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“We worry about what a child will become tomorrow, yet we forget that he is someone today.”
Thus goes a powerful quote in the world of parenting and education. As you ponder over it, it makes so much sense.You start evaluating your surroundings and beliefs to see how much of the child’s requirement they are catering to. How could a school or formal education stay out of this evaluation, then? Should the child learn because he needs to be ready for tomorrow, or should the learning take place when the child is ready for it? The latter is what is child-centric learning, and educationists all over the world have been working diligently and enthusiastically to make it a norm in education. Team KidEngage met up with Ms Manjusha Gadamsetty, a practitioner of this philosophy through her school Sproutz, to understand how this has become a way of life for herself, the students and their parents and the educators at her school.
Tell us something about your journey. How did you think of starting a school from being a techie?
Birth of my daughter was one of the main reasons for starting Sproutz. When I wanted to get back to work after my maternity break, I started looking out for a “good daycare”. There were very limited options and most of them didn’t look like they were being run professionally. So, I started thinking of doing something on my own. Once I started my research, I realized that a lot more could be done for early childhood and beyond. Hence, Sproutz happened. Once I dedicated myself to this sector, I got very much interested in making learning effective across all ages. The challenge of making learning effective intrigues me and keeps me on my toes all the time.
That sounds interesting. With your passion, how do you make sure that the learning is effective at Sproutz? How is it different from any other school?
At Sproutz, we don’t accept anything as a norm just because other schools are doing it or parents are expecting us to do it. We believe that anything that we do with children should be developmentally appropriate for them. Having a thorough understanding of the child’s development at a given age helps us focus on what is appropriate at a given age/stage instead of training them for the “primary school” segment. As a result, our children are well prepared to handle it with lot of confidence.
We believe that children should be treated as individuals with their own unique personality, thinking, and ideas. Their individuality and creativity should be nurtured and retained. Bottomline, the child is at the center of our attention. Although it sounds like a simple statement, it is a very difficult task to accomplish.
To make the learning natural and effortless for the child, the teacher needs to put in a lot of effort. Our teachers aren’t afraid of learning something new and growing. This is infectious. If we train our children to be curious and not give up their thinking, they learn beyond the walls of our classrooms and we accomplish our mission.
It’s not all about academics then, is it?
Absolutely not. In the past 15-20 years, the software industry has created a very precarious paradigm shift. As a result, we went down a downward spiral where we are pushing our children to work harder and harder and harder. This pressure has trickled down all the way to early childhood. To make way for these new academic demands, we started dropping several important things out of the curriculum that are fundamental for the development of a child. “Preschool” has become the new “school”. But,if we take a step back and look, academics is only a teeny tiny piece of the puzzle.
At Sproutz, we give our children opportunities to think, come up with their own ideas and understanding. We help them become independent. We allow them to deal with conflict resolution and guide them to empathize, share, take turns. All of these can happen only when we consciously make time for these. We devote a significant portion of our time to work on developing these life skills among our children.
A child’s social-emotional well being is very important and shouldn’t be undermined. We dedicate one hour for ‘free play’ everyday across all age kids to help them hone their life skills in an engaging way. Certain skills such as teamwork, communication, negotiation etc can only be developed by giving them the opportunity to practice these skills. To foster independence, we train our children to take care of themselves as early as possible under adult guidance. Eg: eating independently, being responsible for their belongings, cleaning up after themselves etc.
You have an eclectic collection of books at your place. Do you help children imbibe the reading habit, and more importantly, do they take to it in this age of mobiles and tablets?
We are strong believers in reading books to our children at a very young age. Our children comprehend and absorb quite a lot from these stories. This is the first step in a series of events that help them eventually imagine, improvise and finally innovate. When we read a simple book like “Are you my mother?” to our 3-year olds, they understand that when an egg is ready to hatch, it starts jumping. A mother bird goes to bring food for its baby. A baby bird can’t fly as soon as it hatches and many more things! Best of all, we don’t have to teach them anything.
