Carrying core values like the sense of possibility, ownership, reflection, love and joy, Aikaarth, a non-profit working on education, has the vision to create a world of justice where everyone has equitable access to resources and opportunities.
Published on December 21, 2020 at 3:38 am
Updated on March 20, 2021 at 06:47 am
Carrying core values like the sense of possibility, ownership, reflection, love and joy, Aikaarth, a non-profit working on education, has the vision to create a world of justice where everyone has equitable access to resources and opportunities. It provides a fellowship to young talented individuals who are exceptional in their form of intelligence to be a teacher and teach extra-curricular activities, to children from low-income communities in the most under-resourced schools. On the other hand, it also engages with the fellows and supports this growing community to create a ripple effect of transformation.
Pooja Agarwal, founder of Aikaarth, and Ruchi Agarwal, co-founder, tell about their journey so far during a candid talk with The Good Sight.
Q. What problem are you looking to solve?
Though the curriculum of NCERT and SCERT (Telangana) encourages arts and sports education (The State Board of Telangana says that in higher classes, every class, every day should have sports period and the CBSE board mandates every school to reserve a minimum of 2 periods for arts education every week for classes 1 to 10), it is not implemented effectively in low-budget private schools and government schools because of lack of capacity and resources.
We have an academic-oriented meritocratic measurement and selection approach, and the best and the brightest get into the better colleges, and perhaps, they will also get better rankings in life. Children from low-income communities need these rankings to change their current reality. Thus, schools need to prioritise academics.
Only 18% of private schools charge fees higher than Rs 1,000 per month and there are around 1 million teacher vacancies at the school level, which makes it very challenging for the stakeholders to allocate resources and efforts to hire teachers for arts and sports education and ensure its effective implementation. We can help schools with it.
Q. Why is the problem important?
The present unfair and highly biased academics-oriented meritocratic measurement and selection approach to education invariably leaves behind the students who aren’t strong academically, often making them feel under-valued. A child from a low-income community who isn’t strong academically will probably have a difficult journey to build a better life and will be unaware of his abilities and potential.
There are always students with strong potential in an art form or sport who may or may not also be interested or strong academically. If these students are not exposed to sports and arts education in school, they may never discover their strengths in it. Discovering sport and artistic strengths can lead to self-confidence and well-being. Besides, such discovery can lead students to choose careers in related fields.
We need to give the much-deserved consideration and opportunity to that student with the potential of being a brilliant chess player, a world-class violinist or an inspiring theatre artist.
Q. How is your initiative addressing the concern?
On one hand, we need trainers and resources in under-resourced schools to effectively implement arts and sports education so that children build expertise in it while on the other hand, we need to strengthen the scope of these fields and change perceptions around it because this can lead to change in the academic-oriented meritocratic approach which would further lead to arts and sports education being prioritised and implemented effectively. So, Aikaarth has developed a two-part theory of change i.e. short term and long term.
In the short term, we provide a fellowship programme to outstanding individuals who are exceptional in the fields of performing arts (music, dance, drama, public speaking, storytelling and poetry), visual arts (drawing and painting, photography, crafts and sculptor making), culinary arts (cooking) and sports/games who would serve as trainers in under-resourced schools to teach these activities.
In the long term, we support our alumni in growing in their fields and strengthening its scope so that there are more opportunities for our children to excel in various fields.
Q. How are you different from other organisations that are similar to yours?
There are many organisations doing great work specifically for sports in schools. With respect to arts education, we find many organisations utilising arts education for building a transfer skill like leadership, critical and creative thinking, social skills or behavioural skills, life skills, ability to communicate and cooperate effectively, learn languages, empathy, perspective-taking and the ability to regulate one’s emotions by expressing rather than suppressing them, etc.
However, we are inspired by “Art for Art’s sake?” by Ellen Winner, Thalia R. Goldstein and Stéphan Vincent-Lancrin which concludes by arguing that the value of the arts for human experience is a sufficient reason to justify its presence in school curricula whether or not transfer results from arts education, and that the main justification for arts education is clearly the acquisition of artistic skills.
The primary justification of arts education should remain the intrinsic importance of the arts and the related skills that they develop.
We believe that arts education and sports inevitably foster various skills and positive changes. However, our focus is not to build a programme about transfer skills through arts and sports education.
