Educationist and entrepreneur Chitra Ravi outlines her vision for children's education and how she is turning it into reality.
By Team ParentCircle
From being a ‘very talkative’ child to a woman who is bringing about a change in the landscape of Indian education, Chitra Ravi, founder and CEO of Chrysalis, believes in making an impact that lasts beyond a lifetime. An entrepreneur, a mother and an educator, Chitra learnt from her paternal grandmother to be always resilient and have an inquisitive mind.
She brings these philosophies to her work, where she aims to ‘awaken the human potential in every child’ rather than making him ‘job ready'. In an exclusive interview with ParentCircle, Chitra talks about her plans for the Indian education system, her role as a mother, an entrepreneur and as a woman. Following are some of the excerpts:
1. When did you realise that education was your true calling?
'Very talkative' — is the remark my teachers would consistently write in my report card. Also, my most favourite childhood game was 'Teacher-Teacher'. And, when I was studying in class VI, together with my friend, I started a library called the 'Jolly Kids Lending Library'. This was my first enterprise which I successfully operated for 18 months. My father and uncle would always say, “You must become a lawyer because you have the ability to convince anyone on anything!”
So, connecting the dots, the calling seems to have been there since childhood. However, it was only after I stood out for my children as the most interesting and creative teacher who made learning exciting, that I thought of pursuing education as my calling. The combination of this interest in making learning exciting, the ability to lead, being able to inspire a new wave of thinking and my entrepreneurial grit has made me what I am today!
Now, most of my time is spent on leading a strong team of passionate individuals and inspiring schools to make a paradigm shift in the goal of education, from mere job 'Readiness' to 'Awakening Human Potential' in every child.
2. How did you go about building the brand of Chrysalis?
The enterprise, then called EZ Vidya, had the byline 'Let the child blossom' which reflected the very purpose of its existence. Brand-building was done around this purpose. Today EZ Vidya has changed into this very special name 'Chrysalis', which is about metamorphosis and transformation and what is phrased as our vision statement 'Awakening Human Potential’ in every child.
We have never moved away from talking about this purpose and every element of our brand reflects our vision. Consistency and, of course, walking the talk have helped us build our brand over the years.
3. Women and education are closely interlinked. Do you think women make better educators?
Tricky question! Statistical data perhaps point towards more women pursuing a career in teaching than men, especially in the K-12 segment. So, based on this trend we tend to think that women make ‘better’ teachers. However, I believe that gender isn't so important in this discussion. Only an empathetic and compassionate human being, with genuine care for the child, can become a great educator.
4. How has the education system changed, from when you were a student to now?
Some elements have changed. For example, there is more technology in classrooms today. But, there is very marginal change in the teaching methodology. The pressure on the child has increased. There is a lot of focus on lower order cognitive abilities, compromising the development of the child. And, ironically, we tend to hear about 'whole child development' much more than ever before. The emphasis on marks (or grades), and standardised and narrow frame of assessment has not changed. This is where the change ought to begin. The goal of education should shift from creating 'mere job readiness' to 'awakening human potential in every child'. Let us also remember that the criteria for 'job readiness' itself is changing significantly!
5. What are your thoughts on home-schooling and other such alternative methods of education in India?
Every child is unique. And, the education eco-system, especially the policy-makers and all stakeholders in the domain must necessarily reinvent the system constantly. Home-schooling and alternative methods must be strategised, implemented and developed to suit the diverse needs of children and their caretakers.
In my view, we are currently lagging here. There is very little education and support system around the concept of home-schooling. Niche service-sectors should be energised and supported to bring about a change in the mainstream setting.
6. What has been your biggest achievement so far?
It is very hard for me to think about ‘achievement’. I like to think about progress and growth on an everyday basis; and can for sure say that I am personally growing, day-by-day.
Having said that Chrysalis’ achievement has been to strongly uphold its values, ethical practices, and bring in transformation in hundreds of schools.
To sustain and grow in this sector, not bow down to external pressures of catering for the periphery needs of stakeholders, and remain the top institution that provides a good value addition to the education sector is perhaps the biggest achievement.
7. What was the role your family played in your upbringing and road to success? How about your spouse and in-laws?
Immense! They have been supportive of my ambitions. My parents, spouse and children have sacrificed their personal needs a lot. For instance, a holiday takes a back seat because of my work schedule. My children have missed me on several occasions, because of my work priority. I think accepting the fact that a family member has wider responsibilities that make a difference in the lives of many is not something that comes naturally to every family member. My family has recognised this fact and encouraged me to go out and do it, at their personal cost. Of course, they also understand that when a system benefits from my work, the rewards come back to them as well.
A separate word on my in-laws is necessary. My father-in-law was a strong pillar of support with his very progressive outlook, although he came from a very traditional family. His greatest trait was the ability to evolve as a person. My mother-in-law was very kind and nudged me to give my best. Although my parents and in-laws have passed away, they remain in my heart and all that I do is an earnest tribute to them.
8. How do you juggle work, home and children?
It’s not about 'juggling' or 'managing'. It is about enjoying each of them by giving qualitative attention and genuine care. Mindfulness is a concept I have adopted. It has helped me by allowing me to remain in the present and experience joy in every sphere of my life. This increases my output, decreases the time I spend on a task, and enhances my productivity. I am working on this every day and getting better at it.
9. Can you share a challenging moment of your life and how you overcame it?
Very early in my entrepreneurial journey, I was cheated in a business partnership. At that time, I faced a lot of criticism from my family and friends who even passed a judgement that I was not cut out for entrepreneurship and urged me to quit. It was also a moment when I completely lost my self-belief. Thankfully, that was momentary, and my resilience and grit helped me bounce back. I realised that such impediments only make an individual stronger. I survived by having faith in myself. And, ever since, there has been no looking back.
10. As a mother, how do you deal with the homework and exam pressure when it comes to your children.
I have to go back to the past to answer this, as my children are young adults today. I think trust is the key and all children are capable of self-regulation. Trust your children and ensure that they take responsibility for their work and the preparation to be done. Make them understand that setting goals and working towards them enhances focus and productivity.
Above all, you need to inculcate in yourself and the children that you need to work on things over which you have control and accept that the rest is not to be fretted over.
11. As someone who has been on both sides of the fence, what would your advice be to parents when they go for parent–teacher meetings?
Parent–teacher meetings are between two adults who are extremely important stakeholders in a child’s life. These cannot start and end as transactional conversations or passing-the-buck chats. They should be an exchange of observed attributes and manifestations of the child’s behaviour. Many times, the child’s behaviour in school and at home are in sharp contrast! Such exchanges help the two stakeholders see a child in broader light.
Developmental milestones, especially in the formative years, need to be understood. In my mind, the teacher is an expert in developmental milestones and strategies to develop them. The parent provides the best opportunities to facilitate these at home. So, the two minds, through mutual trust and positive and progress-based dialogue, can create magic for the child.
12. What do you think about Women’s Day?
It is indeed nice to have a day to celebrate womanhood, motherhood, fatherhood and the like. Celebrating these days helps us in being grateful to those who play these important roles in our lives.
13. Who is that one woman you look up to? And why?
My paternal grandmother. I had the fortune of spending my childhood and young adulthood with her. She studied till class 3, got married when she was 8, had 12 children and went through her share of ups and downs in her life. She was an epitome of resilience and growth-mindset. She was a great learner, with an inquisitive mind until she died at the age of 87.
Her progressive thinking, thirst for knowledge and faith, cheerful approach to life are some of the qualities I have imbibed. I think of her at least once every day, which does underline the fact that we must try to make an impact that lasts beyond our lifetime!
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