Alka Pandey, academic advisor for the Cambridge International in India looks after North, Central and East India Cambridge International Schools. She supports these schools in implementation of the Cambridge programme, so that they can match the desired standards as set by the Cambridge International. In an interview with Special Correspondent Greater Kashmir Syed Rizwan Geelani, she talks about the curriculum, teacher training and developing characteristics in the learners. Here are the excerpts:
GK: According to you, what makes Cambridge different from others. What makes Cambridge special?
Alka Pandey: Cambridge Board is designed and developed by Cambridge University which is more than 300 years old and this is the only Board which is run by the University itself completely. They have a Cambridge education department where the experts in the education design, think and reflect on what kind of syllabus and curriculum would be best for the students. So that is what makes it different from any other Boards of the country and the world. It is designed by educational experts in a university which makes it special.
GK: Besides focusing on academic part, what does Cambridge offer to students?
Alka Pandey: It is not only about academic content, but the Cambridge focuses a lot on pedagogical up-skilling of students and the approach is designed in such a way that the Cambridge programme is progressive right from the lowest grade (stage I) to the advanced level which is equivalent to class 12th. This programme is progressive as it moves forward at every stage of the student. Challenges grow as the students grow with age; so our programme is well connected, well aligned and connected with the highest qualifications. The holistic programme is not basically focused on delivery of academic programme but it focuses on developing characteristics in the learners. The teachers are able to make learners capable of handling their responsibilities. Cambridge programmes try to integrate all those kinds of designing in the curriculum which makes it enjoyable. If a teacher enjoys with the learner and gets engaged with the learner then automatically the journey becomes much more lucrative for a student. So these are the attributes which are set into the curriculum and that is what sets Cambridge curriculum programme apart from others.
GK: How do you train your teachers to keep them updated with new pedagogies and teaching techniques?
Alka Pandey: Cambridge has a lot of focus on teacher training so they provide introductory trainings at subject level and teachers are trained about how a subject can be delivered through appropriate pedagogies in the classroom. Apart from this, there is an enrichment training. There are other programmes for development of teachers and students. Under active learning, an assessment of students is done where they are assessed so that the teacher gets an information where they stand and accordingly the learning is further supported with that information. Assessment learning training is also done by Cambridge, effective classroom dialogic learning is also done. Training of effective questioning in classrooms is also done. So, this is a kind of set up where teachers are supported by Cambridge.
Cambridge is not supporting only with the content and curriculum but it has a lot of support for teacher training across different areas of schooling and learning. Cambridge has a website which is called School Support Hub. There are so many resources available for teachers' guidance because we all know that one shoe size cannot fit all. So Cambridge suggests on certain kinds of formats which are well designed and developed by eminent researchers in education. Lesson formats and suggested websites are given to teachers. Lot of resource activities are suggested so that it gives a starting point to the teachers to take it forward. The Cambridge analyses previous year papers and helps the teachers and schools with principal examiners report.
Cambridge has its research centre and they collect feedback from schools in around 166 countries and they incorporate the feedback in the curriculum.
GK: Apart from teacher training, does Cambridge support its schools with new research?
Alak Pandey: We are ahead in the journey by 166 years in many steps. Cambridge does its research without being in competition with anyone. The Cambridge has its mathematics department which looks after how the Board is developing the mathematics curriculum. The departments are set which are working on delivering the Cambridge university programme as well as they look and support the board in other fields as well. Cambridge doesn't restrict itself in the research of their own university. They take feedback from teachers and experts from renowned Universities across the world and continuously upgrade and integrate the syllabus after two to three years by incorporating the changes. If anything is happening ,like if anything is redundant to the teaching it is removed from the syllabus.
GK: When we talk about Foundation World School (FWS). No doubt it is a step ahead in terms of standards. But some feel that it is costly which makes it unaffordable for many. Is Cambridge really a costly affair?
Alka Pandey: I would not say that Cambridge is costly, but I would rather say that the resources or the people who would support that high standard of education with that kind of thinking are costly. And schools would obviously need those kind of resources in terms of teachers. And to value the expertise of the teachers, sometimes school needs to invest into that. Teachers working in Cambridge schools need to have that thinking because working in a Cambridge school is not any token that can be given to the teacher who will be asked to come and enjoy with us. The teachers here should be open to learning as teachers themselves and such teachers who bring in so much of expertise not only in their subject specialisation but in teaching pedagogies need to be valued well. Most of the schools invested in that part and that is why the cost goes up.
GK: What is the criteria to get Cambridge Affiliation?
Alka Pandey: As such we will not talk about infrastructure or logistic environment but the basic requirement is that there should be a demand for it. The parents should be aware about Cambridge, and the standards of its curriculum and what the Board offers to the learners.