Mr. Ashok Pal Singh retraces his 27-year-long journey as principal of the Gandhi Memorial Intercontinental School Jakarta (GMIS) with Indonesia Expat.
The school boasts over 1,400 students and offers four IB programmes. Notable alumni have graced the fields of science, engineering technology, IT, and even trodden on theatrical boards.
Hello, Mr. A.P. Singh! How are you? Could you tell us about your journey before GMIS?
Hello, I am good, thank you! I’ve been with GMIS for over 27 years now, and the school has been a major part of my life. I was born, raised, and educated in Mussoorie, India. I completed my master’s degree in the field of education. Prior to joining GMIS, I worked at two educational institutions in Mussoorie, India, namely the Waverley Convent School and St. George’s College. Then, I served as principal at Women Teachers’ College in Nigeria for seven years. After that, I relocated back to India, joined Wynberg Allen School and spent some time there. Eventually, my children grew up and they left for college. That was when I received an offer from GMIS in Jakarta.
What prompted you to receive the offer and move to Indonesia?
Honestly, I didn’t hear a lot of positive things about Indonesia back then. I was initially thinking of spending just two years in the country. I was wrong; Indonesia and the people are simply wonderful. Being the largest Muslim country in the world, there is a tremendous amount of respect for diversity and tolerance. The nation’s philosophy of Pancasila and Bhinneka Tunggal Ika (Unity in Diversity) promotes peace and harmony. It’s also a comfort to know that Indonesians love Bollywood movies and Indian culture! Both countries have so much in common.
You have played an integral role in GMIS’s development as a world-class school. How has the school progressed over the years?
GMIS is currently the only school to offer all four IB programs, namely the Primary Years Program (PYP) in Grades 1-5, Middle Years Program (MYP) in Grades 6-10, and the IB Diploma in Grades 11-12. The fourth one is the IB careers programme, which emphasises specific career paths. When I arrived, the school didn’t offer any of these. Previously, we offered Indian school certifications and eventually Cambridge certifications such as O and A Levels. Our Bali branch is the second school to offer all four IB programmes.
How does GMIS cope with advances in technology and globalisation?
It never fails to astound me how the world changes. Recently, I read about Sophia the robot, which was given citizenship by Saudi Arabia. Technology has taken over so many job sectors. As for the teachers and me, our primary aim will forever be preparing students for what is ahead. Long gone are the learning-only-from-text days. We encourage interactive learning, analysing information, and critical thinking. I have also instructed the IT department to put more emphasis on coding, as it is a very important skill. As educators, we also continue to promote empathy, warm-heartedness, compassion, and love for the environment in our students. Education would essentially be useless without these values.
Could you please tell us about the school’s demographics? How do you manage so many students?
We have over 1,400 students from 40 countries. They come from various backgrounds, mostly from families of diplomats and expatriates. Of course, we also have local students from Indonesia. Last year, the class of 2019 managed to get offers from 97 universities from all over the globe. I manage my time by always attending students’ activities, be it drama, music, dance performances, debate sessions, model United Nations, TED x Youth GMIS, class exhibitions, and sports tournaments. I regularly provide feedback to the teachers. We compliment the athletes, orators, and performers who do well and motivate those lacking in self-confidence to do better by offering them constructive feedback. All students are encouraged to speak and perform without fear. In GMIS, assemblies are also held regularly to instill good morals and right conduct.
How is the school’s alumni network? Do you still keep in touch with them?
I always gleam with pride each time I hear about our alumni’s success. After all, it is my achievement and legacy as a principal. We have an alumni book, which allows ex-students to write about their school experience. Most of our alumni end up doing really well, not only in the fields of medicine and engineering, but also in other streams such as law, arts, technology, and even acting.
Recently, an alumnus who works for Apple came back to thank us. He said that during the unconventional interview with Apple he was required to present a case in front of an audience. He suddenly recalled his school days and attributed his success to the invaluable speaking skills he had learnt at GMIS. Another alumnus, Aditya Agrawal, was a colleague of Mark Zuckerberg at the Facebook headquarters. Aditya was also one of the pioneers of Dropbox.
I remember most of my students. I have developed a significant network and friendships here. Sometimes I also bump into parents telling me how well their children are doing in life, be it passing a scholarship application, landing a good job, or owning a business, which fills my heart with joy. The students, the alumni, and their parents are like family to me and I have developed a very big family over the last 27 years.
Aside from academic life, how do you like to spend your free time?
I spend time with my family. I have three children, both my sons work abroad, and I currently live with my wife and daughter. You are likely to find me at a local cinema during weekends, as I love watching movies. I still unexpectedly meet students, ex-students, and their parents in malls and theatres. It’s always lovely to have them greet me in places. As I mentioned earlier, I have a big family here.
Any advice you wish to share with parents and educators out there?
I have spent most of my life as an educator, and I truly love children. I believe we also have a lot to learn from them, as teaching and learning take place simultaneously. The most important values we must instill in them are hard work and kindness. We must encourage and support them to strive for the utmost in whatever it is they choose to do in life. Whether it is an artwork they choose to make or a birthday party they choose to throw, make sure they put their best effort into it.