Written by Aditya Minocha
India is a democracy ‘Of the People, For the People, By the People’. But what about schools, a significant part of the institutional framework of the part of that same democracy?
Alohomora, a Delhi-based NGO, is on a mission to democratise education by making schools “Of the Students, For the Students, and By the Students. Founded by Divakar Sankhla and Parinita Jain, the organisation, through their flagship program ANALP (Alohomora New Age Leadership Program), focuses on building student leadership skills.
Alohomora has identified 100 students from the 11th and 12th grade from eight government schools, who will be train and support through the year so the young leaders can facilitate learning for more than 1100 peers. All students will spend three hours every week, choosing their learning topics and independently building skills they are interested in with the support of their peers. Alohomora sets up tablet labs and develops internet literacy in students so they can find learning resources aligned to their interests online. This makes the entire learning experience democratic and student-led, without dependency on adult expertise.
Divakar, an alumnus of IIM Lucknow and IIT Madras, and Parinita, an alumnus of the University of Michigan, gave up their high-paying corporate jobs and business to join the Teach For India fellowship, and later co-founded Alohomora.
Talking about Alohomora’s vision, Parinita said, “Our vision stems from our core belief that all children can realise their potential if they have space and support to explore their strengths and interests. We want to empower children to make well-informed life choices.”
Adding to this, Divakar said, “In the long run, we see our students becoming role models in their community, actively engaging with the world around them and remaining continuous learners in their fields of interest”.
During their Teach For India fellowship, both Parinita and Divakar were exposed to the harsh realities of the education sector for under-resourced children. They met hundreds of children who were directionless, despite having passed 12th grade. Being first generation school goers, they had no support from their families, and the schools were also doing nothing to prepare them for their careers and lives ahead. A student named Neeraj had just finished a paid computer course, but it failed on its promise to help him secure a job. Another student Mamta who wanted to become an air hostess was entirely unaware of the steps needed to become one. A third student Meghna had missed the deadline to enrol for colleges and was sitting at home with no purpose.
The burning question for Divakar and Parinita was whether each of the students would be able to realise their potential. They felt that the current system focused too much on rote learning which erodes the potential of the children. Alohomora was born to fill in need of a space where children could explore their interests, identify their strengths and plan for their lives post school.
The journey has been fraught with challenges. Divakar and Parinita still don’t draw any salary and had to run pillar to post while conceptualising Alohomora, pitching the idea to multiple NGOs, schools, principals, investors, and facing many rejections and disappointments. However, after overcoming the initial barriers, they managed to bag many achievements.
Alohomora’s self-directed and peer learning based program design was recognised as one in six top ideas globally for “Rethinking Education” by the World Bank Group Youth Summit 2016. Alohomora also had the opportunity to present their idea at the World Bank HQ in Washington DC on 14-15th Nov 2016.
This summer, in May-June 2017, Alohomora ran an intensive summer leadership academy for 120 student leaders around the themes of “Taking Charge, Thinking Deeply and Being Supportive.” They are ready to facilitate once school restarts in July. This year they will be coaching 120 student leaders from eight schools, who will, in turn, impact approximately 1200 students enrolled in 11th and 12th grades in those schools.
To achieve their vision of developing students who are active and responsible world citizens, they also organise events such as an Information Mela in the community. Students practice and spread their digital literacy by answering questions and finding information for the people in their community. From explaining the process of filing for an Adhaar card to finding the bus route for an individual who wants to visit a specific temple, and showing a juice-wala how to cut flowers out of fruits for display in his shop, their students leverage the internet to equalise information access for people around them.
Last year they worked with approximately 200 students to build digital literacy and independent learning skills. Every student learnt a new skill aligned to their interests and performed in front of their parents and school community. From learning magic tricks to stitching women’s gowns, to building DC motors, students gained a diverse variety of things independently by using the internet. In the process, they also gain confidence, develop a habit of reflection and learn how to set goals and plan for any learning.
Appeal to the readers
Last year, we were able to receive $20,000 from Google India to pilot our program in three centres across Delhi. This year, we’ve evolved our program based on our learnings and will be running our intervention across eight schools in NCR impacting approximately 1200 students. We would love to hear from anyone who works with adolescents to share ideas and explore collaboration opportunities. Follow our Facebook page to know more. Those willing to help may contact Divakar Sankhla (9711499304) [email protected] and Parinita Jain (9654179300) [email protected]
The Logical Indian applauds the efforts of the behind the scenes heroes, the likes of Divakar Sankhla and Parinita Jain who dedicated lives to make a tangible impact on the lives of under resourced children.