Kavita Sahay Kerawalla, Vice Chairperson, VIBGYOR Group of Schools

A trailblazer in educational innovation, Kavita Sahay Kerawalla, Vice Chairperson of VIBGYOR Group of Schools, has been an educationist for over two decades. She believes that education can be the catalyst to transform the world, inspire the young generation and make the world a better place. A powerful driving force behind VIBGYOR Group of Schools since its inception, an academician in her felt that the curriculum offered in a large number of schools did not equip children for the demands of the future. She led a team of experts who designed a curriculum for VIBGYOR that has a fine mix of global teaching practices and the Indian curriculum. In a conversation with K12 Digest, Kavita Sahay Kerawalla talks about the impact of NEP on Indian school education, importance of taking care of students’ mental health, predictable changes in the education sector after COVID-19 and much more.

What would be the potential impact of NEP on Indian school education? How is the VIBGYOR Group of Schools gearing up for the changes?

The National Education Policy (NEP), introduced in July 2020, provides a much-needed focus to Early Child Care Education (ECCE), envisaging a five-year foundational stage of education: three years of Early Childhood Education (ECE), or pre-primary, and two years of primary school. The broader impact of NEP, if implemented successfully, will be a shift towards the real understanding of concepts and away from the current culture of only memorizing information for exams.

This, I strongly believe, is the right approach, as it is vital to comprehend a particular subject or concept thoroughly to apply it successfully to solve real-life problems. A rote learning culture only allows for the assimilation of information but does little to help students develop a holistic understanding of this information or the interdisciplinary skills necessary to translate it into tangible outcomes. Proper implementation of NEP will create a space for deeper and more experiential learning that enables the holistic development of students.

The policy discusses various measures that aim to ensure that all children benefit from early childhood development, care, and pre-primary education so that they are ready for the next level of learning. One such measure is the inclusion of play-based and activity-based learning for children between the ages of 3-6 years. Based on my experience as an early childhood care expert, I have long held the conviction that young children learn best through experiential activities. This idea has already been a part of VIBGYOR’s DNA since its inception.

Our activity-based pre-primary education programme is designed to nurture and promote the development of a child’s cognitive, social, physical, cultural, and emotional skills. The lessons are planned with the understanding that at this age, a child’s attention span is usually low. We have developed various activities, games, and puzzles accordingly, which are used to engage students for better learning outcomes.

Many of NEP’s guidelines mirror my philosophy, which has been reflected in our pedagogy since well before the guidelines were announced last year. The proposed reforms further reinforce my confidence in my beliefs and will help VIBGYOR in resolutely pursuing our mission of facilitating world-class, quality education and a stress-free learning environment to prepare our students for a dynamic world.

In India, how badly are students going to be set back by not having formal instruction? What are the efforts of the VIBGYOR Group of Schools to control the damage?

Formal instruction and an in-class learning environment are vital for a child’s development. Being an optimistic person, I always believe in looking at the brighter side of life, hence I believe we must use the current situation as an opportunity to innovate and adapt.

At VIBGYOR, we bolstered our digital infrastructure, as soon as the lockdown began, so that we could facilitate an engaging and immersive learning experience for students from the safety of their homes. We also invested in training our academicians for effective online pedagogical delivery. We have worked hard to develop an online pedagogy that has been developed taking into consideration the psychology of a pre-primary child.

  • Our classes are of shorter spans so that the child does not lose attention.
  • We follow a timetable that considers teacher-led and parent-led learning sessions, hence promoting healthy learning routines and academic rigor.
  • We advise parents to be a part of the teacher-child interaction sessions so that parents can take the learning further while interacting with the child.
  • Our teachers conduct ‘Circle Time’, a five-minute session at the start of every class. This time is used to make the entire class engage with each other including a virtual assembly so that social interaction is promoted online. Lack of social interaction is one of the major problems children have been facing during COVID times.
  • There is a break of 10 minutes between each teacher-child interaction session so that children get a break from screen time.
  • We provide experiential learning, real-world experiences, and trans-disciplinary integration by organising virtual field trips for children.
  • We handhold parents through ‘parent-child interaction at home’ by providing them with plans for all subjects which include ‘Creative Activities’, ‘Perceptual Motor Programme’, ‘Math Skills’, and more.
  • We use a good amount of digital content including ‘Flashcards, ‘Audios’, ‘Videos of songs/rhymes and stories’ to keep the learning experiential and engaging.

