Mangala Gowri S – Pediatric Psychologist and Educationist Lead Preschool Teacher – Indus International School, Hyderabad

Posted March 17, 2020 10:51 am by

A post graduate diploma in Business Administration from Symbiosis, Pune, a B.Ed, an M.Sc Psychology and a Post Graduate Degree in Pre-Primary Education in one kitty! The academic qualifications speak volumes about her interest in the world of education. It outlines the passion she has about children and their formative years and gives her the edge to make things progressive in the world of education.

Meet Ms Mangala Gowri, who besides being a practicing Paediatric Psychologist, is currently a lead preschool teacher at Indus International School, Hyderabad.

How were you inspired to opt for Child Psychology?

My three children are my inspiration. Before foraying into the education sector, I was managing the manufacturing lines of a large multi-national packaging company. The search for the perfect pre-schooling experience for my first child was what brought to my attention the gross dearth for pre-primary & primary educators. That was the push required for me to immediately shift lanes from Marketing to Education literally overnight!!

Please give us an overview of your role as an educational psychologist.

My work as an educational psychologist, involves a deep interaction with children, educators, parents, curriculum setters, schools and the likes. In this, I specialize in Paediatric Psychology, which focuses on understanding children, their abilities, learning patterns, interests and generally their unique educational makeup.

I personally do not believe in a one-size-fits-all sort of dissemination of today’s education. To achieve a purpose and their fullest potential a child’s pedagogy should be tailor-made.

I research on the educational patterns, pedagogy and keep in track with new-age technology that aids learning& communication in children. For this, I visit different schools, educational institutions, childcare centres, etc for my case-studies & solutions.

I study children, educators, the institution’s syllabus and its teaching methodology, amongst various other parameters. I believe and have seen that if a person’s early life is well mapped to address any inherent discrepancies (or) disabilities a person is born with, that person is sure to chalk out a successful life. Towards this, I conduct counselling & interactive workshops for children, parents, guardians, educators, school management, academicians, etc.

I do not believe in any learning disability. I believe in learning abilities. It is never that a child isn’t able to learn anything. It is a teacher’s and the parents’ responsibility to understand the child and create a wholesome growth ecosystem.

Children today are highly stressed. The pressures faced from peers, their schools & other learning environments, friends & family, etc is just humongous. They have to deal with multiple expectations from multiple quarters. And all this, builds up their stress levels.

All of us, including the schools, expect our children to become what we want them to be. What I want to say here is, a child may wish to become a musician (say), or an air force pilot. But we wish s/he should become a doctor or somebody else.  

In today’s world of multiple opportunities, we expect our children to be choosy in their careers and prospects, almost always pressuring them to choose that most affluent, most paying and the most in-demand career. There is a natural resistance when children opt for a profession outside of their normal.

Why do we have to pressurize children with our expectations and dreams? I am not against the fact that they need basic school grounding and a good college education. But, when the child has the aptitude, the interest and the inclination in something which seems out-of-the-box, then they should be offered encouragement and support to pursue a career that creates a sense of fulfilment in them.

In not identifying this mismatch, is where the education system fails drastically these days.

How do you customize the curriculum for pre-primary children?

As I told and strangely already know, each child is different! In India, we have different curriculum offerings today, like the IB, the IGCSE, the ICSE, CBSE, various State Boards, besides the Open School curriculum too.

Each curriculum offering has its own advantages & disadvantages.

If a child enrolled in the CBSE syllabus, is not receptive to knowledge delivered under that pattern, it’s unfair to brand such a child as one having a learning disability.

I call it that there’s an inherent disability in the system disseminating such knowledge, and it’s ‘that’ which needs correction. To overcome this, all schools needs to adopt an integrated approach. Commoditizing education and related delivery methodologies need to end.

The intent of schools should be focussed to help a child and not about making a name or advertising the best grades. Highlighting a schools performance is important, but should not be the ONLY focus as that doesn’t help the child in any direct way.

Coming to customizing the curriculum, the teaching-learning methodologies may be altered. Teachers must teach in a way such that a child gets to learn and imbibe the learning.

