Priyodarshini Das – IBDP Extended Essay Coordinator/IBDP HISTORY Examiner, Educator for DP and IGCSE History, AS Level Global Perspectives & Research at Candor International School

Posted March 17, 2020 11:00 am by

Most of us, as students, sit in front of History text books and wonder the purpose of learning about events of the past. To those of you who just nodded heads, Ms Priyodarshini Das would perhaps ask “If you are ignorant of the past, how would you then comprehend the present?”

“I am primarily an IB educator. I teach DP History – that is what I have been teaching for quite some time now. I am also currently teaching Global Perspectives and Research for AS level Cambridge students.”

Ms Priyodarshini is from Kolkata.

“I studied at Jadavpur University; I have done my graduation and masters in History. I am quite passionate about teaching History and generally passionate about education. I love the IB curriculum. It is my recent encounter with the Cambridge program. I am enjoying IGCSE History and AS Level Global Perspectives and Research.”

What made you opt to become a teacher?

I started off my career as a “Teach for India” fellow. It was a two-year teaching fellowship and I taught in Mumbai at a low-income school for children from under privileged background. That was my first encounter with teaching and I didn’t really consider teaching as a profession in the long run, at that point in time.

Having taught in that environment for a couple of years, that was the defining moment for me wherein I decided to be a teacher. Teaching is such a powerful tool to empower young minds. From then on I decided that I would continue to teach. Teach for India fellows usually do not continue to teach. However, I think I found my calling and I am really enjoying it.

For how long have you been teaching?

This is my 7th year as an educator. I have been teaching the IB curriculum for 5 years. 

Tell us more about the Teach for India Programme.

Teach for India is an NGO started by Shaheen Mistry, currently functioning in 7 cities in India. The idea is to bring equity in education. Honestly, our government is doing a lot. We have so many government schools in rural and urban areas. However, there are gaps here and there and that is what Teach for India aims at bridging. 

Primarily when they started, the focus was on English and Mathematics. But the year that I joined the fellowship, they also started with Social Studies.

Teach for India goes into various schools – it can be government schools, low income private schools and takes over classes. It is a full-time teaching programme. The idea is to bring in educational equality in the country and to develop leadership among the fellows through teaching. That is the goal of Teach for India.

Do they have any particular curriculum ?

Absolutely! You do take the school curriculum into consideration because students will have to eventually write their Board exams. At the same time, Teach for India has its self-framed curriculum especially for English and Mathematics, which is very much aligned to international curricula.

Teach for India is inspired by Teach for America – a global network. Hence, the framework of curriculum is largely aligned with Teach for America.

My transition from Teach for India to the IB programme was quite smooth because I was looking at an international curriculum even during my Teach for India fellowship. 

Why History excites you?

As I grew up, my father, who is extremely fond of politics, would talk about Indo-Pak relations, role of the USA in international affairs, India’s rise in the world stage etc. So, global and domestic affairs was a discussion that started on very early in my life. By the time I started studying History I found it absolutely fascinating.

To understand the current global politics, you have to understand the root of the events and that is what History is all about. It is about understanding the world today.

My mother is a doctor and my father is into management. Having said that, they never forced anything on me. They were very happy with my choice when I wanted to pursue History, for which I am grateful to them.

At Jadavpur University, my whole perspective about History changed – it took a 360-degree turn. Our professors at the University would focus on details and would care so much about conceptual understanding of the past. That is where my interest in History evolved further. 

To some extent History demands remembering of facts. But,these can always be looked up. It is the understanding of various historical developments which is much more important. I definitely credit my professors for instilling that conceptual understanding of History. They have a huge role to play in my understanding of how History is to be taught and how to get students to relate to the subject.

Which Board were you part of as a student?

West Bengal State Board.

How different is the IB curriculum in comparison with CBSE, ICSE or the State level syllabus? 

