Her Schools Are Helping Thousands of Children Learn ‘Design Thinking’

Thousands of Indian schoolchildren owe their happy childhoods to Tristha Ramamurthy, who has redefined the education space in India.

Tristha Ramamurthy was brought up with tall role models. Her mother Sabitha, passionate about quality education, had started a school for five children in the family’s guava orchard when Tristha was a little girl. Over the years, the school grew larger until it grew to become a secondary school and later a college, and then several more.

Tristha’s father, a former IPS officer, who retired as inspector general of police, Bengaluru, having won several awards for meritorious service over 32 years, had also served as registrar of Bangalore University.

And so, Tristha’s destiny in education was already etched out for her.

Having grown up in her mother’s school, Tristha completed her Bachelor’s in political science and entrepreneurship from Singapore Management University. She then did her Master’s from Stanford University School of Education, and is currently pursuing her doctorate from Kings College London. Along the way, she founded Ekya Schools in 2010 “to bring pedagogically sound, research-based learning experiences to India”.

Tristha family.jpg
Front row: Tristha, her mother Sabitha, and sister-in-law Shreya Reddy. Back row: Her husband Tushar Vashisht, father KC Ramamurthy, and brother Jayadeep KR

In over two decades, her family’s CMR Group has grown into several schools and nearly 22 colleges, all of which are now being streamlined under one university. As founder and executive director, Ekya Schools and vice president, CMR Group of Institutions, Tristha spearheads the K-12 (kindergarten to class 12) initiatives, overseeing eight state board, CBSE, ICSE and pre-university institutes. That’s an overall student strength of nearly 9,000 in the age group of two and a half years to 18 years old.

Ekya’s 350 teachers and educators follow the principles of inquiry-based learning and ‘design thinking’, which Tristha adopted from her experiences in Reggio, Italy, and from Stanford’s Hasso Plattner Institute of Design. Tristha’s older brother, an architect and MBA from the UK, designs the group’s various campuses.

Tristha Ramamurthy BangaloreTristha, who has done extensive research in educational equity, teacher motivation, education policy and curriculum construction, is redesigning India’s educational system with the latest advancements in learning and teaching methodologies. Along with technology partners from the US, Ekya is one of the few schools in India to introduce tech-based teaching.

“What is learning? Everyone feels they know what it education is, but there’s so much research coming out every day that contradicts our existing framework. At Ekya, we are flipping the way education looks like,” says the 32-year-old.

In 2011, Tristha met University of Pennsylvania alumnus Tushar Vashisht, a former Wall Street banker. The couple tied the knot in 2013. An early team member in the UID project, Tushar became world-famous when he experimented with living on the poverty line of Rs 32 per day, a story that made it to the New York Times and INK Talks. He then launched his health startup, HealthifyMe, one of India’s top rated weightloss apps, which has just raised $12 million in series B funding.

Besides the atmosphere at home, living in the city of Bengaluru has also helped in cultivating an entrepreneurial mindset in Tristha. She loves setting up new ventures and often makes investments in ed-tech startups. “I have an understanding on the ecosystem and so I can guide them – everyone is going through the same challenges,” she says.

Tushar Vashisht and Tristha Ramamurthy with their dog Tashi

Usually media-shy, Tristha loves to unwind by “fermenting her own home brew” and travelling with her husband and family. On weekends, the couple load bikes on top of their car and go hiking in the woods.

“I’ve had phenomenal role models in my life,” says Tristha. Seeing her mother stand her ground with determination and grit has been useful for Tristha at the toughest times.

“If you’re trying to do something new and redefine a space, you need to have that kind of strength to stay on track for a long, long time,” she says. With thousands of students and educators looking up to her, she’s certainly here to stay.

First published in the April 2018 issue of eShe magazine.  Read it for free here or buy the print edition

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