Strengthening ties between Academies | Aga Khan Academies

Strengthening ties between Academies

30 April 2018


Three teachers from the Aga Khan Academy Hyderabad travelled to the AKA Mombasa in March 2018 as part of the Academies' teacher exchange programme. Their visit was followed by Mombasian teachers travelling to the Hyderabad campus. Vasanthi Thandlam, Anandita Dutta and Ridhi Banerjee from Hyderabad stayed in the Kenyan city for two weeks, learning about their sister Academy, while Enitta Olang, Bernard Dudi and Kepha Obiri from Mombasa visited the Telangana capital to do the same here. 

Exchange programme begins, teacher plunge in!

English as an Additional Language teacher Vasanthi was excited to be part of the exchange program. “Beyond teaching basic learning curriculum, an exchange teacher has a unique ability to broaden students' world view by introducing new perspectives and teaching methodologies,” she said.

Vasanthi’s exchange partner was Kiswahili as an Additional Language teacher, Kepha Obiri. In her classes, Vasanthi learned about translanguaging, taught a class on media analysis for grade 9, and interacted with EAL students. Being a dorm parent, Ms. Vasanthi was interested in learning about residential life at Mombasa. She found that students living on campus eat a family meal with their dorm parent every Wednesday. “How true it is that food brings people together!” She said. “With it we make friends, build trust and count our blessings.”

Grade 3 form tutor Ridhi also has fond memories of the food from her Mombasa sojourn. She recounts fantastic historic places, beaches and wildlife. None of it, she says, compares to the love that students at Mombasa showed her. Ridhi remembers being anxious at the beginning of the programme. “My first day of school was like leaving the familiar behind and plunging into the unknown,” she said.

Ridhi worked closely with grade 2 form tutor, Enitta Olang, teaching Junior School students poetry and stories, engaging them in difficult concepts through literature. At Mombasa, Ridhi grew in strength as a teacher and found a great friend in Enitta. She also made great friends in her PYP students. “They tried really hard to teach me Kiswahili and I think they succeeded,” she said of the mutual learning experience.

MYP and IB English teacher, Anandita holds the sister Academy in high regard. “The Aga Khan Academy Mombasa has always set standards across the network of Academies,” she said. Anandita was paired with Mombasa’s Head of Department of English, Bernard Dudi. Bernard has been teaching now for 27 years, and Anandita was eager to learn from the veteran. She observed grade 10, 11 and 12 English and Theory of Knowledge classes and debated pertinent issues with students. Anandita was impressed by how meticulously the sessions were planned. “Positive teacher-student relationships keep teachers and students motivated,” she said. Anandita came back from Mombasa wanting to foster such productive relations in her classrooms.

She also wants to keep in touch with the students through emails and Skype calls. Further, she wants to strengthen the relationship between the schools; she mentioned the student exchange program between Mombasa and Hyderabad which will be launched in August 2018 between grade 8 students from both Academies. 

After a whirlwind two weeks at Mombasa, the first leg of the exchange program came to a close, and the Indian teachers prepared to leave to Hyderabad. With the thought of coming back also came the thought of staying in touch. Visiting faculty all made plans to maintain the relationships they had made there. They made plans to keep in touch and share teaching plans. However, these plans were made with great reluctance because it meant saying farewell to the people they had met and connected with. A little nostalgic and entirely rejuvenated, the three teachers boarded a plane back to Hyderabad.

Hyderabad students learn to sing in Kiswahili 

Hot on the trail of the recently returned educators, a delegation of three teachers from Mombasa left for the Aga Khan Academy Hyderabad. Bernard, Enitta and Kepha arrived at the Academy just as students returned from spring break, for the second leg of the teacher exchange programme.

The Mombasian teachers loved the picturesque landscape of the Academy. “It is an ideal learning environment away from the hustle and bustle of city life.” said Kepha Obiri. Kepha is a language teacher and, to him, languages play a foundational role in His Highness the Aga Khan's vision for homegrown leaders. It was interesting for him to see how languages are accommodated and used here in Hyderabad.

Kepha spent most of his time at the Junior School, where he taught and observed classes, sat in on staff meetings and met with specialised teachers. “I have not seen such willingness to help and politeness as I have seen from teachers here,” he said of our faculty. Kepha is a proud graduate of the Academies' Teacher Preparation Program, and sat for a meeting of the same while he was here.

Enitta also worked out of Junior School where she taught classes by herself and in a team. She taught students to sing ‘Sikiliza Mama We’, a Kiswahili children’s song meaning “Listen Mama”. Here is a video of children from her grade 3 class singing the song. Enitta and Ridhi became famous friends in Mombasa and got to continue collaborating once she arrived here.

“The students are wonderful and respectful,” she said. “I have met very caring students, teachers and support staff who are always willing and inviting.” Some of her students in Mombasa are now pen pals with students in Hyderabad whom they call ‘Hyderabuddies.’

Local experiences were full of unexpected surprises. “My height was the focus as opposed to my race,” said Bernard after visiting a local market. “I found that refreshing!” Bernard's main purpose in joining the exchange program was to observe His Highness’ vision in a new context. “As a teacher, I wanted to explore best practices in Hyderabad to inform my critical reflections on my own practice in the Mombasa context,” he said. Bernard’s counterpart here was Anandita, with whom he taught classes and co-wrote lesson plans.

“This has been a real opportunity for us to establish potential areas of collaboration,” said Bernard. He wants to create a dialogue between the heads of department of our schools to identify the units, teaching strategies, AK strands and assessment practices that Academy teachers can explore together.

After nearly a month of travelling, hosting and more months of planning, the second Academy teacher exchange program came to a close. All six participating teachers are back in their schools and their routines in Hyderabad and Mombasa, but they still feel the impact that the exchange has had on their teaching and their lives. “[The exchange program] will remain one of the highlights of my career and perhaps the most valuable professional development opportunity in my three decades of experience,” said Vasanthi. The route from India to Mombasa was a busy trade route in the 15th century. It gives the Academy great pride to be part of this centuries old heritage.

Written by Ajay Sundaram