Ashwani Kumar Vivek -Chemistry Facilitator for Cambridge International and IGCSE -Sanjay Ghodawat International School, Kolhapur
From a research assistant at CSIR – CIMFR, Mr. Ashwani Kumar Vivek plunges into the world of education and falls in love with the profession. Today, he is a Chemistry facilitator at Sanjay Ghodawat International school.
Having studied at the Army Public school and at other schools, what is your biggest takeaway from there in comparison with other CBSE schools?
Yes, prior to my Grade 10, I was in a CBSE School. Then, owing to the fact that my father was in the army, after 10th board exam from Cambrian Public School, I went to Army Public School for 11th and 12th. And I passed 12th CBSE board exam in 2011. The teaching is almost the same in both schools, in my opinion. It is the environment that is different.
At the army school, when we were in Grade 12, every month/week we had visitors at our school who held different posts in the armed force. They used to motivate us to join the army, navy or air force. We were so motivated that all 60 students in my Science batch attempted the NDA exam. It is not about who cleared it and who didn’t. But, every student attempted the exam.
I don’t find such things in any other schools. I had friends in other CBSE and ICSE schools. When I talked to them about joining defence services, I understood that they only had the option of Engineering running in their heads. They were only focussed about earning money or moving to other countries. Another thing about studying in the army school is the discipline and patriotism it sets in you.
What motivated you to opt for Chemistry?
When I did my Grade 12, most of my friends were going for Engineering. I also wanted to do Engineering but realized that I wanted to do it only because my friends were doing it. I also realised that I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do.
For one year I studied CA, law etc. and I realised that that was not what I wanted to do. I got so bored that I decided to get out of it. That is when I realised that no matter what; I never get bored with Science, especially Chemistry.
Tell us about your stint with CSIR – CIMFR.
When you join CSIR – CIMFR as a project assistant, you join for a project-based internship that lasts for 6 months. If you are still interested after 6 months, they extend your internship for another 6 months.
I didn’t want to extend my internship programme because I got what I wanted within the first 6 months itself. One disadvantage about CSIR – CIMFR is that you have to visit the site often, which was not my cup of tea.
What motivated you to opt for teaching after your internship programme?
While working as a project assistant at CSIR – CIMFR itself, I realized my affinity for the environment that a school or a college provides. Then, it dawned upon me that I should try teaching. I wasn’t 100% sure but I decided to try.
In India, we do not give enough focus on teaching. We give it a secondary status. It is looked upon like a profession open to those who couldn’t place themselves anywhere else. Honestly, before I joined the profession, even my mind-set was also partly that way. But when I got into it, with all the challenges I face every day I realized how futile that thought was. The experience is really good.
Another reason people don’t opt for teaching is also due to salary constraints. But nowadays even that factor is diminishing. You can make money with this career too.
How long have you been teaching?
Officially this is my 2nd year. However, when I was doing my Masters and Graduation, I was teaching at coaching institutes as well. I joined this school in April 2018.
How does your previous job at CSIR – CIMFR help you in your current profession?
Honestly, at CSIR – CIMFR, they regularly recruit people with a Chemistry background. After we are selected, you go through 1-week training about what we are supposed to do and how to do certain things. I wouldn’t say it is pure research.
We have to work under a leader. Our purpose was to find the total moisture content in the coal sample so that we can predict the actual rate of the coal. People tend to sell low quality coal at high rates or good quality coal at low rates. Because of this, there was a third party implementation responsible for finding the actual moisture content in coal. That was my job and I was in charge of Govindpur site.
When I applied for a teaching post, I had no experience in it at all. Unofficially, I had taught but I didn’t have experience on the records. Gratefully, the principal here was very generous and perhaps I got through owing to the CSIR – CIMFR experience.
I think CSIR – CIMFR gave me an edge to get this job.
What are your thoughts on the Times Higher Education World University Ranking wherein Indian Universities are always ranked low?
We have to change the teaching methodology which is due. We have to move from lecture based teaching to active learning process where the learner is involved in the classroom teaching. We have to change our approach towards classroom teaching so that learners can develop critical thinking approach. Then only we would be able to produce curious minds which would lead to the scientific achievements. And it can only happen if we train children to think out of the box since childhood. The same learners when go to college with their curious mind and out of the box thinking ability will be able to contribute to the scientific community. And eventually the ranking will also improve.
Do you think CBSE and ICSE should trim their syllabus?
I don’t think that they should cut down on syllabus.
After I passed grade 10 and transitioned to grade 11, I was shocked to see the syllabus. The content was massive. Coping up with the syllabus was a struggle. It took me ample lot of time to understand how to deal with the syllabus. I think CBSE and ICSE should look at how that disparity between grade 10 and 11 can be minimized.
In Cambridge, I teach grade 9 and I see the content which gets taught in grade 11 CBSE/ICSE. I think, with conceptual learning, the transition from grade 10 to 11 can be made smooth. Also, the massive content disparity can be minimized.
I don’t support when people say that syllabus needs to be cut down.
What are your tips on covering huge volume of syllabus?
That is something that should be managed with an effective lesson plan. Time management is a crucial skill that teachers need.
The Cambridge syllabus is short and precise. It is not as huge as the CBSE. CBSE is pretty vast. But, I would still vouch for the CBSE syllabus. It is just that you should be great with time management – teachers and students.
