Rendezvous with Ruth

Building bridges Ruth Gee

Building bridges Ruth Gee  

MEET Ruth Gee, the first woman Regional Director of the British Council, on why she finds India exciting

“I ndia is incomparable, it's special. Everywhere there is colour, dynamism and optimism about change. There are innumerable colourful opinions too as the virtue of being in the world's largest democracy is that people are free to express themselves. And it is difficult to underestimate the value of these colourful opinions,” says Ruth Gee, Regional Director of the British Council's operation in India and Sri Lanka. Based in New Delhi, she was on a visit to Chennai to participate in “Nurturing Genius”, a panel discussion on the life and times of the great mathematician Srinivasa Ramanujan. The event was held in connection with the play “A Disappearing Number”, directed and created by Simon McBurney and produced by Complicite, a U.K.-based theatre production company. “The diversities that coexist in the world's largest democracy” excite the Regional Director though it is a year since she took over the operation of the British Council moving here from Hong Kong. Ruth, a former teacher of English who joined the British Council in 2000 has considerable experience in the field of education. She was a monthly columnist in Times Higher for three years and has also served as vice chair of both Basic Skills agency and the Consumer's Association. “The older I get, the more I realise what I don't know,” she says with humility. Just back from an English language teachers' conference, she opens up in an interview about her plans for the British Council and issues close to her heart:

Thrust on English teaching: English is the bridge to global participation and success. We want to concentrate on spoken English as jobs in industry, banks and other sectors depend on fluency. We are working with the private sector — Microsoft, Tata Sky and Infosys; we have developed the content and they the software for weekend online programmes on spoken English. We do not have a data on how many in India speak English but David Garddol, international researcher on English, says there are 50 per cent more children in India than in China but more children in China are learning English.

Cultural events: We plan to engage in cultural activities in a big way. This was crystallised when the British Prime Minister David Cameron signed a cultural agreement with India recently. “A Disappearing Number” is an example of such a partnership. We have tied up with Prithvi Theatre to present the play. Through collaboration between British and Indian institutions, the paintings done by the artists of the East India Company will be digitised. We also have other cultural events lined up such as Anish Kapoor's art installations in Delhi and Mumbai.

Climate change: This is an area in which we are keenly interested. We have identified 160 climate changers, young people in the age group 18-25 .We will provide a platform for their participation in a five-day training programme on climate management and protection/change. The aim is to raise public awareness. We are networking countries across the world. The young people will attend camps and we have had one in the Nilgiris in which international experts participated.

Mentoring: I firmly believe in the value of mentoring. My mentor was my English teacher in a small school in the North of England and later, my mentor was a Director of a polytechnic and of the Consumer's Association. In the British Council, we make it possible for some of our staff members to have the benefit of being mentored through short stints elsewhere. We have identified 100 young people who will have five days of “work shadowing” in various countries such as India, the U.K. and Sri Lanka.

On the British Council: We complement the U.K. Government's role and our motto is “to build engagement and trust for the U.K. through the exchange of knowledge and ideas between people worldwide.” We want people in the U.K. to understand India better and vice versa, and wish to dispel stereotyping. We have 100 people under the Global fellowship scheme which is of six weeks duration — two in education, two with a local family and two in gaining work experience.


Leading by example

“Women hold up half the sky but don't get half the recognition as men” (she quotes a Chinese proverb). In India, you have a good track record of women in important positions and we could learn from that. I do believe in encouraging women and in opening doors for them,” says the first woman Regional Director of the British Council who leads by example.

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