Honestly, I haven’t taught any of the other curricula. IB focuses on conceptual and skill-based learning. I think that is great because there is so much information available everywhere, it becomes important to critically analyse what you are reading and to be able to evaluate the sources that you are looking at. Students should be able to understand if the source of information is reliable or not. 

How do you make History classes interesting?

I used to teach at the Aga Khan Academy, Hyderabad previously. I have realised that children who opt for History are generally passionate about the subject. So, automatically your job becomes a little easy because those children want to study History.

Now in my current school, Candor International, IGCSE students can opt for the subjects of their preference. So, it is relatively easy to take History classes for those students because they have opted for it. 

From Grade 6-8 it is Social Studies, which is a combination of History, Geography and Civics. I do teach Social Studies in Grade 8 as well. In Grade 9, they get to pick their subjects. 

In IB curriculum, there is a subject called Individuals and Societies that I used to teach in my previous school, as part of their Middle Years Programme; after which they choose the subjects they want to study in Grades 11 and 12. 

To get students interested, one of my tricks is to show them documentaries and videos pertaining to History. The moment students are able to visualize the past, it becomes all the more interesting for them.

Also, in DP, we have different kind of sources to analyse – not just books and articles. For example, students get to look at letters that were exchanged between leaders and analyse those sources. Such things get them intrigued into knowing more about the event or the historic development that they are studying.

Dealing with sources is the key to getting them more attracted to History, in my opinion. History students have to read a lot, so generally, these are students who are fond of reading and they read up a lot of articles and even University-level books. But, having discussions around the use of primary sources is something that helps in their learning process.

Tell us about your stint with the Aga Khan Academy.

I spent quite a number of years at the Aga Khan Academy. My first batch at the Aga Khan Academy taught me a lot. The kind of relationship I shared with my students was very warm. Even when I shifted to Bangalore, because of personal reasons, the love and affection I got from the students was really special.

My interaction with senior students solidified because I was the Model United Nations (MUN) Coordinator and my students were very passionate about debating on global affairs. I would motivate students to participate in debates not just in conferences that happened in our school but they would take part in various other conferences across the city of Hyderabad. It was beautiful how they participated and won awards.

Also,the student body was very diverse. We had students from USA, Canada, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Bangladesh. I had an absolutely wonderful time at the Aga Khan Academy.

The vision and the philosophy with which the Academy has been established is something that really inspired me. Although I am not part of that organisation anymore it has a special place in my heart. It is like my second family.

Do you have any thoughts on what the CBSE and ICSE boards can do better to make studies more interesting?

To be honest, while teaching at the Aga Khan Academy, I used some of the NCERT books. Trust me, the activities that are given in the books are very interesting. It all depends on how the teachers execute a lesson. Nothing stops teachers from making lessons go beyond books and using visual aids in class.

I think it is just a matter of pedagogy because ICSE and CBSE also have activities in their textbooks that harp on the same skills as any other international curricula. Also, if examinations are tweaked a little, teachers will be more encouraged to apply innovative teaching methodologies in class. But if the exam is just content-based then teachers will also follow the same process. 

It is a rat race when it comes to marks. There is so much of competition that students are forced to compete with their peers.

What I like about IB is that the assessments are based on transparent criteria that are made available to the students. So, it is a very clear checklist that you have to fulfil to achieve higher grades. The assessment procedure is very good for students, helping them learn independently rather than compete with other students. The environment, thus, gets lot more collaborative in an IB classroom. 

What are your views on the private coaching centres that are mushrooming in cities all over India?

I think if schools take up the responsibility of imparting holistic education and if school teachers feel that they are the ones responsible for the education of all the students sitting in their classroom then dependability on private coaching centres would fare low. 

When you talk about private coaching centres, their presence is not just in urban cities, they are also cropping up in rural areas and towns. It can also be that parents are not empowered enough to help their children at home and hence feel the need to approach coaching centres. Having said that, I feel schools should be held much more accountable so that parents don’t have to turn their heads towards coaching centres. 

