Showing posts with label Change Agents. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Change Agents. Show all posts

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Change Agent Series (3/3): Aishwarya's Pursuit for Equitable Education

Aishwarya with her students

The Road Not Taken - Robert Frost

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for  the passing there 
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence;
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I - 
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Ever wandered, what makes the poem The Road Not Taken, so endearing for us? 
Possibly it's because we see our own reflection in the traveler.
Metaphorically speaking, we all are travelers in the journey of life and we confront these existential questions, along our journey -  

Should I take the road which my heart says?
or, Should I take the road more practical? 
Should I carve out my own path?
or, Should I follow the herd and take the trodden path?

To pursue one's true calling on the road less traveled, demands soul searching, being truthful to oneself and to stay on-course irrespective of sociocultural expectations.

Not a mean feat! That's why stories of men and women, who take this leap of faith are so special and needs to be told and retold. A beautiful story, can inspire someone who is now standing on the diverging roads in their life's journey.

This is my friend Aishwarya's story, who once stood on the diverging roads, she took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.   

Aurangabad a district in Maharashtra is Aishwarya's hometown. Like any other child from a typical middle class family in India, she grew up recognising the importance of formal education and upholding moral values.

"I studied in Nath Valley school, in Aurangabad through class I to XII. This is where I belong...this is where I made a strong circle of friends and even today, they are my pillar of support."

All along her schooling till class X, she was an average performer. In PUC, she took up Commerce along with Psychology as elective subject. As they say, interest flares up intrinsic motivation. Her interest in Psychology, made her outshine and she secured all India CBSE 2nd rank in her stream.

"Things changed me for in PUC. All along I used to consider myself as a non-ambitious, average student. During my school days, I had thought of pursing Mass Communication, but in PUC Psychology got me hooked. Now I was confused, Degree in Mass Comm. or Degree in Psychology? On top of it, I excelled at an all India level. On a positive note, this did help me to change my self-limiting perception of being a non-ambitious, average student."

Aishwarya's elder sister during that point in time, was residing in Bangalore. Through her, she got to know about Jyothi Nivas College, which was offering a combined Bachelor's Degree on Mass Communication, Literature & Psychology.

"I wanted to apply for Bachelor's in Psychology at Christ University, but had missed their timelines. When I came across this triple combination program at Jyothi Niwas college, I didn't have to give a second thought. It had Mass Communication which I always wanted to do, it had literature which I always loved since a child and it had Psychology, which I grew very fond of during my PUC days."

Three years of college life was fun. The Mass Comm. program was experiential, it involved making short film, Literature syllabus studying various genre of literature (Afro-American, Feminism, Victorian) and the Psychology lectures were captivating.

"Campus life in Bangalore, were the formative years for my independent identity. Living away from home teaches you decision making, independent thinking, understanding freedom and responsibility. I grew up so much more as a person, in these three years."

As they say, nothing lasts forever and good times lasts even shorter. Three years went by in a jiffy.

"I was again confronted with the question - What Next? I had thought of pursuing Masters in Mass Comm, back to Pune, closer home." Meanwhile, she came across notification for campus placement opening - Technical Writer, at Oracle in Bangalore. The requirement was Degree in English Literature. Out of curiosity, she applied for it and got through.

"The What Next decision became complex now. Previously the choice was obvious, a Master's Degree. Now I had to choose between Masters or job at Oracle." After considerable consultation with family, she decided to take up the job with Oracle. This was in the year 2011.

At job, in the first year she underwent training, in second year she was assigned to products for which she had to do technical writing, documentation. Her manager was based out of US and this global working environment helped her to develop a multi-cultural, global mindset. Being a people person, she was actively involved in team engagement initiatives and soon became the go to person in her team.

"On the surface things were going great! I was working with such a big brand, I had a good job, I was in company of so many talented and wonderful colleagues, my manager was a great mentor, I had a good work-life balance, evenings were for my Zumba classes, my weekends were free, infact I had nothing to complain about. However, deep inside I realised, I cannot work lifelong sitting in front of a computer."

Though she realized, she is not meant for a career in technical domain, she was yet to clear all her cobwebs. She decided to put to use her weekends, by taking up a Diploma in Counseling, at Banjara Academy, in the year 2013. This year long course, once again got her in touch, with her lost love - Psychology.

