BabyChakra Advisory Board Member Fatema Agarkar Believes: “Sports is education in itself.”

BabyChakra Advisory Board Member Fatema Agarkar Believes: “Sports is education in itself.”

6 Jun 2022 | 12 min Read

Manisha Pradhan

Author | 71 Articles

Fatema Agarkar is a highly experienced edupreneur, skilled in Management, Leadership Development, Business Development, Marketing Strategy, and Business Strategy.  She’s a strong entrepreneurship professional  who has set up three educational start ups; and is instrumental in setting up over 50 schools – national and international, including preschools.

She’s on the advisory board of several edtech companies and also consultant to many organisations, besides being the Defacto Principal, Managing Trustee, Founder and Chairperson  of the Mumbai-based, Agarkar Centre for Excellence (ACE).

But what makes Fatema different from all the others in her league, is that despite all her achievements she is absolutely grounded, humble and one of the sweetest people I’ve come across. Besides being an immensely successful businesswoman, Fatema is a warm, loving and caring mom who is equally excited about talking about her son and her puppy.

There is a lot to learn from this supermom who balances her work and home with ease. In a conversation with BabyChakra she tells us how she does it all.

ACE is all about relevance, about bringing real life experiences into the world of learning, to make learning a lot more fun

Tell us a little more about ACE (Agarkar Center for Excellence) and also the mobile app that connects learning with sports. 

It’s a beautiful marriage, where we ensure that both our verticals be it sports or education, owing to the experience and expertise we have amassed as founders over the last several decades comes into play. Really the future of education depends upon the seamless integration, application of knowledge, and for us ACE is all about relevance, about bringing real life experiences into their world of learning, to make learning a lot more fun and realistic.

Honestly, the end goal for a parent or any educator, would be the transition into university or the corporate world eventually once they graduate from their foundational stage, which caters to our platform of learning. 

ACE is an educational vertical which is essentially A to Z in terms of the services we provide from setting up schools, as consultants, operation management, international or national curriculums etc. we work with parents through parent counselling, workshops, we engage with teachers through skilling workshops and we are also involved with students, with student engagements with case studies and field work.

In a nutshell, it is A to Z of everything that is associated with setting up a school or turning it around and working with each of the stakeholders, which are important components because eventually it is everyone coming together as a community, to create the impact that we hope to have for the children. 

With the sports vertical, of course with Ajit having represented the country at the highest level brings that level of expertise to integrate sports with education. 

You started your career in the corporate world, what made you get into the education field?

Being a commerce graduate, it was just one of the things you did as a part of college, the next stepping stone was to do MBA and masters, and then after you beome a part of the corporate world, banking fraternity.

Moving from the corporate world was because every assignment that I took on, be it a consultancy or a media house or even with the bank, eventually we started researching and doing a lot of work within the education space, and that’s when you realised being a businessman’s daughter, that there were opportunities that could be scaled up, and one of the realisations I had earlier on was that if I had to become a parent every, I would not want my child to go through what I went through, during my schooling journey.

There was a lot of knowledge but it lacked application. The Indian education system needed support so partnering with educationists who had already started this journey was a seamless integration.

I remember going to my Alma Mater and watching children line up the same way we did 20 years ago, I realised that the world had evolved, but we were still doing things that we were in the education system in a way that had already elapsed its time period, and I feel everything has a shelf life.

The foundation we have today is thanks to the system, but the system needs to evolve like everything else in the world, to be able to cope with the future. The kids today are bright, they have a lot more exposure than we did, but are we doing enough to cater to their needs? When I realised that, it’s when the switch happened organically ,seamlessly and naturally.

Sports and education is one nice unit that comes together, and we’re happy that with our experience and our journey as individual professionals, we are able to combine that and bring it to the stakeholders

What are the challenges you faced while setting up the schools? 

The challenges I faced and many others continue to face are the protocols that are driven to starting a school, there needs to be a legal framework a more professional outlook to  affiliations, a quicker fast track that is possible for entrepreneurs to set up more schools. We’ve lost enough time in creating these quality learning institutes and we cannot spend the next 30 years chasing the same legalities. 

The challenges were administrative but because this is a nation that is driven by history, traditions and the past, we often find it difficult to move into a space that requires a change that is talking about futuristic ideas, because we haven’t experienced it ourselves. I mean the parent community and the teacher community, a lot of time initially was spent in orienting both these stakeholders to understand that to be able to be a progressive school requires a shift in mindset.

While administratively there were challenges, even academically to get people to buy into a progressive school, where you are talking about application and not just churning out worksheets after worksheets to say that the child is intelligent, but actually getting the child to work with hands on material and demonstrate that through independence, took a bit of doing especially 20 years ago when I started, but things are much better now.

Fatema Agarkar says sports is education in itself, it’s about life skills, technology, art and design

Do you think our education system stresses enough on the importance of sports and physical education for kids? 

It took the National Education Policy in 2020 to remind us about the importance of sport. The Prime Minister’s vision is to make insure we have more champions but while we celebrate sportsmen and talent, we must realise that at a grassroot level, be it household level, school level, local government level, or an association level, we need more work to be done where sport becomes a part of our DNA, like what countries like Australia, South Africa, Croatia do; they create and churn out sportsmen only because it’s a macro vision that percolates into the micro vision. 

