2020 has provided a window of opportunities to usher transformational changes in the schooling system. It has also reinforced the truth that the role of a ‘teacher’ is crucial for the system to succeed. Embracing technology, schools have been using strategies to help children become independent learners, with teachers graduating to the role of facilitators rather than instruction givers. Driving innovation, SKEI – Smt. Kamalabai Educational Institution is shifting from brick-and-mortar schooling to co-exist with online learning. Designing and developing a new curriculum, combining classroom-based and online learning to provide a continuum of learning that helps to define a learning path for students is the need of the hour as in this type of learning, students, depending on their progress, will seamlessly switch between the two modes of learning.
Situated in the heart of Bangalore, SKEI is a 90-year-old Institution that believes in imparting education to children. To prepare for the future, the school focuses on the present to develop competencies within every child. “The journey for the future starts by re-designing our curriculum that will help to transition the child to become an autonomous learner while providing them the necessary freedom, trust, and responsibility both within and outside the classroom”, states Mr. V. K. Surendra, Secretary, SKEI. The new curriculum of SKEI is based on the belief that schooling should mimic real life, where mixed-ability mixed-aged and mixed-gender groups collaborate to solve problems. Mr. Surendra adds, “Our curriculum encourages a heterogeneous grouping of students to collaborate to solve problems. The focus will be on achieving learning outcomes as well as developing competencies.”
A school that focuses on the journey of learning for each child and chase excellence, SKEI defines chasing excellence as a reflective journey within each child that helps them to work hard to keep pushing boundaries to realize their potential. Focusing on the journey of learning helps them create diverse yet interconnected experiences for children where knowledge creation occurs at the intersection of these experiences. “We do not have co-curricular or extra-curricular activities in our school. Instead, everything that we do is curricular! Academics, performing arts, craft, sports, clubs, etc. are an integral part of everyday life in our school”, says Mr. Surendra.
Providing Well-Rounded Education
Paying attention to every child in the institution, SKEI keeps the class student strength between 20-25, using progressive pedagogical strategies such as Self-Organized Learning Environment (SOLE), to help children develop competencies such as authentic research, collaboration, and communication. At SKEI, experience equals learning, and the same philosophy extends in everything that is done, including demonstrating behaviors, as they believe that children model themselves after teachers. “The uniqueness of our school is that we have the same standards for chasing excellence for everyone who works in our school. This is made possible by providing individual attention to the needs of teachers, students, and every other staff member thus making personalized education truly possible”, opines Mr. Surendra.
Combining the principles of UbD, Learning Ladders, resources, and technology, SKEI has provided support for each child to not only attain, but exceed their required learning levels. “A majority of our students have consistently outperformed the national average. They have won international awards such as in The Queen’s Commonwealth Essay Writing Competition, international collaboration opportunities with MIT USA to develop tactile geometric puzzles to help visually impaired children learn Mathematics, hosting interactive SOLE meetings with the international student community, winning state and national level awards in sports – Tennis, Shuttle Badminton, Track and Field events to name a few”, explains Mr. Surendra.
Believing that school is an extension of the home, parents are very important stakeholders in student’s education and are an integral part of the schooling system at SKEI. School leaders, teachers, and parents have to collaborate in developing the children. As the saying goes ‘It takes a village to raise a child, the contribution from everyone is important in this journey. To develop learning as a life-long habit, it is imperative to create the right atmosphere both at school and home because we are all products of our environment.
The institution’s orientation meetings with the parents precisely address the need for nurturing through creating an appropriate environment at home. Parent orientation programs are conducted at the beginning of every academic year. These are broadly classified into two categories to meet the socio-emotional as well as cognitive needs of children. Mr. Surendra adds, “Our in-house counselors conduct intensive programs that help parents to gain into social and emotional development needs of children while our school leaders and teachers conduct programs on cognitive development needs as well as explain our school’s curriculum. To stress the importance of nurturing through the environment, these programs are conducted at least twice a year for our parents”.
Making sure that school operations should be transparent and open to parents, the school helps parents gain firsthand experience daily school life through ‘a-day-in-school’ program and help the parents spend time in the school to gain insights into our curriculum in action, thus developing a sense of appreciation for the diverse learning strategies that our school implements.
Surviving the COVID Storm
The impact of COVID-19, as with all educational institutions across the country, was deep and wide across SKEI as they relied on experiential learning as a primary pedagogical philosophy for their students. Therefore, the school’s transition to online learning required extensive research, planning, and testing before its implementation. “Our teachers worked hard throughout the summer to research using online platforms to provide near-experiential learning experiences for our children. They did extensive research on developing lesson plans that used day-to-day materials normally available in homes as experiential learning manipulatives”, points out Mr. Surendra.
The traditional teacher led strategy have been replaced by unconventional online teacher-parent collaboration strategy to help the children learn effectively, SKEI adopted a similar strategy for secondary school as well, where there was increased reliance on using day-to-day materials as manipulatives to help in effective learning. Science lessons relied heavily on using standard cooking ingredients, fruits, vegetables as well as cleaning materials, utensils, and cutlery. This method had the direct benefit of helping children to connect their textbook learning with real-life applications, thus cementing their learning process.
Apart from using standard technology platforms like Microsoft Teams to deliver online lessons, exhaustive research was conducted by SKEI’s Technology Task Force to identify solutions for peer-learning, as it is widely followed in our school. “We identified Gidimo App for its unique approach to enable peer-learning through gaming. This app is being extensively used in middle and high school to encourage peer-learning within our school as well as with all other national and international students who are on this platform. Thus, learning is extended across boundaries”, states Mr. Surendra.