What is your strategy to make classes interesting and learning enjoyable?
People say that teachers should plan a lot of things before coming to class. Honestly, plans do not work all the time. Once you are inside the class, you sense the class’ enthusiasm level. Depending on that, I decide how to take my class.
Sometimes, I show them videos or take them outside. I ask them to research on topics that seem easy. For example, if petroleum is the topic and I understand that it is not hard for them to understand, then I give them research work for say 10 minutes. I then ask them to tell me what they understand based on the research they have done.
Likewise, I change my style constantly. If I stick to the same methodology, it won’t work. There are times, when I go sit in the class and I ask them to tell me about whatever topic they are interested in speaking about.
So, I keep switching methods.
Most people label organic chemistry as being very tough as there is a lot to remember. What are your thoughts?
I don’t think so. When I was a student I used to love organic chemistry. Organic chemistry is easy to study and equally easy to forget. This is because there are so many things to remember. But inorganic chemistry is easy to retain once you understand and learn it. That is why in most of the curriculum you will see organic chemistry being taught at the end of the syllabus.
I passed out in 2017-18. That is not a long time ago. So, I still go back to what issues I had when I was learning, while teaching my class. So, I keep relating back to what all I did, what I missed, etc.
Do you feel the pressure of getting students to perform in their exams?
Most CBSE and ICSE schools focus mainly on grades unlike most international schools.
In international schools, they go beyond grades. They also support extra-curricular activities. In my class, some of them are good guitar players, many of them are good with some musical instrument or the other. There are students who may not be enthusiastic about scoring high in exams but, I see that they are really good at many other activities like swimming, singing, athletics, etc. They may be average in academics but excel elsewhere. All students are different. Everybody may not score excellent marks but that does not mean they are not doing well.
If students show no interest in extra-curricular activities and studies, they need to be coached, motivated and encouraged so that they find a path and grow.
During parent-teacher meetings, there are parents who compare their children with other students. I always advise them to track the progress of their child alone because children should only strive to become a better version of themselves rather than competing with others. I wouldn’t expect any student to change drastically from exam to exam but even a small change should be appreciated. Everybody’s capacity is different.
Some students are very shy in class. There are students who come to me after class with their doubts etc. They would rather clear doubts personally than in class. Everybody has their own way of learning and their own capacity levels.
In that perspective, teachers should know what kind of techniques and things need to be done.
Nowadays, there is a rush to send children for tuitions, which compromises their play time. What can be done at a school level to avoid tuition?
Even in my school days, there were lots of coaching institutes. It was a trend to go for tuitions after school. I notice here in the school that I teach, that the school makes extra time for students who need more coaching.
If the school finds out that some students go for tuition outside school timings, they take steps to make programmes for giving coaching for competitive exams, etc. I take competitive exam classes sometimes. Honestly, I don’t think there are any students in this school going outside school timings for tuition. If they need more advice on a topic, teachers should be happy to help. There are days when I stay back till 5:30 p.m. so that I can clear off students’ doubts.
This schools tries its best that children do not have to go for extra coaching after school hours.
Is the need to multi-task in school an additional burden on teachers?
Well, we have to and yes we do. Sometimes we don’t like it and the thought that we are teachers and we ought to be teaching and not doing all this, comes in.
But, I don’t see alternatives here – we have to do it. Teachers have to multitask. We have to take the attendance of students, guide them when they need support not just teaching, but otherwise as well, grading your papers etc.
In your current school, how are teachers motivated for upgrading their skills?
Every few months we have workshops for teachers. Our school caters to IB, CBSE and Cambridge.
After our summer break, we have workshops at least for 1 week. Resource people from CBSE, IB and Cambridge backgrounds comes in to deliver these workshops. In between the academic year also we have workshops.
The school also sends teachers for various workshops to other sites. I was sent last year for Members of International Schools Association (MISA) workshop for Science teachers.
What are your thoughts about education in India getting increasingly commercialized?
I would say everything is commercialized nowadays, including healthcare. I am not of the opinion that it is a good thing but to run institutions that cater to so many children’s education, you need money for various things like infrastructure, salaries etc.
The head of the school I am at now visualises our school to feature under the top schools in the country and around the globe. If that is the aim, one needs to spend money on infrastructure.
So yes, schools can provide scholarship for students who need economic support. But, for people who are willing to pay, I don’t find anything wrong with the fee structure.
In your career so far, have there been any frustrating moments?
I would be lying if I say it is never frustrating. But, I would replace the word frustrating with challenging. Like I said, depending on the enthusiasm level of the class, your plan seldom works, you will need to think on your toes.
Also, sometimes we may need to pitch in extra hours. But, I feel every career path is challenging nowadays. Yes, it does get to you sometimes.
When I compare myself from when I just joined in 2018 and now, I know I have changed for the better. I can see the difference in the way I conduct myself. The change has been positive. For positive changes to take effect, life has to be challenging.
Are you completely satisfied in transitioning your career to the education sector?
Yes – 100%. I am totally satisfied. Right now I am teaching IGCSE 10 level. My current aspiration is to teach higher grade students like A level students, which is equivalent to grade 10-12. I would also like to do an IB course because it is the upcoming thing in India.
It will be a boost to my career.