Anuja Panwar – Chemistry Educator MYP/IB DP Pathways School, Gurgaon
Having completed her post-graduation from the University of Rajasthan, she picked up a teaching job to teach 12th grade students. Little did Ms. Anuja Panwar know at that time that that was the path she was meant to be in. She enjoyed teaching. Tides changed, she got married and had to travel to the UK, where she got the opportunity to study further.
“While I was studying at the University there, I saw the possibility of a different kind of learning and teaching. The experience was completely different. I then got into Post Graduate Certificate in Education (PGC) and I really enjoyed the programme. It was a very different approach towards teaching. Then, there was no looking back.”
What was the interesting approach that got you inspired?
The teaching procedure followed over there wasn’t aboutsomebody just standing up there, writing things on a board and telling the class how things are. The experience was different.
It was more aboutasking the class questions so that we could explore our thoughts and build our knowledge bank. I was learning computing there which was not my subject at all. Hence, I had to do a lot of research to complete the assignments given to me. It was more like an assignment-based learning instead of the lectures approach.
I realized how different it was to explore things yourself. If you couldn’t figure out something, you could approach tutors. The tutor would then take it further from there. It was more of an inquiry-based learning. It was refreshingly different. This was way back in 1994-95.
Did you then come back to India?
No. Once I completed my computing course, I did my PGC. After that, I got a job offer in the same technical college from where I did my computer diploma course. I then started teaching computing there and did that for about a year.
Then, we moved to Sri Lanka, where I couldn’t join for work owing to personal reasons. But, I did teach children who came over to my place. In Sri Lanka, they had this trend of sending children to a local school till grade 10, then admit them to an international school catering to an IB/Excel Board. After which, they would go abroad to study.
So, I was helping out children from home and got them ready to join an international school. Once my daughter turned 3, I joined a school called Colombo International School.
After you got back to India, did you notice any difference in way things were done here?
Upon my return I joined Oakridge International School – I was made to understand that it is going to be an IB school. But at that time, it was a CBSE school. I found that CBSE followed exactly the same syllabus that I studied in my school days – there wasn’t any difference at all. Neither I nor my daughter wastoo happy about the school and the curriculum. So, we moved from there and came to Gurgaon.
Here, I joined Shikshantar School – an ICSE school. At that point in time, I didn’t know of many IB schools here in India. ICSE was again a very different approach for me. But, I was slightly happier with ICSE than CBSE because I felt they had an application-based approach. ICSE gave me a little bit of flexibility in my teaching methodology and in assessing my students etc.
Then, I moved to Shri Ram School, another ICSE school, and was with them for nearly 4 years. But, none of these schools gave me the space to apply all of the experience I had gained while I was abroad.
Why were you not able to apply those techniques that you had gained from your prior experience?
The ICSE curriculum is very restricted. It takes a very syllabus-oriented approach. There is a defined set of things dictated for children to be studying. I did create few lesson plans and activities for lower grades children, for instance grade 7; enabling them to inquire, explore and then learn. But then, we were always pressed against time to complete the syllabus. The culture was more about the results that children fetch in grade 10.
It was all about preparing students for grade 10 exams from lower grades itself. That is something that frustrated me.
Have things changed at all?
It hasn’t changed at all. They have become slightly relaxed about a few things like the volume of things that needs to be done in grade 8. But grade 9 has become a very syllabus heavy year for children so that in grade 10, their syllabus gets completed by December. This way, in February they are all set for their final exams. And, so there is very little time.
At times I feel that parents have become less pushy –but, not all. But, there is a slight change shaping in that space.
Currently, I am working with the IB curriculum, which gives me a lot of flexibility. I also have a structure I need to follow but creating a lesson plan, executing it and what do I make of it is completely on me. What I like about IB is that units are looked through a lens of global context while using certain key concepts and some related concepts.
In the IB model, we also get to discuss with children what they want to learn. For instance, the unit can be addressing global context such asglobalization and sustainability or science and technical innovation, etc. We can check with students what they would like to learn about in that unit and we can see how differently we can explore that unit, which I feel, equips children with better skills.
