Haaris Jamil – Head, Cambridge International at Kasiga School Dehradun-Dehradun, Uttarakhand, India
I completed my Engineering and worked as an Engineer for about 2 years. I realized I was changing jobs every 6 months or so because I got bored. I would find these jobs interesting initially, but once I understand and be at ease with what needs to be done, it tends to get monotonous and as per me, there is nothing left to be learnt. In short, I wasn’t content with the job at hand. Then, I stumbled onto teaching and I have become very passionate about this profession!
I have always been pretty impulsive. One thing that got me attracted to teaching was, sincerely, the long vacations that teachers get, because I love travelling. Incidentally, the first job I enrolled into as a teacher, did not give me vacations. We were expected to work throughout the year – sometimes, even on Sundays! That was my first job as a teacher. So, my primary goal to become a teacher was not accomplished.
I am from Dehradun. I have been in Dehradun since the age of 5. I did my education here. I did my Engineering from Uttar Pradesh Technical University. After I completed my Engineering, I got an offer from a major IT firm based in Bengaluru but I did not want to move out of Dehradun. I love this city and have never wanted to move out. So, I rejected that offer and found work here.
I am the Head of Cambridge International Course at the school. The school follows 2 curriculums – CBSE and Cambridge. I am responsible for the delivery of the Cambridge curriculum. The curriculum is developed and taught as per the guidelines of Cambridge International. This syllabus is offered Grade 9 onwards.
We have around 70 odd students.
The Cambridge curriculum is advanced in terms of assessment. All the assessments are application based, especially for science subjects. It doesn’t just test your knowledge but also assesses how well you are able to apply what you have learnt to solve problems in the real world.
CAMBRIDGE CURRICULUM VS CBSE
CBSE is also trying to do the same thing but they are not there yet.
I studied CBSE and began my teaching career as a CBSE teacher. I am evolving as a Cambridge syllabus teacher – have been doing it only for the last 4 years. That is not very long ago.
So far, from experience, I like the approach. The good thing is, if you are open to learning, the Cambridge syllabus is not hard. Cambridge offers 2-day face-to-face training sessions through the year along with online training modules. People from Cambridge Assessment International Education come here and train people like us. Yes, they do provide those kind of opportunities, which is a great thing. So, if you are willing to learn and give in to getting evolved, it is a good ride. It does take about a year to transition to this syllabus and get comfortable with it.
Finding teaching staff is very difficult because it is hard to find teachers who have experience and are trained for the Cambridge syllabus. So, we find teachers who are willing to learn and then train them.
I mean, at some point I expect Cambridge to recruit trainers and examiners from India. For people who want to learn, run the extra mile and are up for evolution, there are plenty of opportunities on the horizon.
FEAR OF SCIENCE SUBJECTS
One of the most important things is that, in India, people tend to focus a lot on content. As a result, at an age when a child likes to explore, they are expected to rote learn concepts. Consequently, the interest for the subject goes out of the window.
When a child is in Grade 4 or Grade 5 – as a 10 year old, learning jargon such as ‘photosynthesis’ does not stoke their curiosity in any way. It is an age when they want to explore. We are bad at facilitating that need in children. We are good at getting students to learn a lot of stuff – they will know a lot of terms.
I had gone to the US for an exchange program this month. As a part of the program, I got to sit in on many classes there. The basic difference between our style of teaching and theirs is that they don’t really care about terminology so much – its all about understanding the principle behind something. Even if students explain something in their own childish way, that is good.
So, our focus on content is what drives the students away from Science. By the time they reach grade 7 or 8 – the content starts becoming a burden on them. When something is a burden, enjoying it is out of the question. Children are not allowed to investigate their own curiosities. That’s where we need to turn things around. We should focus on making students enjoy Science, encourage them to ask questions and try to answer them. We shouldn’t be bothered if they know all the terms or not.
We are in a competitive world and at the end of the day, the grades that you get in board exams do matter. They do have a say in where you will end up further – I do not discount them completely. That said, if the focus for students is turned towards learning by exploring up to grade 8 – it would work wonders.
After grade 8, in an Indian context, you don’t have a choice. Even in Cambridge, they are under pressure for grades from grade 8 and students want to do well because they want to end up in good universities.
So, you can’t rule out grades completely. The best we can do is at least until all that competition sets in, engage students to enjoy learning. That way, by the time they enter the competitive frame, they have the skills needed to deal with the competitive atmosphere. Right now, we are instilling pressure right from grade 1, which I think is a little too much.
RECRUITING GOOD TEACHERS
Yes, it is definitely hard to find good teachers – you are absolutely right about that. I will give you a little bit of information on this.
For the Cambridge curriculum, we have no minimum qualification for teachers. You can qualify for teaching even if you have failed grade 10, provided you have the skills and the requisite knowledge to deliver that curriculum. In the Indian context, we focus a lot on qualification.
See, being a teacher, you do need to have mastery over a subject but most importantly, you need to be a good listener because it is not just about you talking and telling students what to do, it is more about you listening to them, understanding where they need help and effectively helping them. Effective listening is one skill that most people applying for a teacher’s role don’t have and it is something that is very hard to develop.
When we recruit people that is what we look for, we don’t look at qualification or experience. That part is secondary. We focus on understanding if the candidate can effectively listen and observe what is happening around them and calmly respond to the situation.
CHALLENGES IN THE CURRENT JOB
At our school we are at a stage where we are looking towards exploring and understanding how we can be considered among the best schools in the world.
The challenges that excite me… one is in my school right now – as an administrator I have the freedom to experiment. So, if I have an idea – I can try it out, analyze how it works, if it doesn’t work, we discard it and move on. If it works, we try and see how we can expand it. As an administrator and as a teacher, that is a huge luxury for me.
Most schools in India don’t give you this flexibility. They have set a rigid system in place and that is what one needs to follow. So, given that opportunity, I have lots of things on my plate and I am slowly trying out different things and whatever succeeds, I am expanding on that.
Currently, what we are working on is integrating technology into the classrooms. We are trying Google classrooms – it is the pilot batch and we are looking at how we can use Google classrooms to talk to other data software so that we can keep the parents involved on a regular basis.
When it comes to challenges that frustrate me… there are cultural impediments in India which sometimes create problems for us. For example, in the Indian culture, it is traditionally portrayed that the teacher is above all students in status and that can impede the kind of relationship you can have with your students. If you think you are better than the people sitting in front of you, it becomes hard to communicate with them. But if you are at the same level mentally, you can communicate better.
It is not an easy job to overcome such cultural impediments. And we are doing quite a decent job at this. But, it can be frustrating at times.
MAKING THE BEST OF WHAT YOU HAVE
I have worked in an NGO before this where students would sit on the floor and study. A school that struggles to acquire basic facilities. At present, I work for a school that can be considered elite.
Having this contrasting experience, what I can say is that schools that are probably struggling with resources shouldn’t really worry too much. It is not about the resources you have got. It is about how you use the resources that you have, to conduct wonderful classes and a healthy learning environment.
You can have great classes even with nil resources. So for schools struggling to acquire normal class boards and stuff like that, they should shift their focus on what they can do and make good use with what they have. That is one thing I wanted to bring out.