Noted educationist Anjum Babukhan believes that lifelong learning and knowledge-sharing is the key to a progressive future.
You’re well known for pioneering multiple intelligence and brain-compatible learning strategies for children. What motivated you to get into the field of education?
After completing my Honours in psychology from Loyola University of Chicago, Illinois, USA, I moved to India in the mid ‘90s. I had initially planned on pursuing a PhD in counselling psychology before deciding on education. By then, I realised the scope and opportunities in the field of education in India were far greater than counselling. Also, at that time, my father-in-law, Bashiruddin Babukhan, had a school, Springfields, and I felt I could work and apply my skills there. While counselling involves one-to-one interaction, in education you’re working with people, but in bigger groups. It’s still people-related.
As the director of education at Glendale Academy, what were some of the challenges you faced in setting up the school in 2003?
That could fill a whole book! Everything was important all at once! I was in charge of recruitment, resource planning, curriculum development, procurement of school materials, uniforms, advertising and interiors all at the same time. I had a staff of two to help me. I think at that time my western upbringing really helped me in terms of having gained an early exposure to great schools with excellent facilities and infrastructure. I tried to replicate those standards as best as I could.
We’ve grown into a secular truly international school with a global, pluralistic and cosmopolitan outlook. From just over 40 students in the first year, our current strength lies in nurturing 1,300 impressionable minds and talents.
Why the need to launch the Edvantage Teacher Leadership Institute last year?
Teacher training has always been one of my key focus areas. I believe the best and only way to develop a good school is to develop its teachers. The institute trains educators on education pedagogy and methodology and offers a six-month Global Teacher Certification programme for Indian teachers.
In India, I’ve noticed people don’t like to share what they do; they’re a little possessive. I feel that you’re living in the knowledge age and anything you need to know is available at the click of a button. It only makes you and your school stronger when you share because that’s something you’re good at, and sharing that empowers you for your own good.
What are some of the life lessons you’ve learnt from your husband and in-laws, and vice versa?
It’s been a wonderful synergistic relationship where each of us has our strengths that support each other. My father-in-law had the vision to build a world-class institution and I helped materialise that. My husband Salman’s domain was his involvement in the school’s physical infrastructure. I think I breathed soul and spirit into it. My father-in-law likes to joke and say, “I’m the founder but (pointing to me) I found her”. And Salman adds, “He didn’t find you, I did”. I take that as a compliment.
My in-laws are very supportive and progressive in their outlook. They believe that women need to be useful in society and make a difference. They’ve always appreciated my ideas and the personal touch that I bring into the things I do. They’ve provided me the fertile ground to blossom; it’s a big blessing.
How do you keep abreast of new developments in the field of education?
I absolutely love learning. I’m intrinsically motivated by new learning and exploring the world. When I feel good about what I’ve learnt, I share that with my staff, my students and other people within my circle of influence.
I’ve attended the Learning Brain Expo in San Francisco. In April this year, I visited the Harvard Graduate School of Education for a three-day learning lab on Systemic Change for Student Success. It taught me ways to improve teaching and learning environments. Next month, I am off to Cambridge, UK. Whenever I visit my family in Chicago, I enrol myself in different workshops and visit institutions to take a leaf out of their book and better my learning as well as teaching experiences.
What inspires you?
Any and everyone who has some differentiating quality. I get inspired by a multitude of people, ideas, and experiences. Howard Gardner talks about the five minds for the future in his latest book. I think I have a bit of each in me…especially the “Synthesizing Mind”. I love and appreciate the many different aspects of different people. I’m like a busy bee that collects pollen from various flowers and synthesises all that to create sweetness and spread it around.
According to you, what’s vital for a progressive intellectual community?
Unity in diversity and communal harmony. It’s imperative to uphold secular values in a pluralistic society. We need to recognise that our similarities are far greater than the differences that divide us. That’s something very important for the future of India. And human values are of utmost importance. Only then will we be global citizens.