Introduction: Sayyid Duja has been an educator and researcher for more than 20 years and has worked and volunteered in 30 countries across the globe. Driven by a passion for educational intervention and social renewal, he has founded schools based on IHE’s MOGO (most good) and solutionary philosophies and seeks to impact and transform education across India and beyond. Recently, he launched the Springs Gala, an online event that showcased solutionaries from his Springs Continental School along with educational leaders in India.
IHE: What compelled you to create schools? And can you tell us about the Springs Continental School?
Duja: I started my first school in my hometown, Manjeri, in the state of Kerala, India in 2006. It was my attempt to give back to my community. There were and are so many things in the world that are just not right, and I struggled to find solutions, as well as to find meaning and purpose in my own life. Eventually, I came upon the idea of founding the Springs Continental School because I came to believe that the best way to bring about positive change in the world is to have better human beings. I coined the phrase “Better people for a Better Society,” which became the first brick of my school as well as our motto.
I can’t explain how providential it felt when I first heard IHE President and Co-founder Zoe Weil’s TEDx Talk, The World Becomes What You Teach, in which she articulates problems the world is facing and asserts with conviction and confidence that the key system that can lead to solving these problems is schooling. That was the validation I needed, the pat on my back telling me I had chosen the right path. Since then, I have tried to follow IHE’s solutionary ideas and the MOGO principle [to do the most good and least harm] as my compass as well as the mission of my schools, working diligently to educate a generation of solutionaries.
IHE: At the Springs Gala, it was wonderful to see so many young people identify as solutionaries. Can you tell us a little about your students and how you teach them to be solutionaries? Have you faced challenges with this approach?
Duja: I consider Springs to be India’s First Solutionary School. We use IHE’s Solutionary Guidebook as the philosophical and operational foundation for the school and its curricula. The whole school’s ethos and work culture revolve around solutionary thinking, and I am thrilled to watch the school community become solutionaries.
My biggest challenge was addressing the skepticism around embracing solutionary academic modules. Some parents were afraid that our approach might negatively impact their children’s test scores, or that their children would lag behind in the competitive race they’re used to. We have answered this question with the consistent and excellent academic performance of our children in the mainstream board examinations.
Our students identify problems within their own locality as well as in the country. They research and devise solutions after careful detailed study and outreach to stakeholders, along with support from teachers and other adults. They are full of idealism and energy, equipped with excellent articulation skills, and highly competent independent learners. What they are learning in school is working! They have also acquired the necessary courage to stand up and do what needs to be done.
We are certainly aware that we are few at the moment, and we may not be able to end all the problems of the world, but let me quote Hellen Keller, who said, “I am only one, but still I am one. I cannot do everything, but still I can do something; and because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do something that I can do.” This is the spirit that fuels our mission to do the most good and least harm in the world.
IHE: Your goal is to spread solutionary learning and curricula across India. What resistance are you facing, and what do you think will overcome this resistance?
Duja: The task of spreading solutionary learning across India and educating the future citizens of the world to become solutionaries has gotten into my veins. In order to make a lasting impact we need to expand this educational approach to as many communities as possible. This can be achieved by transforming existing schools into Solutionary Schools in a phased manner. We need other schools to embrace the solutionary concept and adopt a solutionary curriculum. Our school can be a model for them.
My immediate work is liaising with school administrators, both in public and private schools, in two states, Kerala and Telangana. Then I’ll proceed to other states. I dream of a future where Solutionary Schools produce philosopher kings (policy makers) along with solutionary physicians, scientists, plumbers, engineers, etc., and I look forward to that future when we can declare my country, India, a Solutionary Country, with the rest of the world following in our footsteps.
Experiencing resistance is always part of any transformational initiative that challenges the old, habitual ways. But schools are starving for innovation and ideas, and they are groping in darkness. We have a solution, a solutionary solution, and I believe we can prevail over administrative and bureaucratic obstacles through persistence, modeling, and determination.