Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Unsung Heroes, No Longer

“Every teacher, is in effect, a student. Teaching is one profession, where the learning happens every single day.” says Boman R.Irani, on the merits of the teaching profession. Founder & Managing Trustee of the Rustom Irani Foundation, as well as the Chairman of the Rustomjee International School, Mr. Irani has taken up the field of education as his key focus area - be it spreading knowledge among children or helping teachers hone their skills.

Recently, he announced the launch of the Foundation’s ‘Unsung Heroes…No Longer!’, Awards for Excellence in Education for the year 2004. A national-level event, it attempts to recognize and reward the efforts of secondary school teachers.

“There is a general misconception about teaching being a ‘last-resort’ career for those who find it difficult to find employment. I believe and know of many teachers, who are in the profession for the love of it.” he says.

Ask Mr. Irani how these awards came to be, and he has an interesting tale to narrate. “Some time ago, when a prospective teacher being interviewed for the Rustomjee International School was asked where she sees herself five years from that point on, she replied that she would aspire to receive the Best Teacher Award from the country’s President. This reply triggered off the thought that there is a greater appreciation of the teaching community. This is how we came up with the idea of the Award.”

Last year, the event was open to teachers in Mumbai alone. The contest essentially tested the abilities of a teacher in a non-classroom/student–interaction setting. The pre-finalists not only competed, but also shared knowledge about handling various situations that they came across regularly in classrooms. In addition, the organisers implemented exercises to enhance personality development along with technical coaching in the area of education. This led to greater bonding and communication among the teachers that continued long after the event was over!

In its second year now, ‘Unsung Heroes…No Longer!’, hopes to repeat this fete on a larger base – with teachers from the cities of Mumbai, New Delhi, Calcutta, Bangalore & Chennai, all waiting to take part in the event. Mr. Irani speculates that this year, there could be about one hundred and fifty participants if early response is anything to go by.

As for the future, Mr. Irani hopes that the Foundation, armed with the logistical experience of handling an exercise such as this at a nation-wide level, should be able to take the contest to smaller towns and cities.

Further refining his ideas on education, he adds, “When you teach an adult, you teach one person, but when you teach a child, you teach three other people.” Himself a product of the education system that insists on learning the lessons and learning them well, Mr. Irani felt the need to create an institution where the stress would be on learning the process of learning through innovative approaches to education, and not just by rote. So, in 1999, the Rustom Irani Foundation established the Rustomjee International school as a premier English medium institution in Mumbai with 268 students. It has grown from strength to strength and today, boasts of 4500 Rustomites, as the students are called.

One recent example of the way things work at the school, is the method in which the highlights of the recent Budget were discussed in class. Teachers took children through the ramifications in each sector, for example, the Science teachers dealt with the implications on industry and technology while the Geography teacher talked about the impact on transportation. This is what Mr. Irani means when he talks about ‘learning the process of learning’.

Spurred by the success of the Rustomjee International School in Mumbai, the Rustom Irani Foundation, whose objective is ‘To Make Education a Priority’, has gone on to implement several interesting programs in the field of education, particularly outreach programs. Sometimes, with a little help of the students of the school.

In order to inculcate human values in every Rustomite, the Sensitive Saturday Program was created. Under this, secondary class students visit institutions such as old-age homes, orphanages and cancer patients’ associations where they interact and spend quality time with the inmates. In addition, the Foundation encourages Rustomites to interact with students from the Maharashtra state-run Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) Schools and have also informally helped them with their studies as also organised donation drives for the schools. On an ongoing basis, the Foundation involves underprivileged children in various activities of the Rustomjee International School, for instance, they participate in the school’s annual day function to showcase their talents. Shiksha is an initiative that aims at making children from economically backward classes working as domestic help, to become self-reliant and independent through education. They are taught vocational skills like carpentry, sewing etc., in addition to reading and writing. They are also instilled the importance of hygiene and the use of banks, post office etc.

So what does all this leave young Mr. Irani time for? He leads Keystone Realtors, the first Indian Real Estate Development Company to get ISO 9001:2000. And if he still has time, he’s a keen student himself – of the Martial Arts!

Information on ‘Unsung Heroes…No Longer!’, Awards for Excellence in Education for the year 2004 can be had from the website: http://www.rustomiranifoundation.org.

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