"The Counseling program, equipped me with skills for life - being a good listener, empathetic, non-judgmental. The program, exposed me various realities of the society and made me realise that each person is on their own unique journey."

After her successful completion of Diploma in Counseling, she wanted to stay engaged in some kind of compassionate work. During this search, she came across Make a Wish Foundation and started off as a volunteer, on weekends.

"As a volunteer with Make a Wish Foundation, I used to visit hospitals and spend time with children who were critically ill.  Our work was to make these children's wish (probably their last wish) come true. These interactions hit me hard and I was baffled to see, children from lower socio-economic background having such limited awareness of the world around them."

She was continuing her parallel lives, Monday to Friday - as a corporate executive and on Weekends - as an NGO Volunteer.

"It was a phase of turmoil for me. I knew my heart lied in something else and not in my day job. During lunch hours at office cafeteria, News Channel used to beam stories of rape, child abuse and other atrocities. We all office colleagues would be overtly critical about India and it's state of affairs. Over period, I started to realise we were all in this convenient state of mind of pointing fingers, but none of us wanted to be part of the solution."

Days converted into weeks, weeks in months, months into a year and Aishwarya's parallel life's carried on. This was the time, when she felt her job satisfaction was on a down swing, she was contemplating to quit and pursue a Masters in Mass Communication. In her head, she was still trying to make sense of the ongoing social issues and about her volunteering experiences with children of low socio-economic background.

"I believe in cause and effect. If there are wrong things happening in our society, there has to be a cause. It appeared to me, the cause was people's mindset - insensitive, unemphatic, inconsiderate, immoral. Mindset is largely shaped during childhood, as it is the most impressionable age and I was convinced, if we work with today's children they will grow up into adults of tomorrow, with a healthy mindset, automatically making it a better society."

On a random evening, while watching a stand-up comedy, a promotional campaign caught my attention. It was Teach for India. In Teach for India fellowship, one commits two years of his/her life on a full-time basis, to teach school children from lower socio-economic background (Govt or private school). She applied for fellowship with Teach for India. The robust screening process comprises of online application, essay writing, telephonic round, and final round was in person, at assessment center which included written assessment, group discussion and personal interview. She made it! and was offered the fellowship.

Change management, making transitions are always the most difficult part. In her case, the change was qualitatively and quantitatively different. Moving out from a well paying corporate job, into social sector on a fellowship.

"My monthly income was dropping by 70%. It required readjusting my life - I had to plan and do budgeting differently now.  Initially, most of my well wishers, including my parents, were not convinced with my decision. Materialistically I was going backward - leaving a big brand, taking a huge cut in my income, giving up a well set career where I was poised to have linear progression." Aishwarya's mom metaphorically told her with concern, "People climb up the career ladder and you are throwing away your ladder." She was justifiably concerned about her daughter's well being. She had a comfortable life, her peers were doing well and now all of sudden, she wanted to rock a stable boat and jump into the sea. 

When you are intrinsically driven, when you have clarity and purpose in life, when you have recognised your needs over your wants, outside voices stops to matter as you are tuned into your own voice. This is what had happened with Aishwarya, she had the inner conviction to reboot her life and to start a new journey on the road less traveled. "I knew I will be lot more happier from my daily work, no matter how challenging, as it was more meaningful and would touch many lives." 

In May 2016, she relocated to Pune, Maharashtra and was deployed in a private school which catered to children of lower socio-economic background. She had stepped out of her bubble, into the real world.

"Initial phase of my new journey was far from ideal and the change was enormous. Fifteen of us were living out of a small apartment before being thrown out by the association members. I was all the time into multi-tasking mode and was left with no time for myself, unlike my Bangalore routine when I had my evenings reserved for Zumba classes and weekends for volunteering. Days were cramped up with work and I started skipping lunch on a regular basis."

The community visits was an overwhelming experience. Families living in tin shed houses, their complete lack of awareness on personal hygiene, sanitary napkins, nutrition was hard hitting.

"It hits you hard. Here I was an idealist, wanting to change everything at one go and then you realize there is so much to change and it is going to be a long drawn process."

The RTE (Right to Education) Act, has been a good move for promoting education. However, this has caused other set of problems. "With RTE Act, no student can be failed till class VIII. Majority of the children from low socio-economic, have minimal parental investment in their life. There is a casual approach towards studies, lack of accountability and lack of interest in studies. There are n number of instances of a IX grader's subject knowledge being equivalent to a II grader studying in an upmarket school."

