Beyond Traditional Learning: Inside Viranica Manchu’s Vision for NYA

Entrepreneur and co-founder of New York Academy, Viranica Manchu in an exclusive conversation with Deccan Chronicle, reveals the motivation behind establishing the school and its unique educational framework. By integrating progressive teaching methods and multidisciplinary curricula, NYA aims to cultivate critical thinking and a love for learning among its students. A learning environment focussed on understanding and application rather than rote memorization.

Inspiration behind New York Academy (NYA)

Vishnu and I co-founded the New York Academy.We both come from educational backgrounds. When we had children and were looking at schools for them, we realised that what we wanted did not exist in the city. A lot of schools talked about different programs, but it never added up to what we were looking for. Having been educated abroad, learning for us was entirely different. It was not about just memorising and writing the exams. It was about understanding the concepts. In the private school I attended in the U.S., we had an open-book examination and could take a card with notes and even a calculator for Maths. It was all about understanding the concepts and being able to apply them. Of what good is world history if you are memorising and writing the exams? You need to know how to apply that learning in today’s conversations, drawing parallels from the past to the present. This concept did not exist in the schools here. That’s when we started the New York Academy (NYA) for children. And it’s been amazing.
Misconception about IB being a curriculum
A lot of international schools talk about IB these days and this has resulted in a lot of misunderstanding in parents' minds. IB is not a curriculum, it is a framework. Those who are a part of the IB programme understand it. There is so much jargon in the education world, that new parents are confused and there is a lot of mix-up. Is it an IB school? Is it a Cambridge school? Then there is IGCSE. Technically, it’s not just IGCSE. It’s a Cambridge program.

Progressive Vs. Traditional Education
There's a vast difference between the two. Long story short, traditional education, was developed in the industrial era. It focused on what a child needed after graduating from high school or college. Children in the industrial era got jobs in factories, and they needed to know how to work the assembly lines. For this one had to know how to read the manual, remember the processes and apply it. It was rote learning never about understanding.
Progressive education is student-centered, inculcating a love for learning in the child from the very beginning. Encouraging a child to ask questions with no right or wrong answer. For example, one of my children was doing Grade 9 maths, when she was in grade 6. In progressive education, there is a curriculum, not textbooks. How to use the curricula in the IB or American system framework to develop a programme that will evolve every year is what matters. This takes us to the faculty who are constantly evolving the curriculum. They have to work together as a team at least once a week. It’s not just Montessori or Reggio. It’s the best of Montessori and Reggio, where you don’t limit a child. If the child wants to learn more, we must do more to facilitate it. Our teachers are called facilitators because they facilitate the learning at every step.
How IB framework and AERO-based standards shape curriculum and teaching methods?
Aero and IB are parallels. They’re frameworks. Aero is American. IB is European, now global. We fit our American guidelines into the IB framework, which very few schools do. I like the American curriculum because while it’s easier for the child to understand it’s still just as difficult. A lot of Indian parents get confused. They think it’s not elaborate, complex or challenging for their children coming from CBSE school. They are wrong. You could be an A-grade student in a CBSE school, but when you come into this system it will be challenging because memorisation won’t work. Children have to understand. For example, in our English program, you will read a book. Now, there won’t be the typical question and answer of who was the main character in the book. In our system, it would be something like what did you think was the symbolism throughout the book? If you were the protagonist, why do you think she thought this way? And so on. There’s no right or wrong answer. It’s questioning the whole concept, preparing you for the real world where reasoning and critical thinking skills play a major role. Our curriculum is multidisciplinary or interdisciplinary, allowing children to develop critical thinking skills, and giving them an edge over the other as adults.

What do you mean by multidisciplinary or interdisciplinary?
Our Math class will have a Science component to it. Our science class will have an English component to it. It’s not like this subject time is over and you’re moving to the next period. It doesn’t work like that. It flows like when we do our STEAM ((science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics).For example. One of my Grade 7 children did a research paper on the abuse of antibiotics in India and what would the effects be by 2050. This topic has Science, Maths, Probability and also English. It’s interdisciplinary. So, when you talk about IB, again, it’s just a framework.
Professional Development for teachers
Our facilitators are the most important pillars of our community. So, Professional Development (PD) is a very, very big part. We have tied up with the Notre Dame de Namur University (NDNU) teaching college from California, which is now a part of Stanford University. All our incoming facilitators must undergo a two-year certification program, which also helps them in their careers as well. In addition, we conduct weekly PDs where we bring in specialists to talk to our facilitators.
The importance of WASC accreditation
We are the second Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) accredited school in India, an immense pride for us. Like the International Baccalaureate (IB), WASC is an American accreditation agency. It was a six-year process for us to get this accreditation. We got delayed a bit because of COVID as nobody was travelling. And the process is very tough. They question everything—from the parent community to the students, everyone is grilled. They make sure everything is working together.
Validity of accreditation
It’s not that once we have got the accreditation, it’s done. We are constantly being monitored by them and have to submit reports if we are adding a new campus, which is called a substantive change, we have to let them know, though we are still accredited. They will send in their teams to make sure we are following all the rules and guidelines. It's a constant process.

Feedback from parents during PTMs
Our community of parents has been incredible. We make an effort during the interview process to select students whose parents’ ideology fits in with the ethos of the school. Otherwise, there will be an expectation mismatch. Our core mission says we are creating tomorrow’s leaders, we stick to it. We are moulding children to be thinking leaders, changemakers, business owners, entrepreneurs and policymakers. This is the future we are grooming at NYA. It’s very difficult to find the right match with parents because not everybody wants that connection. But, we have been fortunate because the parents coming to NYA are those who have travelled, seen the world, lived abroad or want it for their children if they haven’t done it. They want something different.
In our learning centre, we have a reader-writers workshop which focuses on reading first, then writing. When a child is a fluent reader, writing comes naturally. It’s a process. When you try to force everything, it doesn't work.
NYA has until Grade 7. If children want to move out, what kind of schools can they get into? And will they fit in?
They are not going to move. The 7th graders will go to 8th. Every year, we at the NYA add a grade. We are going all the way to the 12th grade. But, if a child wants to go to another school, they can go as they will easily fit in because at the New York Academy, we have given them the base of critical thinking. So, anything given to the child will be easy.
Your future plans and goals for NYA?
In another five years from now, we will have our first graduating cohort, which is an incredible milestone that we are looking forward to. We have our new state-of-the-art campus coming up. It’s going to be phenomenal. Not residential though. But we are considering adding the option for boarding in phase 2. This new campus will hold up to a1,000 children and we are intentional about that number, not more than that.
( Source : Deccan Chronicle )
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