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An interview with Paramjit Narang, Director of Pathways School in Gurgaon
Director of Pathways School in Gurgaon, Paramjit Narang, who has been teaching for the last 41 years has adapted over time to the changing methods of the education system of the country. Being the Director the school, which has international standards of teaching, she takes on her responsibility with elan and conscious decision making. This interview is an eye opener for parents as she talks about technology and how important it is in today's world to adapt to the technological changes.

Situated on the outskirts of the city of Gurgaon, Pathways is a dream school where children are allowed to dream, grow and understand their talent. Every wall of the school is covered with big canvases and beautiful paintings. Deeply embedded with meaning, one is bound to get surprised when the Director proudly says that they are the work of the school students as young as Grade 3 and 4.

From drama to carpentry, the school has everything but who would not give value for money, points out Narang. It is after all making adults who have wisdom and who are in touch with their creative side.

Q: How do you implement a holistic education? How difficult it is on the teachers' part to impart this kind of an education?

Paramjit Narang, Director of Pathways School: It is not difficult on the teachers' part, because the curriculum is planned like that. They are trained for it before they go into the classes. They have extensive training. The whole system is geared for it. It is integrated in the lesson plan itself. So giving them a holistic education is not the challenge.

For example: Grade 3 was doing this unit on waste management and their central idea was that the waste we produce depends on our lifestyle. They began by looking at their own classroom- what is the kind of waste that is generated in their classroom and they went to different parts of the school. They collected data from different parts of the school such as their classrooms, horticulture department, cafeteria and offices. They had to go home and check out the waste product. Then they were divided into groups and each group was sent to a public place to see what kind of waste was generated in malls, airports, monuments so as to get a sense of quantity. We also took them to the rural areas.

Having done that, they started classifying the data into different kinds of waste. So we had packaged waste, cooked food waste, peelings and garden waste. They organised and reorganised the waste. We tied up with an NGO and went to the Ghazipur waste plant to see what kind of waste is generated. They could see the amount of waste, people working there, the fumes coming out of the waste product and the vultures.

So they came to a number of conclusions due to the activity. They saw that there are biodegradable and non-biodegradable waste product. They saw that the non-biodegradable products waste mostly originated from the packed materials. After this observation, they came to the consensus to use lesser packaged material and to make recycled bags. On the same topic, they made posters and did presentations.

So, everything has been integrated into their program. Their art, drama, IT has been integrated. So giving a holistic education is not the challenge as everything is integrated. We look at everything as language of communication, not just the language of words. In today's world, art, music, drama, mathematics is a language of communication. So because all these are the languages of communication and education is about understanding, imbibing knowledge and reorganising it and representing it where ever you need it. So people need to communicate it. If you look at all these as languages of communications, then they have to be integrated.

Q: So we have moved away from the rote system, which we were familiar with?

Director: Children going out of school requires mature skills and understanding as well as perspective. They need wisdom and how does one give them the wisdom of a lifetime? The only way, we felt that was possible was with a meaningful engagement with Literature.

So we had a festival, where 16 schools participated and each school had a team of 6 students from class 9 - to 12. From a list of 20 books, 'The Kite Runner' was a compulsory read. While two other books were chosen by the students. They had to read all these three books, discuss them and present their understanding of the three books and had to come up with the common links in the three books. They had to maintain the process portfolio. So they were judged not only on their formal presentation but also on their process portfolio.

One school, which I liked the best had done The Kite Runner, Macbeth and Dr. Faustus. The students had identified the central conflict in the three books, the common threat and their representation was that they put all three central characters on trial. They damned Dr. Faustus, Macbeth was also sentenced to perdition but the Kite Runner was excused as his was a crime of innocence.

So for the students to understand the shades of crime is important. As I said, handing down wisdom was our motive and this exercise did that. They have to study literature, but if you make them study in this meaningful way then it becomes interesting for them.

What is important for us is to understand various issues so we introduced the Iliad and the Mahabharat in the middle school. They read both the books and identified the gender issues reflected by both Drapaudi and Helen, as they both says, 'women can be chosen but they cannot choose.'

Seniors did 'Shakespeare goes to Hollywood' as for this generation Shakespeare is very boring. So it was their teachers way to make them understand the dramatist.

Q: When you take students into Pathways, what are the things you look into a child for?

Director: We are an inclusive school. We need to look at what their levels are so that we can place them correctly. The parents should understand what Pathways has to offer, because doing these kinds of work may feel to many as if we are wasting time. These days we find that a lot of children has learning challenges. We are not a special education school but we are an inclusive school so we don't want to take children with whom cannot deal with. We have a special education wing to support them and those that we can support, we do take in. There was a child with us (he moved to a different city) and he was dyslexic but he was a wiz with computers. Even the parents failed to notice that, but we believe that every child has a talent.

Q: So do parents push their child towards excellence?

Director: We are making a change and when you make a change there are certain things, which you take consciously but then there is the conditioning of a lifetime. There are times when that conditioning takes over, so one constantly play the balancing game.

Right now, we are dealing with a situation where my Grade 1 parents wants that their children should start playing formal sports. We have told them that we only start introducing formal sports from Grade 3 and they take it up with any amount of seriousness only after Grade 4 and 5 and we look at school team only from Grade 5 because their bodies are young and they cannot invest the kind of effort that serious sports need.