Aishwarya was deployed for two years in a private school, which had children from low socio-economic background. Total strength of the school was 650 students. "At school we have to instruct and teach experienced professional teachers new pedagogy. This is a sensitive aspect, as we are so young, half their age and we are coming and teaching them new methodologies and practices. The job demands to bring all stakeholders together, to work for the child's well-being and keep personal interests and conflicts at bay. Teach for India, message board says, Are You Ready for the Challenge? I now know why, it says so :-)."

Teach for India, functions on a two year rotation basis. One fellow leaves after his/her two years of fellowship and the new fellow replaces him/her. This cycle continues. Aishwarya was replacing a fellow, who had made a very good name for himself at his work. One of the key attribute of this fellow was strictness. "In my mind, I thought I have a big shoes to fill in, I wanted to emulate him and I conducted myself with strictness. This caused me additional distress, because this is not natural self. My expression of strictness was coming out as anger and aggression. I was making the mistake of copy someone and not being myself."

After several weeks of struggle, the realisation dawned into her. "My strength is empathy and I had come here to work with compassion, but I was foolishly exhibiting anger. From that day on, her motto became - "Change the world with kindness, not from hatred."

From this point on, there was no looking back for her. An affectionate yet assertive teacher was now in charge, to shape young minds for the next two years. 

"I realised staying true to myself was most important. I had to work on being firm and assertive without losing my essence. Being my natural self helped me in building personal relationships with my students. Over a period, the children found me approachable and they started to trust me and confide in me."

The journey was not a fairy tale with everything working out well with a magic wand. There were days, when frustration and helplessness would grip her. Factors like lack of financial resources, domestic violence, vulnerable environment were out of her control as a teacher, but these factors would hold back her students from focusing on their studies.  "It would leave me clueless about how to change the situation. Gradually it struck me that I'm here to uplift the kids so that they can change their own circumstances. I knew that with a little more faith in themselves, they truly find their greatness."

This faith, mutual trust in each other and the harmonious, learning environment did produce it's positive outcomes. Several of her kids have excelled academically, while others have shown their talent through several other mediums. They have performed street play on non-violence, a third of her class participated in the musical showcase for the school's annual day. They have conducted sessions on building and imbibing essential values for junior classes. "Marks may be important, but it’s their other, more holistic achievements that fill me with pride."

So what advice would you give to someone who is in dilemma - should I take the road less traveled?

"If you are clear on where your true happiness lies, then all you need to do is to take the leap of faith and trust the process. The journey is going to be challenging and full of ups and downs, but the amount of inner satisfaction, sense of purpose and happiness is unparalleled."

Memories for a lifetime

I asked her, about her reflections through this journey.

" This will be my happiest Once upon a time story :). I may have been too idealistic to think that my journey as a fellow at Teach for India is going to be a step towards changing the face of the nation, but now with a clearer perspective, I do believe that one child at a time we can make this happen. I want this strong cause, of providing equal and quality education, to have a ripple effect leading to the effective transformation of an individual, a society and a country."

Time flies, Aishwarya has completed her two years of fellowship. She is now joining Teach for India, as Program Manager for Pune City. She will now play a bigger role in on-boarding new fellows, coordinating with schools and doing her bit to promote quality education for all and transform one child at a time, to make a better individual, a better society, a better India and a better world.

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I - 
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Change Agent series (2/3): Moneyshiksha - Pursuit of Financial Literacy

Change Agent series – features individuals who are contributing in their own way, in challenging the status quo, for bringing about a positive progressive change.

"I lost my Dad when I was 29 & being the eldest child had the responsibility thrust upon me to take charge of my mother’s finances. I personally observed the painful transformation of my mother from a happy housewife who just signed anywhere told to one who could handle bank transactions herself. Be it depositing cheques to writing them she learned it bit by bit by asking around. I used to wonder how it would have been if my mother knew 'how to' from the beginning. Asking and learning at this stage made her feel more despondent" - Ms Shubha Ganesh. 

Sometimes adversities in life, becomes the impetus for a life long mission.
Reflecting back, Shubha vividly remembers the painful transformation her mother had to undergo, after her father's untimely demise. The importance of financial literacy, dawned upon her as she could feel the pain her mother was undergoing, in her struggle of financial management. 

