A Note on

Working with Schools for Children from Underprivileged Sections

Summary: Higher studies and career paths of students passing out of schools are strongly influenced by two major factors: (i) the extent to which the schools have prepared them through curricular, extra-curricular and co-curricular activities for it, and (ii) the guidance and support they receive from their network of family, relatives, neighbors, friends, alumni, community etc. Children who study in the schools for the underprivileged suffer on both these counts, severely curtailing their career growth possibilities and socio-economic upliftment. This Note focuses primarily on providing the support of type (ii) to students from such schools, with the goal of ensuring that, on passing out, they are in a position to pursue plans of Studies, Training or Work of their choice and abilities.


I.    Interventions in schools for the poor
II.   Present situation
III.  The present proposal
IV.  Some specifics of the proposal

I. Interventions in schools for the poor

NGO s, Volunteers, CSR funds etc that work with schools for children from economically and socially weaker sections attempt to provide either or both of two broad kinds of assistance to the schools:

  1. Help in improving the classroom/campus processes that children go through – teaching/learning of curricular subjects in the class rooms, lab/library/computer skills, written/spoken communication skills (including in English), sports and games, entertainment and cultural activities, music/painting /arts and other creative activities, health and hygiene, general knowledge and awareness, etc. Normally schools do have most of these listed as curricular/co-curricular/extracurricular activities, but they are carried out (very often only some of them) to various degrees of satisfaction depending on the availability of facilities, resources, time and manpower. The last of these (manpower, especially teachers) is often the critical piece that is deficient or defective from the point of view of what is expected to be delivered – their numbers, their quality, their working conditions, their motivation and commitment etc.

    Those who work with such schools normally try to supplement/complement the ongoing processes in the schools, as well as introduce some of them where they don’t exist, to varying degrees depending on their own mandate, goals, scope, resources, understanding, etc. Depending on the level, extend and effectiveness of their intervention, they can, and often do, add significantly to achieving the curricular, co-curricular and extra-curricular goals of the school.

  2. Help in preparing the students for life beyond the school, going beyond curricular/co-curricular/extracurricular engagements within the school. This aspect itself has two broad components:

    • a) Help the student to form some idea regarding what he/she would want to be doing after leaving school – joining higher studies (professional programs like engineering, law, ,pharmacy etc, or degrees in arts and sciences, etc), or vocational training programs , or taking up some jobs (either in formal sector or informal sector), or taking responsibility for running the household, etc. This is to be followed by helping the child through classes XI and XII to prepare himself /herself for the program he/she has chosen to pursue after passing out of the school. In normal course, most children from such backgrounds do not address this issue at all till the time the final examination results are announced –by which time it is often too late given the intense competition that exists in the career/higher studies market. This is the challenge that needs to be addressed.

    • b) Help the student to see that, once out of the school, he/she is able to get into the programs/careers of his/her choice for which he/she has been preparing himself/herself through classes XI and XII . This requires that the NGO s or Volunteers working with such schools have, jointly with the school management and the school alumni , built up an extensive database/network of potential employers, training institutions, colleges, funding institutions, philanthropic organizations, school alumni, etc. The student should be able to see this picture and then decide where all he/she can find openings for himself/herself, keeping in mind one’s aptitude, preparedness, affordability etc. Here again , all the preparations that a student from such schools undergo under normal circumstances hardly go beyond preparing for the school final examinations – and herein lies the challenge that needs to be met.

Attending to both these components, (2) (a) and (b) requires deep involvement with the school, the students and their parents, and their alumni, starting from the 10th standards onwards, and going all the way till the student settles down to his/her next program of study, training or work after leaving school. Networks have to be built with institutions of higher education and vocational training, government departments, corporate bodies, philanthropic and charitable institutions that offer scholarships, stipends and such financial assistance to students, potential employers who can recruit the students for jobs, alumni who are already following well-defined career paths, etc. One thing that should be kept foremost in mind while engaging with such schools is that the prime goal of a student/parent here is that schooling should result in a remunerative employment for him/her at the earliest opportunity; immediately on passing out if possible, or after another 2-3 years of study at most. This aspect would be considerably different from the case of children from well to do backgrounds attending well known schools.

