Running a school – a bystander’s view (1)

If the SSESA exists to prod and egg the school on, then what are the school’s goals? I am trying to understand where the SSESA should be ‘helping’ the school. What are the areas that it has prioritized? A couple of months ago I posed the question to the head of the Bombay Province of the Jesuit Education Organisation — fellow Stanislite (1961) Fr Francis de Melo (who also happens to be an IIT B alumnus). In a private mail exchange, he shared with me 3 key objectives


1. High quality education.
This means getting away from the present ways: “India Today” examined the 200 best schools in the country and found all of them “deplorable”.

Today’s systems in India do not have methods that prepare a student for the world of today: complex, yet full of opportunity. We do not base our methods on multiple intelligences that would reinforce each other (particularly interpersonal, intrapersonal and naturalist are ignored). We do not use mental exercises which would develop brain agility for creativity and problem solving.

We do not cater to different learning styles, particularly the kinesthetic. Instead all we offer is a huge pile of mostly useless-for-life information that must be memorized.
2. It must be high quality education FOR ALL.
Jesuits do not want to be only catering to those who can pay for high quality. A key part of our goal is to bring good education to the poor masses.

3. We want our education to develop joyful, deeply human persons, not workers.
This means a value education that is based on a personal quest for what life is all about…

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Earlier this month, while in Mumbai on vacation, I followed up this mail exchange with a face-to-face meeting with Fr Francis de Melo, to get a better understanding of the system. He shared some of the challenges facing the school at an operational/practical level as well as at an ideological level. To me it seemed that India Shining has changed a lot, there is unfortunately a lot that has not changed. Lethargy, bureaucracy and corruption are unfortunately still the order of the day. 

During our conversation it became clear to me that there is a big difference between the discuss of the system (i.e. ISCE, CBSE or SSC) and the actual implementation of the system at a given school — schools within the same system can be vastly different. It all depends on execution. Anyway, as far as St Stanislaus goes, the school has much flexibility in how education for standards I – IX is imparted; the recommended syllabus can be rearranged and sections replaced at the discretion of the teachers/administration. All that matters is that students are prepared with sufficient content for a common board exam (std X). The school has put the ‘SSC or ICSE’ debate past them, as switching from SSC to ISCE is no solution in itself. So, the challenge at hand is how can the school excel while still staying within the SSC system? There is apparently a lot of freedom to do this; in fact from the little I have managed to grasp, SSHS has exercised this flexibility and has done and is doing a number of different things all while still working within the SSC system. It struck me that possibly this was part of the secret that made SSHS different (at I was in school all this was quite boring)

Seems like an area SSESA could channel energies and resources to improve the overall educational quality. SSESA with its large network can help make St Stanislaus a school that attracts the best teachers in the country. Giving teachers and students access to a network, equipment and teaching materials that makes going to SSHS a memorable experience. Giving students opportunities of extra-curricular activities in their formative years that stimulate critical and independent thinking (so that once they reach std X, they crack the exam AND have had a great time AND that builds character). Giving teachers and students reach, reach to a wide network to interact with their peers in other parts of the city – state – country – globe. That’s where the global Jesuit network also plays in. The school does have a 9-year window (from Std I – IX). and SSESA has an opportunity to influence — and all without going through change of system or anything as drastic.

Can this happen in the next year or two? Unlikely, but it will definitely be better than not doing anything. Is there a master plan? Not any that I have seen. Are we organized to take up this challenge? Definitely not. Can we organize ourselves better? DEFINITELY. And it will never happen on its own — nothing ever does.

On this same trip to Mumbai, I also met with the previous principal Fr Lawrie Ferrao and separately with the current principal Fr Jude Fernandes. I also met with a couple of teachers, the lead teacher for the Computer Lab and the Librarian that is for later post.

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