Also having an academician mindset, she soon realised financial illiteracy at her home was not an exception to the norm. Sadly, abysmal lack of financial literary was the norm & by the time a person recognises this flaw in their skill repertoire, unfortunately it's already too late in the day. 

Shubha fondly expresses her gratitude for Mr. Y.S. Hegde (retired Managing Director of Can Fin, Canara Bank) saying he has played a significant role during the formative years of Moneyshiksha. 

The central theme of her mission, draws inspiration from Albert Einstein's famous quote: "Everything should be made as simple as possible". Her aim is to simplify financial education by delivering it at the level people understand (non-finance background).

Walking on the road less traveled, eventually Shubha's vision, idea, thoughts, experiences & learning came together in the form of Moneyshiksha a 'financial literacy & individual investor education program'.

Walk us through the early days of Moneyshiksha?

"Those days, I used to regularly write articles in Economic Times & I consider it very humbling getting to Mr. Y.S. Hegde, reading my columns & he finding them of value & substance" - Shubha.

Around that time, Mr. Hegde was in leadership position with Canara Bank & had just retired as Managing Director - Can Fin Homes. One of the common grounds between them was a keen interest in the field of personal finance. A meeting took place through a common friend & the idea of teaching personal finance to commoners, instantly struck the chord. 

In Mr. Y.S. Hegde's own words, "In 2010 very few people spoke about financial planning in India. During my frequent travels aboard, I have seen that personal finance education helped people a lot. I shared my experiences & wanted to do the same in India with Ms. Shubha".

The first program 'Be your own Financial Planner', was launched on October 2011, conducted at Royal Orchid Hotel Bangalore. Mr. Hegde took the lead in organizing this event & Ms. Shubha played the role of a teacher. A passionate teacher & academician, Shubha ensured all the learning outcomes - concepts, practical applications were well comprehended by all the participants. Post it's successful launch, a series of sessions were conducted on a regular internal at Times of India Building Bangalore & many other venues - Yoga centers, for retired people, academic institutions (including MBA colleges) & IT companies.

In recent times, Mr. Hegde busy travel schedule keeps him away for considerable long duration. He fondly reflects back & says, "We did our bit to spread financial literacy among people. I teach about financial lifecycle guide to people. People should understand how to approach their finances at each stage of their life. I also look at finances from the angle of our Hindu scriptures. Saraswathi Ashtakam book talks about the need for Lakshmi, Saraswati & Durga representing wealth, knowledge & health all equally important for complete happiness. Now Ms. Shubha, is carrying out the good work started by us. I hold on high esteem her in-depth understanding of the subject & her passion to contribute to the society".   

So what is financial literacy? 

In her own words, Shubha explains:
"Today our approach is to depend on somebody who rightly or wrongly displays some confidence and knowledge about investing. We take their advice as gospel truth and blindly invest. If it is wrong investment we blame them. We do not take charge of our finances.

In contrast, financial literacy is having sufficient knowledge to manage your own money properly. So financial literacy will give you the confidence and ability to invest right after duly consulting experts but owning the investment decision yourself".

Shubha strongly believes, financial literacy is a very important life skill. She beautifully articulates the rational why financial literacy is so important:

"Finance pervades our life today. When child grows up we tell him or her to go to the best schools to “earn more”.  But we do not educate them what to do with it? How to preserve it for the future? & how it will be required in later years? So I feel however far you go in your field of expertise a bit of financial knowledge leads you to have a secure life". 

Having the basic understanding of what is financial literacy & why it is important, makes so much of common sense. Yet why is financial literacy, so elusive among the general population? 

Shubha mentions, the root causes for poor financial literary are:
  • Finance is considered as 'difficult', 'boring' & highly avoidable' by an average person. So educating the reluctant requires high level of dedication & patience.
  • Our formal education system (school, colleges) does not consider financial literacy important enough & hence does not allocate high level of resource and time. 
She points out, lack of financial literacy is in fact a global phenomenon.

However, being an eternal optimist, she is quick to mention the wheels of change, has been set into motion. On a global landscape, United States of America has done commendable efforts to correct this lacunae. Back at home too, Regulators are now seriously putting efforts to spread personal finance knowledge, though with limited success. 

