How a British Woman Became India’s Top Educator: The Story of Rajni Kumar

In 1955, Rajni founded the first Sprindales School at her residence in East Delhi's Patel Nagar.

2 min read

Rajni Kumar, founder of The Springdales Schools, passed away on Thursday, 10 November 2022 at the age of 99. Born in England as Nancie Joyce Margaret Joneson on 5 March 1923, Kumar met Yudister Kumar while studying at the London School of Economics and fell in love. She followed him to India, when she was 23. 

At the age of 25, she was asked by an Indian Army personnel to run a school for children of the Indian Army in Kasauli. In her memoir, Against the Wind: A Life's Journey, Kumar wrote that she was astonished when she was asked to run a school.  

“Me? I said in astonishment. But I don’t know anything about running schools! I have run some classes for young workers in a factory as part of their extension education. But that is about all...” she wrote in her memoir. 

Kumar, however, did go on to run that school. Later, she served as the principal of the Salwan Girls School in Delhi. 

Founded The Springdales School in 1955

In 1955, she founded the first Sprindales School at her residence in East Delhi's Patel Nagar with just 24 students and three teachers.

In a conversation with The Quint, Dr Ameeta Mulla Wattal, former principal of Delhi's Springdales School (Pusa Road), said, "When she (Rajni) came to India in the early '50s, she brought with her a breath of fresh air in terms of learning. She brought in a new form of education. Things that we are talking about today, she brought them then. The New Education Policy we talk about today, she spoke about it then."

Wattal said that Kumar emphasised on "holistic development of a child, not just marks." She added, "With these ideas in mind, she (Kumar) set up these schools."

There are four Springdales schools now -- two in Delhi, one in Jaipur, and one in Dubai.

Kumar was awarded the prestigious Padma Shri award in 2011 for her contribution in the field of education.

Social activist Shabnam Hashmi, whose children studied at The Springdales Schools, recalled Kumar as someone who stood up for what was right.

"I can't think of many schools in Delhi which celebrated Nelson Mandela's progress or spoke about the Russian Revolution of 1917 to students. They were constantly making students sensitive to issues related to gender and communal harmony, and that was mainly because of Mrs Kumar and her husband," Hashmi told The Quint.

Hiroo Mirchandani, an alumna of The Springdales Schools, told The Quint that Kumar was like her godmother. "She knew my mother as a parent of a Springdales student. I lost my mother when I was young, and Mrs Kumar became like my godmother. She often narrated stories about my mother. I absolutely loved that," Mirchandani said.

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