As part of our column – PrincipalSpeaks – we interviewed Mrs. Gunmeet Bindra, Director Principal of Delhi Public School, Rajpura, who is also a former Principal of Welham Boys’ School, Dehradun, about the education system in India and challenges ahead. Here are excerpts from the interview.
Please tell us about your background, school and how did you choose this profession?
I belong to Delhi and studied in a convent school. Subsequently I did my master’s in commerce from the Delhi School of Economics. I played hockey for my school, college, and university and then went on to be selected for the India hockey team. But I was also bright in academics. I had to choose between academics as a career and sports as a career. Unfortunately at that time, in the mid-’80s, the plight of Indian women’s hockey was not very good in terms of support from the Association or Federation. Since I got admission to Delhi School of Economics, I chose to go there with a very heavy heart. Even at that time, I did not perceive that I was going to be a teacher. So I’m into teaching by default and not by choice. But I would truly call it Divine Intervention and now I think I belong to this profession. I’ve enjoyed every bit of this journey and continue to do so.
How did your school handle this pandemic?
The pandemic has not been kind to anyone. Everybody had a price to pay, some more or some less. I started my new school but before I could get into the inaugural session the pandemic struck. Our entrance test was also cancelled. But we did not lose heart. I believe in what the defence forces believe in – bash on regardless and we bashed on regardless and I’m very proud to say that the school is only one and a half years old and we’ve already won two awards. One was the Voices India award for phenomenal work in online education and the second one was for Education leadership for exemplary work in online education during the pandemic.
Congratulations ma’am! What do you think of online education as a future?
Online education was always there. It has now come to the forefront because the acceptance levels have gone up and its merits are being seen. Progressive schools were into online much before. I was head of Welham Boys and we had professors from the United States who’d take online classes. My previous assignment was very high powered and as part of a very progressive school, I have been using technology for a long. Online education, whether it is in a hybrid form or whether it is in a blended form, is the future. Of course, technology can never replace a teacher. There can be no match to the human connect, there can be no match to a teacher.
Is RTE a good policy and what other reforms would you suggest to improve the education system of India?
RTE is a great policy but it’s like a fantastic vehicle. But for the vehicle to be truly beneficial, it’s important that the person driving the vehicle is trained. So people who have to drive the car have to be very very trained and the roads have to be very good. Because if you take a great car on a road that it’s not meant to be for, then obviously there’s a mismatch somewhere. Independently, RTE is a great policy but a lot depends on its implementation and a lot depends on teacher training. Are the schools equipped and prepared and are the Principals and teachers trained to be implementing it, in letter and spirit. I always say that we have the IITs (Indian Institute of Technology), maybe the government can think of setting up IITs (Indian Institute of Teachers). Teachers ought to be paid really well and teaching must be made a sought after profession and not for people who fall into it by default or as the last choice. I think if the country pays teachers well, spends money on their training, makes teaching a far more respectable profession, then we are there.
Do you think that the government should have control over private schools or not?
I’d say the government should have no control but it should regulate. There’s a difference. There has to be regulations because there are school owners who are running schools like businesses. I don’t even have a problem with that because schools as an entity have to be self-reliant. But are they committed enough or are they just running schools because they have some money to invest and they treat school as a cash cow. So for people like these, you need some kind of regulation. At the same time, there are others who are committed and passionate about education and then they get frustrated when there are government controls in a “one size fits all” kind of a thing. Control is a too strong word but some regulation which may be inspired by people who are themselves great educationists, maybe a good idea.
What is the biggest challenge to the vision of a fully educated India?
Implementation. Whether it’s the NEP or whether it’s anything else. NEP is such a fantastic document but how much of it gets implemented is to be seen. In a country like India where the sheer numbers is a challenge, where the economic divide is a challenge, where the geographic expanse is a challenge, where diversity is a challenge, challenges of implementation are huge. So that’s the biggest challenge.