The Parsis have always been the forerunners in establishing iconic educational institutions across the country. The city of Mumbai boasts of several such prominent schools and colleges which are a testament to the Zoroastrian spirit of spreading the light of education. On the occasion of Teachers’ Day on 12th September, 2020, the H’ble Governor of Maharashtra, Bhagat Singh Koshyari presented the ‘Iconic Leadership Awards’ to Principals and Heads of Mumbai’s 25 leading schools, in a virtual ceremony. Doing the community proud, two of these awards were received by our very own Principals of leading schools – Principal Benaifer P. Kutar of the JB Petit High School for Girls; and Dr. Cyrus Vakil, Principal of Bombay International School.
The awards were instituted by the Innovative Schools Union, headed by former Sheriff Dr. Indu Shahani, who delivered the opening remarks. Addressing those present, the Governor emphasized the need to, “encourage children to learn Sanskrit and other Indian languages, alongside English and other foreign languages.” He further stated that the new National Education Policy lays thrust on Indian values and ethics, and teachers should impart advanced knowledge and education to children without departing from core Indian values. The ceremony concluded with Principal Meera Isaacs of Cathedral and John Cannon School giving the vote of thanks at the event.
Speaking to Parsi Times about being honoured with the award, Principal Benaifer P. Kutar of the J.B. Petit High School for Girls, said, “I am humbled by this singular honour and delighted to accept it on behalf of our team at JB Petit, as it is always the collective whole that makes an institution what it is.” She has shared a long and rich association with the school, having served 25 years as teacher, 12 years as Head of Primary School, a brief stint as Vice-Principal and currently in her 11th year as the Principal.
With a double Masters in Education and History, she heads the school with compassion and clarity, constantly endeavoring towards its betterment. An educator in the true sense of the word, she continues to teach, even as she ably fulfills the duties of her role as Principal. Her love and loyalty to the school, dynamic leadership and unwavering commitment to ensure that the school evolves with the times, has guaranteed that the school lives up to its motto – ‘Ever Forward’.
Speaking of the evolving face of education, she spoke about the challenges faced by educators during the current pandemic situation. “The Covid-19 pandemic has challenged educators on many fronts – personally, professionally, academically. In response, committed teachers across the country have risen admirably to this challenge – drawing on a sense of passion and purpose, to fulfill their mission as true educators. At our school too, we have transitioned effectively to the digital medium. Going forward, we will see that blended learning and flip classrooms will be the norm. There has been a paradigm shift in education and the greatest challenge for educators is to keep the students engaged, which the teachers in our school have risen to quite admirably.”
As a ‘very approachable’ Principal, she believes in encouraging students with a questioning mind and articulate their thoughts and opinions freely as they develop their own voice. “Critical thinking is of prime importance and we want our students to learn organically,” she says. She is ably supported by the teachers and the management which consists primarily of leading, notable Parsi personalities. “They are distinguished individuals who give me academic freedom while upholding our principles of integrity, transparency and fair play.”
Dr. Cyrus Vakil, Principal of Bombay International School, who was also felicitated with the Iconic Leadership Award, shared that the award signified, “that people are accepting the need for a new kind of education that values creativity, critical thinking and life-skills, and away from rote-based exams.” Inspired to become an educator as child, he says, “I had many terrible teachers and a few good ones. Together they made me realize that teachers can and do make a difference.”
Speaking about his accomplished and rich career, he says, “I spent a year at IIT Powai, then left science and India to attend Vassar College. I followed it up with a Masters and PhD in the cultural and economic history from Yale University.” On returning to India, he pioneered the IB system of education, at Mahindra UWC, where he was Director of Studies and Deputy Head. Later, in 2016, he returned to Mumbai as the Principal of BIS (Bombay International School).
At BIS, under his stewardship, other than academics, students are taught that, “we need to think critically in a world where corporations, money-managers, politicians, media are all busy trying to sell you some bogus story or another. And humility – we don’t really know most of what we think we do even about the present, let alone the future.”
Speaking about how the pandemic affected BIS functioning, he says, “In March, it was sink or swim. And most teachers and educators learnt a lot about online teaching and emerged better teachers, supported by their schools. These gains will stay with them. I believe classroom teaching is being challenged by tutors and exam guides on one side and by remote learning on the other. To stay relevant, they need to work on connecting with their students – as human beings and as learners. They need to keep motivating and inspiring, else one could become redundant. For students, particularly younger students, it has been harder because learning was always a social enterprise, never a solitary one. But everyone has learnt resilience, and what doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger!”
A leader who inspires, Dr. Vakil concludes with words of wisdom for educators, “Delegate to those who are committed. And most teachers are committed – otherwise they would be in professions that pay better! Guide, but don’t micro-manage. Remember you are preparing kids not for today or tomorrow but for a very different world they will be inhabiting and leading thirty, forty years hence.”