What do you want to be when you grow up? This is a question we’ve all been asked countless times when we were little. For Anitra Perera, despite a family legacy embedded in education, it wasn’t as straightforward, at least not initially. “I wanted to be a pilot!” she laughs. “I know, so stereotypical! But it was only after my O’Levels that I realised I wanted to get into education.”
Today, Anitra is the Managing Director/Coordinating Principal of Alethea International School & Alethea School, but she had to work her way up the ladder, starting as—believe it or not—an office assistant right after her A’Levels.
Going through the mill had its advantages because Anitra is more invested in her school than ever before. She recently launched a technology-driven educational framework which includes capabilities like smart classrooms and e-libraries. “I noticed the rise in technology and wanted to bring that into learning, but just enough to ensure the kids don’t get lazy!” Anitra explains. “That’s when we brought smart boards—it allowed for a good revamp, introducing more tech while still allowing the children to use their writing books.”
Change in the education industry is always necessary, and with the outdated government syllabuses and the inevitable shorter attention spans of children, there were no fresh methods of teaching coming in. “We thought this will help the kids retain their interest in learning while still keeping up with the times and moving forward,” Anitra says. Naturally, the kids loved the change, the parents got used to it, but her real challenge lay with the teachers. It took a year and half of continuous training before they could roll out the new program to the students. “Some of the older teachers had a harder time adapting, but it was up to me to make sure they didn’t feel redundant,” explains Anitra. “I let them voice their opinions first, then I set out to meet them halfway by working with them directly.”
With changes in how students sit for exams (bye, written papers!) already starting to take place in the London examining bodies they report to, Anitra’s goal is to ensure her students are exam-ready come 2022. “Soon, all assignments and lesson notes will be available on the cloud at the end of each school day. The kids will have access to all the material anywhere!” she says. Not stopping there, Anitra introduced coding and robotics into the curriculum starting from grades 1. “By grade 8, the kids start doing certificate and diploma levels, and take part in university-led competitions,” she tells me. “They learn new skills, plus they get to be creative with the projects they work on.”
With all the technology Anitra has introduced into her school, it was clear to me she has a passion for it herself. “From the time I was little, I’ve always had an interest in tech,” she confirms. “I distinctly remember my parents saying that although I was a girl, my knowledge on the subject was as good as a boy’s. Perplexed, I asked why one would assume boys need to have more tech knowledge than girls? Why couldn’t it be equal? From there my interest in innovation developed.”
CSR plays a huge role in both Anitra’s life and the school’s ethos. Alethea is involved in countless projects, pioneering many, like Mother Sri Lanka—a project under the government where Alethea focused on teaching English to less fortunate government schools in the area, while working with the British Council with Active Citizens Project for Alethea. One of Anitra’s personal projects with the National Council for Children & Youth involves the running of 9 orphanages—4 girls and 5 boys. Last year, Anitra was recognised among 3761 applications in 51 countries as the first edupreneur in Sri Lanka, called the International Schools Award. “I had neither no idea my staff nominated me nor how life-changing that moment would be,” she ruminates. “My self-confidence grew and I knew I was on the right career path.”
As women, I tell Anitra, we tend to forget to take a moment to celebrate the victories. Echoing this sentiment, Anitra adds, “But we must keep reminding ourselves of our accomplishments, what we could do better and not let anyone say anything to demotivate us. My mom always says, ‘You may not get the appreciation you deserve right now, but at the end of the day, you’re doing something to help someone else’.”
Anitra’s schedule keeps her on her toes. Aside from her 7 AM to 4 PM weekly schedule, she balances many other commitments. As someone who valiantly tries to do more in a day, I am in awe. On any given week day, Anitra is involved in the Rotary Club of Colombo, the National Council of Children and Youth, Sri Lanka-UK Society (SLUKS), and the Women’s Chamber of Industry and Commerce. “I also spend lots of time with my dogs, and on weekends I feed street dogs,” she says. “I love cooking, too, so I experiment with dishes for family and friends.” But, how do you juggle everything I ask. She tells me she owes it all to an incredibly supportive family and staff and does what does because “life is short—you need to do what you love and enjoy it.”
Photography by Amitha Thennakoon. Art & Direction by Ricky De Silva. Videography by StoryWorks.