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Tête-à-tête with Dr. Vakil, Bombay International School

Updated: Aug 20, 2020

By Zitin Munshi, Global Schools Ambassador, India

Date: June 28, 2019 | Place: Mumbai

In conversation with Dr. Vakil, Principal of Bombay International School (BIS) which was the foremost school in Mumbai to sign the Global Schools Pledge, I am humbled to learn from Dr. Vakil about the school’s experiences through the journey of the Global Schools Program and beyond.

During this meeting, he shared valuable insights on how BIS is implementing the Global Schools Program not only within the school but also influencing other schools and the community at large.

Me: “How did Bombay International School (BIS) find out about the Global Schools Program?”

Dr. Vakil: “Ms. Nita Row, our primary section head got in touch with you through a mutual contact way back in September 2018. As soon as we learnt about how the Program will empower schools with relevant resources to embed the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as a way of life for both students and teachers, we jumped at the opportunity.”

Me: “Why did BIS want to be a part of the Global Schools Program?”

Dr. Vakil: “The Global Schools Program already integrated well with BIS’s existing social objectives of social inclusion and environmental sustainability that it was almost exactly what our school needed to bring about greater structure in delivery.

South Mumbaikars [term used for a resident of Mumbai] sometimes tend to live in a bubble in which we assume everybody shares the same privilege we do. We see water in our taps and food on our plate, yet never stop to think that a whole group of people living only a few kilometres away don’t have the same. Academic subjects address such issues only tangentially, if at all. However, the role of academics is much broader, to generate awareness and empathy to create change.

In fact, our Primary Years Program (PYP) as part of the International Baccalaureate (IB) curriculum seamlessly integrates aspects of sustainable change, encouraging one to think and act about this, instead of allowing it to take a backseat in our lives. That is where the Global Schools Program comes in and helps us to strengthen the school ecosystem and beyond.”

Me: “When the Program was launched in BIS, did you feel that the school was ready to implement the Global Schools Program?”

Dr. Vakil: “Yes, I was confident that our staff and students would be ready. It is, of course easier for a Social Studies or Science teacher than a Math teacher. The teaching and learning material provided by the United Nations is fully downloadable, customised by grade and is easily accessible through their open source website. These resources (including comics, TED videos, grade-wise lesson plans and even games!) helped get the teachers familiar with these units as many of them are plug and play, and all our classes have projection facilities as well. In fact, these resources have been prepared by renowned educators and are well-planned, which helps the teachers enormously. The class can debate about which approach would work when solving a certain issue, exactly the kind of problem-solving skills we want to develop. In addition, the delivery of the Program in BIS would not focus as much upon the delivery of content but would aim at stimulating student minds and allowing them to begin questioning their own lifestyles. I believe that really lies at the heart of sparking long-term change.”

Me: “Almost three quarters after launching the Global Schools Program, do you believe BIS has gone beyond just the asks of the program?”

Dr. Vakil: “Absolutely! As the first signatory to the Pledge in Mumbai, I believe we have come a long way implementing the program and gone a step ahead.

Firstly, while the Program covers customised resources for Grade 1 – 12, we have taken the program to generate awareness on sustainability among pre-primary / kindergarten level children as well. Grade 1 and Lower Prep have become Water Warriors and are spreading awareness about Water Conservation through their campaign, 'Jal Nahin to Kal Nahin'.

Second, our work has influenced other schools in the city of Mumbai as well. As an example, a network of schools called 'Aakanksha Schools' is now going to take forward sustainable development concepts and action at the ground level.

Third, BIS Grade 5 students have created a website that covers all the progress that has been made through their interactive exhibitions and activities on the SDGs. BIS also has a model where Grade 5 students have peace ambassadors and social change ambassadors. In addition to the Social Awareness secretary (9th grade) they help to create school-wide and community level campaigns for change. In fact, the ambassadors have adopted one goal each, that they can implement on a sustainable basis. For instance, Aditi ensures all lights are switched off and so are the air conditioners for an hour daily, to conserve energy.

A few BIS parents have also been very active in water conservation efforts in homes.

We will continue our engagements with NGOs and civil society organisations like Muktangan, Jai Vakeel and others, to create meaningful social impact. BIS’s collaboration with the Global Schools Program will, I am confident, take us further in this desired direction.”

Me: “Do you believe that other schools should adopt the Global Schools Program? And if so, why?”

Dr. Vakil: “More often than not, educational curriculums are designed around theoretical concepts like thermodynamics or the periodic table. While these are important foundations, knowledge of these concepts does not tend to lead to action. To make curriculums less passive and more active I think it is important that real-world relevant programs such as the Global Schools Program are given equal importance in schools, far and wide. I am happy to know that the program has now reached over 100 schools, and 40,000 students globally.”

Me: “Would you like to share any feedback on how the Global Schools Program can improve?”

Dr. Vakil: “I think it needs to celebrate human ingenuity and progress made through global collaboration a little more. Too often the media tends to focus on negatives. Populist politicians all over the world are exploiting these to come to power, and hark back to mythical “golden ages” in the past. The reality is that in terms of poverty alleviation, literacy, life expectancy, and lives lost to violence the world is doing better than it ever has. While acknowledging that much remains to be done (especially on the environmental front) we should not forget to celebrate what liberal society has achieved in recent decades. The Global Schools Program can help enormously here.”


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