I recently graduated from FLAME University, Pune, and if you know of it, you must have heard that it is where all the elite kids go for university. I never had to worry about how was I going to pay for tuition, where I would stay, who was going to clean my room, who was going to do my laundry, or who was going to cook my food.
Since all of it was provided for, my only responsibility was to study well and submit my assignments on time, and sometimes, even that was too much! I decided to do an Economics major with a Psychology minor. In my third year of university, I studied Indian Economy, where I learned about everything that was wrong with the Indian education sector, and Educational Psychology, where I learned about all the right things that must be done to ensure a child learns in the best way possible. Ever since I was determined to make a change.
I joined Educational Initiatives as an Executive – Project Management, and last week, I went on the field for the first time. We were set out to go to Jhunjhunu and Churu, Rajasthan to conduct teacher training workshops and visit government schools of Rajasthan which use one of our learning tools, Mindspark.
The field visit turned out to be a lot of firsts for me – sleeping on the middle berth of a 3rd AC train, travelling by state buses which ran like there was no tomorrow, encountering hotel staff that did not knock before entering, air conditioners that threw out more dust than air, a TV that only aired telemarketing ads, eating the same food for five days in a row, not having access to medicines for cramps, and putting unreal trust in rikshawalas, who promised they would come to pick us up from a remote village when we called.
Coming from a well to do family, it was my first ever privilege check. I had to consciously try not to say things like “oh, why can’t we just hire the auto for the whole day and pay him 1000 bucks? It’s just so much easier!” Getting out of the comfort zone was difficult, but definitely worth it.
The Mindspark schools we visited were located in Ghanghu and Dhadhar in Churu district of Rajasthan. They were some of the most beautiful schools I had seen – the fresh air, the walk from the village to the school surrounded by trees, the space that was available for the children to move freely, and the sight of students collectively washing utensils after lunch!
My heart was filled with joy. But, as soon as we entered, one could visibly tell that we were not from there, and I could definitely feel it. With a camera and a tripod in hand and a laptop on my back, the only thing I could think to myself was “Arrey nai yaar, ye leke nahi aana chahiye tha.” I looked at my colleagues and they seemed to be doing okay! “You will get used to it,” said Meenal. We went into the principal’s office to get feedback on Mindspark, and something happened that instantly made me feel at home. Chai!
After a brief chat with the principal, we went to the Mindspark lab. I was taking photos and the students were awkwardly trying to ignore the camera which was two inches away from their faces. I was surprised to see the level of concentration fourth-grade students had while learning math, and the speed with which they answered questions that I took a long time to solve.
By the end of the class, the students seemed to be comfortable, and openly asked, “Didi, ek photo ledo na please!” As expected, everyone ran into the frame, and there was chaos. I could not wipe the smile off my face as the lab in charge tried to make them go back to their seats, back to studying.
The bell rang, and the students ran to their next class. It was time for us to leave. The story does not progress the way you think it is going to – with a big revelation about where I come from and the big change that is going to happen. I am still far away from that, I feel. But I realized that working in the developmental sector can be challenging, especially when you have not grown up the same way as the people who are being impacted by your work. The difference is always going to be there, but the most you can do is make that difference smaller as the time passes by.
By the end of this, I was more aligned to the company’s vision of a world where ‘every child learns with understanding’, and I am more determined than ever to work towards it.