A look at the ‘Desh ke Mentor’ Program

This article tries to understand the “Desh ke Mentor” initiative under Youth for Education (YFE) program of the Delhi government.

Image Source : Twitter/ Arvind Kejriwal

On 11th October 2021, the Delhi government in continuing its efforts of reforming education in Delhi and making quality education accessible to the students has launched one of the largest mentorships programs to include youth from the country to mentor schools students studying in schools owned by the Delhi government. Under this program, students will be trained so that they can make informed choices not only about their career but also choices of every day in upcoming years. This program is not only to help students in the short-run but is also about investing in the youth with the overall idea of nation-building, the idea that Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal has spoken about earlier, when he said, “As history shows, every developed country in the world has been founded on the back of a strong public services system. Only when the government provides a strong and efficient foundation of public services, does real progress become possible. The most crucial amongst these public services is education. I believe that education is the single most important factor which can bring families out of vicious cycles of poverty, which can change the way a generation demands its rights, which can lead to progress in the true sense of the word. When a government spends on education, it is not just providing a service but also investing in the future of the country.” (Directorate of Education, 2019).One of the important steps in this program is that it directly focuses on the students studying in Delhi with regular engagement with them which is working on the ‘software’ part of the education system, in Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia’s words.

Under this program, one to one mapping of 10 lakh children studying will be done in Delhi. During the pilot phase for six months around 650 mentors from the age group of 20-30 have been added who gave guidance to around 4000 children across 46 schools in East and South-East Delhi. Delhi government aims to engage more than 3 lakh mentors in the program who will guide around 10 lakh children studying in classes 10 to 12 (India, 2021). The idea behind one-on-one mapping is to understanding each child individual profile and allocating suitable mentors to 2-4 children in one group. This observation was done by Delhi government teachers when they had visits to other countries schools to learn about their educational practices. This mentorship program is not only for career guidance but also to support students and share valuable inputs on daily life issues of students by the young mentors who have gone through a largely similar process before few years. So, in addition to helping in making informed career choices, this program will also provide emotional support to the students (PTI, 2021). One more reason behind selecting mentors below the age of 35 is that there is a possibility that because of the generational gap between parents and their children and in some cases between teachers and students also children daily life issues are not addressed properly and that’s why under this program youths are selected so that children can relate with them better and mentor also can share their recent experiences and they also will be in their initial phase of career or higher studies. 

The mentors will be chosen from various fields so that students specific needs and aspirations can be addressed. As Delhi’s Education Minister Manish Sisodia said during one of his press conferences on this program while explaining the significance of the Desh ke Mentor program is that a child might think that they want to get into acting or music or become a policeman, but teachers may not have the ability to do handholding for every child. He also said that the main idea is for the whole community to become a school. He also said the Parents Outreach Program and this initiative will ensure that our community is shared in a way that helps our students grow holistically, which acts as a support system for them and their families (Today, 2021). 

This pilot program for Desh ke Mentor has only included mentors from Delhi but now mentors will be included from the whole of India to mentor Delhi government school students. In addition to doing handholding to the students, one of the main objectives of the program is also to develop a culture of voluntarism in the society where the youth of the country have the sense of giving back to society especially in the educational sector. During a conference organized by AAP titled ‘Be the change you want to see in Education in Karnataka’ Atishi Marlena, MLA, Delhi said that “earlier we tried to create these champions in the schools, but now we will try in the community”. She also said that this initiative is among those meant to “bridge the gap in a very unequal society that the classroom was trying to do”. For now, mentorship will be over the phone or video call and if necessary, students and mentors meeting will be organized at the school level (Dsouza, 2021).

According to the information available on the Delhi Technological University (DTU) Youth for Education program website this program is being managed by the Education Department of GNCTD in close collaboration with the office of Hon’ble Deputy Chief Minister, the dedicated Project Management Unit (PMU) for this program, teachers, mentors and school students (mentees). This project has been allocated to the Center for Extension and Field Outreach, DTU on the behalf of Directorate of Education GNCD for implementing and monitoring the programme (Centre of Extention and Field Outreach, 2021). 

A brief history of educational programs of the Delhi government

Till now Delhi government has worked under four larger themes, these are-intervention for students, interventions aimed at Principles and Teachers, building a strong school community and improving school infrastructure. 

