The idea of Arthan was the result of a series of conversations we had with students studying in grades 8 and 9.
As we stepped into a classroom with dusty desks, worn out paint in an old uninviting building and asked students about their aspirations, many of them were quiet. Their eyes, seemingly unsure of their future. When asked ‘what do you want to become?’ - a handful had answers to give, but there was a definite disconnect with reality. They were convinced that they cannot achieve anything.
The data on the dropout rate in India is an eye-opener. 50 % students drop out after class 8; many are demotivated and unclear about their future career path. Out of the 50% students who go on to grade 10, only 25% join class XI. The reason for dropping out is often lack of motivation and confusion about future ambitions.
While conducting our research - a realisation struck to us; nobody had spoken to government school children about career aspirations, ambitions and how to achieve them. There was a need for them to understand the world of work, employability skills after school education and the options available to them.
The first step was to create a curriculum for the children who studied in these government and low-income schools in urban, semi-urban and rural India. We drew upon from studies from all over the world, designed an interactive curriculum to involve children and push them to approach the idea of a career - understand their interests, skill set and how to search for a job.
Our first module focused on 'knowing yourself', was about looking inwards. It was to help students understand their talents and skills. Unaware and uninspired - these children, from a small locality in Delhi, had never thought about what they want to become and how they could become what they want to become - a luxury many other students had while growing up.
When we conducted our pre-pilot on career planning and work readiness - 30 girls in Standard IX from a government school in Sangam Vihar joined us. Even though located in Delhi, Sangam Vihar is far away from anything city like - with its cramped, overcrowded lanes with very little space to walk. There, in a tiny room, with very little ventilation and limited chairs, we started our pre-pilot.
Getting to know the girls was our first step. A few had some ideas, a few sat with quietly, while some sat with the curiosity to observe the class with an open mind. Majority of them were carrying the baggage of social barriers. Some had financial limitations, and others were discouraged by societal norms with no idea how to overcome them.
Out of these 30 girls, the stories of two struck us deeply. First was Shikha who had no idea about what she wanted to do, but was present in every class, listening to every word and trying to make sense of it. When we spoke to her about her aspirations, she said she wanted to become something to help her brother have a better future, but she did not know what that something was. Then we met Isha, focused on a dream to be an aeronautical engineer but without an idea on how to approach it. She had all her hopes pinned on becoming a space scientist and had never thought of a Plan B. The two stories were both similar and different. And we learned that this is how this journey will be - where each story while unique also has a universal bottom-line - the children deserve to learn, know and be aware of their aspirations.
Our goal is to get them to start broadening their horizons. The lessons from our pre-pilot are out. We have revised our modules and kickstarted our pilot programme with 500 children across Delhi government schools. We will be doing this together with Teach for India fellows. In future, our goal is to make our workshops gender neutral and work with 10,000 children. We have started out on a journey hoping to support millions of children in their path from school to the world of work.