If we talk about international schools, we are trying our best to give the most comprehensive education. But schools of all boards are not facilitated with the right infrastructure.

Student strength in a class is also a problem. In international schools, your class strength is restricted to 20-25. So, the teacher is able to give personal attention to each child. The moment the class strength is high, it wouldn’t be right to expect a teacher to reach out to every child in a period of 30-40 minutes. 

What is the role of a Model United Nations (MUN)Coordinator?

I am the MUN (Model United Nations) faculty advisor in my current school. We had a conference within few months of my joining. CANMUN 2019 was a very successful conference with many schools in Bangalore participating. We are trying to build that culture of global awareness in the school. This year’s MUN is also scheduled and we are looking forward to great participation from schools across Bangalore.

As a coordinator, you have to frame the conference. It is definitely a student-led conference. Students are in charge. They get in touch with schools and students. We are a link between the student organizing committee, the participants and school management.

I would be the one facilitating the conversations in preparation for the conference. Of course, students take our guidance.

It is a replica of the United Nations. So, we have committees like Security Council, Human Right Council, so on and so forth.

The topics discussed are very pertinent global issues that should be deliberated with students at a very young age. Agendas like denuclearisation of weapons, human rights violation in parts of the world or access to medical facilities or even the on-going refugee crisis. I think the MUN conference facilitates creation of future leaders. It gives students access to various perspectives. They go to these conferences as representatives of countries. It may so happen that you are representing a certain country and you do not personally subscribe to their philosophy or stand point in global politics. But, you still have to defend that position in that committee. For example, if you are the delegate of the USA or India, you have to defend your position and abide by the respective countries’ foreign policy.

It enhances debating skills as well as provides exposure to current global affairs. I really enjoy organising MUN conferences. In those two or three days of the conference the energy of the students gets so elevated that it is totally mind blowing.

At Candor, do they arrange historical trips for the students?

Yes, we do. I am new at Candor. Last year the trip was to Hyderabad – the city of Nizams. So, I think it was aligned with History.

This year, DP students recently went to Pondicherry and Auroville but that was more of CAS (Creativity, Activity and Service) trip rather than a History trip.

Within the city we do visit museums, forts etc. as part of the curriculum.

How are teachers upskilled at Candor?

We have in-house workshops. Teachers sometimes opt to conduct workshops. I have recently conducted a workshop around the theme of ‘cultivating excellence in education’. Sometimes coordinators conduct sessions too.

Apart from that, teachers are sent for workshops like IB workshops or Cambridge online workshops. Through these workshops, teachers get more experience and exposure. It is either three days or one full day of professional development. That is an on-going process that keeps happening at Candor.

I think all schools must follow such things. It helps teachers to upskill themselves and remain updated with the latest course guidelines. Every time we come back from the holidays, we have an INSET Program in which we have sessions conducted either by teachers from our school or external professionals.

How do you integrate technology in your teaching?

I think the most accessible and easy-to-use technology that we have at our disposal is using the Internet and displaying videos. That is the most common way of using technology that I adopt in my classes.

Other than that, all our learning material is shared through online platforms. For example, for our Diploma Programme we use ManageBac. All the assessments are up on ManageBac and students have a calendar that they can follow digitally. All their assessments are electronically uploaded and immediately plagiarism checks are done through ManageBac via Turnitin itself.

Students and teachers have an understanding of how much they have been able to write on their own and where citations should have been done to avoid plagiarism and academic misconduct. We have ways of measuring student success also on ManageBac.

For the rest of the school, apart from the DP curriculum, we use a software called LearnBeyond, on which student data is always uploaded. We send messages to students on that and we upload all our resources as well. Whatever we use in class – a video link or a Power Point Presentation, articles, documents-everything is uploaded in that folder. Students don’t have to physically carry so much of load and all the teaching materials are accessible all the time to students and parents.

