Tania Ghosh – A Level Physics Teacher – Calcutta International School, Kolkata
Ms. Tania, please give us a sneak peek into how you opted for the teaching profession.
From the beginning, I haven’t been a brilliant student but I was one of the high achievers in school. I found it very easy to articulate concepts to my friends who found certain subjects very difficult. I could very easily translate something very difficult in simple terms. I had cousins also coming to me with Science-related difficulties. Having said that, I did not really have this profession in mind.
I wanted to do research and get into that path. But I think this was destined and I found this coming to me very naturally. For me, breaking down difficult terminologies and concepts for easy understanding and linking it to practical life, comes naturally.
After my Masters in Physics, I tried my luck in the corporate sector. But, I guess education was my calling and I knew I was good in teaching, learning and imparting scientific knowledge. So, I took a conscious decision to quit my corporate job and I got into teaching. I got my first job in DPS Ruby Park and then later at Calcutta International School, where I currently work.
Whenever I went to my book shelf, I always found myself taking out my Physics book and found it very interesting at any point in time. I find Physics very logical and never had to blindly memorise what I was learning or remember things in a sequential manner. It came very naturally to me. I think I am at home with logic.
I am a person who is always game for challenges. So, even if you threw a very difficult concept at me, I would take the challenge head on. Understanding something and putting it to use gives me an amazing sense of achievement.
Do you think any of your teachers perhaps left an impression about Physics on you?
Not in terms of the subject per se.
Back in those times, tuition was for those students who were weak. It wasn’t a mark of status like it is today. Today the mentality, more or less, is if you don’t go for tuitions you are doing something wrong.
I owe it to my teachers for giving me holistic education. There was no need for going to a third person to understand something. My teachers have always encouraged me for approaching them.
I have a cousin brother, Supratim Bhattacharya, who actually inspired me to take up Physics. When in class 9 and 10, I used to approach him with doubts I had. He inspired me to think of Physics in a lateral and easy way. I would actually give him the credit of pulling me into this stream.
What are some of the challenges you face when you teach Physics?
Students come with a mind-set that Physics is very tough. With no offense to anybody, I think teachers have taught Physics in a very bookish manner.
Physics is an abstract Science and it is also a science of practical life. You cannot teach Physics by reading it out from a book. You have to associate it with practical life and talk about imagination. You have to ask children to close their eyes and imagine certain things happening. That kind of skill needs to be inculcated in students.
During my initial years at Calcutta International School, I had started writing a blog on practical life stories related to Physics.
In class, I introduced the concept of drama for teaching Physics. I gave them a concept and points on the concept and asked children to write a play about it. I asked them to try and manipulate a story in such a way that you can showcase a particular concept of Physics in your daily life. I have also asked them to create posters.
My middle school coordinator has commented that my classes always seemed to be an art and craft class. It didn’t look like a Physics class at all. So things are almost hands on all the time. With these techniques, I think I was successful in erasing the traumatic mindset from the middle schoolers when I used to teach them. Currently, I teach A-level – equivalent to grade 11 and 12. I teach the A-level, IGCSE and a little bit of middle school as well.
What are your thoughts about the different kinds of curriculum we have today?
I believe that through our national curriculum we are still looking towards creating factory workers and employees. We are still looking at creating people who think only in a particular way. So, it is more of how compliant you are; you must be a conformist to do well in the national curriculum. You have to think in a particular manner, address questions in a particular style. There is very little room to think out of the box and very less chance of doing something out of the suggestions or out of the last 10 years question papers. So, if you just go through the past 10 years’ papers, you kind of get an understanding of how to get a 95% or above. Nowadays, everyone gets a 95% or above which never happened during our times.
In A-levels and IB, they give you a scope for a creative start. The concepts are given and the questions are never repeated. So, having clarity on the concept and subject is imperative in order to arrive at the answers. Each question is different and even if you do 200 years of past papers, hypothetically, you couldn’t predict the next question that would appear in your board exams.
So, attaining clear cut clarity of the concept is of utmost importance when it comes to IB. To do well in A levels you must understand each and every nuances of a concept. IB and A levels look towards evolving innovators.
I think, in India, our problem is our population and because we want jobs this is how it has always been. There is want for guaranteed jobs. I understand that bit as well. But, if you want to be successful and creative, you have to have the risk of failure.
Is there a difference in the way the IB curriculum is delivered across the globe?
It is the same paper that everyone attempts. You can appear for your A level examinations 3 times in a year.
- The Feb-March one is for India, strictly because the students who need to get into Indian Universities have to get their results before a particular time.
- The May-June one is what we prefer our students appearing for and there is also
- The October-November one.
So, the May-June and Oct-Nov versions happen worldwide and it is in a percentile form – not percentage.
In the May-June version, Indian students do very well because we Indian teachers tend to give them a whole lot more than what the syllabus demands. That is how we have been taught and it subconsciously filters through. Also, Indian parents are very alert and sharp about what their children should do. That is an additional support our students get. Indian parents are very conscious of the fact that it is a race. People who take up Physics in A level are mostly very thorough with their work. They have a point to prove and if they want to go abroad as well, they have to be best of the best.
