Change the way we look at things so the things we look at change
Published on : Tuesday 08-03-2022
Lina Ashar, Founder Emeritus – Kangaroo Kids Education Limited.
What was the inspiration that prompted you to pursue this career path?
I was a keen observer as a child and questioned the status quo at all times. I noticed that my older brother was academically inclined and scored well while my younger brother struggled. I thought of different ways in which I could teach my younger brother the concepts he is struggling with. My younger brother was a cricket enthusiast, so I connected the concepts to cricket and he would get it in no time. My mother noticed this quality and encouraged me to take up teaching as I was good at it. It is at this time that I realised that 'Why' and 'What If' questions were always going to be more powerful than 'What, When and Where' questions that most of education and learning revolved around. 'Why is learning so boring?', 'Why are classrooms so drab?' 'Why are school uniforms so uncomfortable?', and then 'What if learning could be redesigned to be exciting, engaging and fun?', 'What if a classroom could look like an art museum?', 'What if students could design their own uniforms?' As an English teacher in a school in Australia, my challenge was how to get boys interested in poetry and I thought of connecting this poem that seems inaccessible, boring and senseless to a teenage brain. I taught metaphors and similes and the power of poetry through Pink Floyd's ‘We don't need no education’ and Simon and Garfunkel’s ‘Sounds of Silence’.
I was in India for a year-long sabbatical and decided to teach in a famous school. The teaching methodology came as a rude shock to me. That's when I decided to start my own school. I started a preschool where learning was engaging and all about having fun. When parents saw the system working some of them decided to join hands with me and take our preschools and schools across India.
25 years later I realised that I needed to disrupt and reinvent learning and education yet again so I sold my brick and mortar schools and am in the process of starting an online school that will allow for scale and a more equitable education offering.
Can you recall your early days – say the first few days at work or startups and anything you would like to mention about that?
I started Kangaroo Kids in a 600 sq.ft space in Bandra. I came across a lot of sceptics on my journey but decided that their stories would not serve me. Parents were apprehensive initially to 'risk' their child's learning in a new learning style, as back then parents' only concern was will my child get admission to a good school. However, there were a set of 13 parents who trusted me and that is how my journey began and there has been no looking back. They saw how our curriculum worked and children learned and understood concepts better and gained confidence. When I started out I did not do what most business gurus propound. I did not think big. I did not have success as a focus. I did not want to conquer the world. I did not have a mind-set that said bigger is better. All I had was a deep love for children, a deep hatred for rote learning and a way of knowing how to engage kids. I did a common thing in an uncommon way and it caught the attention of my parent community. That is how the Kangaroo Kids story started.
For a woman, it is a matter of finding the right balance between the jobs and managing the home – how do you manage this?
I don't. As my career took off my marriage floundered. I had to choose between the two. I know this is what I was born to do and this is what was important even for my son to see. That I would stay true to my life purpose. Today I care for both my parents at home...along the way I have learned how to put more structure and people in place for me to manage the home and my life purpose in balance.
What challenges (or privileges) do women stereotypically face, based on their gender?
I don't ask this question as the question does not serve me. If we are to become a world where equality exists, then we have to 'change the way we look at things so the things we look at change'. I believe a stepping stone or an opportunity lies in your perception of it. So I see men and women as different but equal. Men are stronger physically, women are stronger emotionally. In my case, as a teacher, feminine energy suits me better. Nurturing, compassionate, empathetic suits my role. I can then hire the male energy of pushing, driving and structuring.
Have you ever missed a career/ business opportunity or promotion due to gender?
Are workplaces today more sensitive to gender issues than say, a decade ago?
Yes. There are changes in many organisations. I think the 'Me Too' movement also forced changes. But this will only happen at a fundamental level when women stop needing or wanting to be provided for and rescued. This is why we bring this learning into the curriculum in the early years. Look at what Cinderella and other stories teach us. A girl always needs a Prince to rescue her!
Which women's 'cause' needs to be challenged and changed, first?
Education. It is only through this that women will be empowered to change all the other causes like ‘having to have a son’, ‘having to have many children’, ‘boys education being more important than girls’, ‘dowry’.