We upload whatever is happening on a day to day basis on to LearnBeyond so that students and parents have a continuous check on the progress of the curriculum. 

With the current situation in India due to the COVID 19, school closure has become one of the necessary measures to contain the spread of the epidemic. In order to maintain a continuity in education for our students, Candor International School has transitioned into online teaching and learning. We are using various platforms such as Slack and Edmodo for communication with our students and posting work. I have also started conducting video lessons for my students using ZOOM. These are great platforms that have eased our job in delivering lessons virtually. The whole international community of educators is sharing resources and ideas to help each other out in this dire situation. In thinking which is an online platform for IB resources has opened up free subscriptions for schools that have closed down at this point. IB educators at Candor have made the best use of that subscription to facilitate remote learning. I have also completed a course on how to design online learning from the Global Online Academy before venturing into online teaching to get a better understanding of the use of technology.

Who according to you is an ideal teacher?

Information is abundant and easily accessible in today’s world, especially to students who have access to technology. They don’t really need a teacher to impart factual information.

But it is the teacher who empowers students with the ability to critically evaluate what they are reading. That skill development needs to be imparted by the teacher. Creating awareness and generating critical thinking in students is the need of the hour.

In the 21st century, employers look for people who are good communicators and those who understand and can critically analyse the local and global context. 

I have had very loving and caring teachers and that is something that I have carried forward with myself. I believe that it is important to nurture students. The moment you show confidence in your students, they automatically feel more confident.

Being empathetic towards your students by building a good rapport with them is important. Being a loving and approachable figure for them so that they can share their problems without inhibitions with you is critical. For me, the relationship that I share with students is key to my professional success.

So, being that approachable and caring figure is what I focus on in my profession. I spend a huge part of my day at school and if I am not enjoying my time then what is the point? So, I make sure my classroom is an enjoyable and joyful space for my students and me. That is my mantra.

What are the challenges in a teacher’s life?

The stereotypical mentality that people have towards the teaching profession needs to change. I didn’t think of becoming a teacher ten years ago but when I found my calling, I completely jumped at the opportunity because you can really make a difference to society and that is what people need to understand.

Teachers shape the minds of the young generation who will be doing different kinds of jobs when they grow up. Unless you have really passionate teachers, you wouldn’t really have passionate citizens in the future. 

This is not just today; it has always been the case that teachers are the ones who have motivated and inspired students to go beyond their capacity and do something useful for their generation, community and their society. Teachers can completely change the way that students look at life. We all have had such teachers and we need to look at the teaching profession as no less than being an engineer, doctor or lawyer.

What are your aspirations for the future?

At Candor International School I have been offered the position of the IB DP Extended Essay Coordinator. It is a great opportunity for me and I am extremely excited. 

When I started teaching the IB curriculum, I understood that Extended Essay is a core element of the Diploma Programme. I have been an Extended Essay supervisor for some years now. But this is an opportunity to provide overall guidance to students with their Extended Essay which is an independent piece of academic writing on a topic chosen by students in consultation with their supervisors.

I find it interesting to be able to guide supervisors also by providing an organizational structure to the whole process of the Extended Essay throughout the two years of the Diploma Programme.

The whole process of reflecting on an investigation process develops certain important attributes in students. Being academically honest and acknowledging other people’s work when they are writing their piece; coming up with a new perspective and developing self-management skills are absolutely essential skills that students need to have in preparation for their University days. I hope my students benefit from my guidance. 

I am a gold medallist in History and I have written academic assignments during my University days. I have always wanted to do a Ph.D, which I still plan to. So, for me academic writing is something I have always been passionate about.

In the future, I would definitely want to continue as an IB educator and wish to take up further leadership roles in my career. At the same time, I also want to be a life-long learner. I hope I am able to fulfil my dream of doing a Ph.D either in History or Education. It is on my list of professional goals.

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