-Reshma Ravishanker (Bengaluru)
Aishwarya Rao is the Coimbatore-based director (academics and administration) of the Vivekalaya Group of Institutions (VGI, estb.1989) which owns and manages the CBSE Vivekalaya Matriculation Higher Secondary School (estb.1989), Akshyantra Learning Centre (1990) offering the NIOS curriculum, the Cambridge (UK)-affiliated The Vivekalaya’s Prakriya International School (2012), the NIOS-affiliated Bodhi Academy (2018) and the CBSE affiliated Vivekalaya’s Vichara World School (2020) — all in Coimbatore. These K-12 private schools have 1,500 students and 80 teachers on their muster rolls.
Newspeg. Although VGI schools are yet to recover fully from the 82-weeks Covid pandemic lockdown, they have begun the new academic year with enthusiasm with the introduction of several vocational courses (beauty and wellness, housekeeping and catering, yoga and culinary arts) to fulfill the skills training mandate of the National Education Policy 2020. Astronomy, sociology, music (theory and practice) and global perspectives are set to be introduced in middle and high school curriculums.
History. An education and business management postgrad of Bharathiar University, Coimbatore and Nottingham University (UK), Rao began her professional career in the family-run Prahlad Textiles Pvt. Ltd in 2007. However, after acquiring valuable organisational, management and admin experience, she opted to switch to her true calling: education, and was appointed director of the family-run VGI schools in 2011.
Over the past decade under Rao’s leadership, all Vivekalaya schools have experienced a 15-20 percent rise in student enrolment and significant improvement in learning outcomes. For instance 70 percent of students who write the class X IGCSE (UK) exam of Vivekalaya’s Prakriya International School are routinely awarded A and A* grades. Moreover, a strong advocate of experiential learning and skills development, she has spearheaded introduction of experiential pedagogies and vocational courses in the group’s five schools.
Direct talk. “For far too long, we have been following an outdated rote learning system that drills information which children are expected to regurgitate in exams. There is little or no focus on learning-by-doing. In Vivekalaya schools, we want to change this by providing a teaching-learning environment where children learn experientially, learn to think critically and develop problem solving skills. We have also introduced several skilling and vocational courses to develop children’s practical skills. Our objective is to offer students well-rounded education with active involvement of our parents’ community,” says Rao.
Future plans. The group has plans to expand its footprint beyond Tamil Nadu over the next five years. “We also want to print our own textbooks and develop customised curriculums. The challenges confronting India’s children in the new globalised world are becoming increasingly complex and competitive. We want our children to be ready to confront them successfully,” says Rao.