“Believe in your cause and work with authenticity” – Gita Jagannathan, Founder, APL Global School
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Eternal optimist. Strong believer. Changemaker. Reader. Explorer.
These words encompass some of whom Gita Jagannathan is. The founder and owner of APL Global School in Chennai, Gita is a voracious reader and a curious soul who is always looking to evolve.
Her adventurous childhood played a massive role in making Gita what she is today. Born in New Delhi during the Chinese aggression of 1962, she is the third child in her family. As a child, her family frequently moved because of her father’s transferable job. From small collieries in Jharkhand and MP to Ranchi and Saunda, Gita has called many places home. But some of her most precious memories were made at Singrauli. Her home was near the hillocks and a stream, and she spent hours climbing the hills and wading in that stream.
Gita and her siblings spent years receiving informal education from her father along with formal one. Their father taught them many things, from Hindu epics, Karl Marx theories, and gardening, to coal mining and astronomy. It was when Gita was in Grade 10th that they finally settled in Chennai.
“My older sister and brother were gifted individuals. Academically brilliant, analytical minds, and multi-talented. They exposed me to giftedness,” says Gita.
“In her teen years, my sister dropped out of formal education for 8 years because of a mental illness. I spent my preteen and teen years supporting her through her mental illness,” she continues.
Going to 8 different schools, her siblings’ giftedness, and the informal education she received, planted the seed of starting her own school one day in Gita’s mind. But it wasn’t until years later, in 2008, that the dream came true.
“Life happened, and I drifted straight from college into a job with HSBC. I worked there for the next 8 years.”
The idea of school might have drifted to some dusty corners of her mind, but her daughters brought it back to the front again. “My elder daughter had problems at school. She was in UKG when she started fussing about going to school. By 3rd grade, she was a school dropout. We tried homeschooling, but that didn’t suit her because she was a sociable child. She was in and out of various schools and, somehow, managed to come up to 8th Grade. This time when she dropped out, it felt like she had finally given up on the idea of school altogether,” explains Gita.
When her elder daughter was in grade five, a school counselor suggested that she might be gifted. That, along with the fact that her younger daughter is also a gifted person, made Gita research giftedness. She also tutored three kids with dyslexia at that time.
While looking for methods to help her daughter, Gita met Dr. Vasanthi Vasudevan, an educationist who worked with the Theory of Multiple Intelligences and Differentiated Instruction. Both Gita and Vasanthi wanted to create an education system that would cater to all students in a non-competitive environment. And the result of this dream is APL Global School. The school began with 5 students in 2008, and today it has 1,659 students.
APL School follows the Cambridge board because of the multiple subjects it offers and the levels at which a student can take the exams. The curriculum is rigorous and based on real-life applications of the concepts learned. It also has the NIOS option.
“NIOS is the option for children who don’t want the rigor of Cambridge because they are pursuing the performing arts or sports on a professional level. It is also for children with special needs. Being in a mainstream school allows all students to come together for co-curricular classes and benefits both the neurotypical and the neurodivergent students,” explains Gita.
The path to opening a school was not easy. One of the bigger challenges Gita faced was when Vasanthi left the school in 2010. Her scant background as an educator was not convincing for children’s parents. But she persevered and saw this as an opportunity to learn and grow.
“I did my Cambridge International Diploma for Teachers and Trainers in 2009. And in 2015, I did a PG Certificate in Inclusive and Special Education. With all my informal learning about mental health, giftedness, and learning disabilities, I lead the school solely guided by my spiritual master,” says Gita.
Students in India are not unfamiliar with academic distress. About 50 million Indian children live with mental disorders. (Indian Journal Of Psychiatry, 2019) Gita didn’t want her students to have the same distress, and her informal learning on mental health, giftedness, and learning disabilities contributed to creating a school that pays great attention to maintaining the mental health of its students.
“We have 5 counselors across school levels, and all grades have what we call Explore sessions. They help the children explore age-appropriate social and emotional issues”
Explore sessions provide a non-judgemental space for students to reflect on different topics. They are guided by trained and qualified counselors who also design the content for the sessions.
But that’s not all. The students also participate in regenerative farming practices, something that Gita firmly believes helps them stay grounded. “This is above the sports, performing arts, and visual arts classes,” adds Gita.
“I believe that having multiple means of self-expression in a non-judgemental space helps the students with their mental health.”
The school aims to provide a safe space for all individuals associated with it and help them develop self-awareness. Be it the teachers, the staff, or the students. “We promote intrinsic motivation. There are no ranks in our report cards. Intra-school cultural events are non-competitive. We are more interested in the process than the results. This is our philosophy. But we still have a long way to go in realizing this vision,” Gita explains.
Bringing a change is challenging. As a person who walked on the path to bring change, Gita has one piece of advice for people, “I am an eternal optimist, and I believe in our cause. So I would say to anyone who wants to be a changemaker, believe in your cause and work with authenticity and an inclusive spirit.”