“I believe any change in the education system will not come until and unless we prepare teachers for it.” – Bijal Damani, India
Many of the Indian educators we’ve talked to here at Daily Edventures have expressed frustration at their country’s long-standing focus on rote learning. For Bijal Damani, that’s a challenge that demands to be addressed, and she’s done exactly that.
Although she began her career in the corporate world – as a marketing manager for a technology company — Damani quickly realized that her true calling was teaching. And she’s been doing just that for over 15 years. With numerous accolades, from being named ASCD’s Outstanding Young Educator, ISTE’s Outstanding Teacher and a Microsoft Innovative Leader Teacher, to being invited by UNESCO Bangkok and Singapore’s Ministry of Education to share her classroom practices, Damani’s influence has extended far beyond India.
But some of her most important work takes place around Project Galaxy Bazaar, a social entrepreneurship business devised by Damani and run by her 11th and 12th grade students at S N Kansagra School. This project, which has been running for seven years, provides a project-based learning (PBL) experience for the students, while net profits are donated to educating the underprivileged students of the community.
According to Damani, “We are brought in this world not as equals but it is our duty to help the less privileged. Galaxy Bazaar is an innovative approach using the means of social entrepreneurship and the enthusiasm of young blood directing them into providing quality education for underprivileged children of the society. At the same time it helps the youth to learn the ethics and practices of the real business world, which eventually helps them mold their personality and adds to their experience.”
Beyond this project, Damani is focused on applying technology and PBL to counter India’s slow-to-change rote learning approach. Her students produce e-portfolios and master tools like OneNote, Skype, OneDrive and Edmodo. This radically different approach can be a tough sell, she tells us. “When you bring about change, there will always be rejection because you are pushing people out of their comfort zones. But slowly and steadily, they start realizing that this is for their own benefit.”
With energetic educators like Bijal Damani, there’s little question that radical change will come to Indian education – sooner rather than later. Her combination of creativity, drive and commitment to shaping young lives sets a high standard. Enjoy today’s Daily Edventure!
What drew you to the field of education? Why is it important to you?
While studying for my higher diploma in software engineering, I was interning at S N Kansagra School’s Computer Department. After completing my MBA, I joined a dotcom company as the marketing manager. But within no time, I realized I love being with children, teaching them, learning with them. I took a radical decision of leaving a fat-paycheck-corporate-career, to instead become a computer teacher. I felt strongly about a teaching career because of the satisfaction of making a difference and dealing with live, budding minds. In these last 15 years of being a teacher, I have not regretted my decision ever.
Can you tell us about a favorite teacher, or someone who made a difference in your education?
When I was young, I was horrible at math. I could not understand the concept of fractions. I could not understand how ½ is bigger compared to ¼. And my mother explained the concept to me by taking a piece of paper – tearing it into two parts and another piece of paper and tearing it into four parts. And she asked me which part is bigger, ½ or ¼? The concept which my teacher spent two hours explaining but I could not understand a bit, I understood the concept right away when explained it to me in a very practical manner. This incident has influenced my teaching style as well. I focus more on applicability of the concept while explaining it. And I am so happy to see that “A-ha” expression on the face of students.
Please describe how your professional achievements have advanced innovation in education. What has changed as a result of your work?
I teach grades 11-12, very crucial years in the school life of students, as their university admission depends on these two years. Unfortunately, many of the Indian universities still give admissions based on grade 12 results. Many students, as well as parents, feel that during these two years the focus should be on the syllabus and textbook only. And students resort to rote learning. Parents pressure students to resort to extra paid coaching to get good grades. In the process, one important thing which is missed is development of skills necessary for college and later on for life.
Moreover, in India once a student decides on the stream (business, science or humanities), they focus only on the core subjects – leaving behind the other subjects. So if one is a business student, one will only study subjects like commerce, management, accountancy, economics, etc. But I believe that if you wish to be a successful entrepreneur, you need to have knowledge of other subjects as well. One cannot bifurcate STEM, business and arts subjects.
I started using projects which had real life connection and had integration of various subjects (STEM as well as arts). Secondly, I made sure that these projects led to development of 21st century skills like creativity, collaboration, communication and critical thinking. Integration of ICT was a natural part of the project.
I brought about changes in the assessment system as well. Instead of just being assessed on the tests, now students have to maintain an electronic portfolio of the work done throughout the year and they will be assessed on the basis on the e-portfolio as well.
How have you applied technology in innovative ways to support your work?
I use technology for connecting the content to real life applications. Projects like Galaxy Bazaar and Innovative Product and Marketing Competition use technology effectively. Students get 24/7 access to resources through my E-classroom, and I encourage students to create their E-portfolios which are used for formative assessment of their work.
In your opinion, how has the use of apps, cellphones, and mobile devices changed education? And your work?
Use of technology is changing the very definition of “education.” It is changing the roles of all the stakeholders. Teachers are no longer the mere knowledge suppliers, and students are no longer the passive recipients of knowledge. Technology has helped me use my instructional time with students in a more effective manner. Not only that, a lot of collaboration and active participation is made possible through the use of technology. Some of my projects involve working with 150 students. It would not have been possible for me to work without technology. OneNote, Skype, OneDrive, Edmodo, Google Hangouts, Google Docs, YouTube…the list is endless.
