Eduleader Focus: Jonali Das, principal, Modern English School, Guwahati

EducationWorld’s series, the ‘Eduleader Focus’ features interviews with principals of reputed educational institutions who are popular among their students and staff. In this edition of ‘Eduleader Focus’, Jonali Das, principal, Modern English School, Guwahati shares her personal views about the quality of education in the country and the impact of transformational leadership.

Jonali Das

What are you looking forward to as the new academic year begins?

After a complete shutdown of about one-and-a-half years due to the pandemic, the classes have resumed as usual. Unfortunately despite remote learning, the pandemic disrupted the learning process which led to significant learning loss. As the new academic year begins, we look forward to bridging the learning gap and making up that loss for the betterment of all the students. What we are also looking forward to is being back in the lively buzz-filled classrooms with our children. We have all missed it for so long. 

What challenges have you faced with regards to reopening your school after the prolonged closure?

From acclimatising students to the new normal and familiarising teachers with new teaching methodologies, we faced multiple challenges while reopening the school post-pandemic. It was like starting from scratch. It took us some time to get everything organised to our pre-pandemic precision of doing things. Our prime objective, since the resumption of schools, is to understand the learning loss among students and chalk out plans to minimise it. We were aware, attending physical classes after two years wasn’t going to be easy for our students so we took every step to make them feel comfortable and secure in the new learning environment. We renovated the school building and classrooms to welcome the students as well. 

What is the extent of the learning loss amongst children and how will you bridge the gap?

We are still gathering the data on the learning loss. We have initiated several activities for our students. These will help us evaluate and compare their pre-pandemic and post-pandemic learning levels. We are going to use the data collected during these activities to comprehend the extent of learning loss and bridge the gap by changing our curriculum. 

With regards to bridging the gap, the shift to online education meant teachers and educators had to look for new teaching methodologies, many of which promote easy learning of concepts. We have conducted many brainstorming sessions amongst the teachers to develop innovative methods to make up for children’s learning loss. In addition, we met our parents and deliberated on their expectations from the school too. We have tried to include their valuable inputs in our programmes too.

The pandemic also took a toll on students’ mental and emotional health. What steps did your school take up to ensure the mental wellbeing of students during the pandemic and are you continuing with it?

True, the pandemic has been very challenging for everyone, including kids and has taken a heavy toll on their mental health as well. During online classes, the students were busy with gadgets and electronic devices all the time. Though this made knowledge accessible to them at their convenience, it deprived students of physical interactions with their peers. It hampered their social skills and critical thinking during discussions and interactions with other students. As social beings, we need more than just virtual interactions for our personal wellbeing. However, excessive use of gadgets leads to loneliness and a cycle of anxiety.

We have been working with our parents to remedy these pitfalls to gradually reduce students’ electronic device usage. We have set up a mental health grievance cell that continues to assist students struggling with mental issues. We have also incorporated several co-curricular activities to engage the students and ensure mass participation in these programmes. 

What is your philosophy of education?

As an educator, I believe, education should help students become good human beings. Education should broaden their perspective to differentiate between right and wrong and get in touch with their innate humanity. I also try to promote liberal and creative thinking amongst my students. I firmly believe, ‘education’ opens the doors of the world to you, shows you the prospective worlds to explore, and enlightens you. 

Describe your leadership style.

I do not believe in an authoritative leadership style. I believe in transformational leadership, where one doesn’t need to command or order someone to do something. I focus on transforming the mental belief of the people and automatically inspire them to give their best. I don’t believe in telling people what to do but help them understand and figure out what they want to do. I just focus on guiding students in the right direction and letting them figure out their path. This approach helps everyone become self-reliant and resilient while promoting leadership qualities. 

If there was one thing you could change about India’s education system, what would it be?

The quality of the Indian education system has continued to be the problem. The fact that older students find it difficult to read and write correctly shows the extent of work needed to rectify the problem. Therefore, it is crucial to focus on providing quality education, which would help secure students’ future. The assessment system also needs to be changed. 

What do you do to unwind/de-stress yourself?

Unwinding is essential to calm oneself and prepare for the next day. After a stressful day, I listen to music, take care of plants, and love to do gardening. I am fond of plants, so I spend most of my free time around plants. Even in school, we have a huge garden that creates a calm and serene environment. I encourage my students to spend time outdoors instead of indoors around electronic gadgets. Plants are known to reduce anxiety and boost creativity. 

If not a teacher, you would be a…

I love gardening and spending time outdoors, so I would have been a botanist or an environmentalist. Being in nature is akin to the field of education since you always have plenty to learn from wildlife and plants too. They enlighten you about the world beyond yourself. 

Also read: India’s top day-cum-boarding schools 2021-22

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