Peter Bird is an educationalist by passion and profession (NPQH National Professional Qualification of Headship from the UK). In 2018 he was head hunted to open the International Village School in Chennai as a founding Superintendent; it was an offer that he accepted without a second thought.

As India and the UK have a shared history, and I was already quite well acquainted with Indian culture and its cuisine, I definitely wanted to stay in a warm tropical climate by the ocean after having worked for 7 years in Qatar in temperatures hitting +50 C and the desert landscape around it. Chennai, or Madras that we learnt about in school, pleasantly welcomed me with a very hot and humid climate. And to my surprise, Chennai reminded me of my village back in the UK, in South Cambridgeshire, in so many ways. Very modern but quite slow to change, no rush, resilient to fast change, very traditional and conservative, cultured and sophisticated, and moderate in progress. It gives a sense of stability and predictability. In Chennai, I felt at home almost like I had always been here, says Mr.Bird

Jane Kataria (JK) – Do you see much difference in children and parents here in India and other schools you worked at?
(PB) – I shall say that most parents strive for the very best for their children, wanting to give what they did not have, wanting their children to achieve more with lesser struggle. But what is different in India is that education is the main objective and the primary focus amongst parents and the society. It is the best place to be for an educationalist like me. Lot of importance from the very high levels and lots of support and respect is given to education, teachers, and teaching. I like Chennai because it has a strong developing economy so there is new money, many new working places, and new people from around India and from abroad. There is a huge demand for quality education which comes with an innovative approach. I am proud to say that we have now opened a second building and our school is going up to Grade 12. It’s a giant leap from where we started when I joined the school back in 2018.

(JK) – How did you decide to become a teacher and then a principal and devote your life to education?
(PB) – As a child I hated school. You can say out of vengeance I became a teacher (smiles). It used to be so dull and boring. I grew up in a very sleepy rural village in South Cambridgeshire in England called Bassingbourn. This was originally a farming village, but during my childhood it became a commuter belt for London as it was only 43 minutes away by train. All my schooling was in that village, and it was all very village focused.It was a very “small” school that did not really address any individual learning needs. I had chronic dyslexia, and it wasn’t detected until I was 9 years old. Do you believe I started reading only at nine? I did not like my school. I had a constant feeling of being a failure even though I knew I was intelligent. I could understand everything that was being discussed around me but could not show my intelligence on paper. So, my educational journey had turned sour due to this experience,which was such a negative one. This schooling journey inspired me to produce and create schools that give positive educational experience and treat every child individually for their needs. And it gives me pride that the IB school (IVS) that I have founded in Chennai offers that potential.

(JK) – But this is so strange that you were not discouraged by your experiences in school!
(PB) – Like I said I was so concerned, and I decided that no child should feel how I felt and I knew there was a way to make schooling a happy and interactive learning process. My goal is to create the best educational environment for our children, to specialize in creative arts right from primary levels, and to create one of the best IB schools in Chennai.

(JK) – And what are your personal goals?
(PB) – My personal goal is to make the most of my time in India. I am a Triumph biker and I already have completed 15 thousand kilometers on two wheels exploring Tamil Nadu. I have been as far as Ooty, Coimbatore, and Valparai. I would also love to see the rest of India, travelling on two wheels. I also practice mindfulness and yoga. I really enjoy the benefits of the culture here.

(JK) – How do you motivate children? Especially when they join at a later stage, let’s say 11-13 years of age? Sometimes schools don’t create the right environment and children lose interest or feel bored!
(PB) – There is no big secret in motivating children. In my school, children have a voice; children quickly realize that their opinion and their thoughts are important and are a much needed part of their education. When you ask a child what she or he is thinking and ask them to participate in their education, they quickly become involved and quickly enjoy the environment. It doesn’t matter which system of education they have been in before. When they come to my IB they really appreciate the added value of themselves. We seek their opinion, encourage them to debate and participate. When they feel actively involved, they also feel important. There is no boredom, no alienation, no frustration. They enjoy it and they participate fully.

(JK) — When children start at an early age the environment is already set?
(PB) — You are absolutely right. It is incredibly important, the start of an educational journey. It sets the key elements of developing lifelong learners and it is important to develop love for learning and if we create the right environment, it happens naturally.

(JK) – What about your family? Are they here with you?
(PB) – Yes, me and my wife Sandra along with our three rescued dogs stay at a beautiful home on ECR. Our daily routine – morning walks on the beach with our dogs. I am blessed with two grown up daughters and I am a grandfather to Ada back in the UK. She will turn 1 year old this October. I also have a stepson from my second marriage with Sandra. Very happy to have such a big family and I am happy to be able to spend time with them.

(JK) – Do you miss England? I know you just came back from the UK spending 5 weeks vacation there.
(PB) – Honestly, I was very unhappy with England especially since Brexit and I always knew I would be an expat. That is what I have done for over a decade. I know many people, especially from India, dreaming of living and working in the UK and every time I hear their aspirations it makes me reconsider my own perception. I could not go home for two years because of the covid restrictions and this summer I loved reconnecting with England. Noticing its charm in the summer sunshine, and the passing of distinctive seasons.
I also rediscovered traditional English cuisine though I have a preference for spicy food, really spicy. Over the vacation, I loved the English pub food such as pie mash and veggies with gravy, which is basically comfort food. I loved the real ales and bitters which you only get there. I liked the traditional English breakfast and afternoon teas (Devon cream tea).
I was very keen on curries and spicy food before I came to India, and now I really enjoy the fact that South India has an entirely different cuisine and dishes that I never experienced in the UK because most of the restaurants back there offered North Indian cuisine. Here, I discovered so many more varieties of South Indian dishes other than the famous idli and dosa. So many more that I have yet to learn all the names (laughing).

When I look back at the 4 years that I have been to Chennai, I am happy to have made friends with locals and neighbours that I ride with on most of the weekends. I love the friendliness of people here and I hope I can stay and contribute for many more years!

– Jane Kataria is a Doctor of Arts, a radio jockey based in Chennai, has acted in several movies, TV series, short films and YouTube channels, professional belly dancer and was also crowned Mrs. Tamil Nadu 2018