Professor Vandana Saxena is selected for the Fulbright SIR programme. In conversation with her, she tells us about her experience and her perspectives on the pedagogical system. Read ahead to find out more.
Professor Vandana Saxena from CIE, Department of Education, Delhi University (DU) has been accepted for the International Fulbright Scholar-in-Residence (SIR) Programme. Currently working as a Professor at CIE, Delhi University, she completed her post-graduation in Physics, masters in education, and doctorate in science education. She has taught for four years in a school as a science teacher before joining CIE in November 1997. In her academic persuasion to cultivate democratic educational environment, she has engaged with teaching, training, research, and consultations developing research-based and thought-provoking pedagogical designs.
The Fulbright Program is the United States government’s flagship program of international educational and cultural exchange. It is a unique initiative that is specifically driven by the goals of U.S. institutions of higher education to enhance internationalization efforts on their campuses. The S-I-R Program promotes cultural and intellectual diversity among the institution and the wider community. The institution benefits from the expertise provided, and the Scholar attains experience in the U.S. higher education arena.
In conversation with Professor Vandena Saxena, who is a reflective thinker and practitioner, told DU Beat about her attempt to create a harmonious ecology for herself and others around her. With family being her greatest strength, living in the moment, being humble, acknowledging the contribution of others, and always willing to explore a new horizon has kept her grounded in life. On asking about her nomination for the scholarship and her academic work, she enumerated various aspects of her research. Read ahead to know more about her thoughts.
- Tell us more about yourself. What is your vision for the future in regards to your academic persuasion?
Personally, I come from a humble background. My parents strongly believed that education has the potential to change our life. I am now engaged as a professor in a public university which is completing hundred years of excellence this year. I have lived every moment in this journey and deep inside I am full of conviction that equal opportunities to access, retention and progression as a systemic approach can create innumerable possibilities for each person. My prime contemplation is on Conceptualizing Research in Education, Driving Research Questions, Academic Writing and Ethics in Research, for which I am conducting workshops with researchers in various universities at Pan-India level. Through this part of my journey I look forward to creating opportunities of academic exchange across the two countries while taking the flavours of India’s rich cultural diversity to the university and community there.
- The Fulbright Scholar-In-Residence (SIR) Program is a prestigious program. How was your experience from deciding to apply to getting nominated?
So, I did not apply for this programme.The universities in the United States apply for this programme. The shortlisted application is shared with few countries across the world and the countries nominate candidates as per the requirement of the university. So, the Mississippi Valley State University’s application was shared with the Fulbright Delhi office, which nominated me for this programme. I had an online interaction with the senior officials of the university and finally my nomination was accepted for this programme.
The S-I-R program offers to support up to only three awards each year internationally. So, it’s a very humbling experience for me. I wish to especially mention my guru Prof. Krishna Maitra, for constantly believing in me and showering me with her blessings.
- Your research focuses on Diversity Pedagogy and Inclusion, Science Education, and Research in Education. Can you tell us more about it?
My professional journey is founded in reflections and contemplations derived from lived experiences of self and others. I was introduced to the idea of individual differences and the possibilities of questioning the system during my bachelor of education programme. My idea of the ‘whole group as also the whole school’ approach was sowed during that time. Just after completing this degree programme in 1993, I joined as a science teacher in a private school for four years. During this, I realized the responsibility of a teacher as a facilitator for improving the learning curve of each student irrespective of any variations. My doctoral research was thus, about pedagogical planning in science catering to the needs of each student and nurturing the learning experiences of all with a vision of them being adults contributing to a harmonious, peace-loving society in the future.
The university teaching brought forward many other challenges. I was to teach courses aimed at preparing teachers to teach physics from grade six to twelve. The syllabus for the course was almost fifty years old and posed significant challenges. The university system to modify the course was complicated. It took me almost six years to design the new syllabus for this course. Till then, I continued to discuss the themes of critical significance with the students, going beyond the given syllabus.
The journey was getting a parallel initiation into the world of education for children with disabilities. I got immense exposure in this field while visiting the institutions offering teacher preparation courses in this field. Soon, a more updated syllabus for this course was developed and approved through all the channels of the university. As part of teacher education I was also visiting schools to supervise the teaching of trainee students. What I realised there was that private schools had students who were economically well-off and public schools had students coming from socially and economically humble backgrounds. I was able to visualize the complex matrix of factors leading to success in the life of individual students. I had now started thinking about how education can provide the agency to students to optimize their potential. I also observed that teachers in any type of school were working relentlessly to support the educational experiences of the students. So, for me the prime question was that even with motivated teachers and enthusiastic students why the educational experiences were compromised.
- Can you tell us about the developments in your research?
I developed an approach to teaching with the title Diversity Pedagogy. This is founded in the conjecture that the belief system of all the stakeholders in education (at any stage) holds the key to success. I have founded the guiding principle as ‘unconditional mutual respect’ for each other. I am constantly trying to imbibe the basic principles of togetherness and hand-holding in any situation. I have designed courses with the theme Inclusion, School & Pedagogy; Inclusion in Education: Context and Continuity for the students of two year M.Ed. programme. The pedagogy for these courses is based upon a grounded theory approach. The students while discussing their lived experiences attempts to theorise the major dimensions of understanding and appreciating diversity in any given context. Their critical engagement with these ideas facilitates the process of imbibing the art and science of reflective practices. The research conceptualized and completed by the students exemplifies this claim.
- Is there any piece of advice that you would like to give to your students?
I grew up in a different era altogether and am not aware of typical challenges in the life of youth these days. Yet, I wish to share with them that it is true that I am extremely fortunate to be surrounded by a group of people who love me and always pray for my well-being, but I have faced a lot of criticism and rejection in my life both on a personal and professional front. I did feel alone and infringed but such is life and such are people. I have bounced back with more resilience each time. So, keeping us grounded with an unshakeable belief in self is critically essential, constantly trying to be a better version of ourselves is the key and then gradually even those negative experiences and people stop bothering. With humility and unconditional love for each other we can make it a better place for each other. Let’s try once!
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