices – Transforming Education, International Conference of School Principals to name a few.  She has also been a member of the Inspection Committee formed by CBSE to award recognition to schools.
Ever since the outbreak of the pandemic she has been actively organizing and participating in various seminars, workshops and conferences on topics such as — How has coronavirus pandemic affected Children’s wellbeing; Corona is flapping its wings: what should be our approach; Exam stress in children & parents engagement during pandemic; Digital & Social media Strategies for School; Iterating Workplace Practices post the Covid 19 Crisis; Levers for leading Transformative careers & Life lessons from the pandemic- to name a few. With rich experience, multifaceted personality and qualities of leadership, she is a proactive leader who leads her school with a clear vision and dedication.

What according to you should be the top three priorities of the Government of India in Education Sector?

Education specifically needs a great deal of intervention right from the end of the policy makers to the ones who are actually implementing these policies. We must accept this hard fact that the actual focus on, what we are trying to achieve and how we are doing it loses its direction in the bureaucratic set up.

In my opinion, we must develop strategies to work on the quality of education that we are giving. We must ensure that quality education is imparted at the primary and pre-primary level as this is something that is going to lay the foundation for the years to come. We should assess students in a variety of ways and develop strategies for improving the level of student learning and achievement. We need to move from rote learning to competency based learning.

Further on, we can engage the private sector to leverage technology to bridge the ‘capacity gap’ and also strengthen school-based management. This shall lead to focused professional development of teachers and culturally competent, educationally responsive students.

Every child is not equally good in academics. Inducting more skill subjects at school level and treating them at par with the rest of the curriculum will be a great move in that direction. New subjects are being introduced and they are being accepted as well, but a provision for the required faculty also needs to be taken care of so that its implementation gains pace. Skill development is something that will make everyone self-relevant and better equipped. We need to create avenues wherein children, without any apprehension, are able to learn a skill that they feel will secure them in their future. We should be able to make use of the social media in achieving success in these steps as young children are tech savvy and susceptible to follow what they see on the social media repeatedly. 

NEP (National Education Policy) 2020 aims to revolutionize the Indian education system. Under NEP, two programs of prominence stand out – Foundational Literacy and Numeracy (FLN) Scheme and SAFAL assessments. What are your views on these two programs?

NEP-2020 approaches FLN with a revolutionary mindset. The focus is on achieving literacy goals that have not been reached yet. NEP-2020 discards the centrality of English by promoting mother tongue education in early years. This way focus will shift on knowledge and understanding of concepts and not on fluency in English. FLN will help children to know their own surroundings.

The vision of NIPUN Bharat Mission is to create an enabling environment to ensure universal acquisition of foundational Literacy and Numeracy, so that every child achieves the desired competency in reading, writing and numeracy by the end of Grade 3 by 2026-27. The aim of FLN mission is to ensure that children learn in a joyful manner through play stories, rhymes, activities, local art, craft and music and develop strong foundation for lifelong learning.

I personally feel that it will surely be a success if consistent efforts are made to ensure its effective implementation. FLN will help the children to understand their own surroundings, and prepare them to attend the formal school. An enabling environment in school will certainly help to ensure joyful learning among the pupils.

The SAFAL assessment framework is competency based assessment for grade 3, 5 and 8 to be introduced by the CBSE. It aims to assess the progress of foundational skills and basic learning outcomes of the students. The best part of this is that it involves the assessment of core concepts along with relevant higher-order skills, and application of knowledge in real-life situations, and is designed to help the students, parents and teachers to track learning progress throughout the school years and not just in grades 10 and 12.

SAFAL will provide a developmental feedback to schools and teachers to improve the teaching learning without additional examination pressure on students.

What is your assessment of the past year? How has been the response of Indian K-12 sector during the pandemic?

As Covid-19 took hold, countries, cities across the world entered into lockdown with the closure of schools, cultural and sports venues and all non-essential businesses. Across the world, people were adapting themselves to new social distancing guidelines; students were not able to go to schools and had to adapt to a new reality — the new ways of learning and find ways to keep up with their studies.