I help & specialize in this space so that it eases out things for teachers and children. I help bridge this gap between educational institutions & the students.

Give us an anecdote of a day in your life as a school psychologist.

I drive this psychology aspect right from home to wherever I tread throughout the day.

Whomever I see and whatever I do, I try to understand the perspective on why certain things happen the way they do. I see possibilities in how things may have turned out differently with totally different outcomes.

I look to understand people’s mindsets, either about school educators, parents, teachers, play coaches, generally all of whom who deal with children.

From what I have learnt, the right educators trained & empowered with the right skillsets, and provided the right environment at schools with the right counselling for parents, supported by able course administrators is what will help the nurture a conducive learning environment for kids.

I base all my outcomes for a day, based on my thoughts above.

I really don’t have a fixed routine. I am sometimes required to deal with children, other times with educators, some other times with school; college or institutional managements and their staff or it may be with parents. So, there is no set typical day, making it dynamic.  

The actual test is in making myself available 100% for every situation I come across to deal with.

What are some of the common disorders that you treat as a child psychologist?

99% of the time, the problem is not with the children. It is with the people who are dealing with these children.

Yes of course, few children are born with disabilities which we need to be extra careful about. Suppose if we have an ADHD (Attention Deficiency Hyperactivity Disorder) child and if people tend to always label the child as ADHD, it can have a disastrous effect on the child. Instead, I would suggest discussing how to constructively bring the child out of that condition.

We have certain diagnosis for such cases and these can be dealt with. In psychology, we even have surgical procedures to correct disorders. But very rarely used. The common thing is for people to label children with the disorders they have.And halfknowledge of any such disorders is very dangerous.

I have come across some cases where the child may not even have such issues. But, by observing certain behavioural aspects, parents and educators rush into labelling & castigating the children.

A child finds this highly demotivating.Repeated reinforcement of such false & fabricated informationleads children to believe them to be true. And over time, they end up developing them.

Though there are therapies to deal with children diagnosed with such disorders, yet it takes time to cure children of issues induced by societal pressures & castigation.

It is an observation that most issues children have can be tied to the issues parents have in their marriage – is that true? 

Yes, it is highly possible. The parents’ mindset matters to a large extent. Emotional maturity in parents to bear and rear children is very important.

The mindset of pregnant women and other members of the family during pregnancy plays a vital role in the wholesome development of the child. Both during pregnancy and after childbirth, its important both mother and child are surrounded in highly positive environments. Parents, grand-parents and relatives should altogether play a very key-part in creating such an environment.

Unplanned childbirth for instance during acute economic or relationship constraints (like teenage pregnancies, or those born out of wedlock, etc) on a family for instance tend to leave a huge impact on children. In most such situations, I have personally observed parents not wanting to go through the pregnancy. Rearing good children is the last thing they have on their minds. 

Is there an average length of time, you work with a child? 

It depends on the child. There are few children with whom I have been working with for years now and some others, where just a couple of interactions have brought about a marked effect. It all depends on the intensity of the issue the child is facing and the support the child gets from his/her ecosystem. 

What is the most challenging aspect of your role?

Honestly, I haven’t faced challenges with children as such. Dealing with parents is challenging for me. Parents sometimes find it hard to accept the child and situation as is. I see a lot of parents who are not up for this yet, in India and in many developing or under-developed countries.

How do you deal with such parents?

I have seen parents going from acceptance to denial off & on. If on one day they are happy in another subsequent interaction they are upset in not seeing any remarkable improvement in their kid(s). And this goes on and on. I have seen this in parents of all hues and colours, educated and uneducated, affluent and the not-so-affluent.

All expect drastic changes in the children. They get happy with a presumably ‘1%’ change, but then they keep wondering why only so little a change?

They basically do not have the patience that’sexpected of them. Many a time,they complain on the school their kids go to and its support system. They fail to understand that a child is nourished in a home and they need to create a familial atmosphere for a child’s complete wellbeing.

