Preetha Ganesh, the Vice President of VELS Group of Institutions, in an exclusive interview with Brainfeed talks about present education and the challenges it poses.
You have taken up the responsibility as the Vice President of The Vels Group at a very young age. What are the challenges?
The Vels Group includes 22 schools, both in India and internationally (UK and Singapore). Apart from this, the higher learning institutions include, VISTAS (a deemed-to-be –University) in Chennai, 2 institutions each for Dentistry and Medicine in Tamil Nadu and Telangana and 2 institutions for Nursing in Tamil Nadu.
There are plenty of challenges in our daily life. My efforts in an already established group are to fine-tune the systems and procedures and to implement the best practices in the industry. Every day is a new challenge. But these challenges bring out the best in me and keep me going.
How is overseas education helping you in guiding the educational institutions?
I am a strong believer in implementing fresh and innovative ideas, and there is no dearth of it when you travel and understand universities and institutions abroad, particularly in the UK where I’ve studied. I see digital learning changing the face of education, more so since the pandemic. Online courses are a huge hit among the working class and students who want to update their knowledge in advancing areas and technologies. VISTAS will soon be offering online courses. We have also seen a flurry of unicorns in the Edtech space, so a lot of interesting changes await us in the education sector including the NEP. That’s a lot on my plate and I am sure I am ready to tread that path.
How is VELS different from others?
The VELS group is one of the few education groups in our country that offer education from Pre-Kg to Ph.D., and is among the few multi-disciplinary universities that offer a wide gamut of job oriented courses. The founder’s idea since its inception has been to offer courses that would fetch students a job soon after their studies. In school education too, Vels offers CBSE, ICSE and IGCSE syllabi and have also successfully implemented an in-house developed internationally acclaimed syllabus of ‘Kindle Kids’.
All the institutions in the Vels fold possess state-of-the-art infrastructure, competent faculty and an ideology that prepares students to be future leaders in their chosen fields. Our university offers more than 100 courses of contemporary learning in diverse fields that ensure that students are adequately equipped to face the challenges when they step out of the institution, into a competitive world.
Your views on integrating new technology with education.
As a young entrepreneur, I am certainly in favour of integrating new technology in the Education sector. The pandemic brought us much closer to it and also highlighted the need for the same. With the ubiquitous smartphone around and Gen Z willing to lap up technology, it is only fair that we make the best and right use of it. There is always a flip side to any advancing technology, so I advocate the use of technology with a sense of caution.
With the evolution of technology, the mindset and the information gathering methods of students have changed. What, in your opinion, are the newest methods of pedagogy that need to be implemented into the current educational system?
We are all aware of experiential learning, learning through problem-solving, outside classroom learning so on and so forth. In the digital era, we also need to strike a chord with digital pedagogy. Digital Pedagogy is not about using digital technologies for teaching but rather, about approaching those tools from a critical pedagogical perspective. So, it is as much about using digital tools thoughtfully as it is about deciding when not to use digital tools, and about paying attention to the impact of digital tools on learning. There is no one-size-fits-all formula to it. It depends on the type of learners that it caters to.
Students are more in the virtual world. Reading as a habit is dwindling. How can one bring them back? Any initiative at VELS?
Certainly, reading as a habit is dwindling. But that, as I said, is the flip side of technology. You have over a million books on Kindle. This may sound weird for Gen X but certainly not with the millennials and Gen Z. At Vels, a lot of emphasis is given to the holistic development of children. So we ensure that students are not just hanging on to their virtual world but are also spending more quality time with friends and on sports and events. To encourage reading amongst students, we celebrate book-themed days and have individual classroom libraries to which children contribute books and read from. We have also set up literary clubs and reading groups to make reading enjoyable and socialise around reading.
At present, the learning spaces are not confined to classrooms and laboratories. How to merge different learning spaces so that it can benefit the students?
Today’s learning spaces have evolved a lot over time. A lot of thought goes into how learning spaces can be made more subject-oriented. 21st century learning spaces are flexible, conducive to different learning styles and instructional strategies, and accommodating of the distinctive learning needs of every student. They support positive human relationships needed for effective learning, both formal and informal. They enable students to learn in relevant, real-world contexts through project-based work. Creating these types of learning spaces helps children grow emotionally, socially and physically.
What is your vision for the future?
With our footprints already firm in India, Singapore and the United Kingdom, our vision is to continue expansion all over the world. At the same time, we aim to bring the best practices from all over the world, especially in the areas of institutional management, education empowerment and student quality. We want to instil in the mind of young people that “lifelong learning is a responsibility that they need to continue with passion in all walks of life”.