I see this period as a silver lining in our learning curve, where we have up skilled ourselves by adapting and innovating with a new approach to teaching. Our parents have appreciated the efforts that VIBGYOR has put in to rise to the occasion.

Tell us about the importance of taking care of students’ mental health in the aftermath of the pandemic? What is the role of schools in it?

For more than a year now, students have not been able to go to school, and have been isolated from friends and social gatherings, which has taken a toll on their mental health.

It is my firm belief that we need to prioritize their mental health, particularly in such a situation, and that schools are uniquely placed to contribute by providing ample support and counselling. VIBGYOR has a dedicated cell, comprising qualified counsellors who help students deal with anxiety and stress. Since this kind of support can no longer be provided face to face, given the challenges of the pandemic, we have transitioned and are facilitating online sessions for students.

I also believe that during a phase when socialising is a daunting task, online schooling plays an important role in encouraging social interaction. Whether it’s through encouraging interactions among students during classes, providing them with assignments that result in them engaging with each other digitally or nudging their creativity through experiential learning.

Nowadays, schools not only have a great responsibility on their shoulders, but they are also skilfully playing that role because of the hard work of our teachers. I would urge our society to recognise the role our ‘Teachers’ have played during these COVID times. They are no less than any other COVID warrior.

What are the precautionary measures schools must take when they reopen? What is the VIBGYOR model that other schools in the country can follow?

In my view, the safety and wellbeing of students and staff need to be of utmost priority. When reopening for physical classes, schools should implement and strictly adhere to all the safety protocols prescribed by the authorities.

At VIBGYOR, we are already taking several measures to enable students to safely resume physical classes in the upcoming academic year, by following government guidelines. In addition to strict hygiene and disinfection procedures being followed, regular temperature checks will be conducted for students and staff when physical classes commence. Further, we are setting up medical care stations around each school campus, for quick access by students in case they feel unwell. We will also conduct awareness drives periodically to ensure all students, faculty, and staff are mindful of, and adhere to, the COVID-19 guidelines prescribed by the government.

Such protocols were also implemented when we had reopened some VIBGYOR campuses earlier, in Maharashtra, Karnataka, and Uttar Pradesh in the previous academic year, as per state government regulations.

Given the developments around the world, I believe the pandemic situation is still in flux. While we must continue to focus on how to regain normalcy, we must also recognise the uncertainty of the situation. Accordingly, at least for the coming year, we need to be prepared for agility in operations in case more lockdowns are necessary, and vigilance in preventing the spread of the virus when campuses reopen so that further restrictions can be avoided.

VIBGYOR has not only constantly honed and evolved its online pedagogy, but it has also developed its infrastructure to be able to run a blended model of education for some time to come. We have used these times to learn, adapt and evolve. I believe it stands true for the entire education industry.

What is the importance of extra-curricular activities in holistic personality development which includes critical thinking, analytical reasoning, strategic decision-making, collaboration, and teamwork?

In my opinion, extra-curricular activities are an essential element of both, the school experience, and the overall personality development of children. They not only help enhance students’ critical thinking abilities and decision-making skills but also help inculcate a genuine spirit of teamwork via extensive peer-to-peer collaboration. This view led me to spearhead the development of a first-of-its-kind ‘Sports & Performing Arts’ (SPA) curriculum at VIBGYOR, which has been designed to integrate with classroom learning to help strike a fine balance between the various facets that constitute the asymmetrical learning process.