Moreover, the parents do not understand the difference between effort and ability. They feel that if a child is putting in the effort, he will succeed. But he may not have the ability for that. So beyond a point, he can't grow in that, but parents do not understand that. So right now, I am putting together a workshop for our parents. An Orthopaedic will be speaking to them on the same matter. So our parents education program is as important as the educational program.

Q: Introducing tablets among pre-schoolers have given rise to a number of debates. You have introduced tablets among preschoolers. What was the reason behind the introduction of tablets?

Director: One has to understand that there has been a paradigm shift in education. From solitary hunter, community living to education, man has been evolving. Education in essence is the distillation of human experience and passing on that distilled information to the next generation. Initially, evolution with regard to language and education was slow. The educated class became the elite class.

Change was a very slow process and then the Industrial revolution changed everything. Writings could be preserved and the press helped. One could share it and send it out and control the quality. That is when education reached out to the masses. Education for the masses is a very recent phenomenon- as recent as the Industrial revolution. However, in reaching out to the masses, the structure that developed was 'the assembly line structure'. Education was assembly lined. For Example- teacher went, delivered, students remembered, gave exams and then based on that exam they were put into a job. The only job of the students were to keep the assembly line moving. There was an assembly line structure in life, in everything.

Today, information is not the challenge. We have numerous devices on which we can get information. However, today's challenge is to sift through those information and get what we want. How do we know what is authentic? We need skills of authentication. Publisher can control the quality in books. Parents could control, which books they bought for their children. But, today how are you going to control the internet? So, therefore children have to learn the skills of verification. They have to organise that data and they have to have that patience and ethics to take in what is important so that development of today do not become a problem of tomorrow. That is what the world is dealing with today.

We are dealing with change again, although it has not reached the tipping point but the world of technology is here. We have IT technicians who can create, but what we need is intelligent application of what has been created. And therefore the movement is again towards liberal arts from the sciences. If we cannot adopt this change then how are we preparing our children for the next change?

Between my great grandmother and my grandmother, there was no difference in their lifestyle or thinking. The difference came between my mother's time and my grandmother's time. Then there was some change between my mother and me. It became much faster between me and my children and between my children and their children. And between my grandchildren there is a generation gap between the elder sibling and the younger sibling. Change is happening that fast! The whole quantum of information that we were passing onto the next generation is obsolete.

Initially, change took place in thousands of years. Gradually it speeded up and before Industrial revolution, it was every 500 years. By the time I was studying in school, they were telling me that the quantum of information doubles every 50 years. By the time, I became a teacher, it became every 20 years and now they are saying that the quantum of information is doubling every two years. By the turn of this century, it would be doubling every two hours.
We are in this for a rude shock.

Q: So are parents changing with the changing time?

Director: No they are not and that is why I told you that our parents program is as critical as the students program. In my own house, my grandchild can flip through the iPad and get what she wants. We (our generation), on the other hand are digital immigrants and I will prove it to you how. I have a laptop to work on, have been given a smartphone but I still rely on my basic phone. There is that much change, which I can take but your generation cannot say this. I am at my fag end of my life, but you have to deal with it as you are at risk of being left behind. Not left behind professionally or monetarily but you will find yourself a misfit.

These are tools, in themselves they are not important. In the days to come, reading and writing would not be a critical skill to master. Everything would be audio visual, but the challenge would be for those people, who would not be able to use technology.

Q: There is disadvantage to technology for kids as they do not know how much time to spend so as not to get addicted. How do you make sure that they do not get addicted?

Director: We don't tell them how much time to spend on the tablets as within the school it is easy for me to control because of the time-table. At homes, it is the responsibility of the parents to deal with the usage. I cannot go into their homes but I have a whole program of digital citizenship to train children about what are the risks, what are the challenges and what are the advantages of technology. But that digital citizenship has to be applied at their homes. Within the school I have firewalls and I have systems to monitor, I have timetables and teachers.

So if the parents are not tech savvy then how would they monitor children. I will not let my grandchild sit with an iPad alone. He is 8 year old and I know, he is too young to visit an adult site. But he has an iPad and he has iPad time. When he has to do research, he can use our laptop or iPads but we monitor him. Today, that is the challenge. Parents, who say 'do not introduce the iPad,' they are coming from fear. It is an unknown commodity for them and anything unknown is fearful.

Q: What kind of psychological developments do you find in kids who use tablets?

Director: I don't think its just kids who use tablets and who don't. I find this even when I go to the village schools- much lesser of course but this change, which is coming filters down in society one way or the other. The attitude, the approaches directly or indirectly filters down to the society. I am finding much lesser social skills, even in the rural areas. Because the media has so much impact and it is so easily available children are developing psychologically very quickly.

Q: What are the other innovative teaching methods, which pathways have introduced which is new for even our generation.

Director: Much of the information,which the children would need in their adult life have not come into being as off yet because of how fast the quantum of knowledge is increasing. It has not come into existence as of yet. Therefore, it is imperative that we make children learn independently. It is the enquiry method of learning where the children pick up an area of learning through a central idea.

Pathways has elaborate labs. They make their own costumes for dramas and does everything from scratch. These children, who are not digital immigrants are being prepared so that they are not misfits and schools, who are yet to take up this method would raise a generation of people who would be left behind after a point.

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