As a prelude to International Women’s Day 2023, observed on March 8, EducationWorld is publishing a series of interviews with inspiring women in the field of education and parenting.
One such is Dr. (Mrs.) Amita Chauhan, chairperson, Amity International Schools. She conceptualised and helms the globe-girdling group of 23 co-ed day schools that have established an excellent reputation for providing progressive K-12 education.
Here are excerpts from her interview with EducationWorld where she talks about education of the girl child, her journey from motherhood to the boardroom and more…
What inspired you to become a teacher?
My father was a Sanskrit scholar and retired as the Head of Sanskrit Department at Kurukshetra University. As a young child, I was inspired by the impact he had on others through his caring and compassionate style of teaching and dedication to the teaching profession. This instilled in me the desire to give back to the society and our nation through education at a very young age. With God’s grace and hard work, focus and the support of family, this has been possible to achieve.
What are the challenges you faced as you navigated this career and life as a whole?
When you are set out to fulfill a goal, there are bound to be challenges along the way. My journey too has had its fair share of ups and downs. People would wonder how I took care of such a big family along with managing my professional commitments.
Perhaps, one of the major challenges was leaving Germany, my home of 30 years and coming back to India, which was a big step. There is so much that needs to be done when you are relocating – it’s a complete overhaul. I am thankful that I had my mother, who helped me in her own ways. I can’t thank her enough for her support in the formative years of my career.
Having supportive women and children and an inspiring husband has been a blessing and has helped me to overcome challenges.
As a woman, what are the challenges you faced while growing up/the liberties you enjoyed as a woman?
I have faced numerous challenges in life. But I don’t look at challenges as obstacles, rather I view them as an opportunity for growth.
I got married at the age of 20 and accompanying my husband to a foreign land Germany was my first challenge. Those were days when there was no Internet or mobile communication. I didn’t know the language and knew no one. Being young and newly married can be challenging enough, but the distance from family and everything familiar certainly made it more challenging.
Having clarity about my roles in every phase of my life has given me strength and peace. I worked hard to adjust and adapt to a new culture, a new country, new roles. My first and foremost priorities those days was to be a supportive wife and devoted mother. At the same time, my inherent curiosity and love for learning allowed me to make time to focus on self-development and my own growth and learning. In their lives, women often face these challenges where they are uprooted from their way of life and are expected to embrace change with ease. It was my strong upbringing and the unshakeable faith my parents had in me and my husband’s support that gave me the courage and wisdom to embrace change and challenges with curiosity and confidence.
Starting my career while having young children was a challenge as well. Women have always faced the dilemma of work-life balance, more so because of the judgement it comes with. Here again, with clarity of purpose, support of my family and my own hard work, positivity and focus, I was able to flourish in my roles as a mother and an educator.
What inspired you to become the person you are today?
I have always been inspired by people who have struggled, sacrificed and worked selflessly and tirelessly for the betterment of society. I have been fortunate to have the opportunity to closely observe people in my life in this pursuit. Besides, I am an avid reader of biographies and enjoy watching movies with good social messages inspired by the lives of revolutionary individuals.
How do you balance your personal and professional life?
I do what I love and I love children, so I am blessed that both in my personal and professional life, I nurture my children with love and learning. So, be it at work or be it at home, the love of a mother, the care for my children comes naturally. So everything falls in place because my team also imbibes the same emotions of love and care that flows everywhere at Amity.
Any women-specific issues in education that you would like to highlight?
Even in the 21st century, the drop-out rates of girls from education institutions is high all over the world. Even though I witness an increased awareness and willingness amongst parents to educate girls, factors like poverty, lack of resources, inadequate infrastructure, prime among them being lack of toilets, age old social pressures come into play and prevent the girls from getting educated.
We need to overcome these, and the first step for doing this would be to make education more accessible for the girls, which in today’s tech driven world is not difficult. The next step would be to make it interactive, fun and engaging not only for girls, but their parents too. We need to design the lessons in a way where we can fetch more participation from parents keeping in view their busy work schedules too, a lesson which synchronises with their life and prods them to walk an extra mile to get their girl educated.
At Amitasha, a school that we run for the less privileged girl child, we take care of the learning, health and nutrition of the girls and we also make parents partners in learning by involving them in every step of the learning process. We show them that education is not just about learning and getting marks, but about attaining wisdom to explore the infinite possibilities of the human mind irrespective of gender. We teach them to aim high, but all whilst being firmly rooted in their values. This holistic education ingrained in value-based learning is what ensures all round development and growth of the students.
We need to understand that when we educate a girl we educate two families, a society, and a nation. So, if we are to have a happy world, we need to educate our girls in a more engaging, interactive and inclusive way and empower them to be able to strive for personal as well as professional contentment.
What according to you is feminism? As a woman, where do you think we are lagging behind?
Feminism for me is existence of Shiva and Shakti together in harmony, where one power doesn’t overpower the other power, rather both the powers work in synchrony to create a world empowered by love, respect and happiness. Masculine and feminine, both are the essential forces of life.
As a woman, it is disheartening to see women deal with numerous social atrocities even today. In the male dominated workplace, women have to work twice as hard to prove themselves. In their homes, women are questioned and judged for progressing in their careers. Out of their homes, women don’t feel safe. It is unfortunate when outdated social norms and customs lead people to have unfair expectations and based on these they make poor choices and decisions, and sadly women are the ones who suffer the most as a consequence. As women we have a social and moral responsibility to recognise this and work to empower, support and guide other women in our lives to help them achieve their optimal potential in any role they choose to take on. Having the love and support of the men in our lives, makes this even more attainable. As mentioned before, masculine and feminine, both are the essential forces of life and in a peaceful coexistence, a happy life.
And how can we address them?
I think the solution lies in changing attitudes and mindsets and this starts early in homes and in classrooms. As an educator, I believe there lies this huge responsibility and opportunity to bring about this change. At Amity Schools, we are working hard to support our children who grow up with the tools, skills and beliefs about being respectful towards their peers. Teachers are trained on gender sensitisation and how to overcome gender biases. We are conscious in our design of curriculum and activities and give fair and equal opportunity to all students to follow their interests and pursue what excites them. There are no gender labels to activities. We want all our Amitians to excel in life and be exciting individuals who will make a positive impact in the world through the choices they make that reflect their uniqueness, their talents, their schooling and upbringing and who believe everyone has the right to do so.
What are your future projects in the pipeline?
Future projects are future focussed. The question that motivates our planning the most is ‘what skills will children need 10 years from now?’ We need to constantly adapt, innovate and accommodate our strategies to changing times and trends as was recently witnessed with the classrooms shifting to a virtual platform. Providing our Amitians with a multitude of opportunities, researching and developing new programmes for them, and spreading the reach of the Amity Education Group is a constant endeavour.
Your message for women on Women’s Day?
Someone once asked me what I would like to be born as in my next life. I said I wanted to be a woman, and do the same work that I am doing today. Being a woman is a blessing.
On the occasion of Women’s Day, I would like to say to each and every woman out there, that you are stronger than you think. I have often heard people say that men are stronger than women. But as a child, my father used to tell me that if both a boy and girl contract the same illness, then the chances of the girl to recuperate will be faster. This is because God has made her stronger, because she is the one who bears the child. She has the infinite strength to do anything and bring about any change. I urge all the women to realise their inner strength and potential and tide the winds of change. Remember, being born as a woman is the biggest gift of God. Have confidence in yourself as you have all the qualities needed to change the world. But remember to be respectful, caring and humble, for these are qualities we need for a brighter future and happy life.
Also read: There Is Opportunity In Every ChallengePosted in Edutainment