Shubha proposes the following project charter, for pursuit of financial literacy:
  • Personal finance should be taught at school (middle school to high school levels). 
  • Educators & parents should encourage children to attend such classes or programs. 
  • Make financial literacy a natural process rather than a forced education. 
  • Ask questions without fear or shame. 
  • You need to know just enough to ask the right questions before investing.
  • As a grown up adult you should read and learn the basics of financial literacy. 
In this pursuit, Moneyshiksha plays a big, meaningful role as a change agent - 
  • Striving to bring about shift in mindset of general population 
  • Inculcating financial literacy in parallel to mainstream education
  • Proactive positive intervention (knowledge & skill enhancement) to mitigate crisis
Like all inspiring stories, Moneyshiksha started small by teaching at colleges, but it always kept a lofty goal of trying to solve the financial illiteracy problem prevalent among the general population. It aspires to empower the individuals, who are most ignored & subjected to exploitation or misguidance by "so called experts".

Moneyshiksha is an independent educator, not affiliated to any financial institution or organisation. Being independent & non-affiliated is it's biggest strength as it speaks volumes of it's unbiased nature, zero conflict of interest & it's deep rooted philosophy on education.

Moneyshiksha's mission statement, beautifully narrates their educational philosophy: 
'Financial empowerment comes from financial education. We enable individual investors by educating them, by delivering knowledge of managing personal finances in simple and easy steps to investors of all ages'.

Faculty members at Moneyshiksha, are all experienced senior finance professionals, with teaching experience at premier B-schools. Through their educational seminars & workshops, they strive to bring in value by: 
  • Teaching an individual financial concepts & techniques, for managing their finance
  • Bridges the knowledge gap between individuals & the financial products
  • Road map creation of an individual's life long journey of wealth creation
  • A wide range of modules - Fundamentals to advanced investment picking strategies
As in real life, a journey is far from ideal, Moneyshiksha's story is also made up of real life flesh & blood. They started quite small, taking baby steps by teaching in colleges. Eventually, they ventured out into public space by conducting workshops & programs as an independent entity. There have been times, when their workshops were attended by very few participants. Needless to say, many times they have incurred financial loss & have been subjected to big dent to their morale. 

Upon reflection Shubha says,"The first challenge is to convince people that they need to know about personal finance.The mind shift, people have to make is our biggest barrier". Despite these low phases, Moneyshiksha has persisted with their mission 'pursuit of financial literacy' & their goal of educating as many individuals as they can.

For encouraging people to take up personal financial classes, she tried offering various freebies (very nominal fees to completely free of charge classes), as motivators. But to her surprise, she found free classes were not valued. In her own words, "What pained me was to see people walking in, walking out, disrespecting faculty members time & efforts. After a series of such bad experiences, Moneyshiksha adopted a model of reasonable fees for it's educational program. This ensures enrollment of students who are serious about learning & increases the engagement level.
There are other practical challenges, which Shubha's recognises as an hindrance while reaching out to the younger generation. In her own words, "My challenge as an educator is that education now has become rote learning. However, with width of knowledge acquired by reading is almost non-existent among youngsters. I am trying to be on Board of Education in many colleges to include practical training as part of curriculum. Moneyshiksha tries to bridge this gap to an extent". 

Apart from external factors, Shubha has to deal with internal challenges as well:
  • Pursuing self-education & adding on to her skills: After her Chartered Accountancy, instead of carrying on in auditing & taxation, she switched over to stock analysis & stock market. She educated herself further in this field by pursing a post graduate diploma in Equity Research.  She gives lot of credit to the support she has received from her husband in this journey, "My husband encouraged me to explore this field and has been my guide and mentor throughout".
  • Time management: Being a working professional & a family to manage. Moneyshiksha is Shubha's weekend effort & in this trade-off she has to sacrifice family time.
So what keeps her going, in midst of all these upheavals & challenges?

Shubha is quick to respond, "Passion & Compassion!"

"Every time somebody comes back to me and says that they have benefited from my workshops it drives me to do more. I think with my workshops I am able to convince people that equity investing is not taboo and they can generate wealth through equity mutual fund. It pains me to see people lose money due to bad investing or bad advice. So I am trying to do as much as I can to avert it". 

How does the road ahead, looks like for Moneyshiksha?

With a twinkle in her eyes, Shubha responds "Till date, we have reached out to more than 10,000 people & we plan to reach at least a million more".

