An Australian citizen who grew up in England and currently lives in Mumbai, Lina Ashar is a true global citizen, having nurtured a chain of schools across 29 Indian cities as well as Dubai, the Maldives, and Qatar.
When Lina Ashar came to India in 1991 on a year-long sabbatical from college with the intention of reconnecting with her roots, little did the Australian citizen think that the land of her forefathers would become her home too. After going back to complete her bachelor’s degree in education from Melbourne’s Victoria College, Lina ended up taking a school job in suburban Mumbai, an experience that changed her life.
Lina explains, “Back then, the education system in India still had a straitjacketed approach to academics, sidelining the overall development of the child, which was a complete contrast to the milieu I was used to in the British and Australian education systems.”
Lina’s desire to offer a more holistic education style in India led her to request her father for a loan with which she started the first Kangaroo Kids preschool in Bandra in June 1993 with a small batch of 25 students. Lina went on to establish Billabong High International school and today Kangaroo Kids is a chain of 70 preschools globally, while there are 19 Billabong High International schools in India as well as in Dubai, the Maldives, and Qatar.
To a query on the primary factor behind the magnitude of her success, Lina says,
I actually don’t know where my direction comes from. It does, though. Things just seem to align by themselves. The Dalai Lama calls them ‘auspicious coincidences’.
Lina’s biggest challenge has been dealing with expectations. She sometimes feels overwhelmed by her responsibility to so many children, parents, investors, and those working alongside her. Though she knows intuitively that she is on the right path, the ‘what-if’ question does keep rearing its ugly head from time to time and has to be tackled head-on.
Lina, 54, places great value on giving a student’s mind a connection between what is being taught as a concept to the reason why he or she needs to know it. For example, teaching the concept of endothermic and exothermic reactions and connecting the same to self-heating cans makes learning joyful for children. From co-curricular activities to healthy emotional development, Lina wants students in her schools to grow up as well-rounded children.
On her leadership style, Lina says,
I do the dreaming and convert them to visions for my team with as much inspirational energy as I can muster. I then give plenty of space and room for the team to execute and implement. There is a saying by Bill Bernbach — ‘A dream can turn into dust or magic depending on the talent that rubs against it’!
Lina looks for individuals who share her passion and purpose and trusts them to be the magic. There are over 700 employees across Lina’s chain of schools and she tries to ensure all employees match the company’s values and vision.
Lina says, “While safety in most schools revolves around the physical aspect, for us, emotional safety is just as important. Our curriculum’s instructional design includes strategies such as scaffolding so that if a student volunteers an incorrect answer, the teacher knows how to scaffold this to the correct answer without making the child ‘wrong’, thus ensuring he/she feels emotionally safe to volunteer an answer the next time as well.”
Lina, whose favourite books include The Noticer, The Brain That Changes Itself, Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future, The Biology of Belief, The Alchemist, and The Seat of the Soul, is aware of the high levels of responsibility the education sector demands.
So, emotional safety training is constantly provided to teachers to cope with issues like bullying. The institutions also have processes to train all teaching and non-teaching staff, along with technology like CCTV cameras, to make sure that the children are physically safe in their learning environment as well.
Lina has authored two books on parenting — Who Do You Think You Are Kidding? which explores how one can raise a happy and well-rounded child amid the pressures and gizmos of today’s era, and Drama Teen: A Cool-Headed Guide for Parents and Teenagers, the title of which is quite self-explanatory. Lina's support system consists of her son, and her parents and brother, who live in Melbourne.