Rajni Kumar, who arrived in India aged 23 with a ‘big tin suitcase’ and later pioneered several progressive features in Indian school education, died on Thursday aged 99 year.
She was best known as the founder of the Springdales Schools and received the Padma Shri in 2011, among other honors and awards.
Rajni Kumar was born in London in 1923 and was called Nancie Joyce Margaret Jones. While studying at the London School of Economics, she met Yudister Kumar, a student from Punjab, and fell in love.
In her memoir, Against the Wind: A Life’s Journey, she wrote: “Without a doubt, the greatest event of my life was to leave England, my native country, to follow the movements of my heart and settle in this wonderful place and fascinating country – India – with the man I loved.
Yudister had returned to India and joined the left-wing movement of Indian freedom struggle. In 1946, she decided to follow him and arrived in Bombay. She recalled the “precious possessions” she took with her on her memoir journey. “It contained my collection of western classical music records, my books, my photographs and my clothes, as well as a stack of letters that Yudister wrote to me after his return to India, explaining every possible detail of life and Punjabi culture. Little did I know that a year later I would lose them all with the communal riots resulting from the partition of India and the looting that took place alongside,” she wrote.
“She didn’t know she was going to be a teacher or that she was going to be a big figure in education. She was busy taking care of my father, who was suffering from tuberculosis at the time,” Jyoti Bose said. , Kumar’s daughter and Headmistress of the Springdales Schools.
Her first foray into the field of education came when, at the age of 25, she was asked to run a school for Indian army children in Kasauli. After that, she was headmaster of Salwan Girls’ School in Delhi for a few years until she opened Springdales School in her flat in East Patel Nagar in 1955 with 24 children and 3 teachers.
“She was a pioneer in post-independence education, when private schools proliferated and the government demanded good schools. Many of her ideas are those put into practice by CBSE many years later. For example, the EWS program was incorporated into the Right to Education Act in 2008, while it admitted students from economically weaker sections in the 1970s. It was a pioneer in establishing links with other nations, in the founding of the National Progressive Schools Conference, in the issue of bringing community service into school education – things that are commonplace in public education today,” Bose said.
The school she founded grew and spread to four schools – in Pusa Road, Dhaula Kuan, Jaipur and Dubai.
“She was way beyond her time. It entered the field of education just after partition, when we had standardized schools caught up in the colonial structure – they were either missionary schools or ‘native’ schools. She brought a whole new wave of learning. The idea was to have a holistic education without exams, international connections, community development and so on. Foreign languages were taught – German, Russian, Spanish – as well as Hindi and Sanskrit, as well as performing arts, indigenous culture, etc. said Ameeta Wattal, former principal of Springdales School, Pusa Road.
“In 1978, she started the model of bringing in poor children and giving them uniforms and clothes. When the RTE law came into force in 2008, we constantly served as a model for other schools for its implementation. Because of the strong progressive curriculum in place, children whose parents were activists, researchers and scientists rubbed shoulders with first-generation learners,” she added.