“There is no such word as ‘Obstacles’; there are only Excuses”
Dr. Navniit Gandhi; Photo: AnwarSadath Thalasserry
Saturday, September 17, 2016
On a long stretch of academic and educational proficiency, the milestones have been happily crossed by one or the other Institutions managed by the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan in Kuwait, other GCC countries and India, of course. Not only are the academic standards par excellence, but the focus on co-curricular activities in all of its schools ensures the holistic development of the pupils. The group has another feather in its well-adorned cap, and that is the opening of yet another Branch of Bhavans in Kuwait. It is the just-inaugurated Smart Indian School, based on the CBSE- i pattern of education. The newly opened school is near Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan’s Indian Educational School, Jleeb Al Shyoukh. The Bhavans, Kuwait is already operating the Pearl Nursery at Rawda, Jack and Jill Nursery in Mangaf, and Scientific Excellence Academy in Salmiya.
The Founder and Chairman of all the Kendras and Schools of Bhavans in Kuwait, Bahrain, Abu Dhabi, Ali Ain and Oman- Mr N. K.Ramchandra Menon continues to tirelessly steer the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan group of academic institutions towards the string of milestones, one after the other. He is spearheading the expansion of Bhavans’ expansion in Education and ICT in the Middle East.
Straight-forward and a no-nonsense ‘doer’, Mr. N.K. Ramchandra Menon is the most well-known stalwart in the educational circuit of Kuwait and other GCC countries. He is passionate, and a workaholic, who is involved in every activity in the institutions he has built—be it the working hours or the focus on activities or attending every Parent-Teacher Meeting.
Dr. Navniit Gandhi, on behalf of IIK, interacted with Mr. N. K. Ramchandra Menon on the occasion of the opening of this second branch of Bhavans, and following are the excerpts from the interview:
Dr. Navniit Gandhi: Heartiest Congratulations, Sir, for yet another accomplishment. It is a huge endeavour and the entire Indian community wishes you the very best for the same. Sir, may we have further details about this new Branch?
Mr. Ramchandran Menon: Yes, thank you... It is our new school—The Smart Indian School, our twelfth academic institution in the Gulf. It shall have a capacity of 4,000 students, and the response already has been quite heartening. It shall have even better amenities and much better infrastructure, including play areas, excellent canteen, Auditorium and two swimming pools. The school shall subscribe to the CBSE syllabus, while following the global curriculum: CBSE-i. This pattern is different; it focuses on activity based learning, instead of conventional classroom learning. We have a able and an experienced educator from India- Mr Mahesh Iyer, who will be the Principal of the new school.
N.G.: Will the students be screened for the purpose of gaining admission in the new school?
R.M.: The students will have to appear for an Entrance Test, though it is not for the purpose of screening. We just want to know as to where does a particular child stand at the entry point, and how does he turn out to be, while exiting the school. We will maintain every student’s file, charting out his progress in the school. Every child’s development will be recorded.
N.G.: How has the journey been so far? From a Businessman to a Banker, and from thereon to an Academic Baron...
R.M.: The journey has been a good one. I have had business interests from textiles to software development; from building materials to travel agency... In the 70s, I shifted to Banking and worked with NBK, and then with Gulf Bank. Till the year 2000, I was a Banking professional, and yet was also doing some Business or the other... There must not be a business in this country, which I did not gain experience in. Usually, I stay in a business or field for about 2-3 years and move on. Even when I gained entry in Education, I thought I would do something for a few years and then hand it all over to someone and move on. However, fortunately, I am still here.
N.G.: Was Education always on the cards? Had you always thought that you would grow by leaps and bounds in the field of Education?
R.M.: No, I had never visualised it. Even when a few people had suggested opening or managing a school, in the post-invasion period, I had brushed the idea aside. The opportunity was huge then, and if I had begun then, I would be differently placed today. But it had to happen later, and that is when it happened.
N.G.: How has been the experience in Education?
R.M.: The experiences have been good, since this is my passion. I am growing continually; we are expanding and the growth keeps the passion alive. We are there all across the Gulf and growing on... It is not for money that I am here. There is a spark that keeps me going enthusiastically. The challenges keep me going.
N.G.: What obstacles did you face on the way?
R.M.: I do not think that there are any obstacles in anybody’s way. There is no such thing as obstacles. There can be excuses, but obstacles? Well, none for me... If you want to get something done, you can do it. Whatever has to happen, will happen. There is nothing that cannot be resolved. Of course, there will be limits to what I can do, but what I can, I can...
N.G.: What changes have you observed over the years in the attitudes and expectations of the Teachers, the Students, and their Parents?
R.M.: I believe that every child is a good child. We categorise them as slow and hyper or with less or more potential. How they turn out to be, depends largely on the parents and the teachers. No child is a spoiled child. The parents either interfere a lot or restrain a lot. Sometimes, if a child is asking too many questions, the teacher classifies the child as a hyper-active child and recommends counselling. Potential remains latent and the growth stops...