The Feb-March version is only for Indian students and so we don’t really have a yardstick to compare results globally.
Is it a huge shift for teachers when they have to shift from CBSE to A-Level teaching?
If you have been teaching CBSE for a very long time, then unlearning the ways of teaching is often a challenge. We see it all the time. I, thankfully, shifted to this curriculum very early in my career.
This school resonated with my teaching ideas. Gratefully, my way of thinking and the school’s way of teaching and learning were absolutely in sync. So, I am lucky. I have to mention my Principal Dr Munmun Nath who is a visionary and I am lucky that we think alike. She always encourages taking chances.
If somebody teaches CBSE and ISC curriculum for a long time, unlearning and opening up windows and doors to the structured way of thinking would be a challenge. But, if you have it in you and you take it up very quickly, it works. You can get set in a monotonous path if you are into the CBSE and ICSE teaching curriculum. There are very few projects and out of the box challenges in CBSE and ICSE. But, here it is all about out of the box challenges and looking at a concept in a very different way.
At A levels or IGCSE, we aim at making students skills-ready – not content ready. Content is just a click away these days, but how you approach it and the sustainable quality defines if you are a futuristic person.
Let us talk about the Science Club.
Science Club happened, I think, 2-3 years back when one of the students in A-level came up to me and suggested the idea.
He is a brilliant student who got through Cambridge written exams for Physics but fell short after that because he didn’t really have the opportunity to do anything other than what is in the curriculum in order to showcase his interest in Physics. That struck a chord with me and I realised that as a teacher I should also give them some exposure into doing stuff other than the curriculum. I wanted a platform where students could showcase their skills and also for me to have that satisfaction of doing something other than the curriculum. Hence, the Science Club!
With a couple of very enthusiastic students, we formed the Science Club and it is in its initial stages. We are in the 2nd year of its formation. Through this club, we create awareness and bring experts from leading scientific industries or Universities. We talk about what is happening in Science today, the uses of learning Science.We look at astronomy and people from AI to giveus talks.We look towards international collaboration.
I worked with a UK School back in 2014 and we were the only school in all of EU to get a Crest Award, which is a highly prestigious award in the UK. The students learn a lot of things when they are working because they are interested and also because it is not part of the curriculum and they won’t be tested on it. Their skills, understanding, analysis, approach towards everything changes because they are doing it solely because they enjoy it. That was my primary objective when I started this club.
What was the idea behind trying to collaborate with other schools and get them to be part of the club?
I have been made the International School Awards (ISA) coordinator of British Council, which looks at the sustainable goals of United Nations and how to project it through the visions of UNESCO.
The International School Award is given by the British Council all over the world and schools enrol for that award.
For this, they have to do a set of 7 projects which can be apart/in their curriculum, they have to do 4-5 activities. Out of these, 3 have to be international collaborations. So, they should show proof of work and that they tried to create a change or social awareness or something that would enhance humanity. It is a very famous award among schools.
I have been appointed as the ISA coordinator recently, So, I was just trying to figure out if there are people who are interested in collaborating the project. I would be starting off next year with all the projects. This is a project which would be school-wide, i.e., pre- primary to class 12.
Do you find schools collaborating with each other as much as you want it?
No, to be very honest! I think nowadays, education has become an industry. It is all about showcasing how much the school is doing. It is becoming a very target-oriented industry. The input has to be such that a certain percentage of students should appear with high results. Teaching is becoming quite difficult for a whole lot of people as it comes with a lot of documentation, meetings, lesson planning, corrections, etc.
Teachers, hence, are a lot pressed for time. Now, doing things apart from their jobs is a difficult ask. So, I would not blame them. I do this because I am very interested in doing things differently and I have an extremely supportive family. My principal is also extremely supportive and she sees where I want to take the Science Club.
Can you elaborate on Education Redesign?
I can see students going to Khan Academy and other digital media to understand things. I can see students relying on digital media, etc.
So, we have to think about education in terms of AI, modern social networking, all the digital inventions that is happening. I am still very interested in thinking about how education might change in future. I have also done a lot of courses on Cambridge Assessments, the curriculum that I teach, about assessments and about how to teach in the future. Harvard has this Education Redesign which talks about overhauling the entire system and how to bring about changes in the way you teach,for years to come.
How do you envision yourself in the years ahead?
I am extremely interested in knowing how teaching/learning or Computer Science would change because of the changes in the social environment, which is happening mighty fast.
I want to know how machines would come in and would change the entire dimension of education and how teaching-learning happens. I am always learning something new.
I am currently doing a course from Cambridge Assessments on how to change the ways of teaching and how to bring in the interest of the future generations in education. Also, I would want to collaborate and look at how the idea of international citizenship can be translated through Science.
Collaboration is something that I am extremely looking forward to.