Central Indian School Principal Shantha Maria James

This article was first published in The Times Kuwait on April 14, 2013

Twenty-seven years ago Shantha Maria James was caught in a dilemma as she had a small daughter and lot of other responsibilities to adhere to in the family. But her pressing desire to pursue a career in academics persuaded her to accept a job as a Kindergarten teacher in a nearby school. That one little step has culminated into an amazing success story of a vibrant and dynamic leader.

There was no looking back for her as she virtually occupied all the positions available in a school before becoming school principal thirteen years ago. Shantha Maria James consistently climbed up the ladder of success from a KG teacher to a coordinator, supervisor, superintendent, senior mistress, HM, and the vice-principal. She has been the principal at the Indian Central School since 2007.

Mrs. Shanta proudly asserts that this profession has not only given her profound happiness but the ability to understand the kids and their behavior, which to her has been the most challenging task. In an interview with The Times, Principal Shantha James discussed the many aspects of her life, the challenges and the renaissance period in academic.

TTK: As an educator, how would you compare the caliber of students in Kuwait to those of India, studying under the same system?

SMJ: Children are the same everywhere in the world. Before I consider the caliber of the children in India and Kuwait, I would like to mention that there are numerous factors that should be taken into account. When Indian children are categorized into urban and rural areas, what I have observed is the children, in rural areas, face, primarily the second language English as the major language barrier.

This doesn’t mean that Indian students are incapable. One cannot reckon the competitive spirit and the talent of the Indian students when compared to the Kuwait children. But at the end of the day the hi-tech technological and multi- cultural exposure, and the life in a foreign country makes the Kuwait kids stay a step – ahead at the practical platforms such as group discussions, interview skills and personality development. This is because of the confidence developed due to the independent learning atmosphere provided in Gulf schools.

As Shakespeare has said, “It is not in the stars to hold our destiny, but in ourselves”. I too believe that the country or place shouldn’t matter in developing our caliber and making ourselves better.

TTK: Would you brief us on the new examination pattern brought in by the CBSE in Std IX and X?

SMJ: There are seventeen Indian schools in Kuwait affiliated to CBSE. The CBSE has implemented a new system of evaluation and board exam for the students of Std IX and X. These exams are scheduled into two main parts i.e. Formative and Summative which carries 40and 60 marks respectively.

All schools have an option of selecting either external or internal mode of exams. In this new pattern the question papers are sent by theBoard. The schools who have opted the external mode appear for their exam in other schools and the evaluation is done by the CBSE, whereas the exams and the evaluation in the internal mode is done by their own schools. Apart from this the Board has introduced value based questions in all subjects which comprises of 3 – 5 marks.

TTK: What are the steps taken by you as the Principal to better prepare your students for their board exams?

SMJ: Each school has their own methodology for preparing students for the Board exams. In my school a detailed schedule is prepared six months ahead of the actual exams. Slip tests, mock exams, extra classes and remedial classes are some of the methods adapted to better prepare the students .

I divide the children in three groups, one is above average, the other is mediocre and finally there are students who are below average and needs extra attention. Based on these categories we conduct extra classes; to give support to the children, mock question papers are prepared forthe three groups according to the requirement. We try to push the slow learners through remedial classes so that they are competent and confident enough to face the external exams.By categorizing them into three areas and giving them special attention we are successful in achieving our goals.

TTK: Does the policy of rigorous tuitions at Board – level act as a support, a hindrance or is it a replacement for preparation in class?

SMJ: The climatic conditions and long summer vacations are in fact a great disadvantage when we compare the number of working days available to Indian students and Kuwait based students. The shortage of over 45 – 50 working days indeed becomes a big hurdle for the teachers while completing the syllabus. They have to rush with the syllabus. In order to compensate this and to stand apart in the competitive arena with maximum number of A+ grades the parents encourage their children to go for extra- tuitions after school hours. In fact, these extra – coaching definitely help ease the pressure on thechildren.

TTK: How do schools today help students cope with stress from examinations, peers, family and growing up in a fast-paced world?

SMJ: Now that CBSEhas brought in CCE(a, continuous and comprehensive evaluation), the stress for Grade 10 students is a bit less because whatever the child has done from grade 9 -10 is added up and considered for the 10th Board exams. Every little test they do, the projects, the field trips, debates, speeches, dramatization and group discussion carries weightage. A child now is not judged solely on the merit of his three hours exam but also according to the remarkable performance in co-curricular activities throughout these two years. In short, I mean that the child is tested not only on his memorizing ability but also based on his talents and interest. I would rather say that the introduction of CCE has helped to eradicate the exam fear to a great extent. Thanks to CBSE.

TTK: Could you suggest learning tips for students facing their Board exams and give them any valuable advice?

SMJ: Where learning tips for children are concerned I think each school givesumpteen number of tips; moreover, children themselves are quite smart.Generally, I have noticed that very few students keep themselves immersed in studies from the beginning, the rest they just work hard about two months before the exams and to our surprise they obtain good scores. I appreciate such kids. I am sure if these kids had diligently studied from the beginning they would score better. My advice to all such students is do not procrastinate because time is valuable. I would like to borrow the words of our former president A P J Abdul Kalam’s words, “Dream, Dream, Dream, Dream transform into thoughts, And thoughts result in action”.

TTK: Can you briefly describe about the Gulf Council for Indian Schools in Gulf regions?

SMJ: We have 132 Indian schools in Gulf region. The main objective of the Gulf council is to promote the area of cooperation among member schools.Actually the idea of forming the association of the heads of the CBSE schools in the Gulf was first raised in Bahrain.It was an informal meeting held under the Indian School Bahrain. The Gulf council was formed at the second national council of CBSE schools held in New Delhi in 1986 with the initiation ofseven principals who attended this conference. Now there are 132 schools and I really feel proud and privileged to hold the office of the chairperson on the occasion of the council celebrating itsSilver jubilee.Gulf council is also doing a wonderful job in academics and sports.

Once in a year the principals from 132 schools meet in a country to discuss about sports, academic and the budgeting for the next year.The principals undergo training at the workshops held during the conference. The Council promotes an environment of sharing and caring among the schools in the Gulf region.

TTK: What is CBSE international curriculum how is it different from the regular curriculum?

SMJ: In 2010 the CBSE introduced a new curriculum CBSE international, which actually is the IB curriculum customized according to the needs of the Indian Educational System. The board offered it to 25 foreign schools as their pilot project and I feel proud to say that the demand for this curriculum has increased ever since it has been introduced in our school.

I really feel privileged that I am in the panel of CBSE International Curriculum for the Gulf countries. The curriculum focuses on holistic child centered development rather than text oriented studies. In my school the CBSE – I classes are equipped with latest technologies like smart boards with e- beam facility, internet , destination success and projectors. The students love and enjoy learning our classrooms.

Concluding the interview the Principal Mrs. Shantha Maria James said that Kuwait is doing a wonderful job where the educational system is concerned. We have a total of 5000 students in our school and sadly, each year we have to reject the application of many children because of the lack of space.

I feel very sorry when I am unable to give admission to the children and they along with their parents have to move from one school to another seeking admission. All the schools are in the same position they are helpless. I suggest that there must be two or three more schools for the Asian community in Kuwait.

– By Faiza Siddique
Special report

Read Today's News TODAY... on our Telegram Channel click here to join and receive all the latest updates t.me/thetimeskuwait