Bringing Life skills for Employability to Rural India

Lalitha Chacko, Chairperson-Core Committee for Education – ASSOCHAM ALL LADIES LEAGUE

Having spent over 20 years in the hospitality industry and mastered people skills, expansive vocabulary and the ability to communicate and get along with people of all ages, Lalitha Chacko is mutli-faceted woman.

As many young mothers, she gave up her career in hotels and took to being a home maker. She always knew that it was going to be as short a break as possible, as she dreaded the thought of spending her life, only raising children.  During this time, she nudged her creative side & churned out many paintings, mainly in glass since it took time to complete a picture and it kept her occupied as well, for long periods.

Her current role at Assocham All Ladies League entails bringing education and skill training closer to children who live in the villages around Bangalore and placing them in jobs for a sustained livelihood.

Team ABT reached out to Lalitha Chacko to know more about her journey; read the interview below.

Who is your greatest inspiration?
I wouldn’t have done half the things I’ve done if my husband hadn’t pushed me to get out there and use my talents.  Being part of the hospitality industry I believe there aren’t inspirational figures but once when I decided to take up teaching, I was hugely inspired by the Head Mistress at my first teaching job.  She showed me how to laugh my way through the years spent teaching high school, never an easy task because all the teenagers in your care are going through hormonal changes and are not particularly interested in Shakespeare or Rabindranath Tagore or any other literary giant who showed up in the syllabus.

What led you to move into spearheading Education initiatives?
Bangalore has many organizations innovating teaching methodology/pedagogy and even curriculum/syllabi.  And I think I moved here at the right time.  Schools were ready to look at training teachers through outside agencies, looking beyond the teaching degree they came with and I became a member of a team of ex-teachers who came together just for this express purpose.

All of us bound by a common goal – reach out to as many teachers as possible, help them manage their classrooms better, teach using methods like collaboration and concept mapping etc.  All teachers come with good subject knowledge but woefully lack in good communication skills and teaching methods.  This leads to disasters in classrooms because quite frankly, children today are much better traveled and well exposed to the outside world, much more than the average teacher.

Tell us about some of the ideas that you have implemented
Teaching students in ways that keep them engaged and interested in the material is a challenge. In the short-attention span world we live in, it can be harder than ever to keep school students excited and engrossed in learning. I was thrown willy nilly into an age where technology is everywhere we look and it was either swim or sink.  I was told to use technology in my classroom teaching.

Computers, tablets, digital cameras, videoconferencing technology and many other devices can enhance a student’s learning experience. Possible uses of classroom technology include using video games to teach math and foreign languages, leveraging Skype to communicate with classrooms or guest speakers from around the world, or multimedia projects that allow students to explore subject matter using film, audio and even software they create.

As a Literature teacher I wasn’t sure how I could incorporate any of these in my classroom.  I had to rise to the challenge and after I did my own bit of research and with some help from the experts, I learnt how to help students visualize eras in history, create sets, design the clothes worn in that era, behavior patterns and many other concepts that belong in that age.  Visualization is an especially good teaching strategy for reading and literacy. Much like a Phonics program does, it helps students illustrate mental images from a portion of text that is read aloud.  It brings content to life and then you follow it up with a screening and a role play.

Could you recall any one proud moment?
The proudest moment in my life was probably when one of my students who I taught in the 8th grade called me 4 years later to tell me that he had aced his IB Lit paper.  He was generous to credit me with helping him fall in love with Shakespeare and other Literary giants read every tome that came his way and thus improve his vocabulary and interest in writing skills.

If you were to any one thing differently, what would that be.
Maybe go back to college and do another course in making teaching & training teachers more fun for today’s classroom facilitators.

What role do you expect the Govt. or others to play to improve education effectiveness?

Education always seems like the last on the list of priorities with any Government.  And that comes probably from the right person not getting the Portfolio.  Corporates giants like Wipro and Cisco continue to set aside a considerable portion of their funds towards educational initiatives and some others set money aside for nutrition of growing children.  It is a toss up between which initiative to invest in.  But for the vast majority their CSR Funds is only a tax saver on paper.  No Government can help there, it has to come from within the core management team.
For most people who become teaching professionals, a teaching course is something they would do if they didn’t get enrollment into any of the other streams.  It is never the preferred stream.  And among those who do, it is mainly the women who go for it.  That has to do a lot with the parity in salaries offered.  No one man will be able to manage his household expenses on current salaries.  Women accept it because they are most of the time the second salaried person in the family.  Equal pay for men and women based  on qualification and the number of years experience they bring to a school is the need of the hour.
The Government can help in this matter by creating a slab system in teacher salaries too just like in other sectors.  That will be the first step in the right direction.  And then we can go on to changing the mindset of school Managements who are most of the time shortchanging teachers in terms of salaries as well as in the way they are behaved to.