Thursday, May 20, 2010

Moulding the future


COLUMN: AT THE HELM

In her sixth year as Principal of St. Teresa’s College, Sr. Christabelle talks about the various initiatives that she has taken up

By Shevlin Sebastian

Sr. Christabelle, the principal of St. Teresa’s College, Kochi, arrives at her office at 8.15 a.m. There are several teachers waiting to meet her. Some want permission to hold special programmes or seminars for their departments. Others want to discuss their concerns regarding certain students.

“A student is absent for a few days,” says Sr. Christabelle. “The teacher will contact the family, but if the student continues to stay away, I will intervene. Usually, I tell the parents to come and meet me. When that happens, the matter becomes much more serious.”

Students go through various problems at that age. “Some are not interested in a particular subject, or in studies, as a whole,” says Sr. Christabelle. “A few suffer from psychological problems. Others face harassment while travelling in buses.”

Sr. Christabelle finishes with the teachers’ queries by 10 a.m. Thereafter, there are visitors from outside. “Politicians come seeking admissions,” she says. “Officers will ask whether we can open an account in their banks.” Salesmen will showcase different products, like the latest computers and laptops.

People invite her to be a speaker at seminars and functions. Many representatives of associations like for the blind and the deaf and dumb ask for financial relief. “We try to help as much as we can,” she says.

Sr. Christabelle’s day finishes at 5.15 p.m. She attends a group prayer at the chapel from 5.30 to 6.30 p.m. Thereafter, dinner is served. After listening to the TV news at 7 p.m., the nuns will gather together and share their experiences, till 8 p.m. “This is the best part of the day,” says Sr. Christabelle.

As the others nuns go off to rest, Sr. Christabelle is back in her office at 8.30 p.m. “This is an important period for me,” the nun says. “I can work without any interruptions.”

There are reports that need to be sent to the Mahatma Gandhi University and the Department of Collegiate Education. “I do a lot of innovative planning during this time,” says Sr. Christabelle.

This is also the time when she replies to e-mails, and reads magazines like ‘Outlook’ and ‘India Today’, to keep abreast of what is happening in the country. She returns to the convent at 10.30 p.m.

In her sixth year as Principal, Sr. Christabelle has placed a lot of emphasis on doing seminars and projects. “Recently, the students did a project on women domestic workers,” says Sr. Christabelle. They studied the problems they faced, organised a seminar, and submitted a study to the University Grants Commission, which had provided a grant.

“This study can be very useful for different agencies like women’s organisations and the Cochin Corporation,” says Sr. Christabelle.

Some of the subjects that have been tackled include Aids, obesity and health issues among women, and problems of the elderly. As she talks, a group of teachers arrive to discuss with the principal their plans to hold the first Women’s Science Congress in August.

Thanks to Sr. Christabelle’s initiative, teachers now use Power Point presentations and LCD projectors in the classroom. “It leads to better communication and efficiency in teaching,” she says. “When you give a lecture, half the matter is not absorbed. Through Power Point, you can transmit information in a faster manner.”

Sr. Christabelle has also shifted the college timing from 9.a.m. to 8.30 a.m. So, classes finish at 2.15 p.m., and thereafter students can attend courses like functional English classes, graphics, animation and web designing.

“All these courses finish by 4 p.m.,” says Sr. Christabelle. Thereafter, financially-strapped students have the time to work as part-time salesgirls and give tuitions.

Asked how the students of today are different from the past, she says, “They are more individualistic and outgoing. They come up with a lot of new ideas. They have a better access to knowledge because of the Internet They are techno savvy and are adept at using the mobile, the computer and the lap top.”

But her complaint is that they often use these skills for shallow ends. “They spend long hours on chat, listening to music, or e-mailing,” the nun says. “They should use their time in a more productive manner.”

The college, with its strength of 2200 students and 125 staffers, is doing well. But Sr. Christabelle is upset by the moribund ways of Mahatma Gandhi University and the state government.

“Society and the world has changed rapidly, but our syllabus has remained the same,” she says. “The subjects have to be redefined. I have tried to get permission to start so many new courses over the years, but have never got a positive response.”

In an hour-long conversation, Sr. Christabelle looks depressed for the first time.

The silent plea in her eyes: ‘MG University, please wake up!’

(The New Indian Express, Kochi)





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