To tackle the challenges of today’s times, People’s School, Panaji, which is in its 83rd year, and is said to have been the first English school in Tiswadi, has introduced some interesting initiatives for its students. NT KURIOCITY learns more
Established on December 9, 1936, People’s School, Panaji, started with just 11 students. Indeed, it was late Mangesh F Surlacar, who despite being offered a lucrative job overseas after completing his studies in Mumbai, chose to come back to Goa and start the first English school in Tiswadi.
“My grandfather had to go through a lot of hard times as the Portuguese were not in favour of him setting up an English medium school and would not give him permission. He had to go to everybody’s homes to persuade children to come and learn,” says, Rahul Deshpande, the grandson of Surlacar, who is the managing trustee of the school for the last 10 years. Although a practicing architect, he is also carrying forward the family legacy. The school which comprised classes five to 10, he adds, was named People’s because the founder wanted it to be the people’s school or everyone’s school and not only meant for a particular caste or community as at that time only the upper caste could go to school.
Subsequently in 1962, Surlacar started a primary section. Later, his son Jagdish Surlacar started a higher secondary section and a school for appropriate learning for challenged students.
“Today we have four sections: primary, secondary, higher secondary and school for appropriate learning. In the higher secondary section, we have a general stream that includes science, arts, commerce and in vocational training we have auditing, marketing and auto mobile technology,” says Deshpande. Today, the institute has around 1350 students.
However, Deshpande says that over the years they have observed that in the presence scenario students are faced with two great challenges. The first challenge, he says, is that students and parents find it difficult to choose careers. Once a student reaches class nine or 10, he or she has to decide which stream to pursue post class 10. However, often, they end up randomly choosing any stream. “The reason for this is that there is no exposure to anything else around them. And thus, they automatically opt for what their parents or relatives tell them or what their friends are doing,” he says.
Also, the present education system, he says, requires students to mug up their lessons and then just answer the exam. Hence, Deshpande says, to tackle this issue, the school has decided to expose their students to various fields. This year, the school has started an ‘Achievers’ Programme’ wherein professionals from different fields are called to teach students subjects other than regular subjects such as photography, film appreciation, art appreciation, robotics, cooking, karate, table tennis, boxing, quizzing, sewing, etc. All the activities are conducted during regular school hours for students right from class five to 12. “Each student has to take one of these classes and every year they have to choose a different one. If in a week’s time they decide that they do not like the subject, they can opt for another one,” explains Deshpande. The programme is held twice a week and is a part of the curriculum, but there is no exam.
Besides this, the school has started a talk series titled ‘What are my choices?’ to help students in choosing a career. Under this, they invite professionals from different fields to speak to students. “For one of the talks we had fashion designer Wendell Rodricks. Since one of the subjects that we are teaching is sewing, students often have questions regarding a future with learning needle work,” says Deshpande.
Another major issue that children today are facing revolves around their exposure to the digital world, which has limited their attention span. “Nowadays, children can’t focus or concentrate beyond two minutes. A regular class is 35 to 40 minutes but students need to do something different after every few minutes,” he says. Due to this, he believes, students are not going to be able to develop analytical minds because they do not think deep. “This generation is the Google generation. If they want any information they will Google it and tell you and forget about it in two minutes,” he says. Thus, to tackle this issue, the school has introduced some initiatives. For instance, during the science class, students are given five minutes to work on their Rubik’s Cube which they need to solve and get it right. For math classes, students are given Sudoku and Vedic mathematics, while in English class they are given scrapbook which helps them think of new words to increase their vocabulary, and are also given crosswords to solve. “We got these things to distract and get them focused to look at something.
This term, the school has also introduced meditation based on the ‘Art of Living’. “Immediately after interval, when students are highly energised, meditation is a good exercise to calm them. So once they come in the class, a recording is played and the teacher assists them in doing meditation that lasts for around four minutes,” says Deshpande. The school also conducts talks by counsellors.
However, just concentrating on the students is not enough. The school has also conducted workshops for teachers to give them a different perspective of what education is today. They also introduced student evaluations wherein students evaluate their teachers and submit their feedback to Deshpande. This, he says, helps teachers to know their strong and weak points and to work on them.