We want all our children to look at books as a wonderful medium before they start looking at textbooks, workbooks etc or get addicted to screens. They simply need to fall in love with books. So,we created beautiful reading spaces in our classrooms where they want to spend a lot of time. We maintain a collection of good quality books with nice illustrations that make them want to see them over and over again. We use every opportunity to highlight books. Inspired by ‘World Read Aloud Day’, we recently did a read-aloud-week, where children got to listen to a lot of stories. We also have a reading program where we send a book home with each child and request parents to make reading to their child a routine at home. We share read aloud videos to give them some ideas to read and organise storytelling workshops where they can pick few more tricks. Overall, our children are well on their way to comprehending the not so native language — English.
How do you ensure your team of educators share your passion? What kind of training do you have for them?
To begin with, we hire well qualified and passionate teachers with lot of patience. It is not just children that have individuality that we need to respect. We believe that our teachers’ ideas also need to be respected. We rely on their strengths and support them with their weaknesses. At Sproutz, we believe in empowering each and every teacher. If we see a setback in a classroom, it is not because the teacher didn’t want to do something. It is probably because she didn’t know how to go about it. So, we identify few key areas that teachers could use help and give them the appropriate trainings. It could be an internal training by management or their peers or a workshop by an outsider. We all are a team and we are as strong as our strongest person and as weak as our weakest link. So, we are constantly trying to make our weakest link stronger by the day.
Do you also bring the parents in? How are the parents involved in the life at school?
Parents, school, teacher and the community are all important factors in shaping a child. So, school, teacher and parents have to work hand-in-hand to ensure that the child has the best shot possible. Our first step towards that is making ourselves available and approachable for all our parents. We personally ensure that the class teacher and I personally know each and every parent. We maintain a close open-communication with parents in the initial days to understand their viewpoints. The whole process is to ensure that they feel comfortable in approaching us with any issue.
The second step is to keep the parents in loop with all the happenings at school through various communication channels. Our formal and informal parent-teacher meetings provide opportunities to discuss about child’s development. We also organize events that bring us all closer in an informal setting. We also rely on our parent community to pitch in various events depending on their specific talents/skills. Eg: Parents coming and reading books for our ‘book read-aloud week’, pooling recycling resources, doing a dental check-up, volunteering for teacher appreciation week etc. Our ultimate goal is to ensure that there is an open channel with each parent where we can talk about both good and not-so good issues comfortably with them.
As an educator, what will be your advice to the parents to have on their checklist when they are looking for a school for their children?
There are a lot of wonderful schools that are full of passionate educators around us. Each school offers something different. Beauty of this is that parents have a choice! Here is my advice to the parents….
First and foremost, figure out the curriculum that you want for your child. Think critically about the available options. Next, make sure that you list down your priorities before you start the school hunt. Spend some good time gathering information from different parents. When your friend says that XYZ is a very good school and they are very happy about it, ask them the reason for their happiness. See if it is in your priority list. Make sure that you go for a facility walkthrough while the school session is in progress. Observe the environment, the staff, the children and the promises that your counselor is making. If you gave enough thought about this, then you don’t have to constantly keep looking for a new school. Bottomline, find the best school you can afford.
One last and most important advice that I would give to parents is : ‘understand your child, his/her needs and decide whether the school as well as curriculum you choose works for your child depending on his personality’. Don’t pick a school because it worked for your next door neighbour. For example: if your child needs lot of one-on-one attention, pick a good school with lesser number of kids per class. If your child likes to try and participate in various things, pick a school that creates various opportunities for her. If your child doesn’t share much with you, find a school that is easy to approach.
This conversation with Manjusha is such an eye-opener! Like she says, making child the centre of the learning is a simple statement, but a mammoth effort. Kudos to educationists like her, who are relentlessly working to equip our children to lead the world tomorrow!