Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Choithram International School is Demystifying & Economising IB Education

Promoted by Indore-based Choithram Trusts, led by philanthropist Satish P Motiani, and executed by educationalist Dilip Vasu, the Choithram International School of Indore is today not only one among the only four IB World Schools in the country, but leading the out-of-the-box thinking by breaking some unquestioned paradigms in education, aided by a generous use of technology, but still fulfilling parents’ desire for affordable international education.

The International Baccalaureate Program is one of the toughest to master in India not only by students and teachers, but by parents. Many international schools have used this to their advantage in creating an aura around IB programs, and of course, for charging exorbitant fees.

But in reality, the UN-sponsored and Geneva-headquartered IB program is the easiest to understand, and the one that makes real sense. In fact it is thought of as complex, only because it is so simple, says, Dilip Vasu, the young Principal of Choithram International. “Which is the easiest alphabet to draw for a kid,” asks Dilip. Most probably C or U, we reply. “Then why do all schools start with teaching A, one of the most difficult for a kid,” asks this Principal.

IB education, in fact, gives that kind of flexibility to start teaching from an appropriate alphabet that makes sense for a kid. “Teaching D is so easy after C, isn’t it,” asks this born-to-teach teacher who has had a few stints in other leading international schools, including IB schools, before joining Indore-based Choithram, around six years back.

Madhya Pradesh & Chhatisgarh constituting Central India was never a stronghold for international schooling. To correct this, it called for an international organization, preferably with local roots. That paved the entry of Choithram Group, which was established by Seth Thakurdasji Choithram Pagarani, which has its business in UAE, UK, Hong Kong, Thailand, Japan, African countries and different parts of world including India. Choithram is perhaps the largest NRI Group hailing from MP, with 65 years of track–record and operating in 26 countries. Under family scion Satish P Motiani’s leadership the T. Choithram Foundation started Choithram International School in 2004 at Indore, Central India’s economic capital and their hometown.

The first IB affiliated international school in Central India, Choithram International draws on the expertise of the Group as well as the Foundation’s long experience in public schooling. Choithram International has produced world toppers and national-level subject toppers, many a time. Though sparing no expense to come up with a state-of-the-art campus, complete with its own indoor stadium, Choithram International is also noted for affordable international schooling, with fee coming up to only one–fourth of comparable international schools. It is a legacy imbibed from Group Founder Late Thakurdasji Choithram Pagarani who was not only a globe–trotting entrepreneur but a philanthropist who started institutions that still provides healthcare and education to the poor.

“But Choithram is quite different from most IB schools in two ways. First of all, you wouldn’t find a more conforming school than Choithram to the stringent IB standards.” This is indeed true, with it being one among the only four fully IB World Schools in India, with not only full implementation of IB’s Primary Years, Middle Years, & Diploma Program, but exclusive implementation of IB which means that Choithram International doesn’t accommodate any other curricula unlike many namesake IB Schools.

Dilip Vasu continues, “That is about conforming to IB standards. But we are also the most flexible when it comes to utilizing the measured freehand that IB accords it schools.” Coming to his favourite topic of innovation in education, he informs us that he has done away with cursive writing from Choithram, once and forever. “If you and me, and millions of our generation are now not following the cursive writing we practiced for weeks and weeks together, let us not burden this new generation with this wasteful exercise that is there only because no teacher has had the guts to question it.” That of course, is one beauty of IB. Anything that restricts a child’s creativity can be shown the door, even if it is cursive writing. IB encourages each school to have its own pedagogy, its distinctness.

Dilip takes out his Parker and waves it at us. “This is going to be obsolete within the next 3 to 5 years. So it anyway doesn’t matter whether you have done cursive writing or not”. And that brings him to talk about one of the core philosophies that differentiate IB from all other curricula. IB, it seems, is more interested in teaching children not the hot subjects of today, but how to learn to learn that hot subject of tomorrow. “Do you know the buzzing subject, five years from now,” asks Dilip. “Neither do I, nor the teacher, nor the student.” So what IB really does is teach the student to learn any unknown subject that may emerge 5 or 10 or 15 years down the lane.

That is why IB curricula has such formidable subjects like Theory of Knowledge. Dilip Vasu is in a prophetic mood when he adds, “We can’t expect our children to carry on with a career that they might chose today. Unlike mine and your generation, these kids will elect to change careers at least 3 to 5 times within their lifetime.” Globalization and the technologies that are emerging everyday would make sure of that, says this Principal.

Speaking about technologies, Choithram is one school that is modern than many comparable peers. With support from Satish P Motiani, the technologies that Dilip has implemented for their students are impressive. Forget the Apple iPads to all students. Also forget, if you want, the Grade 1-12 study materials from Stanford University that comes pre-loaded in the iPads. But even the most ardent critic would applaud the vision to include a six-lakh book online library. “Gone are the days when a school library’s books were counted in thousands, and even the most popular book had only a couple of copies. Our students can access any of these six-lakh books anytime they want by just logging on to the network.”

When we met him, it was barely days since Dilip Vasu had returned from New York, after leading an IB delegation of eight students from Choithram who attended the UN General Assembly for around five days. “We represented Tajikistan,” informs Dilip and continues, “What is the point in a nation’s students representing that nation itself? If there is a shuffle, we get to learn another nation in a vast sense. That is how the radical IB thinking goes.”

Are all these innovations delivering, we ask Dilip. “IB is for moulding leaders. For grooming a typical engineer or doctor, this may be overkill. This is for creating world-changing leaders.“ He gives a quick example. Earlier in his career, Dilip had been guide to a student’s IB Diploma thesis, and this student later went on to establish a multi-million dollar business empire based on the business idea in that thesis. And that too, without attending college after his IB Diploma.

But even with all these achievements Dilip Vasu is most eloquent when he speaks about the affordability of Choithram International. “Parents are shocked to know that we charge around Rs. 75,000 only for IB, in a world where CBSE schools posing as international schools are charging up to Rs. 2 lakh.” This is no magic, however, according to this Principal. “This institution is indebted to the philanthropic nature of our Managing Trustee, Satish P Motiani. He is a legend in Indore, if not Madhya Pradesh, for his various social works through the Choithram Trusts. He has never looked upon education as a business.”

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