Our education effectively does not support this, while the change has happened, unfortunately children are giving up their sports careers by the time they are in grade 9-10, in favour of academics since they have to ace the board exams, and according to them sport takes away from that. We need more work to be done and that’s an opportunity to create those platforms for learning.

It isn’t about sport and achievement only, every child may not become a Virat Kohli or a Sachin Tendulkar. We only think about end goals, but COVID has taught us that physical fitness, where you take on sport from a more physical aspect will ensure that we have healthier children who become healthier adults. So what we need to do more is focus on the mental health and physical fitness aspect of it, rather than just performance based.

Where would you place sports education in the education system? 

Sports is education in itself, it’s about life skills, technology, art and design. It’s a lovely central point  where all subjects can culminate. Only if you start thinking about sports in that way will you start thinking about sport as a curriculum subject, or how to teach math and angles, statistics and probability using a cricket field, football field or a tennis court. 

In short, sport is about cognitive development and life skills, it’s about decision making, communication, problem solving, about balance, and accepting failure, success, mental health and so many more aspects. Over and above that it is all about creating that physical fitness that leads to better concentration, better eating and sleeping habits, confidence etc. It;s a culmination of everything coming together.

It’s how you approach sports as a curriculum subject in schools.

With more and more schools turning to online education thanks to the pandemic, what happens to physical or sports education? How can we ensure the kids are getting enough practical exposure to sports? 

Because of the pandemic, children have been in lockdown in our country more than any other country in the world, the children were in a stagnated lifestyle, locked in their homes. While malls opened, schools were shut for a long period, this has created a huge issue as far as physical fitness was concerned.

While our bedrooms became boardrooms, our kitchen became workstations, living rooms became school setups for online learning, what we forgot is that we don’t require a ten thousand square feet gym to create physical fitness routines, it could happen on a simple yoga mat.

While there are excuses about lack of space, all we need to do is look at success stories of all the champions who managed to play in small arrears and honed their skills. There is no stopping you from lobby areas, staircases, cycle paths, while we can give an excuse of lack of space, we can also look at it from a perspective of  what’s an opportunity to optimise and I think a lot of the families who were able to create routines in place is because they did not give excuses.

What I am trying to say is that there is no excuse that lockdown has prevented kids from being physically fit. When the children got back to school, some of them could not even run for half an hour without panting, falling or getting tired easily. The point is not about creating champions but about fitter lifestyles. 

Fatema believes that kids should be allowed to make mistakes, creating perfection is an illusion so parents should recognise that

As a mother, how do you balance your professional and personal life?

Quite simply being disciplined. Like I mentioned I am a businessman’s daughter and having watched my father get up early in the morning and get his fitness routine in place, make a checklist and organise his day even before it begins, prioritise his time for family and kids, his goal as an entrepreneur was to build an empire which he has done successfully, so my earlier impressions were lasting ones.

It’s that kind of discipline which I have again found with my husband Ajit, who is a sportsman, travels extensively, but the kind of discipline he’s shown; about putting in the effort, timetabling, priorities, accepting that everything is not possible, about partnership, making an effort to make sure you package everything.

I like to meet my friends, I like to read, listen to music, and travel. I love my work and that’s my priority but at the same time I also love spending time with my child and my little puppy, and for all of that 24 hours is not enough but it can be if you plan well in advance. 

Do I achieve it successfully everyday? No, but I am realistic enough to say that when it gets overwhelming, I can reach out to my spouse and vent it out and it is nice to know that I am not a superhuman and set that example to my child. I don’t take any pressure and live for the moment and that’s how you can balance it out. Cry when you have to and laugh when you must.

Fatema says she’s lucky she can reach out to her husband Ajit Agarkar when she feels overwhelmed with things

What’s the one message you would like to give all parents as an educator?

There is no perfect child, no perfect parent, no perfect house, no perfect career, no perfect school, but when we are looking at social media and seeing perfect children, children who excel in maybe baking or singing or cracking entrance exams etc. the pressure is to create those children at home.

Unconditional love, tremendous support, allowing children to choose is what children need. Set low expectations; under promise – overachieve; set that as a goal for your family, you’ll be a much happier unit. You will have children who can communicate with you, who will share, will be open and want to always include you in all their conversations. Allow kids to make mistakes, creating perfection is an illusion so parents should recognise that.

Tell us about your association with BabyChakra.

BabyChakra is a part of a large parenting community that also has a lot of teachers, specialists, and associate partners. Their vision is to be able to create the next generation and it could be a young parent or seasoned parent, but bring in best practices, ideas, share, collaborate, connect so that the foundation we have as a country is a strong foundation that helps our economic growth as well. So the association with BabyChakra is to bring in the experience and expertise that I have with education space, and also listen to feedback from the community that exists. 

What difference would you like to make as an advisory board member of BabyChakra?

The difference I’d like to bring as an advisory board member is to receive information, learn from others and to contribute in any way that’s possible.

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