The Internet: An Equaliser
Several schools treat their students as a statistic – a ‘pass percentage’ as opposed to a human being with infinite potential. It didn’t matter whether a student got 33% or 93%, as long as they passed. An attitude that served the purpose of the school without actually serving its purpose of equipping students to take on the complexities of the real world. This didn’t sit right with Parinita Jain and Divakar Sankhla, who wanted to cater to the humanity within as many children in the education sector as possible.
Alohomora is a magic spell in the Harry Potter series- commonly used to unlock things, making it the perfect name for Parinita and Divakar’s venture. They strongly believe in the powers of children and their potential, aiming to unlock the magic in them. ‘Everybody has magic and our job is to create those spaces where the magic comes out,’ said Parinita in conversation with Team KER. In an attempt to be able to provide these safe spaces while equipping students with skills to be able to take on the real world, Parinita and Divakar started Alohomora.
The duo and their team at Alohomora have created a program that offers mentorship, exposure, and career preparedness to high school children in their final two years. They focus on helping their students become independent learners, while equipping them with the tools of digital literacy. Parinita laments that though there are lots of opportunities available today, not many government school kids know about them. Therefore, she and her team leverage the internet as an equaliser. Through learning communities, focused on a specific interest or skill, students can boost each other’s knowledge, learn for the sake of learning, as well as be mentored by experts that they might not have otherwise had access to. These communities give them clarity, direction and a support system, so they are able to use their 11th and 12th grade to prepare for life after school in a more holistic manner.
Several Alohomora alums credit the organisation for their preparation for the future. Recent graduate Laxman Chettri plans on going to college and working in event management, a path he chose because he has an interest in planning and organising, and leadership. With a little help from Alohomora, he has brushed up on his communications skills, transforming himself from timid to more self assured and confident. While talking with Team KER, he said ‘Alohomora helped me see my potential, and now I write an entrepreneurship blog on the books I read.’ However, not all students are clear on exactly what it is that they want to do with respect to the skills they possess, according to Program and Training Manager Aditi Sodhani. “We also see a lot of students have unrealistic expectations, like I want to be an actor except I’ve not done any drama all my life. I want to be a dancer, I don’t know dancing but I want to be a dancer. It takes a lot for a person to actually bring their aspirations to the ground,” said Aditi.
No matter how daunting this seems, it is a task that Alohomora takes in their stride, ensuring that each of their alums is not only well prepared for life after school, but also realistic in their aspirations. She told us about Sonia, who had wanted to be a doctor but had studied the arts instead of science. So she altered her expectations, decided to become a nurse, and started working in a private hospital. Within 3 weeks of her starting this new job, she used the internet as an educational tool, and mastered her work so well that she was sharing knowledge with nurses who’d been working there far longer than she had. Aditi also explained how Sonia combatted a problem that usually plagues her classmates- that of inertia. Rather than sitting around, waiting for her 12th standard board exam results, she kept up her momentum by chasing her dream.
However, for some students, the impact of Alohomora goes deeper than career clarity and digital literacy. Take Shaziya, who is now studying to be a teacher, despite initially wanting to be a lawyer. While it was her Khushboo Didi (Hindi word for “older sister”. A term frequently used by Indian students to address their teachers and mentors) who helped her understand that being a lawyer wouldn’t be feasible, given that she didn’t have enough mastery of the English language to argue cases in law (and helped her narrow down her options to education or the police), that was not the extent of the impact Khushboo had on Shaziya. Shaziya recounts how after the 10th standard she fell ill, forcing her to withdraw from the 11th standard. By the time she had recovered, her parents were against her going back to school. Despite her attempts to convince them, they were resolute in their decision, relenting only after Khushboo Didi spoke to them. Alohomora then helped her hone her skills within the education sector- everything from how to manage a class and solve the problems of students to how to make effective presentations, as well as how to use the internet as a resource. While she was a little nervous about her grades, as her father had told her that if she didn’t score well, she wouldn’t go to college and instead would be married, she persevered and eagerly awaited her board exam results. When they finally came out, her father was overjoyed at how well she had done, and even encouraged her to go and enroll in college. ‘It was hard for me to study, but I just thought that if I drop even 1%, I will have to spend my life making rotis (Indian bread). I didn’t want to do that,’ said Shaziya. Even after school, Khushboo Didi has been a huge resource for Shaziya, supporting her in registering for a correspondence degree.
While helping students find their paths cannot be easy, Parinita says that one of the biggest challenges she has faced is creating dialogue about this age group of students, who are often left out of the education narrative. To get stakeholders such as school leadership and parents to understand the value of a program like Alohomora, that benefits kids in a manner that might not be immediately tangible, has been a struggle. She spoke to Team KER about the tendency of children at this age to buckle under the pressure of board exams, and then have no idea what to do once those are over. Many children at this age lose momentum, a problem that Alohomora actively has to combat, but often goes ignored.
While talking with students, alums and employees of the organisation, a common refrain was the Alohomora truly was unlocking the potential in each of the people it comes into contact with. The employees marvel at the culture, while the students are effusive in their accounts of how Alohomora has impacted their lives. These narratives stand testament to how believing in someone truly works!