N.G.: Is it true that the teachers in Bhavans do not take private tuitions?
R.M.: Yes, our school teachers cannot take tuitions privately. We have set this trend here in Kuwait. We pay them well, and hence, the need too does not arise.
N.G.: What do you recommend to the three of them?
R.M.: Regular meetings between parents and teachers are needed. Parents must talk every day with their child and ask them about what they think; their experiences; their observations etc. Parents can no longer just use authority and boss around the house and simply give instructions. From the lower KG level onwards, every child should be encouraged to keenly observe every thing; every person; every happening around them. There is no point in criticising them that they cant do this or that; or in comparing them with other children. There cannot be anybody’s comparison with anybody. Neither can a student be compared, and nor can a teacher be compared with another teacher. Parents want their children to do all that they missed in their respective lives. You don’t have to keep giving instructions to children; they will do what they can do.
At the same time, the role of the teachers is tremendous. They must be conscious all the time that they have to give their best in every single period or else, it is a major loss. We support them whole-heartedly in their efforts.
N.G.: What do you think ought to be the role of the Management?
R.M.: When we look all around, the Management in other educational institutions seems to be hardly involved in the functioning of the School or in the learning processes and practices. They are bothered about the returns. We, my son and I, are fully immersed into the actual management of all our schools. We share similar values and we both believe in hard work and maintaining high standards. I am aware of and I take interest in, even the minute details. We visit all the schools at least twice a week. I respond to thousands of e-mails every day, and am accessible for all the teachers and parents. In every PTM, we are there and we address their concerns. I place myself in the position of a parent and think. What would I want from a school where my child would study, I ask myself and give that to my schools. I would want to be respected as a parent, and hence I give the same to all the parents.
At the same time, I refuse to compromise at the insistence of anyone, including the parents. I refuse to change the systems in my schools, at their behest. Parents admit their wards, while fully being aware of how education is imparted here. Then, later on, they should not be complaining about the very practices. We believe in high quality standards and we spend a lot on our schools. We are probably one of only schools wherein all the classrooms are wi-fi enabled and we have the LMS systems...
N.G.: A very common perception about Bhavans is that there are too many activities happening... How do you manage to balance the activities with the completion of the syllabi?
R.M.: We can no longer teach the students merely from the textbooks. Activities will prepare them in much better ways. I myself may not have learnt as much from sitting in the classrooms, as I did from the activities I took part in. Today, I can interact with people confidently; express myself categorically; adapt to many situations etc. While working in the Bank, I came across many rank holders MBAs and CAs, who were not good in efficiently discharging their responsibilities. Learning is complete only when we become capable of applying our common sense with the knowledge we have acquired in the classroom. We should be able to act on the scene, as the situation demands and be able to cope with everything. This capability will not come from Books alone.
N.G.: How do you find Technology impacting Education and Learning?
R.M.: I think the impact has been highly beneficial. As for example, we today have such technology in our schools that when there are 2-3 teachers teaching the same subject/chapter in various divisions, and if one teacher is absent, that particular teacher’s students will be able to listen (live screening through video) to and see what is being taught in the other divisions. Parents can also keep a track of how much learning is happening. It all depends on how we use technology. We can use it to aid and encourage learning.
N.G.: Are you guided by a philosophy, in your work and decision making? Or, do you take each day as it comes and each issue at a time, and respond as best as you can?
R.M.: For me, education is not at all about teaching a lesson to a student; it is about learning lessons. If we teach lessons, the learner will reproduce the same in the exams and then forget all about them. Some teachers understand this, some resist this challenge.
I take my own decisions. I do not discuss much because discussion leads to nothing but further discussions. I would rather be guided by my instincts and do it. I keep my relationships intact. I may not go deep in anyone’s affairs but I maintain my ties.
N.G.: Any wish list that you have, as far as the Education pattern and the system is concerned?
R.M.: I have just one wish and that is that LKG and UKG should be scrapped. Children should come to school at the age of six. Till then, a child should play and be with the parents. We are in a hurry to send the child to school, and when they come here, they cannot even hold a pencil properly, due to which their handwriting never becomes very beautiful. It is so because we have applied pressure and force too early. While other schools admit at the age of three years, we earlier used to admit children at the age of four years and now, at about three and a half years. I strongly believe that if a child is brought to school not earlier than the age of six years, there will be a drastic difference in the outcome.
N.G.: Sir, we wish you the very best in all that you do. Our entire Indian community here stands to gain with all the efforts that you undertake; the precedents you set and the milestones you cross... We thank you, Sir!!!
Dr. Navniit Gandhi is an academician, and a freelance writer/columnist. She has been writing extensively for several newspapers, magazines, web-portals and academic publications and has authored five Books, till date.
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