Quite a lofty milestone for Shubha & Moneyshiksha. But when one is fuelled with passion, inner drive to bring about a social change, their pursuit transforms into a mission much bigger than themselves. Moneyshiksha's mission continues to gather momemtum & it continues to bring about positive change in people's life through their pursuit of financial literacy.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Change Agent series (1/3): Anna & Little ArKidtects - the LEGO Educator

Lego experiential learning - Transport system

In the by-lanes of Hazra road & Townshed road crossing in Kolkata, I was standing in-front of a non-descriptive building. On it's second floor, Anna Butenko an educator of Ukrainian origin is experimenting with a BIG IDEA - teaching young children through play, build & discovery.

Anna Butenko a passionate educator with international exposure in teaching, who has worked extensively in practicing novel concepts of teaching for young children. She wears several hats, graduate in Mandarin (Chinese language), practicised Helen Doron concept of teaching in Shanghai, China & now settled in Kolkata, she is trying to introduce contemporary international teaching methodology by partnering with LEGO Education.

Little ArKidtects, is one & only such educational institution for young children, in whole of Kolkata. Though Lego Education, is a very well established teaching methodology in Europe & US, it is in it's early days in India. Currently, there are few centers in Chennai, Bangalore & New Delhi.

I had set an appointment with Anna during the schooling hours, so that I could have a first hand experience of teaching with LEGO Bricks. When I arrived the class was in progress, I took a corner seat  in the visually appealing, bright & colourful classroom.

What caught my immediate attention, was Anna & her fellow teacher Sukanya's, undivided attention towards the children. They were so engrossed all through out the session - bringing up flashcards, engaging the children in dialogue, exchanging ideas, involving them in reflection, allowing space & time for experiential learning, building on the child's self-esteem & self-confidence, pacing their instructions to match the child's skill level.

What was even more heartwarming to see, was the level of engagement in the children. All through the one hour long session, they were equally engrossed with a spark in their innocent eyes. It was a testimonial for me, to observe how teaching through play, transforms the entire educational experience. There was not an iota of stress on the children's faces, they were gleefully engaged, intrinsically motivated, exploring & experiencing by themselves, they lost track of time & were in a flow.

The class decor was thoughtfully done - colourful bright walls, minimal furniture to leave enough space for the child to explore & build concept LEGO models, placards & pictures elaborating new concepts all over the place to be appealing for the curious minds. The space greets the children with so much of freshness, positivism & it provides them the much needed opportunity to step out of the daily grind of books & theories, into the world of play, build & discover.

We had set aside time for detailed conversation, during Anna's one hour break before getting into the next session. Over the course of this one hour conversation, she passionately shared with me her thoughts on education, her affinity towards Lego Education as a teaching methodology, her experience as an educator over these years across geographic locations - Ukraine, China & presently India.

She got introduced to LEGO Education during her teaching years in Shanghai, China. Her school used to cooperate with LEGO Education centre in organising workshops for children. These workshops gave Anna first hand exposure to the trans-formative power of LEGO educational resources, which transformed the traditional learning process into innovative hands on experience for children. She has also observed this phenomenon in close quarters in her own family. Back in her hometown Kiev, Ukraine, her nephew, who is just four & half years of age exhibits creativity, problem solving ability, conceptual understanding & perseverance, comparatively much higher than her niece, ten years of age. Her sister-in-law, attributes this phenomenon to his exposure to Lego education since an early age, which wasn't the case with her elder sister. These personal experiences, got her deeply curious about Lego Education. She went on to do a thorough online search for materials related to LEGO education, got connected to practicing LEGO educators & she ordered a Lego tool kit for herself, all the way from Denmark. She experimented with LEGO tool kit over a period in time, to evaluate it's merits by herself.
"It was very important for me to get convinced about this teaching methodology, as I won't do justice by recommending something which I haven't tried out myself".

With a twinkle in her eyes, Anna was recollecting her childhood days in Ukraine. She still vividly remembers, the Kinder Joy chocolates inside which there would be few building blocks. It used to be one of her favourite play time, she & her sister would build models with them. She says, "how I wish there was something like Lego bricks during my childhood days, I would have spend hours together in this conceptual & imaginative play".

