HUS, Chennai is preparing today’s children for skills of tomorrow by creating an environment that is conducive to learning, understanding and creativity…
The Director’s office in Hiranandani Upscale School (HUS), Chennai is unlike any other. There is no large desk and revolving chair that symbolise authority in similar surroundings. Instead, Mehran Akhtarkhavari sits in one of the four chairs around a small table, leaving the large space in the room empty except for a sofa set where he receives visitors. “I don’t have a desk,” says Akhtarkhavari, a vastly experienced educationist who took over as Director last year. “I believe in working around the space.”
Founded in 2011, HUS runs a full IB programme at its environment-friendly campus in the vicinity of Chennai’s IT Park. With such creativity and construction happening around the school, HUS believes in preparing today’ children for skills of tomorrow rather than preparing them for careers. “By 2030, over half of jobs in careers available to people haven’t yet been identified,” says Akhtarkhavari, who has worked in schools in four continents.”Over the next 12 years, those jobs are going to be identified,” he adds.
HUS, therefore, places its priority on nurturing creativity. The school helps the children to be flexible, adaptable, skilful and be good collaborators and commentators. The campus culture revolves around creating an environment that is conducive to learning, understanding and creating. The essence of philosophy of education at the school is learning together, investigating together, asking questions and drawing conclusions. “It doesn’t matter if the answer is right or wrong,” says Akhtarkhavari.
Teaching and learning must go hand in hand to benefit the progress each child in his educational journey. “While there is no manual to teach the skills of collaboration, communication, critical thinking and creativity, it is vital that the environment fosters an attitude where a child can be courageous, explore, inquire and learn. HUS is that very school,” says Dawn Lwakila, the Admissions and Activities Coordinator.
Learning skills also means putting challenges before the student. “Education is about the journey rather than the destination,” says Akhtarkhavari. That approach of the school fosters innovation. “Collaboration along with nurturing creativity will lead to innovation,” says the Director. “The future generation will look more at solutions to the problems,” he adds.
To prepare the children for skills, the school puts emphasis on continuous training of teachers. “The IB training helps our teachers instil conceptual learning which focuses on skill development rather than mere outcomes,” says Lwakila, who has spent over two decades involved in international education. The Admissions and Activities Coordinator, whose work has spanned many countries and continents, says, “Our in-house training is focused on carefully chosen topics that address the current needs of our students and skills teaching staff.” Having an international curriculum helps. “The IB programme is innovative in its design. It is always looking at better practices,” says Akhtarkhavari .
HUS students get real-time experience in inquiry-driven learning in their visits to the factories of global industrial giants in Chennai. “The students are able to see how each of the internal processes works to make a final product and connect it with their learning in the classrooms,” says DP Coordinator, Shirin Bagchi, about such a visit to an automobile plant. “They moved seamlessly from passive learning to being actively engaged in the learning process. The various divisions and importance of each department in creating a business and product was witnessed by them leading to a transfer of learning,” adds Bagchi.
The IB Diploma programme at HUS is designed to promote self-awareness and self-motivation. The students are taught to reflect on their learning and skills of time management through constant support and guidance. The process of mentoring through the concept of family builds up the rapport and confidence in the students.
“The onus of learning is put primarily on the students. Hence, a continued dialogue between the family teacher and the student along with the parents is encouraged,” says the DP Coordinator. The students create their own time lines. Instead of the traditional parent-teacher meetings, students are encouraged to share their learning and reflections through student-led conferences. Students are often encouraged to pursue the Diploma programme by choosing subjects from all six groups, including the arts.
“What we keep in the forefront of all we do at HUS is that academic achievement is only of value if it is coupled with good character,” says Lwakila, whose area of interest is helping schools develop character-based programmes. “This is put into practice by the whole school community and even the parents at home focus each week on a specific virtue,” she adds. One week it may be justice, the next it could be self-discipline. The students take turns deciding how to present the virtue to their fellow students and the teachers incorporate it into their teaching and learning. “Regardless of nationality, religion or culture, these aspects of good character and virtues are our place of unity which we all hold in common,” Lwakila adds.
The school believes in education creating a sustainable and visible impact in the community. “We have various religious cultures and backgrounds, but virtues are universal. That is where we can come together,” says Lwakila. “We have to go beyond tolerance. We need love and kindness.” The school, which has a full IB programme, witnessed its first Diploma batch last year.
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