Ramdas Shenoy in conversation with Dr. Parthasarathy on social work and challenges in the education domain.
Dr. Bhooma Parthasarathy Studied in Lady Sivaswami Ayyar Girls’ High School. She went to Ethiraj college for her B.A. History. She has a Master’s degree in Social Work from Stella Maris College, Chennai. She has a Ph.D. from the University of Madras for her thesis on– Women empowerment and Microcredit: A Study in Social Work
Dr.Bhooma has been heading the Thirumalai Charity Trust (TCT), since 1983. She has been responsible for all the programmes of the Trust since then to date. Thirumalai Charity Trust (TCT) was founded in 1970 by four businessmen who wanted to translate their belief that ‘Social responsibility of business is not optional, but obligatory’.
Early childhood experiences are very important to lifelong outcomes, and young Bhooma grew up in a large family observing her parents always involved in serving the extended family and doing their bit for society. As she aptly puts it, “We were not rich in money then, but generous in thoughts and actions”. While she was doing a PG course in Social work-study, she realized that social work is not only about charity but to teach to help oneself. Later after marriage, she moved to a small-time, which gave her an opportunity to serve the rural people through the Thirumalai Charity Trust.
The Vedavalli approach and the work done by the Thirumalai Trust
Dr. Bhooma’s work in formal school education was through the Akshaya Vidya Trust. She had wonderful opportunities to work with stalwarts who were willing to get involved in what they wanted to do to create a better society. The community in Ranipet and the villages adopted her as their daughter with open arms and showed implicit faith that can only be found in villages and small towns. Acceptance is the key to success in social work which is difficult to get in an urban environment.
When Vedavalli Vidyalaya was founded in 1994, it implemented a set of principles that seemed out of the ordinary. Those principles are still relevant today. It was an all-inclusive approach with students, teachers, parents, and administration to share the philosophies with the teachers/staff through mentorship and training. It is all led by examples. Children learn by watching their teachers, peers, and alumni interact openly and respectfully with one another. There is a two-way feedback dialogue between students Every year we engage the students and teachers– open door policy at all levels.
On the challenges and gaps in today’s education
As per Dr. Parthasarathy, the main challenge is the quality of teachers. They are a nice lot but have inadequate training and exposure. Their content is inadequate. The majority of them come to this profession, not by choice.
The other challenge is today’s education system is projecting itself as a consumer goods provider, where it tries to meet parent’s demands and expectations. The focus has to be the child’s needs. Many private schools tend to promise the moon and attract children for admission and the gullible parents fall into the trap.
She also reiterated that in a society, teachers have to be kept on the highest pedestal in the career hierarchy. They have to be paid well and should be offered good teaching facilities and training. Only if we are able to attract the best of the talent, we will be able to build a better society.
The other challenge which is bogging down all of us is the ‘screen time’ which children are exposed to thanks to the digital and mass media. With no filters in place, children get exposed to both the good and evil side of the digital medium and seldom parents support the school.
Practical education an important element in school learning which doesn’t find its place in most of the schools. The emphasis has to be on the employability skills, with equal importance to soft skills like communication, which instills self-confidence amongst children, which hardly is part of competitive race and exams.
The focus has to be on holistic education which encourages and nurtures children with different abilities focusing on the scholastic and non-scholastic areas with equal importance. Education must provide for exposure to ideas, people and places.
On Women empowerment, Dr. Parthasarthy doesn’t believe in lip service. She said, “I think women empowerment is essential for the progress of society. You educate a woman, you educate a family. Educated families contribute to the betterment of society. I think this is universally applicable. This does not mean that men should be left behind. Most importantly, education for women must cover the need to bring up their boys well so that they respect women and treat them as equal partners”,
Social impact of Thirumalai trust
The impact cannot be summarised in a few paras, after all, it is 35 years of dedicated work. Vedavalli Vidyalaya schools are proud of their alumni making a mark in their education and workplaces. The holistic education provided gives their students a wide exposure. They are getting employed through campus placements in diverse fields. They have made an impact in this region prompting new schools in the area to promote holistic education. The students are influencing their parents with progressive thoughts and are contributing to a much-needed change in society.
Most pressing problems that we need to address in today’s world and Social work
Dr. Parthasarthy feels that the ‘water crisis’ is going to be the most pressing problem in the world. In the Indian context, promoting communal harmony and include all religious sections as equal Indians is important for India’s well-being. S
Social work as per Dr. Parthasarthy’s own words, “ It is my privilege, passion, and value. I can’t think of doing anything else after being in this and enjoying the fruits of this for nearly 40 years”.
Advice to young aspirants who want to opt for social work as a profession
Be ready to start working at the grassroots, whether it is a slum, hospital, village, family welfare institutions, the focus being with the people who you are supposed to help. That’s the only way to understand the challenges of this profession. The work cannot be understood in a closed setting. Be ready to go out, explore, get deeply involved and offer options for solutions. Be culturally tuned in to win the acceptance of those who you wish to serve, accept them, respect them and open out to help. An academic degree is certainly beneficial, but training from a good institute is essential to prepare you for the profession.
Role of Corporates in supporting a social cause more than just with money
Dr. Parthasarthy is of the view, that the first step that the Corporates need to take is to follow great practices of Corporate governance. There should be a corporate policy to support the chosen causes. Support should be in the form of administration and technology. Choose volunteers from the employee’s pool, and have them work to get sensitized in their preferred theme areas. Better brain support will flow out of the practical exposure of volunteers.
Work-life balance in Social work
When one is pursuing social work as a career, it is important that the family understands what you do and what impact it makes. Dr. Parthasarthy feels that without that understanding, one can have a lot of stress. She did not face such problems, because, she always had people working with her as a team and when she had to get away, she could delegate. The show must go…on.
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