Five-Minute Marvels: Breaking Cultural Barriers at Botanic Primary

Parental Engagement Supporting Learning Primary Northern Ireland
11 October 2018

Having moved from India to Northern Ireland, Suchitra wanted to get involved in her child’s education. After joining the Botanic Primary PTA, she helped to renew a sense of multiculturalism amongst the pupils.

Who are they?

Suchitra Varma worked as a secondary school teacher at a school in India for five years, and after she and her family relocated to Northern Ireland nine years ago, she wanted to be just as involved in the education of her own child. She wanted to understand the curriculum and how children are taught, and how this differed from her previous experiences. Having moved to Northern Ireland, I knew there would be many differences, mainly because in India, parents don’t interact with teachers in the way they do here,” Suchitra explains. Involvement in school life isn’t something that was encouraged, and to ask the teachers questions would be considered disrespectful. I really wanted to change that, and play a part in my child’s education, although I wasn’t sure how I could get involved until I heard about the PTA.” 

What did they do?

Suchitra decided to attend a PTA meeting at her child’s school, Botanic Primary. At first, it was very daunting because it was so alien to me. I was overcome by the warm welcome I received from the parents and teachers, as well as the positive relationships that exist between them.” 

After Suchitra joined the PTA, other parents from ethnic minorities were encouraged to do the same. Today, the diverse group is thriving and runs numerous multi-cultural events, focusing on food and dress from around the world. Even so, they remain a strong fundraising team, and are supporting a number of educational opportunities within the school. To date, they have fundraised for:

  • Development of the school balcony
  • A new climbing frame
  • iPads for classrooms
  • A new shed and playhouse

How did it go?

I have now built up excellent relationships with others parents and the teaching staff,” says Suchitra, but her ambitions didn’t stop with the PTA. Her efforts and attitude, encouraged me to offer to help out in the classroom, which the teachers welcomed immediately.” She quickly became a valuable member of the school staff, taking up the post of a classroom assistant. 

While teaching, Suchitra alternates between wearing western clothes and Indian dress, which initially prompted questions from some pupils. The children asked me why I was coming to school wearing fancy dress, and I was able to start a discussion with them, explaining that this is how ladies dress in my culture. It’s really helped to normalise things like cultural dress in our school.” Sharing her culture with families, teachers, and students at the school helped to enrich the learning environment, and create a more cohesive, welcoming community. 

Botanic Primary school has been so welcoming to me and my family and is so welcoming to all cultures. The Botanic PTA is a diverse group and it has helped us in the way we think and plan our activities to include everybody. Being a volunteer and now working in the school has really helped me to support my own children’s learning.”

With thanks to Suchitra Varma of the Botanic Primary School PTA.

Want to make your own marvel? Trying to form a more inclusive, diverse PTA?

  • Having a wide variety of views and perspectives on your PTA is so important, particularly when it comes to event planning. Being able to offer something for everyone brings people together, and fosters a stronger community