As the country grappled with the COVID-19 pandemic, I noticed students feeling isolated, and felt that extra-curricular activities could go a long way in uniting them and rebuilding their confidence. To help students bridge this divide, we introduced virtual versions of our extra-curricular activities. For example, we moved our annual inter-school cultural mega-festival VIVA, as well as our annual VIB-MUN simulation – Model United Nations – online. This served the dual purpose of ensuring our learners’ holistic development despite the pandemic, while also enabling their safety.

My larger aim is to help develop the unique potential of each student and equip them with a 21st-century mind-set, to enable them to navigate successfully through a complex and diverse world.

What are the predictable changes in the education sector after COVID-19?

Even after a year, COVID-19 related disruptions continue to affect all sectors, including education. I believe that online classes, cancellations, and delays in exams are likely to continue being a part of our reality for a while.

In such a scenario, academicians and policymakers must come up with suitable alternatives for the age-old methods of classroom education and examinations. This will enable students to continue education even if physical classes cannot be conducted due to volatile factors such as climatic or geopolitical disturbances, or public health crises.

I believe that blended learning, for one, will become more common in the future. This approach uses a mix of digital tools and in-class teaching to deliver education effectively and smoothly. If one pedagogical method is disrupted, the other can be leveraged to continue delivering education to students. Such a model is highly flexible and allows students and schools to adapt quickly to evolving circumstances, ensuring learning continuity.

As far as exams are concerned, I expect to see schools transitioning to continuous, year-round assessments instead of depending on mid-terms and year-end exams. Student assessments will be based on their periodic test scores and/or class projects. I am confident that, with such alternatives in place, students’ plans for higher education will not be impacted by the cancellation of, or delay in, year-end examinations.

How is the education sector evolving, and what are the leadership goals?

While the education sector is constantly evolving in terms of effective teaching and learning methodologies, I feel strongly that the future, beyond this pandemic, warrants an overhaul and that, with able and effective leadership, we can achieve this goal.

Leadership goals will now involve building a new-age education system in India that will stay strong in face of crises and disruptions. Such a system will transcend the old divisions between knowledge and skills, theory and application, and academic and vocational learning. I believe that we need to focus more on the development of skills that enable students to become self-reliant adults who can cope with the trials and tribulations of social, political, and economic shifts.

What are the immediate plans of the VIBGYOR Group of Schools?

In alignment with our commitment towards accessibility to high-quality education, VIBGYOR launched a new campus in Chokkanahalli, Bengaluru, this year. We will continue to expand our presence across the country and are also planning to set up a vocational training institute as well as technical training institutes, in our endeavour to bring the Indian education system to the world stage.

In the coming years, I also plan to introduce various educational initiatives to enhance the employability of women and thus empower them.

About Kavita Kerawalla

Kavita Sahay Kerawalla holds a Master’s degree in Economics and has completed her B.Ed followed by a PGDEd.M from the prestigious institute NMIMS, Mumbai. Her tireless work and exemplary contribution to the field of education has won her many accolades. She has been recognised as the Business Leader of the Year (Education Sector) by ET Now in February 2020, ‘Most Innovative Woman of the Year (Education Sector)’ at GTF Women’s Excellence Awards 2018, Times Power Women Award 2018, Woman Super Achiever Award for Excellence in Education, Coaching and Consulting by Femina 5th World Woman Leadership Award 2018, Leader in Education Award by International Women Leaders Forum (2017), and Women at Work Leadership Award by Asia’s Best Employer Brand Award (2017) amongst many others.

Kavita Kerawalla is someone who strives for change and is constantly working on new initiatives for the overall development of children, such as VIBGYOR VIVA (a Pan-India annual event that offers a platform for students to showcase their talent), VIBGYORMUN (Model United Nations to provide an admirable learning experience for our young learners to be acquainted with global issues) and more such projects that enable VIBGYOR Group of Schools to provide enhanced learning experience to students as well as broaden the scope of offerings.

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