Raju Varanasi works technology into teaching

Raju Varanasi

By Rekha Rajvanshi

Raju Varanasi is an Australian Fulbright Scholar. As the Director of the Curriculum and Learning Innovation Centre, he promotes a culture of innovation and organisational learning across NSW Department of Education and Communities. Earlier, he was a Director  in TAFE NSW for several years.

Raju is an IIT graduate in chemical engineering and obtained post-graduate management qualifications from IIM Bangalore. He migrated to Australia in 1991, according to him, “due to sunny weather and my love for cricket”.

He has a thorough understanding of the current technology trends in education including pedagogical approaches, planning policies and standards within NSW and Australia. Under Mr Varanasi’s leadership, the Centre for Learning Innovation has introduced several highly successful technology-based flagship services for schools, vocational education and training sector.

Here Rekha Rajvanshi from The Indian Down Under discusses with Mr Varanasi about   future trends in education.

Raju with Rekha Rajvanshi

TIDU: In the last ten years there has been a huge advancement in technology. How do you envision future education?

Raju: Technology has really changed a lot of things. What constitutes now as a classroom or a school, now revolves around technology. I work very closely with the principals and the senior executives. They are very conscious that we need to provide more opportunities to the students. Year 2+ kids are quite good in adapting education and processing and downloading information. So the future of Education will be drastically different. Learning is a social process and school is a social constant. However, the physicality is now less important: two learners may not be in the same classroom but they could be in the same class as interactions are much more vital and digital. In the future, a teacher will become a mentor and the classroom will become a learning space. It may look more like a café rather than as a classroom you and me went to. With these mobile technologies we can set up a learning environment anywhere. My concept is that the social concept of school should not go away. There will be a lot of interaction in the physical world, complemented well by the virtual world. With national broad band coming up, it will be a big plus.

TIDU: Australians of Indian origin are either bilingual or multilingual. With your bilingual background, what’s your opinion on second language teaching/learning. Did being bi/multilingual benefit you in your professional or personal life?

Raju: Certainly it has benefited me both in personal and professional life. I know Telugu and English, a bit of Tamil and Hindi as well. It is a globalised world and a bulk of Australia’s future is videshi, and language is the best vehicle for intercultural understanding. Australia recognises that. We, in NSW, provide 35 languages up to HSC and in K-6 stage we offer 40 languages. I personally feel that languages have opened up a new way of looking at life. When we learn a language, we look at culture and when we look at culture we appreciate new things in life. If you take an economic view, language builds trade, language builds relationship, language makes it possible to exchange of ideas, money, people and goods.

TIDU: What is the mantra of your success in Australia?

Raju: A little bit of luck is always there. As a first generation migrant I had all to win and nothing to lose. I had the aspiration to do well and Australia gives a lot of opportunities. The mantra is a mix of luck with aspiration.

TIDU: What were your main achievements as a TAFE director and now in CLIC?
Raju: One of my key achievements in TAFE, which I joined in 1991, was working on the first cross industry training package. We worked on a lot of national issues such as skill standards. I was lucky enough to get a Full Bright Scholarship from the Australian Full Bright Commission which took me to the USA. I could meet with scholars in Harvard University and the University of Texas, which was a fantastic experience. Now in CLIC, I implement and support all the curriculum issues in the school regions. We are talking about kids born in the internet generation; so my role is to put new digital learning environments and promote integrated web based learning.

TIDU: According to the Board of Studies, ACARA’s Draft languages paper has failed to address an ”alarming decline” in language education. How can this be addressed?

Raju: There are pressures on schools about numeracy and literacy, NAPLAN. The Government is putting systems in place about school accountability in getting the numeracy and literacy start. There is pressure to put a National Curriculum in place with more consistency. In the context of all this I admit that languages have taken a lower priority in the current scheme of things because they are trying to get the foundation right about literacy and numeracy. But it won’t be the same forever; very soon the game will move on to higher order things and languages will come on higher stage.

TIDU: Why do you think any of the Indian languages, and Hindi as well, has not been included in the national language curriculum?

Raju: I am pleased that Hindi has been included in the HSC. Hindi is now there in the Saturday School and also in K-6 schools. It is the one of the fastest growing languages in Australia. I think there will be a further growth which will open up more recognition and more participation in Schools. In terms of the Australian National Curriculum, there are so many other languages with long time legacies such as French and Italian. Asian languages such as Korean and Indonesian are growing, and I understand Hindi is not in the top rating. I am optimistic that very soon Hindi will be higher up on the agenda.

TIDU: Would you support the petition for adding Hindi in the National Curriculum?

Raju: Yes, I would support, but I also understand the priority order.

TIDU: Any special message you would like to give to the Indian students and the Indian community of Australia?

Raju: I am not so much into giving messages but if I have to give a message I would say, ”˜we collectively have chosen a great country where we can integrate while we can still retain our cultural richness. We have to reciprocate tolerance; tolerance has to be both ways – a two way social relationship’.

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