We are focusing on ensuring that children build expertise in the activity they choose to learn. Our programme is about building knowledge, mindsets, skills and values related to the art/sport only and exposing children to opportunities and resources for the same.
Q. How can others support you for this initiative?
Our top three priorities for now are:
1. Designing a strong and incredible curriculum for all the activities that we teach children.
2. Raising funds to sustain and grow.
3. Recruiting fellows who are exceptional in arts and sports to be trainers for children.
We would love to get any support possible in these aspects.
Q. Who are the co-founders and what is their motivation behind leading this initiative? If there is any story/incidence, then kindly explain.
Pooja Agarwal, Founder
As a student in my school, I participated in various theatre, storytelling, poetry and public speaking activities and also was very good at it. I also won competitions in school related to these activities. However, at the end of every year, the students who were recognised, ranked and appreciated the most were students who performed really well in academics. Since then, I wanted an education system which was beyond just academics. A system where every child excels in unique ways. The willingness to be a part of such a system or to create one became stronger in college so I joined an art community in 2016. As the City Lead of that community in the year 2016, I worked towards creating a non-judgemental and non-competitive platform for artists in various fields in Hyderabad such that they could connect with others, celebrate themselves and collaborate. While doing so, I realised the incredible talents all these young artists have and the need to empower them, the need for a system where one doesn’t have to struggle too hard and live with uncertainty to make ends meet through fields beyond conventional careers.
Later in 2016, As the Social Outreach Head of my college, I came up with the idea of Aikaarth. College students were given a chance to teach what they are passionate about (beyond academics) to children from low-income communities. While doing so, I realised there is so much more I need to learn about these children and their communities and the education system with respect to it.
So, after I completed my college in 2017, I joined the Teach For India fellowship and worked as a full-time teacher for 2 years in a low-budget private school and a government school.
There I learned that the present unfair and highly biased academics oriented meritocratic measurement and selection approach to education invariably leaves behind the students who aren’t strong academically often making them feel under-valued. A child from a low-income community who isn’t strong academically will probably have a difficult journey to build a better life and will be unaware of his/her abilities and potential.
There are always students with strong potential in an art form or sport who may or may not also be interested or strong academically. If these students are exposed to arts and sports education in schools (and if we build more scope in these fields) and are trained effectively, they will get the opportunity to discover their interest, unlock their strengths and build skills in these activities resulting in self-confidence and well-being.
This inspired me to continue Aikaarth and work towards providing arts and sports education to children from low-income communities in some of the nation’s most under-resourced schools.
Ruchi Agarwal, Co-founder
I was an excellent child in school with respect to academics and other co-curricular activities. Due to this, many opportunities came my way, like representing the school at a city level competition or being selected to attend a conference. However, though I had the potential and opportunities did come my way, I wasn’t able to take and utilise these opportunities and grow further because I belong to a conservative family which has its own terms of how a girl needs to be and must not be and is very protective of their daughters. The exposure beyond basic academic education, i.e. attending school, was considered to be a tool that could make me very witty and bold and that could lead me not being feminine and not behaving according to or fitting in the family culture, which would further not get me good marriage proposals.
Due to this lack of exposure, when I joined college, I realised I was far behind other students. I was still good in writing examinations and scoring but I was still not able to do what other students were able to, e.g: communication, presentation, projects, etc. I realised that I had knowledge of the subjects, but lacked skills to implement or use the knowledge. So, I decided to take every opportunity that came my way, or create opportunities for myself and grow. I participated in everything I could and I kept becoming better, and in the process, I learned, I grew, I transformed. Every little growth gave me the courage to challenge my family and its norms and the inspiration to keep growing more.
Joining Aikaarth as a fellow and teaching dance, which I love, to children from low-income communities was one more such platform through which I wanted to grow and become a better version of myself. However, when I started working in that school which was so different from mine, interacted with the children and their communities, something profoundly shifted in me. Aikaarth wasn’t about me or for me anymore. I realised that like me, these children too were being deprived of the exposure they deserve. Our reasons were definitely different. They didn’t even get the opportunity or even have the access to opportunities (which I had) to get the deserved and needed exposure, and I completely understand the importance of exposure. And since then, I committed to providing the resources, opportunities and exposure to these children to grow and excel through Aikaarth.