Lesson plans were extensively tested with each teacher giving demonstrations of their lessons and seeking feedback for continuous improvement. The transition to online at SKEI was executed in a phased manner and extensive testing was done by the teachers before starting the online lessons. The benefits of transitioning to online learning were tangible – learning became interdisciplinary, and students developed competencies such as applying knowledge, ability to connect and transfer knowledge within and outside the online classroom, become independent learners by using the Internet as a medium to research, collaborate and learn.
Encouraging Academic Excellence
Equity in education is the foundational building block in SKEI, thus the training needs for every teacher are unique and specific to their job roles. The requirements are assessed at the beginning of the year along with the mode of delivery – either online or in-person based. Broadly, the programs include the domains of Technology, Content, Pedagogy, and Knowledge. The last covers a wide domain of emerging research as psychology, neuroscience, etc. Following a rigorous talent induction process that stringently evaluates every aspiring candidate on various dimensions, the selection process of teachers at SKEI involves multiple rounds of evaluation where the skills and competencies are assessed. All the teachers meet the statutory qualification requirements as prescribed by CBSE and are passionate educators caring for the well-being of every child.
Teachers are encouraged to take ownership of their development and training. They undergo scientific assessments to understand their strengths while experienced leadership coaches provide the orientation, to each one of them, to interpret their respective results. Tools and related resources are provided to teachers to help develop competencies. The coach-teacher check-in, to discuss the progress, is scheduled at periodic intervals and is an an-year long engagement. “Since learning is personal, the number of days varies for every teacher. On an average over the academic year, every teacher spends approximately ten days for training and an equal number of days for personal development”, says Mr. Surendra.
Each child has the inherent ability to learn and does so at a pace that is unique to them and SKEI caters to this through personalized attention and care to each student forms the foundational building blocks of our teaching-learning strategy. The school’s class size is optimized between twenty to twenty-five students with a teacher to student ratio of 1:8. “Personalized care is possible only when cohort size is kept within manageable levels. Therefore, this helps our teachers to understand every child in their class, thus laying the foundation for equity in education”, opines Mr. Surendra.
Weaving Individualized learning and differentiated instruction into their curriculum where each child progresses at a pace that is unique to them, SKEI’S personalized learning pathways help the students to know what they need to do next while teachers obtain detailed insights into the learning levels of each student within the classroom. Mr. Surendra adds, “Immersive technology helps us to generate consolidated dashboards for the entire class that helps us to know where exactly each student is in their respective learning journey. We use AI-based tools that automate the entire assessment lifecycle and over a while providing incisive insight into the progress of every child”.
Mimicking real life where people who belong to different genders, age groups, cultures, and abilities work together to achieve common goals, SKEI has grounded the educational philosophies of Dr. Rabindranath Tagore, Dr. Maria Montessori, and Jiddu Krishnamurthy in their curriculum. Their learner-centered curriculum helps children understand the interdisciplinary nature of life with encouragement to investigate, explore the interconnections amongst various disciplines such as Mathematics, Music, Science, Arts, Humanities, Performing Arts. A beautiful medium to help children experience learning through music, dance, art, and craft, SKEI strongly focuses on using these forms as a pedagogical philosophy to help their students become lifelong learners
Encouraging children to learn music, dance, art, and craft and use them as a medium of learning, SKEI has a center of Performing Arts and Crafts – Adviteeyam, a unique center in the school where students are exposed to a variety of musical instruments like Guitar, Drums, Tabla, and Keyboard as an integral part of every students’ curriculum. The education philosophy of the School is strongly focused on the all-around development of abilities in every child. Therefore, co-curricular activities play a very important and critical role alongside academic subjects. “Our curriculum is designed to ensure appropriate time is allocated for our children to develop interest as well as excel in these activities. We are known as the best school with co-curricular activities as our timetable is a healthy balance between academics and co-curricular activities”, says Mr. Surendra.
SKEI student-centric curriculum focuses on helping children realize their potential while developing strong life skills such as empathy, collaboration, positive and problem-solving attitude, high emotional intelligence, etc. The school follows the STEAM curriculum which has the right blend of Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics, and Arts, a perfect combination to help children prepare for the present and future. Emphasizing a stimulating, child-centric, and creative, SKEI enables its students to explore multiple dimensions of excellence, encompassing intellectual, social, psychological, and physical development. Presentations, role-plays, skits, debates, and discussions are few methods that children are motivated to present their creative works and ideas. They are also encouraged to participate in community service and civic awareness programs ensuring that they grow up in coordination with the school’s 360-degree vision of grooming children to be responsible.
Planning to deepen the 360-degree experience for their students, SKEI is in talks of including emerging science such as Genetics, Entrepreneurship Programmes, Immersive Programmes in collaboration with corporate organizations that help seed, develop, and demonstrate competencies and skills. Currently a K-10 CBSE School, SKEI is planning to offer CBSE 11 and 12 grades from 2022-23. “The academic year 2022-23 will be the flagship year for our school. As part of the new curriculum offering, we will extend the currently offered career counseling services to our students to help them chose colleges/universities within India as well as outside the country. Also, we are going to scale our ‘Ideas in Cloud’ program to collaborate with schools in other countries to help their students and teachers become global learners”, concludes Mr. Surendra.