Sangita Chima, a visionary leader in education talks to Clarilda Sharon about her journey and her passion to shape the future of learning
Share with us your journey, including your background and current endeavours
I have been a super excited school teacher all my life. I’ve been a school leader since 1999 and because of being put into situations very suddenly, I could move up in terms of responsibility and accountability in a system very fast. I became a principal when I was 36 years old at a beautiful boarding school for girls in Rajasthan which was lodged in a palace with brilliant architecture. It had heritage, it had beauty, it had everything to inspire anybody to learn, and therefore I feel that my journey in learning began with inspiring people and inspiring learning spaces. I was the first female headmistress of The Lawrence School at Lovedale. Today, I head the Amity School, in Dubai. We have this beautiful mix of an Indian curriculum, aspiring to be amongst the best in the Emirate of Dubai. There’s dynamism, excitement, energy, passion, creativity, AI, and everything that you can imagine under the sun happening here with our teachers and our children.
What inspired you to become an educator?
It’s all to do with that inherent necessity of being a curious learner with an overflow of passion, I would say. Education in terms of just being a pure learner and enjoying the process in its purity with integrity is why I chose this profession.
In light of the current growth in the education industry and the rising competition, what unique contributions are you making to your institution?
Yes, it has become competitive, but I would say we look at the competition as a challenge. It drives us to become better. It infuses more energy into our system. There has to be quality and the quality of that learning journey has to be accountable across the competencies and skills that children need to acquire to face a very unpredictable future. Our new grade 10 students are going to carry forward a city-plus store that is completely AI-driven where a customer doesn’t have to follow the process of going to the cashier. This is one example of how the future is going to be so very different. To cater to this, there are many digital inputs that we have to use ethically. I think that’s the challenge. So as you said, yes, there is competition. But, as an institution, we can prepare our students of today, for tomorrow, with the assuredness of a good strong curriculum and a behavioural system that takes on more acceptance of what is not predictable; perhaps that’s where we stand above the competition.
In addition to the curriculum, what measures are you implementing to facilitate the holistic personality development of your students?
From mental health to wellbeing, we’ve got a whole lot of processes in place to make sure that children are absolutely happy in their journey in coming to school and grabbing a bit of education and getting back every day and then wanting to come back again. Besides having a strong curricular opportunity for students, we have a lot of other excitement, which is integrated. We call them Mahirs, which means skilled or proficient in Arabic. Children become an expert in something as simple as embroidery. We have about 24 Mahirs, which students of different age groups select and at the end of the year they begin to realise “Wow, I’ve become so good at it. And now I’m ready to choose another Mahir.”
Could you share an impactful experience from your teaching journey?
There have been just far too many. To quote one, I think something as simple as handwriting is what made me change my complete approach to a whole school process. I had some wonderful teachers in Bangalore, who made sure that handwriting was given its due attention. I was taught to beautifully write words and sentences – almost like calligraphy. This has had a great impact. All the schools that I have worked with right from kindergarten to grade five, have integrated a beautiful, old-school approach to handwriting. And during the pandemic, we converted to learning keyboarding with all 10 fingers where our students can excel both in handwriting as well as keyboarding.
What are the essential teachings that adolescent girls should receive, in your opinion, and how are you incorporating them into your teaching practices?
The curriculum has got a lot of extensions into very important areas. For adolescents, we conduct activities focused on the 10 life skills that WHO has put across after a lot of research, which begins with self-awareness and goes into effective communication, problem-solving, decision- making, creative thinking, critical thinking, empathy, interpersonal relationships, and so on. We have two very important ones: coping with emotions, and coping with stress. These life skills are experienced through a plethora of fun activities. Our girls are taught about their growing bodies, their development, and their changes. We talk about it openly, and this openness brings a lot of curiosity and irons out unethical and unhealthy ways of acquiring information. This whole process gets them ready for adulthood with the knowledge of reproductive tract infections, sexually transmitted infection, HIV, and Aids, which allows them to make informed decisions based on their life practices.
What advice would you give to women entrepreneurs who aspire to establish an educational institution?
They would be the best leaders to start a learning project. The kind of leadership a woman brings to the environment is unique, full of care, and nurturing attributes. The kind of specific standards a woman would give to an educational journey, I feel, is more grounded, more real, and more focused on a happy future.