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A Fresh Beginning

 

After 15 years of building a career, one reaches a phase of relative satisfaction in what they have been doing, of having achieved something. This is the time when one achieves stability and a good position. But, at the same time, there is a possibility of a slow-down, a lull. There is a possibility that one thinks, “For 15 years I have worked hard. Now I can afford to rest, to concentrate on my usual tasks, without pushing any boundaries.” At this point, many are more concerned with getting a promotion or a raise than with making a difference. 


That was me, up until last year, when I applied for the Ofri Center’s course on Innovation and Entrepreneurship in the Education system. Today I want to express gratitude towards MASHAV and the Ofri Center for the opportunity to attend the course, which brought positive changes in my approach towards my career; and in a larger sense, towards life.


After my return from Israel, I was full of innovative ideas and was enthusiastically looking forward to implementing them. However, I also knew I had to put in efforts in order to retain these emotions in the middle of a busy life of routine and set patterns. The new ideas and tools I learned in Israel needed daily nurturing, daily attention, daily recitation.


While in Israel, I took notes, writing down everything that I learned at the end of each day.  I also have plenty of printed material which was shared by MASHAV trainers and during the professional visits. Upon my arrival home, my biggest task was first to put all the pieces together and then try to make a complete picture of it. The picture would represent my original aspirations which brought me to Israel. Now I wanted to implement these into projects so that the ideas would convert into reality.


One possibility was the opportunity to break the data into topics and publish them as articles in my newspaper where I have been working as a journalist for last 17 years. This was comparatively easy and I achieved it without much difficulty. I was able to publish a few such articles.


But I wanted to do more than that; I wanted to reach out to schools, to teachers in particular, and share what I learned in Israel. I decided that I would offer presentations to schools on various aspects of what I learned. I have conducted about 7 presentations at schools.


I have realized that the implementation consists of empowering the teachers with new ideas, innovation, to be more open minded. These presentations were inexpensive and did not require a lot of material resources. I did not expect to copy what I learned. We have a different culture in India, not so open to new ideas, with some fixations and conservativeness.


My first approach was always to ensure that I do not sound challenging or negative. I always started by stating: “I am here to share my ideas”.


At the outset of my presentations, I briefly outline what I learned at the “Innovation & Entrepreneurship in Education” course in Israel.


I discuss aspects of the education system in Israel in the form of pointers. I have noticed that a lot of participants find it convenient to note down. I have also learned that the pointers make the listeners curious about what is coming next, making them more attentive. For example, I recall one occasion when I said that in Israeli schools, students are allowed to evaluate teachers. I could see the exclamation mark on many faces. On another occasion, many students who were also the participants applauded.


Once I am finished with the introduction, I move to identify which aspects could be introduced in our curriculum without
affecting the school schedule. For example, I ask them to introduce a few hours for debate and presentation by students, or a brainstorming session on a practical problem at school. I emphasize that such activity would shape the thought processes of students, encouraging them to be more attentive, expressive, to contribute more, focus more and learn to take ownership.


I next move to introduce them to experimental schools we visited, where various unique projects were run by the students. I run through details supported with audio visual presentations. I present a report of visits to each school in brief and the unique work each school has done. I emphasize projects run by students and special efforts put by teachers. This way I cover schools I visited; namely Ein Karem, Mordai, Afek, Kaplan, Huberman, Yadin, Al Kaduri, etc.


The last part of the presentation covers certain aspects such as how a teacher can make a positive impact on an individual student, shaping his future and the society as a whole in the long run.


I conclude the presentation by asking the participants: Which of the projects could be initiated at your school? I assure them of my assistance as and when required.


Once the presentation is over, we have an interactive question-answer session where students and teaches share their queries and concerns. One query from teachers is most common, they ask how many students comprise the average Israeli classroom. When I answer (between thirty and forty), I usually get a response that we have over seventy, how can we implement these ideas with double the students?


I suggest to them they can make groups and engage another teacher to help or they can engage senior students to help.


Other difficulties cited by teachers are a lack of time, resources and funding. Another common statement is that parents expect the students to do well in academics, and they have little regard for other activities. The teachers say they are already burdened with administrative work, government reporting work, in addition to routine school work such as lectures, exams, etc.


I try my best to answer these queries and challenges... Sometimes I realize that the teachers find it more difficult to accept ideas from an outsider like me (I am not a teacher) than to accept ideas from one of their peers. I have also noted that they start discussing among themselves what they just heard from me. I look at it as the start of a new thought process. I also ask other teachers to reply to such queries if they wanted to implement any ideas. I often get a surprise shift in attitude from one of resistance to one of possibility.


I also come across schools where the teachers appear not really interested, their body language gives the message they come because they are told to and not by choice. I often find a few teachers  who think differently and one such teacher can have some positive impact on at least one set of seventy students.


I have conducted presentations at seven schools so far and am in touch with them. Many time I receive feedback from them that they have initiated some activities, such as new games when studying languages; some have interactive sessions on what is going on in the society, some schools have renovation work in progress where they have planned to include a memorial for the Indian army.


I realize the challenges are real and initial resistance met with has its roots in teachers never previously being exposed to new ideas. All the creativity and innovation I learned in Israel is worth sharing and I am sure it can penetrate through my persuasion. Being a journalist, I have certain virtues which I try to practice. Life has never been the same again after training with MASHAV.


I am most thankful and I look forward to remain an associate with MASHAV, the Ofri Center & Israel.

 

Suchita Deshpande - India
"Innovations & Entrepreneurship in educational system” training course - 2014