Rasika Randive, a 20-year-old BSc student, had never wondered about what passion meant to her. “The word [passion] seemed alien until today. Now I know that I too can have a passion and I think mine lies in cooking,” she says laughing, as two of her girlfriends nod in agreement. The young women were attending a session organised by Igniting Minds, an informal group that organises free empowerment workshops for rural youth.
Randive, who is married and lives in the small town of Jaysingpur, near Kolhapur, Maharashtra, was part of a class of 250 third-year degree students, many of whom were intrigued by the word ‘passion’. They were listening to speaker Akshat Shetty, 24, a visiting faculty of philosophy in Ramniranjan Jhunjhunwala College, Ghatkopar, who spoke about the importance of recognising individual passions and pursuing them.
Igniting Minds also brings forward discussions on topics such as identifying one’s career and personal goals, meditation, relationship management, social media networking, gender sensitivity, RTI, social entrepreneurship and human rights.
A 10-month old initiative, the group has conducted two rural workshops till date. The earlier one was for 400 students of class 8 to 10, of Janatara School, also in Jaysingpur. From January 21 to 23, they are scheduled to conduct a workshop for PL Shroff College of Arts, Commerce and Science at Chinchani, Maharashtra.
The workshops are conducted by experienced educators who are open to sharing their personal phone numbers with the students and encourage them to stay in touch through social networking sites. “The aim is to connect with the rural youth and to try to eventually create a network that can help them connect with each other across India,” says Asish Pimpre, 30, a member of Igniting Minds and co-ordinator of Jainology at the University of Mumbai. He is also a student of law and owns a business in the distribution of bio-mass energy fuel.
“Many of my students come from rural Maharashtra and are caught between traditional knowledge and ideas of life, career, relationship and the self, propagated by their parents and others in the village and the ones they are exposed to over the internet and on television,” says Kamini Gogri, a member of Igniting Minds and a professor of philosophy and coordinator of Indian aesthetics at the University of Mumbai.
“The rural youth and those from small towns vaguely know of subjects covered in the workshops, thanks to the media boom, but have no clarity about them. These varied ideas, many starkly in contrast with each other, leave the younger generation confused and stressed while they struggle to bridge the gap between their and their parents’ thoughts and beliefs,” says Dr Mahaveer Akkole, a surgeon, senior writer and educator living in Jaysingpur. “Sometimes these differences have serious implications on a student’s career and self esteem, especially when they leave their hometowns to live in a big city,” explains Bhaskar Tamankar, head of the department of chemistry, Jaisingpur College. “Our main reason for inviting Igniting Minds to conduct a workshop is to help students develop soft skills that will prepare them to face the world confidently after they graduate and step out to make their careers,” he adds.
“My friends and I always thought that our final year exam scores would decide the course of our future,” says Balaji Pancharya, 22, a third year BCom student. “The workshop taught us that we must set goals and prepare accordingly and not do it the other way round.”
RUSA (Rashtriya Ucchtar Shiksha Abhiyaan), a new policy for higher education launched by the Union Ministry of Human Resource Development also focuses on developing students’ soft skills, says MM Gandhi, principal of Jaysingpur College. “Students in villages and small towns, such as ours, do not get the opportunity to develop soft skills as infrastructure facilities are not up to the mark. Also, most schools and colleges in these areas follow a tailormade, rigid programme, where aspects such as personality development, mental well-being, all-round development and extra-curricular activities are often ignored. We thought it would be a good idea to hold a workshop for our outgoing students that will help them in the future,” adds Gandhi.
While Gandhi liked most aspects of the workshop, he was of the opinion that the group should have created computer presentations to teach. But Shetty argues, “We avoid using computer presentations as we want to encourage students to interact with us and not get intimidated by a formal approach. It is important that they are comfortable with us and talk to us openly.”