II. Present situation

Schools for the well to do also have both these processes, 1 and 2, that help them do well in the school, as well as get them launched onto well-defined study/career paths once out of school. The first part (1) gets done reasonably well in the school itself without much outside involvement, whereas the second part (2) is taken care of by the extensive support system that most students from the better off backgrounds have - parents, relatives, friends, seniors, teachers, neighbors, connections, community etc.

Very often, the importance of the school process (1) in ensuring a successful career for the students from disadvantaged backgrounds is overstated and the importance of the external network/support system (2) in it is not adequately appreciated. Poor schools and their students coming from poor families suffer on both the counts, 1 and 2, and need external support on both of them. In addition to helping in the school process, there is a need to create a network that serves the same purpose for students from poorer sections as the ‘natural’ support system does for the children from the better off backgrounds.

Thanks to the systematic campaigns that have gone on for many decades, there is widespread awareness today of the importance of a good school education (which includes the items listed in 1 above) for ensuring a better future for the children from poorer backgrounds, and many players other than the schools themselves are trying to help. There are a large number of NGO s active in this sector (including the ones supported from abroad); a large component of corporate philanthropy (CSR) takes the form of supporting schools for the poor; charitable organisations based on religion, community, language etc., are all quite active in this field; many rich individuals (HNIs) from the corporate world are also there to contribute to this cause; many small private charities and trusts set up by individuals too work in this field, Etc. At least in the metros and urban centres , if a well managed school wants to get financial help for building toilets, setting up labs, buying equipment, providing scholarships etc, it would be possible to locate an agency/entity that could help with it.

But even in the urban centres, the story is quite different on the second count (item 2), viz. ensuring that, post-school, the student is able to join a study/career path that suits his/her aptitudes and abilities, and work towards becoming an economically and socially equipped citizen within say 2-4 years, if not earlier, of passing out. There are not too many agencies that engage with schools with the prime goal of serving as a bridge that takes the students safely across to the wider world outside. Even when interventions of this type do exist, they don’t mostly go beyond one of arranging for some form of vocational training for a limited number of students, along with some placement assistance for a few students. No one is setting goals like “in three years, there should be hundred percent ‘placement’ of passing out students from this school!” Interventions of this type should have the ultimate goal that the school as an institution indirectly helps to raise the economic status of the poorer households from where its students come – in a sustained and dependable manner, as against a sporadic random episode highlighted once in a while of a student from poor background having achieved great success in higher studies career and life; something that anyway happens once in a while, with or without any conscious intervention. One reason why interventions of this type (2 a and b) are very rare is that they require far greater and sustained involvement with the schools, students and parents as well as many other institutions, organisations and individuals over long periods of time. Secondly, the achievements of such an approach are hard to quantify to make impressive charts and reports, unlike say “so many students were given training in tailoring”, or “so many students were given scholarships for college studies”, etc. No one is setting goals like “ in three years there should be 100 per cent ‘placement’ of passing out students from this school “, or “ in three years two students each from these schools should get admission to MBBS programs “, or “ in five years two of the alumni from each of these schools should have cleared the UPSC exams “, etc. (There would be a large number of schools for the poor in Chennai itself that would not have produced a single IIT/MBBS/IPS/IAS/IFS candidate even after half a century of their existence - what this would be doing to the morale and self esteem of the school and its teachers should not be hard to imagine!)

III. The present proposal

To prepare the students from poorer backgrounds for pursuing study/training/employment paths after the completion of their school education, extensive networks of players involved in the school–to-occupation process would have to be built – school management, students, teachers, alumni, parents, potential employers, vocational training institutions, colleges, government departments, charities and other funding entities, corporate houses, other NGOs , etc. The goal should be to establish long term relationships between the concerned school and the other players who can provide admissions, funds, jobs, etc. to those students who meet their requirements. It would require working closely with students (and possibly their parents/guardians) during their XI-XII standards to understand their individual talents, aptitudes, abilities and career/higher-study preferences, and help them to overcome their shortcomings and get equipped for their future choices.

An arrangement of the type shown in the figure below is what would be needed to be built.