Are there areas at work that still restrict women when it comes to a leadership role?
I feel when women come into their own sovereignty the restrictions will fall away.
What women-related myths or taboos need to be broken?
It is a myth that women cannot work after marriage or after having kids. Women, according to me, are multi-taskers and they can manage their homes and work too. They only need a little support from the family. I have worked with women throughout my career and seen them manage their roles way better than any man could.
I believe give them an opportunity and you will see them excel and go beyond their capacity to get the work done on time and with precision.
Do you have a mentor or a role model? If yes, you may state briefly how it inspired you.
I have many role models. My dad taught me determination, my mom taught me about self-belief and optimism, Einstein taught me about energy. I think everyone I have met has inspired me in some way... even those that I first believed tried to harm me. Today I see them as my teachers – here to teach me, mentor me, and grow me in some way.
What would be your message to the youth who are just starting their career?
I would like to tell the youth of today that learning is a lifelong process and that never ends. Formal schooling and education may have gotten over, however, one must keep learning and upgrading their skill. Technology is bringing about exponential change and each one of them needs to be up to date in their field.
Another very important message to the youth would be to look for their Ikigai. Ikigai is a Japanese term and in simple words, it means to find one's calling. I believe that when one finds their Ikigai and manages to work around it they excel and thrive as they have found a reason to wake up every day.
Describe yourself or your aspirations, dreams in 3 words.
'Born To Thrive'.
Lina Ashar is Co-Founder, Korroboree – Online School and Founder Emeritus, Kangaroo Kids & Billabong High International Schools. She is a Happiness Advocate and Ted X Speaker.
After successfully operating over 200 + Preschools and International schools under the brand name of Kangaroo Kids and Billabong High International School, Lina has now ventured into the EDTECH space. Her latest venture is called Korroboree Online School. Korroboree is derived from the Australian word “Corroboree” which is a sacred gathering of people.
Korroboree is an online school with a focus on self-discovery and self-mastery. It is an online school where learners will have transformational learning experiences using digital tools and resources and the Dreamtime Learning Design based on neuroscience, behavioural science and future skills.
How the Journey Began: Lina Ashar did her primary schooling in England before moving to Australia, where she acquired a bachelor’s degree in Education from Melbourne’s, Victoria College. In 1991, she came to India on a year-long sabbatical from college. While connecting with her roots, she landed up taking a teaching stint at a prestigious heritage school in suburban Mumbai, an experience that changed her life and led to the burning question “How can she bring back the joy of childhood for the children in India?” Back then, the education system in India was still grappling with a straitjacketed approach to education. It was robbing children of their childhood. She was appalled by a lacklustre system of education that upheld only the high-flyers. Crammed classrooms, disinterested students, and over-stressed parents inspired her to work on a model of education that was fulfilling, effective, and yet stress-free.
Kangaroo Kids and Billabong High International School: The conviction to offer an education that set the child at the centre, began with a preschool in Bandra (Mumbai) in the year 1993 with 25 students. With a successful formula at hand, she went from one preschool (Kangaroo Kids) to a network of them, whilst branching out to high schools (Billabong High International School) as well. The journey of developing child-centric schools across 44+ different cities in India and across Dubai, Maldives, and Qatar has been an outstanding one, supported by parents, education partners, and a fierce team of dedicated, passionate, and determined individuals at the school and central team level.
Ted Talks: Lina has been invited to speak about the future of education and the changes we need to bring about at various TED X events.
Interviews and Moonshot Conversations: Lina connected with over 100 + thought leaders across the world to interview them about the current scenario, the future of education and the shifts we need to make today to help children thrive in the future. She also started Moonshot Conversations (Facebook live sessions) to help parents build empowered hearts, minds, bodies and souls. In the process, we aim to co-create a world that is more loving, joyous, peaceful and abundant.
Author of two Books: In her endeavour to make a difference in every child’s life, she wrote her first book called ‘Who Do you Think You Are Kidding’. The book dealt with parenting for children and is a complete guide for parents on how to build a positive child right from the start. Teenage, as we all know, is the most difficult stage in life and the one where parents and children have the maximum amount of friction. Her second book ‘Drama Teen’, is a guide for both parents and teens.