This story is a part of Portraits of Purpose series sponsored by DBS Bank.
Nelson Mandela has said, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” However, would education mean academic training alone? Where does a child learn life skills and experiential education? These skills too are important and are powerful catalysts of change. Yet most of our schools seem to have a huge gap, when it comes to life skills training. When it comes to children with under privileged backgrounds, this gaps widens even more. To bridge this vast chasm between academic development and life skills training, Apni Shala was established by three women social entrepreneurs.
Apni Shala works with children from low-income communities and help build their emotional, interpersonal and thinking skills.
“While schools focus on maths, science, history and language, they miss out on the crucial aspect of life skills training and experiential education. Children today, need to develop social skills, right behavioural patterns, problem solving and decision making skills,” says Swetha, co-founder of Apni Shala.
For Swetha, the importance of life skills training and experiential education came on early. Her stint as a teacher for an NGO simply reinforced the true value of life skills training. Quoting an incident that changed the way she saw education in India, Swetha says, “While I was working as a teacher for, ‘Each One Teach’, there was this particular problem child who intrigued me. He was average and in some cases good in studies, but had anti-social tendencies. He had no friends and was very aggressive. It was after some research that I found out that his father was an alcoholic and would abuse the boy. And to top this, the boy would work after school. So while there was nothing wrong with him academically, he had several issues with life skills.”
After this incident Swetha simply could not go back to her cushy corporate job. She now had this burning to go back and help other children like the boy she met. So turning her back to corporate life, Swetha joined an organisation called as Pratham, as a content developer. In the meantime, Swetha had decided to study further and applied at Tata Institute of Social Sciences. Soon she joined the MA Social Entrepreneurship course at TISS.
It was at TISS that Swetha met her co-founders Amrita and Anukirti. Reminiscing her TISS days, Swetha says, “We got close during our years in TISS. Anukirti always had an entrepreneurial drive and she wanted to start something. Amrita on the other hand was trained in psychology and counselling. We knew that we wanted to do something related to children and teaching but we never thought we would do something together. But we were sure we would help one another.”
While Swetha was focused on training under privileged children with life skills, Anukirti and Amrita were looking at the library model. However, the schools they approached seemed more inclined to the life skills model. After much discussion and thought the trio decided to get together on training children on life skills.
However, while the goal was set, the path wasn’t that easy. Though, schools believed that these skills are essential and the children need to be trained in the same, Apni Shala found it difficult to get the necessary tie-ups to teach these skills. “When we first pitched the idea everyone was happy, but the minute we asked for slots in the timetable or space, they were reluctant,” adds Swetha.
To overcome this challenge the team decided to partner up with NGO’s rather than directly approaching the government schools. “These NGOs are already established and have tie-ups with schools. So, we used our contacts in NGO’s to make our journey simpler. While there are many organisations in the space of education, they aren’t into life skills. And listening to our idea they were open and easily approachable. It is through the NGO’s that we go to schools and train children in life skills,” says Swetha.
The next problem they faced was dealing with the layers especially while working with the government. “This is present even today, there are several permissions we need to take, go several rounds, but it helps our cause so we are okay with it,” says Swetha.
While the team was facing several challenges, they got support from DBS. “DBS definitely made life easier, while we were young and new to social entrepreneurship; DBS believed and supported us with funding. So we just had to worry about brining in the right curriculum and problem. It helped us believe in ourselves and our project a lot more,” says Swetha.
Currently to bring in social and emotional development Apni Shala works on the model of experiential training, which involves storytelling, role play and several games. “We want every school in the country to make experiential education and life skill training an important aspect of their curriculum. And this needs to be done the experiential way,” adds Swetha.
Apni Shala is targeting to train over 1100 children by next year. They are also looking at engaging with teachers and train them in experiential training, as it causes a great ripple effect.