This would also include helping the students to do better academically in the exams through extra coaching, as well as improve their general knowledge and awareness, communication and collaboration skills, etc.—something that many NGO s are already involved in. The new component in what is being proposed here is the building and sustaining of a network that ensures that the students actually get into paths of their aptitudes, abilities and choice, and for which they have been preparing themselves, and for this the support and involvement of persons from diverse backgrounds and connections would be needed. Fortunately in today’s networked world, the power of networking is well known to anyone who have pursued successful vocations, careers and professions in any field, including those in national and global corporations, and they all can help in addressing this issue.

This initiatives should be thought of as an attempt to compensate the parents and children from poor families for not having had connections, networks and support systems of their own that could help move them up the ladder economically and socially, as happens in the cases of children from better off backgrounds.

IV. Some specifics of the proposal

It should start with the XIth standard batch, and the goal would be to see that they do well in their school final exams and are suitably placed (higher studies, vocational courses or employment) at the end of the XIIth standard exams.

Detailed plans, action items, timeframes, budgets etc have to be drawn up before commencing on this engagement, which as stated earlier has necessarily got to be a long term and sustained one.

Some of the elements that go into it are listed below to gain better understanding and clarity:

  1. Identify the schools one wants to engage with initially, and hold discussions with their managements, parents’ associations etc; a reasonably deep buy in from the school managements is essential for the success of the program

  2. Collect all possible data on the career tracks and status of students of the batches that have passed out in earlier years ( the alumni), in order to get an idea of what the trends have been. This would form the base reference data for our work, and an improvement is this ‘placement profile’ is the ultimate goal of our work with the schools. Sharing this data base with the students and management would also help the present students to set realistic goals and targets for themselves on passing out – as well as motivating them to do better than their seniors.

  3. Create data bases of the various institutions, organisations and individuals who would be networking with – universities and colleges (arts and sciences, engineering, law etc), vocational training institutions, placement agencies, banks and other financial institutions, government agencies and departments, private charitable organization, CSR divisions of corporate entities, NGO s in this domain, etc.

  4. Prepare different questionnaires to be administered to the students through which detailed information would be gathered on their career interests , aptitudes, levels of motivation, strengths and weaknesses, family and financial background, etc. A page would be created for each student which would be constantly updated as time goes on.

  5. Over time, group the students in terms of what their career goals are , such as (i) Higher studies (BE/B.Sc./ BA/ B.Com/B.C.A/ B. Pharma………); (ii) Vocational Training (Nursing/ITI/ Tailoring /Cooking /Beautician/ Hospitality /Sales & Marketing/Crafts/ Plumbing / Carpentry/Electrical wiring/ Computer & Cell phone servicing/DTP………..); (iii) Immediate Employment , (iv) Others.

  6. Covert the above data into requirements in terms of what support the students of XIth class belonging to the different groups would need to be provided to prepare themselves towards realizing their career goals on passing out – study materials, additional coaching, mentoring, talks, visits and exposure to know more about the careers that they are choosing, getting to interact with their seniors who are pursuing such careers, mobilizing funding support needs for higher studies, etc. A comprehensive document that contains all the items of support that need to be mobilized for this batch would have to be prepared.

  7. On the basis of the document mentioned above, interactions would have to be carried out with all the players listed in (3) above to see that the required commitments are got from them for the support that will be needed over the next two years for the present batch of students. This support would include offers of admission to programs of study or training, employment offers, stipends/scholarships to meet the fees and other expenses, mentoring support, etc.

  8. A team of Volunteers for each school have to be mobilised to provide the students with the required coaching and mentoring support for the roles that they have decided to take up as in (5) above, with the help of the support committed by the network as in (7) above. This would be a continuous process through the XIth and XIIth standards focused on each individual student, and would culminate with the desired placements at the end of the XIIth class.

  9. In some cases, mentoring and support would have to continue for some more time , may be six more months, even after the students have passed out and commenced on their new pursuits.

  10. In the second year of the engagement, a new XIth standard batch would be taken up, along with the old XIth standard batch who would now be in their XIIth.. .In other words, at any time, other than the first year, one would be handling two batches in every school , one each from the XIth and XIIth classes.

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