Rex Karmaveer Education Change Champions – Reflections

A couple of weeks ago it was such a pleasure to see the Rex Karmaveer Education Change Champions event come together after long discussion and lots of work behind the scenes by the Rex Karmaveer team, especially by Eitu Vij Chopra.

Now that a couple of weeks have elapsed, I wanted to capture my thoughts and reflections from the conference and awards ceremony.

1. My Mojo
I never really had any doubts, but being part of the discussions and interactions over this day reinforced in my mind that my enthusiasm and drive to bring about significant change in education is every bit as strong as it ever was.
I’m brimming with ideas and, if anything, my biggest challenge I have to deal with now is I can’t be all things to all people at the same time and have to pick and choose the projects that i’m going to take forward. One of my biggest criteria will be the level of potential impact from those actions.

2. I’m a Bit Rusty
Years ago I really wasn’t very good at speaking or engaging with audiences. But, I wanted to be and was determined to get good. So, I grabbed every opportunity I could, including engaging in debating competitions all the way up to winning at national level in UK.
However, as i prepared for my keynote session on the morning of this one day event, I recalled that I had basically only spoken in front of one audience in the previous 18 months or so. This made me way more apprehensive than I would normally have been for such an occasion.
And, I realised the next day, that affected my preparation – I over-prepared and tried to be too rigid over the content, my notes etc.
And it showed. I was not as fluid as i would want to be – plain and simple I was rusty. Just like riding the proverbial bike, you don’t forget how to do these things, but it takes time and some practice to get back up to speed and return to past performance levels (so as to then work to go beyond those past levels).
So, the task at hand is to find every opportunity I can to engage with audiences, big or small (already grabbed one opportunity last week, that benefited from being a short impromptu involvement). I will get back up to speed asap.

3. Great Work Going On
The seventy five or so schools that were represented at the event were curated and hand-picked as the founding group. And, I have to say, very well curated – these were people and schools that were worthy of recognition. In future years schools will be challenged to prove that they merit lining up alongside these schools. They represented the whole spectrum of K-12 education in India, from across the whole country and the whole spectrum from elite private schools to government aided schools working at grass roots levels in rural and deprived inner city areas.
What was clear was that there is a lot of great, innovative work happening where schools are giving their pupils the opportunity to give back, to contribute to their communities and to the wider society.  Lots of children are getting the benefits that come in life from being a go-giver, recognising that they gain when they contribute to making the lives of others better.

4. Choices
One of my pleas on the day to all the schools concerned was to widen the choices available to students. Too often I see situations where a single school project for community action is agreed upon and then all in the school are asked to engage in it. This is a problem and challenge for students whose own drives and energy don’t align with the chosen project.
There are almost infinite possibilities for what can be done and if there is enough choice available that means something to ignite the passion in every pupil. For those schools that are smaller or lack resources, then collaboration has to be the way forward to increase the variety of giving opportunities for pupils. That can be collaboration with other schools or colleges or even collaboration with local companies and their CSR engagement activities.

5. Fear of Bold Change
  Educators remain largely fearful of making bold changes. In India, particularly, the last 12-15 years have seen appreciable changes in approaches to primary education. Classrooms look different, the pedagogy has changed and the atmosphere is very different. However, there’s an incongruence that stands out where educators seek to convince parents and other observers that they believe in progressive child-centred, whole child educational methodologies, but then flip the switch when children move from primary to secondary school – where the same old teacher-centric, rote based, content driving methods are still used to drill pupils for exam success.
At that point, anything else becomes peripheral and bolted on usually as extra-curricular activities. The reality is that in secondary schools where students are getting opportunities to develop what are colloquially known as soft skills (or Industry 4.0 skills) is not in their standard core classes, but in the extra curricular bolted-on parts of the school programme.
Then, as educators we wonder why we’re not always taken seriously as a profession.

6. Courage of Convictions
  When a speaker made the point that schools should have potential at the core, not performance, there were audible responses from across the audience regarding expectations of parents and other stakeholders when it comes to the focus on exam success and how it’s meant to be achieved.
However, if this is the case, I would ask those educators to reflect on how they currently select their schools’ sports teams? Are those selected on performance or potential basis? Would they have the courage of their convictions to choose their sports teams on the basis of grit, drive, passion and enthusiasm rather than outright talent and performance, even if that meant less trophies in their cabinet?
I don’t have the right, or the temerity,  to walk in to my doctor’s surgery and state – I have this condition, so please write me a prescription for medicine X immediately. Instead, respecting that the doctor is the professional expert in his/ her field I tell them of my symptoms, answer their questions about the nature of my malady and then receive their diagnosis, followed by their prescription for what can solve my issue. That is because i look at them as a professional.
However, as educators, we want to be seen as professionals, and yet see no inconsistency when we pander to the ‘patient’ telling us what the treatment is going to be for their condition. If educators are to be seen as the experts in the room, as the professionals, then we must be willing to learn, develop our professional beliefs (and evolve them over time as new knowledge becomes available) , understand the needs and prescribe accordingly.
One very important factor in this is that our professional views must come from a place of competence, congruence and consistency. That includes educators within an institute having invested enough time to build common views as to what they believe and what they practice. If leadership and teachers are singing different tunes we shouldn’t be surprised when parents and pupils doubt their credibility. If we’ve researched and understood where we want to go, worked on common language to describe the journey and articulate is consistently and clearly, we can bring change and educate parents to want what they need for their children.

In conclusion, a great day, a lot of excellent interactions, met up with some old friends after a long time and made some new friends. Those most committed and with the courage  to commit to excellence and innovation in education need to find each other and have these opportunities to mix, exchange ideas and renew their enthusiasm for the challenges.

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