Dedicated educator, women’s empowerment champion and perennially eager-to-learn scholar for over six decades, Mumbai-based Meena Sunandan Divatia is the incumbent President and Managing Trustee of the Bhagini Seva Mandir Kumarika Stree Mandal (estb.1929). A pioneer women’s empowerment institution managed by women for the past 94 years, the mandal/trust manages the state board-affiliated K-10 M.P. Shah English High School (MPSEHS) inaugurated by Mahatma Gandhi in 1930, and the Kalyan Deep School for mentally challenged children which admitted its first batch in 1960. Currently, MPSEHS has 1,200 children mentored by 40 teachers on its muster rolls and Kalyan Deep has 50 special needs children mentored by eight teachers.
A Gujarati literature and psychology graduate of Gujarat University, Ms. Divatia began her career in the insurance industry and worked in the administrative cadre of the Life Insurance Corporation of India prior to being inducted by the Bhagini Stree Mandal as secretary of the trust in 1972. After serving in this capacity for almost three decades, she was appointed President of the mandal in 2010. “Long before middle class women began to establish a presence in industry and business workplaces, the all-women Bhagini Seva Stree Mandal run entirely by women, demonstrated that if given opportunity and responsibility, the so-called weaker sex can manage large trusts and run schools efficiently. Over the past 93 years since it opened its doors for boys and girls, MPSEHS has acquired a good reputation for providing children excellent academic learning supplemented with high quality vocational, life skills and sports education. In 2022, MPSEHS was included in EducationWorld’s national league table of Super 30 Budget Private Schools and among the Top 5 budget private schools of Mumbai,” says Divatia.
In accordance with Gandhian practices and precepts, tuition fees levied by MPSEHS are rock-bottom and vary between Rs.36,000-38,000 per year, and Kalyan Deep provides free-of-charge education to mentally, and otherwise challenged children. “Long before the demand for quotas for women in Parliament and government services was articulated, the Bhagini Seva Mandal, administered and managed entirely by women, demonstrated that we can manage trusts and education institutions efficiently and competently. Therefore, I am surprised it has taken so many decades for the Women’s Reservation Bill to be passed by Parliament,” says Divatia.
Looking back on her illustrious career in education management, Divatia is “somewhat disappointed” with post-independence India’s track record in primary-secondary education. “Gandhiji believed that primary education should be given utmost importance and school curriculums should be built around teaching children to learn with head, heart and hands. Unfortunately, that hasn’t happened and the education that India’s 260 million in-school children – especially in government schools with very poor learning outcomes — would have disappointed him. Moreover, the multiplicity of examination boards across the country has prevented establishment of national standards and created class divisions in Indian society,” rues Divatia.
Nevertheless this indefatigable champion of holistic, quality K-12 education is determined to do her best to provide high quality English-medium education for the lower middle class and marginalised children. “Because of prudent management and successful fund-raising, we have been able to accumulate a corpus of Rs.10 crore. This is in the process of being utilized for adding a higher secondary section – classes XI-XII — to MPSEHS, equipping the classrooms of both our schools with latest digital technologies and increasing the number of scholarships for children of poor households in our neighbourhood. We believe if we succeed in providing high quality holistic education to socio-economically disadvantaged and marginalised children, it will inspire others to follow our example,” says this never-say-die educationist, who has recently enrolled for block-printing classes.
In acknowledgement of her long and sustained commitment to primary-secondary and special needs education, the Board of Directors and Editors of EducationWorld are privileged to confer the EducationWorld Lifetime Achievement in Education Leadership Award 2023-24 upon Smt. Meena Sunandan Divatia.