Soaring high

Ambika Shaligram
Wednesday, 24 July 2019

We chat up a few students of Avasara Academy, an all girls’ school, and Dr Tamara Philip, the director of teaching and learning. In a two-part series, they talk to us about their plans and aspirations

At Avasara Academy, which is an all girls’ school, a bunch of teenagers learn to depend on each other, stay focussed and pursue aspirations.  

Surrounded by rolling hills of Lavale, the students are connected with what’s happening around them, their humble circumstances and yet dream big.

Mrunali wants to do something in art therapy because she discovered that dance speaks to her. “I am not sure how I am going to be an art therapist. But I will do something in dance for sure,” says the 11th grader at Avasara Academy.

Avasara means opportunity, and the girls, who do not come from a privileged background, are making the most of the opportunity that has come their way. “I studied in a government school prior to coming here. We can study in government schools till Std VII, so I moved to Avasara two years earlier. And, I am glad I have had this chance,” chirps Chanchala Das, a 12th grader. One of the brightest students, she loves participating in debates, writing stories and memoirs. Currently, she is seeking to highlight the plight of refugees.
At school, they have a subject called Global Perspectives, in which they study a particular global issue, explore it from all angles, analyse and put forth their views. Dhriti and her team are focussing on LGBTQ rights, on which they did a survey. Another student is focussing on India studies (another subject) and caste system in particular. Their teachers are not a witness to this discussion, but if they were, they would be happy to know that their objectives in setting up the school are bearing fruition. 

Avasara Academy, which is a Cambridge Board school, was the brainchild of US-based Roopa Purushothaman and Joseph Cubas. “On her visits to India, Roopa realised that the educational opportunities she received in the US were starkly different from those that are available here. She is an economist by training and is curious to understand why people’s lives are different in different places. 

And, for that reason she wanted to assist in education development in India. One pressing need that we all are aware of is the empowerment of girls and that’s why she started a school that could give world class experience in education to students, no matter what their background,” explains Dr Tamara Philip, who is a founding team member of Avasara Academy.  

Dr Philip, who is director of Teaching and Learning at Avasara, was a Graduate Researcher at Cancer Research UK in London, working on the biology of cancer cell metastasis. She became a teacher because she saw it as a cause of social justice. Before joining Avasara in 2012, Dr Philip taught Science at three schools in Mussoorie, Uttarakhand; Woodstock School for four years, and prior to that, in two low-income schools. 

Talking about the process of selection, she says, “We are enrolling students from Std VI, which means they have had six or seven years of learning and being in a school system. This would also mean that they may have had gaps in their learning. We see if their basics are ready, so that they can be successful when they come. We are not expecting that the students should be able to read and write at Std VI level. But they should have the foundation and basic skills.”

When we ask her about starting an all girls’ school, Dr Philip says, “Yes, it’s an old-fashioned thought. But we want the girls to focus on their studies, their careers without any distractions. We want them to have a vast repertoire of skills. We want them to have tonnes of knowledge and to have a deep and abiding interest in bringing about social changes.” 
(To be continued on Thursday)

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