Panaji: Nisha da Cunha, the acclaimed educationist who revolutionized elementary schooling in Goa through inclusive, activity-based learning at the two institutions she founded — Nisha’s Play School and Shiksha Niketan — passed away on Saturday morning. She was 63.
Da Cunha was also the principal of both schools and was considered by many to be a pathbreaker in the field of education, giving equal emphasis to literacy, life skills and psychosocial development of each of her students, especially the weakest.
The schools, which started out of a flat in the Housing Board colony at Porvorim over 30 years ago, are now housed in child-friendly, green buildings at Torda. The structures were painstakingly designed by her architect husband Gerard da Cunha, and sport an amphitheater and spaces for music, dance and art.
Da Cunha pioneered the concept of ‘circle time’, an initiative that focuses on the emotional well-being of students by addressing various issues such as the meaning of friendship, bullying, anger management and bereavement. She also promoted workshops on sexuality education for parents, to help them address questions on the subject from their children. Health check-up camps for children of both schools are a regular feature each academic year, as is ‘market day’, which enables students to learn the nuances of shopping while honing their math and social interaction skills.
She had explained her unique approach to education on the 25th anniversary of Shiksha Niketan in 2016. “To me, education is a life-long process of learning and unlearning,” she wrote, in a magazine commemorating the event. “It is what guides every being, every profession and every nation. Education is an organic system. It needs to be nurtured with love and the right values. It must foster curiosity and help discover individual talents. It must celebrate diversity and tolerance. In the end, education must be like a lighthouse that lights the way and helps you to remain steadfast through life’s storms…”
Daughter of the founders of Sharada Mandir School, Miguel Alberto da Costa and Lucy Pacheco Gracias da Costa, Da Cunha is survived by her husband Gerard and children Nyhna and Taariq.
Award-winning wildlife biologist Nandini Velho, an ex-student of the school, described Da Cunha as “family on beach and jungle trips, and a pedagogical beacon”. “My heart will look for her in the coconut palm fronds where we made concert backdrops, in the movement of dolphins where she taught us open-water swimming, in the campfires where she taught us life skills, and in the strumming of her guitar which helped us open up,” Velho told TOI.
A memorial service for Da Cunha will be held at 3pm on Tuesday at Shiksha Niketan.