Eloquently she quoted, Benjamin Franklin - "Tell me & I forget, teach me & I may remember, involve me & I learn". This is what Lego Education, is all about, it involves the child in this playful learning activities, it's hands on, it's experiential, it's is stepping out of bookish learning into the real world practical learning.

Anna & her team, picks up an exciting themes ranging from animals to transport, space to super heroes & involves the children in constructing models. Little ArKidtects teaching methodology is as follows:

  • Lego Brick Building, 
  • Story Telling,
  • Role Play, 
  • Props & Songs, 
  • Experimentation & Exploration.  

"When children construct things with hands - they simultaneously construct knowledge in head".
Anna, passionately explained Why hands-on learning matters?
  1. Hands-on learning is real learning - When students building a bridge with LEGO bricks, they are dealing with concepts in the real world rather than in a book or a pencil & paper problem. They are acquiring knowledge through experience rather than abstraction. 
  2. Hands-on learning fosters creativity - Creativity has been named a 21st century skill & a key contributor to workplace success. Unsurprisingly, research confirms a direct link between hands-on learning & creativity. Drawing, building, sewing & other forms of hands-on activity give children endless opportunities to discover their own creativity. 
  3. Hands-on learning keeps children focused - Reading a book or listening to a lecture can be a challenge even for the most focused student. Building with bricks is one of the most engaging, effective techniques that can help students stay focused & learn better.
  4. Hands-on learning encourages failure - We are raising generation who doesn't know how it's like to fall. Failure teaches the importance of perseverance & hard work. When students build an unsuccessful model of pulley, for example, they not only see engineering principles in action, but also learn the failure plays the central role in the design process. They learn to ask questions like 'what went wrong?', 'what can I do differently next time?' & 'how can I make it better?'.
  5. Hands-on learning supports common core - The common core is about creating, testing & refining knowledge & there's no better way than hands-on learning to do it.
  6. Hands-on learning inspires teamwork - Collaboration another one of crucial 21st century skills. Whether children are completing a group projects or an individual task, they are asking questions of one another, sharing thoughts & ideas. This kind of communication leads to natural conversations about team work & the best way to collaborate. They learn how to work together & understand the roles best played on a team.
  7. Hands-on learning is fun - Learning by doing starts with a few basic supplies & a question that invites exploration. "What would happen if...?" "How can we solve this problem?" All these questions trigger children's curiosity & desire to explore, all while having heaps of fun. 
  8. Hands-on learning develops logical & critical thinking - When the children are working conceptually, they encounter real time problems which challenges their problem solving abilities.Through this process, their logical & critical thinking skills are harnessed & it undergoes progressive development.
Anna, also emphasised on how LEGO Education can help educate the whole child:
  1. Creative development: Children plan & design projects, create models, structures, mosaics based on their imagination.
  2. Social development: Speaking, listening, team work, role play, story telling.
  3. Cognitive development: Developing problem solving, logical & critical thinking skills through maths & science activities.
  4. Physical development: Gross motor skills, hand-eye coordination. 
  5. Understanding the world: Children explore how things work in the world through experimentation. Bricks, figures & other resources allow children to think creatively & express their views as they work together to construct their world.

   Currently, Little ArKidtects  are offering programs for children 2 to 7 years of age:
  • 2-3 years old - My World
  • 3-4 years old - Little Explorers
  • 4-5 years old - Young Learners
  • 5 -7 years old - Creative Architects
All these programs, encompasses key learning areas such as Math & Science, Creativity & Imagination, Story Telling, Early Engineering & Social studies. 

She is thinking of introducing Robotics as a program for older children. But she does not want to rush through it, as she would like to experiment it first, experience it by herself before introducing it for the students.

It's been quite an achievement, she being the only LEGO Educator & Little ArKidtects being the only LEGO educational center in whole of Kolkata. In fact, she & her institute are among the very few pioneering educators & institute in whole of India. But it hasn't been an easy ride & the road ahead through the educational landscape, continues to be a challenging one. In Anna's words, "For elders (parents/guardians) to see value in learning through play, is a mind shift change". In all her demonstration sessions, she & her team puts on the hat of an educational counselor, counseling the elders on the merits & long lasting value of learning through play & experiential learning. Since the concept is new, it requires sustained efforts in reaching out to the larger community, which resides outside the classroom. For now, she is all set wearing the hat of an Change Agent, on this exciting journey of bringing about a change in the teaching methodology from route learning to playful experiential learning for children.

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