In your view, what is the most exciting innovation happening in education today?
I believe the Internet is the biggest and the most exciting innovation happening in the world, considering its effects on education. The Internet has helped bridge the opportunity gap between people, which was arising due to their geographical locations. The Internet has opened up many vistas which were not possible a couple of years back. Imagine a student residing in an Indian village can now have access to a professor from Harvard. This is so powerful. I am also excited about MOOCs, as they open so many fields of learning which were not available to many in the world. A student may be pursuing English literature, but if interested, can enroll for a course in artificial intelligence. This has opened up the world of opportunities for everyone – students and teachers alike. I encourage my students to take many MOOCs to keep themselves updated with the contemporary knowledge of choice. I am also excited about the creative use of augmented reality in the classroom.
Is there a 21st century skill (critical thinking and problem solving, communication, collaboration, or creativity and innovation) that you are most passionate about? Why?
It is difficult to separate out one 21st century skill because all of them are entwined and interconnected. But I am more passionate about creativity and innovation. The reason being – innovation and creativity bring with them a positive mindset – to look at PROBLEMS as OPPORTUNITIES.
If you could give one educational tool to every child in the world, what would it be? Why?
I would put a tablet in the hand of every child which can be easily connected to Internet – the rest the child will himself/herself take care of. That child will access the knowledge which interests him/her and gain expertise in it. I fully believe in the outcomes of the “Hole in the Wall” experiment by Dr. Sugata Mitra.
What is your country doing well currently to support education?
There are lots of opportunity gaps in different sections of society in my country. And the government is working towards bridging this gap by providing academic opportunities, funding, technical support, etc. to the underprivileged sections of the society. My country is also passing through a phase where we are relooking at assessment and hence, university admission criteria. A lot of stress is now being given to connecting curriculum to real life.
How must education change in your country to ensure that students are equipped to thrive in the 21st century?
My country is on the threshold of keeping what is good in the ancient Indian education system and embracing the contemporary curriculum needs which will equip students to thrive in the 21st century. There is a lot of scope for teachers’ professional development in my country. I believe any change in the education system will not come until and unless we prepare teachers for it. Parents are the other neglected lot. Involving parents in the academic development of the child will play a very important role in the future. As a country, we must gear up for the same.
What is the biggest obstacle you have had to overcome to ensure students are receiving a quality education?
I work in a private school and hence my problem is not the problem of resources. The obstacle I face is that of attitude toward education. In India, most of the exams and assessments are still based on rote learning. Very few students and parents understand that rote learning is NOT education. We kill many a student who have skills other than rote learning with lower grades, and impact their self-esteem in a very bad manner. Not only that, it leads to the menace of coaching and tuitions. That has to change.
How have you incorporated mobile devices/apps into your classroom and have you seen any improvements?
My students use mobile phones in the class. And I use apps like Edmodo, Aurasma, Google Apps, etc. Students use mobiles for information, collaboration and creation (videos, e-portfolios, etc.).
Describe your most innovative teaching and learning practices and how they are supported by technology?
I am a firm believer of project based learning, and I bring in lots of practical, real-life applications of the concepts to my students. The focus is on building 21st century skills like creativity, collaboration, communication and critical thinking. I use a variety of software and applications for various projects. I guide students in choice of application but they have the autonomy to choose the application/software of their choice. Some of the projects would not be possible without the use of technology.
Describe how you use your favorite Microsoft technology in the classroom and how that impacts 21 century skills development?
Skype and OneNote are my favorite Microsoft tools in the classroom. Both tools help me a lot in collaboration, communication and creativity aspect of 21st century skills. They also help me in flipping my classroom and differentiates instructions for different students.
Describe to us your role as a leader for technology in your school, community or among other educators?
I take part in many conferences – national as well as international — to share my experiences with other educators. I am closely involved with many educational institutions like ISTE and ASCD – where I get a chance to share my knowledge with the respective communities and SIG groups. I am planning to start a blog for educators – not only in my own region but for all the educators around the world – sharing my knowledge and experiences in classroom.
How is the experience being a Microsoft Innovative Educator?
One gets a chance to meet lots of amazing educators around the world and you have a Microsoft in Education family who is always interacting, sharing and learning together. I also get many training opportunities to learn about Microsoft products first-hand and learn from experts through webinars.
So in short, it feels GREAT to be a Microsoft Innovative Educator.
About Bijal Damani, Higher Secondary Commerce Teacher, Microsoft Innovative Educator
- Birthplace: Kassala, Sudan
- Current residence: Rajkot, India
- Websites I check every day: Gmail, Facebook, Edudemic
- Favorite childhood memory: Riding a bike hands-free with skates on and lots of marbles in my jeans shorts pocket.
- Favorite book: Bank Passbook!
- Favorite Microsoft product, tool, technology: Skype and One Note.
- What is the best advice you have ever received? Every child learns – not on the same day and not in the same way.
- Your favorite quote or motto: “Be the change you want to see in the world.” – Ghandi