Education as a means of self-actualisation

 Arun Kapur, Chairman, Pallavan Learning Systems is a firm believer in education as a means of self-actualisation and is confident that the recently established Paradise Valley Private School where he serves as an Advisor to the Board will help children achieve this goal. Mayank Singh reports

Paradise Valley Private School has been positioned as an inclusive school. What does the term ‘inclusive’ mean and how will this vision be executed?

While every school is inclusive in certain ways, what we are saying here is that we have a trained staff, who look beyond what we call mainstream children. So when we say inclusive, we mean children who are autistic or afflicted with Down syndrome. They are wonderful children, but require a different kind of handling and most schools do not have the wherewithal to take care of such children. Paradise Valley Private School has the personnel, equipment and every possible amenity to take care of such children. Usually children like these are schooled separately, but we want them to be educated along with other children as a part of the mainstream. We have successfully done this in the past with schools like Vasant Valley School in Delhi. So while they may get some additional help, they are as very much a part of the mainstream.

Can you give us some details of Paradise Valley Private School and its management?

Located near Al Mouj Muscat, Paradise Valley Private School is a new inclusive school with IB curriculum. The school presently offers classes from KG to Grade 4. Al Sayyid Talal Badar Al Busaidy is the Chairman of the Board of Directors. Denise Roache, an Australian is the Head of Elementary School and Mahesh Verma is the President of the School Management Committee. Thus the school has strong shareholders and reputed educationists on board. Moreover all of them are committed to offer a unique and enriching education to children in Oman.

Though this sounds laudable as a concept, is putting together students with different learning abilities in a common learning environment a feasible or desirable idea?

The presence of children who have different needs boosts the learning of the other students, because everybody is differently abled. For children who may have additional needs we have an educator sitting next to the child’s in the class room. The model is called two to one – so for every two or three children who are differently abled, there is a special educator who sits along with them in the class as the socialization process is very important. It is not only about what a child gains while the formal teaching or learning is happening or the education process between a child and a teacher. In addition to this, a huge amount of learning happens between different children during the break or their interactions. For instance when a mainstream child turns around and explains things to a differently abled child, it is a massive boost for the former, as a child needs to understand something very well to explain it to others. This takes the learning quotient to a different level. The inclusion of children with special needs is thus a great boost for children from the mainstream and the children with special needs gain from their interactions with children from the mainstream – so it is a win win situation.

You have established the Pallavan System of Learning which focusses on five areas of development – cerebral, physical, social, emotional and ethical. Can you explain this idea?

The idea is driven by the unfortunate reality wherein schooling has become an end in itself. If you go back to the meaning of the word ‘education’, it means to bring out or to lead out from within a student. So that’s the primary job of education. Today, we have got two things that are happening – one is schooling as an end in itself almost devoid of education. To bring out the best from requires a recalibration of education and that’s the reason why we five areas of development – cerebral, physical, social, emotional and ethical is very important. All these areas need to be addressed simultaneously with equal emphasis as the cerebral. Once you look at all these five areas, then you are looking at the larger and wholistic picture. Sometimes cerebral is on the top, at other times it may be social or emotional that takes precedence, but none of them should be emphasised at the cost of others. The five areas need to work simultaneously to help a child actualise his or her potential.

‘Children are over schooled, but under educated,’ is something that you quote often. What explains this paradox?

As mentioned, schooling has become an end in itself, so while most institutions are focused on the schooling part, they miss out on education which is supposed to be a more wholistic development of a child. Education leads out of school, so while schooling looks only at cerebral development, we have to bring education back into schooling. Education means the development of all the five areas of development simultaneously and not in silos.

You have authored two books on education – ‘Transforming Schools: Empowering Children’ and ‘Leading out.’ In your opinion what are the major trends impacting education and what do they mean for the schooling system of the future?

There are a lot of things that are happening in the field of education. For instance, in large parts of the world including developed countries like the US and UK there is a funding shortage. As a result, STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) takes precedence, while humanities and arts tend to go out. I am not saying that STEM is not important. The second major change is that it higher education has is becoming very competitive. To get into what people call ‘good institutions’ is extremely challenging as the number of seats in such institutions have not increased to the extent that they should have to keep pace with the increasing number of students coming in. As the world becomes a global village, things are getting competitive and marks oriented. Thirdly, going forward technology is going to be major player. As of now, technology is still finding its feet in education. People have tried open online courses, flip classes etc. Some of them have worked, others have not so we are still in that transition period, but we need to understand that technology is not just for other industries, it’s a great disruptor even for education. Children have much shorter attention spans due to the instant gratification that they get from social media, so once they get into a classroom there is a gap as teachers are still restricted to a chalk, board and probably a streaming video. So at the school level, that big transition in terms of technology has not taken place yet, while students are more exposed to on a personal level.

How do you foresee technology impacting education in the next few years?

My forthcoming book does a deep dive into how technology, artificial intelligence, augmented reality etc. will play a role in education. The process of growing up is changing, earlier one went through the process of growing up for a long time, but technology has truncated that process. It used to take 20 years to be called the next generation, now it is not even five years. There is a change taking place outside schools, which they are not in a position to keep up with, as they are in some ways isolated from the real world.

At Pallavan Learning Systems we are working on merging the outside world and the school. The other thing that we notice is in most schools, subjects are taught in silos while in the real world we use them together. So synchronic learning is what we are advocating. We have made presentations to the government of Finland, and they have recognised our work and some of it has have implemented in their public schools.

You have been associated with elitist schools like Vasant Valley School and Doon School in India. On the other end, you run Second Chance School in Mahipalpur, Delhi for underprivileged children and a rural school in Jhalawar, Rajasthan. Does a school’s infrastructure and facilities play a major role in learning?

The greatest of teachers in the world whether it is Gautam Buddha, Mahavir or others they taught under a tree and their teachings have lasted for thousands of years. Think about it, they had no infrastructure, so it is the power of the idea that is the most important thing. Teaching is not as important as helping a child learn. Hence the role of teachers becomes so important. Once you have got that then you build the infrastructure around it, and you have a win-win situation. But if you build a great infrastructure but shoehorn some teachers into it then it is not going to work. This is the philosophy around which we have built Paradise Valley Private School.

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