In which Sakshi Sohoni is enabling her class visualise Women Empowerment

Gender inequality is perhaps the oldest problem faced by humankind.  The majority of my students come from an environment where women hold a secondary position and lack autonomy. There are hardly any women who have shattered the glass ceiling and have an individual voice. The idea of inequality is so internalised in minds, that it becomes difficult to unlearn it. My belief that women can achieve everything they set their minds to, is shaped through observing several role models around me. I’ve been lucky perhaps, to have seen so many superwomen make their way into the world. My conviction for gender equality was developed through these experiences. I realised that if I wished to build the same values in my students, I need to curate that experience for them – so that they may be able to visualise women empowerment. Thus began “Mission Women’s Day 2020”. The idea was to invite certain exceptional women role models to the classroom and conduct a Townhall style interview session with them. My hope was to make the class aware of the diverse roles played by women in the 21st century and learn from their life experiences.

 

 

To make sure that this would become a learning opportunity, we created an 8 member organizing team of Grade 6 Girls. While I was in charge of getting the speakers, the organizing committee took care of planning the schedule, making the invites, designing the questionnaire, and conducting the interview with our speakers. I was fortunate enough to get four extraordinary, highly enthusiastic speakers who were more than happy to come and interact with the class. Our speakers represented four fields – Entrepreneurship, Academia, Leadership, and Sciences. The organizing team worked diligently throughout February, to make sure every detail of the program was perfect.

 

As the day of our first session dawned, excitement levels were at an all-time high! Grade 6 was determined to put their best behavior on display. We had Ms. Sayalee Marathe, Founder and Creative Director at Aadyaa, a jewelry start-up, as our first speaker. From what it takes to start a business to ensure it thrives, we truly had an opportunity to hear from the best. The discussion ranged from dealing with a competitive market to understanding the important character traits required to become a successful entrepreneur. The girls and boys were wonderstruck as she explained the intricacies of jewelry designing, choosing different materials, and making unique handmade pieces. The creative dimension associated with the profession resonated with several students and several boys from the class expressed an interest in becoming jewelry designers in the future!

What would it feel like to learn a college-level subject from a college professor (who also happens to be Didi’s teacher) as a Grade Six student? Day two, gave Grade Six an opportunity to find out. Our second speaker, was Ms. Saylee Jog, an Economics Professor at Gokhale Institute of Economics and Politics, Pune.

The class explored the ideas of consumer behavior, producer behavior, demand prediction, and more. The interaction greatly motivated the class to develop an economic lens of looking at everything around them. Post the session, my co-Fellow and I were inundated with questions about getting into college and pursuing Economics!

Teach For India Didis and Bhaiyas are an integral part of our school. Day three, gave Grade Six a chance to immerse themselves in the world of Teach For India Pune, with Deepika Didi. Our third speaker, was Ms. Deepika Guleria, Senior Manager for Partnerships, at Teach For India, Pune. A former Teach For India Fellow herself, Deepika was able to introduce the development sector to the class, which was a completely new and fascinating concept for them. The session opened new doors for imagination, as the kids enjoyed learning about the different aspects of Fundraising and Development.

With most of the class aspiring to become a doctor in the future, our fourth and final session with  Dr. Meenal Sohani was a huge success. A renowned Pune based doctor and counselor, Dr. Sohani helped the kids understand medicine as a career and introduced them to the importance of mental wellbeing. Hearing from a doctor and learning from her experiences was a hugely motivating experience for Grade Six.

 

 

Once our sessions were done, it was important to help the class synthesize their understanding. I gave them a few personal response reflection questions, to encourage them to think and articulate their learnings. I was amazed as I read their submissions – every student had perceived each session in a very different way. Students who generally took little interest in writing and expressing themselves had taken a lot of effort to submit their work. A lot of responses also spoke about how a certain speaker had inspired them to pursue a similar career. Most importantly, however, my students realised the importance of making opportunities available to every person, irrespective of their gender. Understanding the lives of these four speakers helped them visualize the idea of empowerment and how it might look like in real life. We also tried to collectively build an understanding of the importance of gender equality for everyone through classroom discussions and learning circles. We explored the idea of gender roles and how they set us all up with unfair, discriminatory expectations. Several students shared their experiences of gender roles and prejudices. Boys spoke at length about not being allowed to express themselves creatively while girls spoke about the unreasonable expectations put on them.

The sharing happened in a very organic way – every student in the room was respectful of the other. The question they were trying to grapple with, was far from simple. Yet, each one of them articulated with the conviction that this unfair system needs to change for it benefitted no one. The class values for my class are Liberty and Equality. A lot of their answers and opinions were shaped on these lines, and the sixth graders came to terms with the fact that the world outside doesn’t necessarily uphold these values. While the realisation can be daunting for a person (especially a twelve-year-old), my students chose to take it with a pinch of optimism. Their resolve to change things for themselves and those around them gave me hope that the status quo can change. These kids will go on to become citizens of this country and contribute to developing the societal conscience further.

 

As Educators, all we can do, therefore, is to expose them to realities and nurture the moral compass within them.

 

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