I am sometimes reminded by my mother that, when she was the CE of Beaconhouse, she used to visit every school, every year (I’m sure you can imagine how the rest of this conversation goes..!). I will often reply (in a manner that can best be described as ‘cautiously defensive’) that we are now a much larger organization with increasingly complex demands (confirmed by the existence of an endless list of mysterious acronyms such as ETAC, ADEC, PBL, SLICT, EBITDA, DTWICT, RPD, ERP, TNS, AST, SIS, HEX, TBT, EYE, ELD, SOT – the list goes on and on!) and are operating in not 4, nor 8, but Nine countries … but, deep down, it continues to rankle me that I am not able to visit schools as frequently as I should because, at the end of the day, even I know that the only acronym that really matters is ‘BSS’.
A couple of years ago, I started to think how wonderful it would be if I could ‘virtually’ engage with all teachers across BSS – and hear back from them. I realized it would still be a poor substitute for actually visiting schools but felt it would be far better than zero contact with the people who matter most. This idea has taken many manifestations in my mind.
A case in point: a couple of years ago, I called the Head of IT, Mr Aslam Sharif, into my office and demanded that a video wall with multiple monitors be installed in my office that would provide me with live feeds from classrooms across Beaconhouse – with the ability to tune into audio as well – so that I could see – and hear – what the teacher in 3-Red in Gulshan Primary II, for instance, was saying to little Muneeb Hassan (Eeeeek – say the teachers!). Aslam Sharif looked at me like I was a misguided voyeur but instantly assured me that this was eminently doable.
On another (less insane) occasion, I told him that I wanted an Internet-enabled system for talking to all teachers and hearing back from them – in real time.
As often happens, this was all pushed into the black hole of ‘KK’s unfulfilled desires’ by the mundane demands of day-to-day existence – such as dealing with the escapades of LDA (another delightful acronym) and other such pursuits.
I was therefore delighted, a few days ago, to accept the joint offer of the Heads of Academics, Technology, and TBT to address every single teacher of Beaconhouse in one go through Internet-enabled live video streaming – a thought that resonated with some of my less fascist fantasies.
It was so that I walked into a transformed office on the morning of Friday 1st March. Facing my desk was an oversized computer screen (to view incoming questions) and placed across me were an array of professional lights and cameras managed by a crew of technicians. To my front right was Maryam Hasan, Head of TBT, who had planted herself in a temporary workstation and, in my attached meeting room, was one of her Editors, Rida. The game plan was for me to address teachers and then field questions. The questions would first come to Rida who would send the screened questions to Maryam who would ‘approve’ them so that they would appear on my computer screen. I, in turn, was given the challenging task of pressing ‘Next’ to view and respond to each queued-up query.
Now, I’m no stranger to public speaking (occupational hazard) but it was somewhat disconcerting to address an audience of thousands of people by speaking into a camera. Despite this slight weirdness (coupled with fleeting images of ‘Bertie’ addressing the entire British Empire through a suitably retro radio mike in ‘The King’s Speech’!), I think it would not be immodest to state that the overall experience was quite successful. I’m told that I spoke for about 20 minutes and then answered 34 questions – all the way from Peshawar to Karachi and many places in between like Attock and Jhang. My total audience consisted of 8,500 teachers, admin & office staff, and Heads in over 190 staff rooms in Beaconhouse schools across Pakistan.
After the experience, most schools reported that the video and sound reception were of a very good standard. My wife, who had logged in from her Beaconhouse account at home, said that “it was so clear that I felt you were in the room.” A few schools, as expected, had technology issues – mostly caused by inadequate Internet bandwidth at their end. We will need to iron out these issues because I plan to use this medium in future to conduct focused discussions with different groups of people across Beaconhouse such as all Early Years Coordinators, Career Counselors, School Librarians, or A Level Students … groups that would otherwise never be able to meet in one physical location. The possibilities are endless!
Congrats once again, in alphabetical order, to Mrs Haq, Ms Hasan, and Mr Sharif for making this happen – and for the simultaneous launch of the Learning Centre on TBT. Who knows, maybe this will call for an addition to our canon of distinguished acronyms: ‘iCEO’…?