Fostering successful and happy students!

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Poonam Kochitty
Founder Principal, Seth Anandram Jaipuria School Lucknow

Our life is like a Kurukshetra. Every moment it demands of Arjuna (every student in today’s scenario) the answer to questions related to life. Students can answer the questions related to their subjects very well, but they fail to answer life related questions. How can schools develop individuals who are successful in all aspects?

Q. As an educator, what kind of skills do you think the schools should focus at the primary level, at the secondary level and at the senior school level?

Poonam: According to me, skill development is extremely important and skills at the primary and secondary level will also be relevant at the senior secondary level.

At the primary level, the teachers need to focus on social and emotional skills along with listening, speaking, reading and writing skills. Through appropriate questioning, thinking skills can also be developed. Prediction and inference skills – asking children to compare and contrast, creative skills through art and music, numeracy and linguistic skills are skills that students acquire at a very rapid pace at the primary level, if given the right kind of environment.

At the secondary level, additional skills like critical thinking, evaluating, debating, learning to differentiate between fact and opinion, deciphering and reading between the lines, teamwork and collaboration and technology skills should be developed. Most importantly life skills should also be focused at this level.

At the senior secondary level, schools should focus on all of the secondary level skills along with literary and art appreciation skills, financial skills, cooking skills, negotiation skills, conflict resolution skills, relationship skills, respecting human dignity, the need and importance of delaying instant gratification, consideration and empathy for others, self-reliance and independence, critical thinking, problem solving and decision making, innovative and creative thinking skills, and becoming autonomous lifelong learners.

Q: There has always been a dilemma on setting the priorities between – cognitive skills and hands-on-skills. How do you think an optimal blend of both can be achieved in the learning process and how would it impact the existing model and design of curriculum and pedagogy?

Poonam: According to me, development of cognitive skills in students is extremely important. Keeping in mind the diverse learning styles of students, teachers can devise different strategies to enhance student learning. This is where hands-on activities come in. By and large, it can be observed that since infancy, children learn by playing, exploring, experimenting and observing. Their innate curiosity drives them “to do” and their “doing” builds in them hands on skills. Until the hands-on skills and cognitive skill development are not integrated, optimal learning will not happen. This will necessarily involve a re-look at the existing curriculum and pedagogy. Teachers blending both strategies will need to be creative learners themselves. They will need to be more energized and enthusiastic facilitators who will make learning an unforgettable experience for the students, and build in them a life-long love for learning. Teachers will also need to be trained on an on-going basis to make this pedagogical shift. Perhaps society will stand to gain in the long run, by having more pioneers, innovators and inventors.

Q: Though the idea of vocational education with focus on hands-on skills has been in place for the last few decades, it has not met with its desirable objectives. What steps do you think should be taken to make learning of skills and its empowerment more socially acceptable and value-oriented?

Poonam Kochitty
Poonam Kochitty

Poonam: One of the reasons why the introduction of vocational education has not really taken off and succeeded is because, we as a society, are still fixated on acquiring degrees and treating them as having greater value. A vocational education certification is regarded as a diluted degree, meant only for those who are not academically strong.

A vocational education course must be linked with its appropriate industry, and the students must have regular inputs from industry experts. Frequent hands-on training in the relevant organization must occur, apart from regular class-room teaching, so that the teaching skills are not confined to the blackboard. The quality of Vocational Education provided must meet industry standards, must be linked to the requirement of a country’s economy, must cater to each individual’s inherent talents and enhance them, and finally ensure gainful employment, so that it becomes more socially acceptable and also more sought after..

Q: Though industries and business houses have been pointing fingers at the educational systems for not preparing ‘employable’ young persons, they have not really collaborated or supported in such endevaours for various reasons. Do you really think a scenario where industry-education systems can join hands and share responsibilities to provide skill based learning? What suggestions would you like to offer?

Poonam: Yes, I completely agree that Industries and business houses claim that educational systems are not preparing “employable youth.” In fact, whilst I was on a visit to an MNC in Bangalore a few years back, I learnt that many of their newly hired employees are put through a six month training to equip them with various skills and bring them at par with industry expectation.

I think for mutual benefit, Industries must co-design a part of the curriculum or at least share required skill-sets to make prospective pass-outs “work -ready.” The curriculum must provide for periods of integration of student groups with industry employees, especially during college breaks. The gaps in theoretical study and practical application of knowledge and skills acquired must also be addressed. Students must have “appropriate in-depth” knowledge and appropriate skills be it technical, soft skills-especially communication, present ability, sociability and the ability to work in teams.

Q: It is seen that mere hands-on skills without appropriate life skills would defeat the desired objective of ‘skill-based learning.’ What kind of life skills and professional skills will add value to courses structed on skill based learning?

Poonam: Our life is like a Kurukshetra. Every moment it demands of Arjuna (every student in today’s scenario) the answer to questions related to life. Students can answer the questions related to their subjects very well, but they fail to answer life related questions.

In the great Epic Mahabharata, it is seen that the great archer and trained warrior Arjuna, became weak the moment he entered the battlefield. His mental, social and emotional skills were put to test. Here was the greatest warrior Arjuna, who had great hands-on training in archery and warfare but the very thought of fighting against his gurus and relatives made him weak and he was unable to cope with the stress and emotions that tore through his heart and mind. A student of the great guru Dronacharya, the owner of Gandeev an archer par excellence, who had the unfailing skill to shoot all divine arrows awarded to him, was unable to gather the inner strength to bring those arrows into action. This to my mind is a perfect example of an individual with excellent hands-on training but without appropriate life skills.

In today’s professional life, therefore, what is needed is self awareness skills in the first place, the art of communicating effectively, displaying appropriate body language, emotional strength, strong interpersonal skills, empathetic behaviour, the ability to think creatively, to adapt, to work in teams and collaborate, to manage time effectively, to be able to handle stress and conflict and make the right decisions.

Skill based learning must also teach an individual the art of effective communication and body language, taking feedback positively, accepting mistakes and defeat gracefully, apologizing sincerely, behaving ethically, managing time wisely, and being able to speak in public confidently.

With a Masters in Psychology and B.Ed. to her credit, Poonam Kochitty has been in the school sector for over thirty-seven years. She has primarily served as Founder Principal in some of the most prestigious Schools of Lucknow like the City Montessori School Lucknow since the age of twenty-five. She is currently serving as the Founder Principal of Seth Anandram Jaipuria School Lucknow since 2015. Poonam has also served as a CBSE Certified trainer and conducted training programs in various schools of Kolkata, Raigarh, Khairagarh, Faizabad and Sambalpur. She has travelled widely and attended numerous national and international Conferences in Svendborg Denmark, an IGCSE training in Penang Malaysia and participated in a month long School Exchange program with Upwey South School Melbourne, Australia. Poonam has inspected schools for CBSE affiliation and also been an observer for the IIT JEE Exams.

A product of St .Mary Convent Lucknow and Loreto Convent Lucknow, she was a topper in her college at graduate level and UP State Merit holder at both graduate and post graduate levels.