The biggest change which occurred in this pandemic period was the shifting of classroom learning to virtual learning. Schools and teachers have ensured that the students’ education is not interrupted by this pandemic. Online classes, which we also call the ‘new normal’, have been challenging and extremely difficult to adjust to, for the students as well as the teachers. What once used to be simple interactive classroom teaching session has now turned into Zoom meetings and Microsoft whiteboard lessons powered by digital learning ecosystem. But the learning process was not held back and the students continued to progress through regular evaluation and continuous assessments. Adapting to the current situation and the ‘new normal’ was tough for everyone. The most important lesson learnt by students, apart from the academic lessons, was to be good listeners and be patient. And the teachers, too, have learnt that they have to adapt their teaching strategies to the changing times and scenarios.

The second wave of the pandemic has been devastating for everyone including the teachers and the students. In what ways is your institution providing support to them?

2021 turned out to be worse than last year with the death toll rising inexorably and devastation caused everywhere.

The corona virus outbreak caused major disruptions to daily life, and children have been intensely affected by these changes. Our teachers were always there as guide to deal with the children, with greater compassion and empathy. Engaging them in honest, open conversations, giving them platforms where they could share their emotions, thoughts, views and feelings from their hearts, and could be listened to with greater love and patience, where they could be reassured that every cloud has a silver lining, that they are not alone, that this too will pass….so that their mental health remains unaffected and they have the positivity to move on.

As India battled its second wave, cases of children losing their parents to Covid-19 also increased. While some lost both their parents and have no one to look after them, others are in a situation where a single surviving parent is unable to take care of them financially and psychologically. Our school has provided fee exemption to such students and also provided them support with their online classes and term exams along with counselling sessions by counsellors and teachers.

Experts are calling for reopening of schools. Some states in India have opened the schools for senior classes. What is your take on this?

Re-opening of the schools, is the only way to effectively address the learning gaps, that continue to be the cause of concern. Students should be called to school a few days a week to attend physical classes, and all the SOPs should be followed to protect them. Staying at home for such a long time has affected their mental and emotional health. Parents and other elders at home should get vaccinated as soon as possible so that there is no chance of them passing on the infection to kids.

Experiences from countries around the world and various states in India where schools have reopened suggest that with adequate mitigation strategies, schools pose low risk for disease transmission for students, teachers, and communities.

With the increase in the seropositivity rate among children and adults, I think it’s safe to reopen schools with all required precautions. We have to agree to the fact that the pandemic is here to stay. Waiting for a ‘no case scenario’ to return to normalcy can have serious repercussions.

How different are students of today compared to those, say, 10-15 years ago in terms of knowledge, aspirations and values?

An average child of today is better equipped not just with his own subject knowledge but with whatever interests him. He is more curious and follows his heart. He sets his goals in mind, aims at achieving his targets and believes in keeping a backup plan for himself. Children nowadays have many more opportunities to literally see the world than the children of the past had. A few years back they could only read about different countries and their culture through books. Now, there is digital media to support that experience and of course, not to mention the opportunity to travel and experience things first-hand. Parents are also in a better position to support and afford learning and exposure. Today’s children are much more driven and clear in terms of what they want from life.

But at the same time children today have a reduced contact with nature. They have no time for adventure, exploration or discovery and with over exposure to digital content and information they seem to grow up faster than their age which has affected their notions of right and wrong. Also, with the reduced number of real role models in their lives the role of teachers and parents becomes even more important in instilling the right value system in them.

The values, we see and sometimes feel, are somewhere pushed into the background. Here comes a greater responsibility of the home and school, and the role of the parents and teachers automatically assumes a greater importance. So, once, values are nurtured in children right from the beginning in the formative years, the children continue to bear the humane attributes and grow with these, and armed with these, they are certainly better equipped to serve the community and the world at large.

What drives you to work every day? How do you keep yourself motivated?

I am highly passionate about my work that makes me move on. I look forward to being there at the helm, working together with my staff for the betterment of the children, and school gives me an unsurpassable sense of joy and accomplishment and yet leaves me craving for more! Meeting deadlines, mentoring and coaching young children, learning new things with students, coming up with creative ideas to improve, are a few things that keep me inspired for every fresh morning.

Seeing students grow from little buds to fully bloomed flowers provides a sense of satisfaction and motivates me to do more. And this craving for more induces a desire to work more and achieve more for the school, and this becomes my motivation, my driving force!