About eight schools from different parts of world were in Delhi for the annual meeting of the Global Schools’ Alliance (esb 2012) last month (October 13-16). Gurgaon-based Vega Schools, an upcoming CBSE-affiliated K-12 school to be inaugurated in January 2016 played host to the international event. Sandy Hooda, co-founder of Vega schools spoke with Autar Nehru about the meet and his school.
“The overall idea was always to create a school that represents a larger progressive …education movement …where each child discovers the star within.”
You hosted Global Schools Alliance conclave. Can you briefly say what was this meeting about and your association with GSA?
There is a new breed of schools that are transforming education across the world, schools where learning is based on ‘why and how’ we learn, and where learning is immersive in a way that students develop a burning desire to learn. The schools look more like a cross between Google headquarters and Lego where learning resembles real world workspaces. These are schools where student work and e-portfolios are living testimony of how each student is reaching his/her real potential. These are recognized as ‘superstar’ schools and are visited annually by thousands of educators, policy makers and folks from all walks of life. They are inspiring millions of educators who take the learning back and transform their own schools, and they are inspiring policy makers who are transforming education at a national scale. These superstar schools came together in an alliance – the idea was to create one informal school platform with access points in major countries of the world. So that (just like adults) children also work across the world! Given that the criteria are very strict, Vega Schools (Gurgaon) were fortunate to be selected by the GSA as its only Indian school. Hence Vega was hosting the annual meet of the GSA schools which was held in Delhi.
Tell us about the journey of Vega School; a little of bit of history that went into its inception?
When I travelled around India I didn’t find a single school (in a city, town or village) that really blew me away. Then, I travelled around the world for three years trying to identify game changing schools – it wasn’t easy (since there are very few extraordinary schools. However, I stumbled upon one and through that one, I found many more. I also spent a lot of time with the great leaders who created these schools. Through our follow up meetings and conversations some of the great leaders behind these extraordinary schools started expressing an interest in India which finally culminated in a consensus to co-create Vega Schools.
Vega is extremely fortunate to have Dr. Steven Edwards as its Co Founder (former advisor White House who also helped create AB Combs which is presently the #1 magnet school in the US). Steve loves India and spends a week every month here. He has personal involvement in every nuance of the school’s development. The Vega executive board is lead by Andy Raymer who created Matthew Moss which is considered to be amongst the 10 greatest progressive schools in the world. It has David Price, OBE, who through his Amazon bestselling book ‘Open’ is transforming education around the world. And we have Rajan Hooda who has held leadership roles in several fortune 500 companies. A truly world class education team! These guys are deeply involved in various elements of the creation process.
The school is designed by FNI, USA which has more than a decade of experience in the science behind learning spaces. Their work was recently published by The Harvard University Press. We also spent a lot of time understanding the local cultural, social, educational and architectural context. A school is not a Mc Donald’s; it is an organic creature and has to be built ground up with a lot of sweat, care and understanding.
Tell us about your personal involvement in education field and why did you choose to get involved passionately in building a school?
I realized through my personal experience that my school education not only undermined my ‘love of learning’ but also played an insignificant role in becoming ‘successful in life’. Children learn best when they want to learn, and we know that each child (and adult for that matter) is completely different from the other. When we place 30-40-50 children in a classroom and teach all of them the same thing in the same way, it is no surprise that most of them are bound to lose interest in learning. Therefore the first thing we had to do was to get rid of classrooms! They are completely unnecessary and wholly redundant. My life mission is really to (based on solid research, experimentation and proven best practices) to rethink, re-imagine and reform education so there is perfect harmony between school education, love of learning and success in life.
As an edupreneur in school space, it must not have been an easy going. Can you share a perspective?
Nothing good comes easy. The feelings swing from bittersweet to deliciously sweet. Team Vega comprises of the most wonderful people I’ve ever worked with in my life. Bringing in people is a lot of hard work. Un-training and retraining is much harder. It took us more than 6 months (and scrutinizing 340 applicants) to select the head of school. We have a completely quirky and unusual way of hiring teachers (whom we call learning leaders). We place them in real or simulated scenarios where we assess their ability to be creative, to solve real world problems and to work effectively with each other. We also examine them for their moral purpose. We also assess how they connect with children. We have little interest in teachers who like frontal teaching. Learning only happens when children are inspired to do the work and that is the kind of teacher we need. Teachers who embody the same qualities we are trying to imbibe in our children. It took us a long time (and an enormous amount of effort) to create a building that ticks all the boxes that make great learning happen. There is a lot of effort being made in culling out the best elements from national curriculum of USA, UK, IB and CBSE. We want to deliver a greatly enhanced version of CBSE.
Well that your school is going to have a start in 2016, what are the immediate plans to make the going really a milestone way?
Our immediate plans are to move into our building at least 60 days before the opening date. The idea is to ensure our learning leaders experience a part of the training in the unique premises. We are also creating a ‘farm to table café’ inside the building – a safe place where parents, professionals and members of the community can call their own. We are also planning a grand launch – something like the GSA event which was attended by the minister of education of Haryana, corporate heads, thought leaders and opinion makers. The overall idea behind Vega was always to create a school that represents a larger progressive education movement where the child is placed at the center of the learning, where each child discovers the star within!