All this ends up in a mess wherein the parents blame the school and the school blames the parents or vice-versa. At the end of the day, it’s the child that suffers for nomistake of its own.

What, in your opinion, is the rewarding aspect of your profession?

Even the slightest behavioural change observed in a child is highly rewarding for me. I rate it the maximum, much more than any appreciation received from parents or other adults.

Observing those behavioural changes in children, I consider them no less than a miracle happening in front of my eyes. And it’s that which I consider highly rewarding!

Did you notice any changes in the school management? Do they accept your suggestions, especially in the primary years?

Sometimes they accept. But many a times they too falter; purely because of the tough timelines and governmental guidelines they are required to conform and the large number of students in today’s classrooms. What I have observed is that when there are focussed managements and a sturdy central leadership, they have always listened to many of my suggestions.

Some schools follow it in totality. They have shadow teachers for certain children specially identified in a grace. They try personalizing the studies& syllabuses for each individual child. Hence, there are few schools who have managed to take up all the suggestions I put forward rather positively. And this is highly commendable.

The student strength per class is a space we really need to work on. It is not about the capacity of the teachers but more about personalized& individualized education. Some schools have taken up these suggestions I have prescribed positively and try their best in implementing them. 

Today, almost all schools have psychologists and special educators. Special educators should spend at least 1 hour with the child so that whatever is taught during the day can be revised and retaught if need be. I won’t say that this will enable the child to match up with their peer level always but yes, to some extent the child will be able to break through some grounds.

It’sall about becoming a better version of oneself. It’s about gradual positive evolution as a complete educational ecosystem. It should not be construed as just working with a school, parents or children– it’s about educating the whole environment associated with it–that means even the school’s support staff, it’s administrators & facilities staff, because children spend a considerable amount of time with them all as well.

The nannies for instance and some other staff like a school’s bus driver or a conductor also needs to exuberate the same level of awareness, passion and understanding that all other school academic staff exhibit. The child spends a good amount of time with these staff. I would go to the length to say that a child’s day in school is determined by the first interaction with these staff. Some bad experience for the child, where any of these staff have not shown either empathy or compassion or understanding or some playfulness or just words of kindness to a child really upsets children. And that is enough for kids to spoil their day.

Even these support staff need regular training at least once a week whereby they understand and realize the importance of their roles in a child’s life.

What is your advice to the society while dealing with children to make them responsible citizens?

There are no one standard answer for this question.

My observation is that education in today’s world today is focussed too much on monetary gains. I mean, it’s all about what job the child would be pursuing in the future. We get to hear from parents repeatedly that a seat in the famed Indian Institutes of Technology (I.I.T) is an insurance to a well-paying job. How many parents mention to their kids that a seat in the I.I.T ensures that a child will get an opportunity to gain the best engineering knowledge than at other schools?

I sincerely suggest striving to equip children with life skills and valuebasedd education. That should be the focus of education. Education is a sum-total of academics, life skills, sports and values. But we have this myth that education only means holding a degree or a Ph.D.

If a person is unaware as to how to apply his learning (academic knowledge), what then is the purpose of his/her knowledge gained?

What also the education system should teach children, is how to face calamities. Calamities are part and parcel of life and they can spring up at any time, without any warnings. 

My suggestion to schools is to spend more time and effort in impartinglife skills to children. Value education session today happens just once a week where children learn about moral values butallthat’s taught is then conveniently forgotten. Why? Because there is no follow-up on the application side of those skills in daily life.

We all have read panchatantratales, etc.But how do we help in retaining and reflecting on those values learnt and applying into our lives?

Additionally, pre-primary kids can be taken to a vegetable market in small batches, asked to buy vegetables and related stuff and get back to school. The following day, they can all be asked to grate those vegetables and create a food item. These activities bring about a sense of purpose in the kids and they are able to then relate to real-life scenarios.

Education should not be restricted to just academics. Schools can also adopt another school/village/institute like an old age home, etc. The kids can be asked to perform many group activities in such places. This builds empathy in them. This ensures that kids grow up as wonderful human beings than just being beings with bookish learning.