1. Think clearly
2. Decide for themselves
3. Become open-minded
During discussions, different thinking processes comes up and they begin respecting each other’s perspective and learn from each other.
IB opens up a forum for lot of discussion and inquiry, which I feel, is a great thing. As educators, I feel, instead of teaching them content we should be teaching them skills so that they are better prepared for college,where no one really asks how one learns the content. If you are skilled, you are equipped to learn.
As a teacher, is it more challenging to teach IB as compared to CBSE/ICSE?
For me, it is the other way round. I am a person who constantly thinks and keeps getting ideas.
For example, if we are teaching organic chemistry in grade 10. In CBSE, I would be asking them what isomers are and what the isomers of different compounds are, etc. and that would be it.
But here, the same type of questions are presented differently.
For example: Imagine a situation in the lab, wherein they run out of acetylene while doing some welding work. Now, propene can also be used for the same purpose. I would give some information about propene – not as propene itself but lots of other homologous compounds. Somewhere it is hidden that when propene is burned it gives a temperature of up to 6000 degree Celsius.
Another example is asking:
If there are two unlabelled cylinders – one contains propane and another is propene. How would they figure out which one is propene. They do the bromine test to figure out propene and hence, they will design a lab experiment, the whole process, hypothesis, variables etc. They come up with a solution through inquiry and exploration.
In the process, I am also testing them by giving them a situation – a real-life situation. It is not a straight-forward question.
Also, we have criteria-based assessment and so it becomes very interesting. I have taught IB before but here, I am teaching MYP for the first time. I have come to realise that MYP is much more interesting and creative.
It keeps alive the learning journey of a teacher and that is the beauty of it all.
How do you find the time to keep yourself updated?
A lot of research goes into teaching IB. Also, by being creative and being aware of the things around you, you can learn a lot. When we sit together as a team, we realise that some of us cannot figure out what kind of questions they can ask. There are times when some of us struggle with assisting children in their learning. On the other hand, these things come very easily for some of us. I guess it is about developing one’s skills by constantly thinking about where one can apply concepts.
For example, if I have taught separation techniques, I can teach them the concept and where it is applied in daily life. CBSE, ICSE and IGCSE would be teaching distillation of crude oil. But in IB we would be teaching the basic technique by asking them application-based questions.
For example, reverse osmosis is a process but how reverse osmosis helps clean water is something to be explored. Likewise, we should analyze the social, economic and environmental impacts of such technologies. It is all about being aware of all that you use and being cognizant of scientific applications that exist around you.
Have you seen the impact of wanting to get through competitive exams like IITJEE etc. in your classroom in some form?
IB students are not affected by this. They don’t think on those lines. Sometimes, children come with the mind-set that they want to go to one of the IB Learning Universities to study Engineering or Physics, etc. They want to be scientists, etc. But by the end of grade 10 they realise that they are perhaps very good at drama and so that is perhaps what they want to pursue. That is the kind of opportunity and exposure IB provides.
It also depends on how and what parents expect when they want their children to study in an IB curriculum. There are still people who believe that ultimately their children should land in one of those colleges like IIT, etc. But, I don’t see many in IB.
In ICSE and CBSE schools, children are put so much under pressure that you have to clear these competitive exams, no matter what. I come from Jaipur and I see many coaching centres. I don’t think children have any idea what they are doing there, which is a sad state of affairs.
In IB too there are some people who send their children for tuition which is also something I fail to understand. A tuition teacher can never help because the tuition teacher doesn’t understand the IB Philosophy.
If not a teacher, what would you have liked to do?
I have always wanted to be a restaurateur with my own eating joint. I love cooking.
I am passionate about two things – teaching and food. So, if not teaching, perhaps cooking.
My career has gratefully been on the uphill. I have got the right opportunities at the right time. I could always be part of good schools. It gives me immense pleasure to be a teacher.
How do you visualize your future?
I haven’t laid down any plans for myself, but I feel that I would perhaps continue as an IB teacher itself. I would like to play a role in the IB Organization. That is how I would like to grow.
I do not mean in terms of managing schools but in terms of conducting workshops to take the school a step further etc. I enjoy the teaching-learning process the most.