Chitra Ravi promotes a novel method of education that helps teachers connect better with students.
‘Smile’ is her favourite word. She speaks in phrases made around it: Recognition has made us smile more. Smile is a common trait among EZVians (her staff), that smile is carried to all schools we work with. Smile is infectious!
That’s Chitra Ravi for you. Founder-CEO, EZVidya, the person behind the “smile” has performed classical dance on stage, modelled and was indeed offered movie roles. Well, movies were an attractive, extended expression of what she was doing, but “I successfully stayed away. I guess I'm too impatient to spend hours in front of the camera,” she smiles.
She happened to see a Computer Science textbook. The bubble on its cover picture screamed: “This computer is so fast, I am not!” Do kids have to be fast and accurate like computers, she thought in dismay. And vowed to change the system that would morph kids into mindless desktops. That was 11 years ago.
The ‘system overhaul’ wasn't going to be easy. But she had a Masters in English, an MBA, and brimming zeal. She had seen her children’s less-than-happy experience in school. Yes, she would equip herself to promote a form of education that would let children ‘blossom.’ Bidding goodbye to her family business, she gathered a small education-passionate group and floated EZVidya. A tad ironical, if you read ‘EZ’ as ‘easy.’
Chitra’s premise: Education today does not encourage children to think. It's not nerdy or uncool to think! “Happy thinking” is possible and through it, children will learn to ‘look deep’ for critical/analytical thinking, ‘look beyond’ for creative ideas, ‘look around’ for social/environmental happenings (transportation, photo-synthesis) and ‘look within’ to reflect. Children should ask: Why am I learning this? What is the significance? And find answers.
“I don't tell teachers what to do,” she says. “I ask questions, get them to think.” Are we showing the children the soul of the subject, say Chemistry? “Education must combine cognitive and affective aspects of learning,” she says. “It must aid self-discovery. The process can be triggered through lessons in class.” And children should learn to be emotionally safe. EZVidya builds tools to help teachers connect with students of today, and perfect the teacher-student relationship. They let students discover their unique talents, not fit them into a pre-determined frame-work. The package for schools includes teacher training, technology and aesthetically brought out materials. “Our Chrysalis textbooks are designed to create a 21st Century learning environment. They aim to build skills essential for ‘Living Well.’ It's an LKG- Class 5 curriculum, prepared in-house.” Her Techmate platform gives teachers classroom management widgets. It is simple PDF, interactive, and can be projected. There is also voiced poetry. “We are trying new methods using the mobile, which everyone is familiar with,” she said.
Feedback has been good, she says. Some have called them true CCE tools. “Schools have told us that children they thought dull were the most participative when our materials are used. With Chrysalis, there's no need for persuasion. Our books/materials cater to the multiple intelligences of the children, allow space for expression. It’s time for our dull books to move over.”
She and her 130-strong staff see EZVidya as a movement. Each feels he’s a contributing member. They meet students and teachers, get parents to participate actively and train teachers to listen sharply. We innovate constantly, re-visit goals, remain dynamic and robust, she says. “We look at the heart of education.” In the middle of all this, Chitra tweets actively, visits schools across India and abroad, attends national/international educational forums. And miraculously manages time for family, reading, music and friends.
It is a long haul, but Chitra is optimistic. EZ Vidya works with over 400 schools across India, and partners several organisations including Wipro, Nokia, Dell, IBM, American India Foundation and the Azim Premji Foundation, in their educational initiatives. And the BridgeIT Award the company won recently, she says, “is a shot in the arm for people on a mission, especially one that seems to be on a road less travelled!”