On the occasion of International Women’s Day 2022 observed on March 8, EducationWorld interviewed Dr. Coomi Vevaina, founder-director of the Centre for Connection Education and Management.
After retiring as the Head of the Department of English, University of Mumbai, Dr. Vevaina has been deeply involved in designing innovative and learner-centric curriculum, teaching pedagogies and evaluation techniques. With two Ph.D. degrees (Literature and Education), she has published nine books and 58 papers that have appeared in peer-reviewed national and international journals and critical anthologies.
Excerpts from the interview:
What inspired you to take up teaching as a career?
Though I was an average student more interested in extracurricular activities than academics, I always wanted to be a teacher. In my first year of college, my English literature teacher sparked my love for reading and virtually changed my life. I ended up with two Ph.Ds and became the head of the department of English at Mumbai University.
What are some of the challenges you have faced?
The biggest challenge I have encountered is dealing with people holding on to traditional mindsets. Early in my career, I realised that any kind of innovation in teaching would always be opposed. I was actually thrown out of my first job as a school teacher because the principal believed no learning could happen using my methods of teaching. Later, teaching at the university gave me the freedom to innovate as it was just me and my students.
How did you deal with negativity from others?
Negativity from others did not pull me down because I knew the university had employed me to do two things – to teach and do research. The students enjoyed my class and often my classes would be packed with students from other departments as well. I am also good at research and was declared among the 10 best Canadian critics in the world by the IJCS.
How did you manage to pique your students’ interest in literature?
Literature is important because it makes one both interpersonally and intrapersonally intelligent. However, I have never taught literature in the traditional way and provided the students with ‘meanings’ of literary texts. In my class, I brought in media, actual artists, music, dance and drama. I strongly believe literature is an art form which is perceived differently by each one. I think teaching should be an interactive dialogue between the teacher and the students.
In some universities, particularly in Europe, the students refrained from expressing their views. Very soon I got them to experience the thrill of generating plural meanings to texts. This way, I was mindfully breaking barriers to get them to interact in the classroom.
Which women-specific issue/issues in education would you highlight?
I am very conscious of social justice issues and weave them into whatever I teach. I believe in gender equity (not equality) as equality may be there on paper but not in practice. Gender equity means equal opportunities for both girls and boys and I believe teachers have a major role to play in promoting gender equity because many girls come into the classrooms with negative stereotypes of what girls cannot do. The first exercise I give a new batch of students is to list 10 things they can do.
However, I find special reservations very demeaning to women because I believe women are just as good and can compete with men on merit basis.
What according to you is feminism?
I think feminism is a movement designed to empower women and heal men because patriarchy has damaged both men and women. If men are products of a very negative way of thinking, they need to be ‘educated’ and not perceived to be our enemies.
What is needed to promote women in leadership roles?
Unambiguous rejection of negative stereotypes of women. When that happens, we encourage women to think of themselves as both leaders and followers because a good leader believes that he/she needs to serve others.
Tell us something about your future projects?
The Global Tipping Point Summit 2022 which ended on February 27, is designed to change the education system into a learning ecosystem. I have an impressive line-up of 55 eminent educationists who have pledged to support me. The short term goal is to create a new framework — the Personalised Education for Global Citizenship framework (PEGC) to make learning joyful for students from kindergarten through class II. We will pilot test the framework in 50 schools and then offer it to the government and others like UNESCO and the UN.
What is your message to other women out there?
Work towards the empowerment of ‘all’ women but without hatred. Angry people cannot work for peace, so we must work on ourselves to change the world.
Also Read: Women’s Day series: Smita Deorah, co-founder and co-CEO of LEADEdutainment