Educator par excellence
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For Shirin Darasha, school was a democratic republic of talent
Some lives are celebrations; there is a measure of fulfilment in writing about the departed person. Shirin Darasha, who retired some years ago after a long stint as principal of Mumbai's J.B. Petit High School for Girls, passed away recently. Thinking about Darasha's life, one harks back to S. Radhakrishnan's comment that life is like a game of bridge; you have no control over the cards you are dealt with but you can certainly make a difference with how you play the hand. Darasha played a splendid hand indeed. She inherited a good institution and transformed it into a great one. She was able to do this because she was stubborn in her convictions, which she held on to with a courage and persistence rarely found in any field in our fractious country.
Think of her positions. To begin with, Darasha decided the school would remain an all-girls institution. This ensured that girls developed confidence and versatility in their early years. She was equally emphatic that once they left Class X, they should go into a co-ed world, entering it with strength and poise.
Second, Darasha's "different" school would not judge itself, or allow others to judge it, merely on the basis of examination results — percentage of passes, highest marks secured, etc.
Third, the school would not fall into the trap of many other Indian institutions, which become successful merely by admitting very bright students, not adding much value to their lives and taking credit for their achievements as the students pass out. A democratic republic of talent demands that we recognise diversity in intelligence and performance and respect the human spirit. Hence her insistence on embracing a polychromatic student base. This approach fit with her view that examination performance was not a measure of brightness.