Learning that Matters: How a New Generation of Leaders is Making an Impact on Education

I like to be able to provide information to prospective SIPA students concerning the work of our alumni.  The following is an article on a project developed by 2006 SIPA alumna, Prathima Rodrigues.  The project was actually developed while she was a student at SIPA.

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“I want to be an accountant when I grow up,” says an eager Samir, as he expertly calculates the amount of profit his team has made selling hats as part of a business simulation activity. Samir is a grade eight student at St. Francis School, Bangalore, India and is part of a group of 25 other kids participating in a pilot workshop for Skills for Kids (SFK).

Skills for Kids (SFK) is a program that teaches the concepts of entrepreneurship to young children – concepts that are useful in everyday lives but are often not taught in schools as part of formal curricula. The SFK curriculum simplifies these concepts and brings them to the classroom through fun, learner-centric and experiential activities.

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SFK was founded by SIPA 2006 alumna, Prathima Rodrigues while still at graduate school. During this time, Prathima was awarded the Sasakawa Young Leadership Fellowship Fund (SYLFF) from the Tokyo Foundation which laid the foundation for her initiative. “Receiving the SYLFF fellowship was a great honour for me”, says Prathima. “The Tokyo Foundation encourages fellows to work in international development and start their own initiatives. It was a good opportunity for me to leverage the SYLFF network and the fellowship has certainly helped me create and scale-up my entrepreneurial venture. Also, SIPA gave me a very good foundation for my work. I was able to constantly apply what I learned in the classroom.”

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Prathima says that formal education in most schools in India for example, does not equip children with relevant skills. Though the demand for these skills is rising, both in tertiary education institutes and in the job market, preparation of youth for work and life is inadequate. Increasingly, firms want to hire young people who not only posses sound technical skills but have good communication and teamwork skills and who are creative and dynamic in the workplace – traits that are essential in today’s globalized economy.

From a small student led initiative, Skills for Kids has achieved considerable scale in the last few years. Prathima now leads a team of three – Badamjav Batsukh (SYLFF Fellow and Officer, Ministry of Education and Science, Mongolia), Sapruddin Perwira (SYLFF Fellow and Director, Project Hope, Indonesia) and Sunil Mathew (Senior Software Engineer, OPNET Technologies, Maryland, USA). “I met most of my team through the SYLFF network. Each team member brings his/her distinct expertise to the table and we are very open to each other’s suggestions”, says Prathima, “all of us are very motivated and do this apart from our regular jobs. We manage to coordinate quite well though we live in four different cities across the globe.”

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“Activities that focus on life skills and financial skills, enable children to be more productive in the classroom, more self-sufficient and more inclined to contribute to their community’s social and economic development”, says Prathima. “Significant anecdotal and empirical evidence show that if encouraged at an early age, a targeted curriculum, pedagogy and faculty can catalyze the development of this entrepreneurial mindset among young adults. Teaching and learning in developing economies is based on a system of rote learning that in several cases, is alone not sufficient to actively encourage students to think on their own and take on responsibilities; traits that form the core of developing an entrepreneurial mindset.”

Skills for Kids follows an integrated model of entrepreneurial and life skills development, that equips secondary schoolscreenshot207 students with a set of marketable skills (See Figure 4). The 18 hours of the Skills for Kids curriculum encompass 8 modules; each module consists of a set of activities that develops both cognitive skills (such as in economics and personal finance) and non-cognitive skills (teamwork and communication) in young people.  “The unique aspect of the Skills for Kids model is that it is based on two parallel streams of learning – building tangible skills in economics or finance and developing behavioral traits such as decision-making, positive self-esteem and good communication.” says Badamjav. “Each activity follows this bi-channel approach and ensures that students grasp the core theme of each lesson but at the same time develop these traits.”

The first Skills for Kids pilot was coordinated by Badamjav and implemented in Mongolia followed by a second pilot in India, coordinated by Sunil.  “Many donors and academics come to the camp, to visit the children and on supervision missions. But this is the first time that students are learning a set of extremely useful skills.” says Ms. B. Danya, a senior teacher at the summer camp in Mongolia, where the pilot was held. “I want our teachers to be trained on how to teach this so that many more children can benefit from this program”.

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The team believes that the children are an integral part of the program and the kids are constantly encouraged to express provide feedback on what they liked or disliked. Fifteen-year-old Tuya from Mongolia says, “The activities were interesting. I learnt a lot about business skills and I had a lot of fun. I do not get to do all this at school”. “We were very pleased, with the ingenuity of the students”, says Prathima, “They were able to understand and apply many of these complex concepts. They are so incredibly creative; there is a lot we can learn from them.”

screenshot206Prathima and her team represent a new breed of young change makers – individuals who, rather than only talk of what’s wrong, get together and try to make change happen. “We are extremely proud of what we have achieved”, says Prathima, “there is much that young people can do with a little creativity and a lot of hard work. I hope that our work serves as an example to other young people in various parts of the globe and motivates them to make a difference in their communities.”

Prathima Rodrigues is a SIPA 2006 graduate (MIA, EPD). At present, she works with the World Bank in the Europe and Central Asia region. Her previous work experience includes projects with UNICEF, U NIDO and the Development Gateway Foundation. Prathima also screenshot2451 serves as an advisor to Make a Difference (http://www.makeadiff.in/) and served as a judge for the 2009 Global Social Venture Competition (GSVC).  She has an engineering degree from KREC, Surathkal, India and a master degree from Drexel University, Philadelphia. Prathima is from Mangalore, India and presently resides in Washington D. C. Prathima was recently awarded a Youth Innovation Fund (YIF) grant from the World Bank to pilot Skills for Kids in Kosovo. She can be reached at pr2141 [at] columbia.edu.

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