Under intervention for students some important programs were- Chunauti-2018: – this program was aimed at to have a substantial improvement in the pass percentage of class 9 and to have all students in upper primary classes be able to read, write and do basic math, and attain learning outcomes appropriate to their grade level. Pragati series-to create supplementary learning material for students of classes 6 to 8 in English, Hindi, Maths, Sciences and Social Sciences subjects. Mission Buniyaad- this program objective was to help children so that they can read, write and do basic math operations. Then came Happiness Curriculum to help students lead happier lives while making meaningful contributions to their communities by practising mindfulness and by developing skills like empathy, critical thinking, problem-solving, communication and collaboration to build meaningful relationships. Then a broad program called Schools of Excellence came with the objectives of creating institutions of excellence for the all-around development of children enabling them to achieve their highest potential. To demonstrate that high-quality education can be provided in government schools and children irrespective of their parent’s backgrounds, can achieve academic excellence (Directorate of Education, 2019). 

Development programs for Principles and Teachers were as follows: – Mentor Teacher Program- to support teachers from the Delhi Government to leverage creative expertise by providing on-site learning support to other teachers and organize workshops suited to the pedagogical needs of their fellow teachers. Teacher Development Coordinator Programme- to develop ‘Education Leaders’ within each school to assist the HoS in creating the culture of collaborative learning in schools. Jeevan Vidhya Shivir- one of the largest residential workshops based on co-existential philosophy propounded by A. Nagraj. The programme was aimed at consciousness development through Value Education. Few other initiatives were international exposure, training of special educators. 

To build a strong school community programme such as empowering School Management Committees (SMCs) to strengthen the community partnership and ownership in the management of government schools, Mega Parents Teachers Meetings (PTMs) were organized. And in addition to all these programmes, a huge improvement in the infrastructure has been done over the last five years.

If we see the nature of all these programmes, we will realize that all these programmes were aimed at building foundations to do further things. For example, investment in the infrastructure was to provide basic facilities such as a clean classroom with optimum facilities, separate toilets etc. 

One of the important groups in the school is adolescents (14-18 age groups) who are studying in class 9-12. This group because of our societal structure starts thinking’s what they want to do after 12th class and they start making choices accordingly. Their aspirations are not only influenced by their family background, particular school and the community but also larger information that is available to them through the internet and social media. This issue gets more problematic for students coming from disadvantaged sections of society such as economically poor families, migrants from other states, women from poor families in particular and women in general as a separate category, children with special needs, scheduled castes etc. 

Significant things to consider while implementing the programme

Since Indian society is very diverse and structured on various hierarchies, our education systems are directly influenced by these hierarchies and identities. The social structure prevalent in society not only influence school education but also trickles down to the daily life and interactions of children. That’s why under this programme we need to be mindful of these dimensions while designing any interventions at the school and community level. 

The next thing we need to be careful of is making this programme participatory. We defiantly can have larger objectives and vision of the programme but when it comes to designing specific activities and tasks then it is very important to first study the need, problems and aspirations of the students who are the focus of this program. And while doing this assessment we need to include students in a participatory manner where not only do we understand their side but they also come out more aware and empowered about their needs and aspirations after this process. 

In addition to the above suggestions, we need to keep doing a mid-term evaluation of the programme within this participatory framework by including all important stakeholders so that we can find the good areas as well as areas of improvement and design things accordingly. 

At field level

The main appeal to the youth of this country will be that they will be contributing in the nation-building at large and helping the students but considering human psychology, some incentives are significant to attract the best of talent and making them stay in the mentorship program and also put an example for prospective mentors. In these non-monetary incentives such as experiences certificate, appreciation certificate in case of unique achievements by mentors, awards at block, district and state level can act as a huge motivation for mentors and it will also help in the sustainability of the program in the longer run.  

In addition to larger campaigning to attract youth to become the mentor, we can also think of doing targeted campaigning to attract youth and professionals from specific fields such as social sciences institutes, social work colleges, professionals from mental health, IITs, IIMs etc. It will not only help to find a diverse pool of mentors but it will also help in supporting students with diverse needs and aspirations. 

Taking the help of School Management Committees (SMCs) can defiantly help not only to find prospective mentors from a similar background as the context of the school in various communities but it may also improve the overall functioning of SMCs and school and community relationships. Alumni groups of schools can defiantly be a significant group to include as mentors. 

International experiences of Youth mentorship programmes

Generally, mentorships programs aim to help mentees develop self-esteem, motivation, tenacity, trustworthiness, perseverance and resiliency, among other non-cognitive skills, and to reduce personal, familial, and social barriers that prevent young people from valuing school and succeeding academically (Rhodes JE, 2000 Nov-Dec; 71(6)). 

Analysis of mentoring programmes such as Big Brother Big Sisters of America, Youth mentoring program: Across Ages, Quantum Opportunity Program find positive but modest effects, with the most disadvantaged or at-risk youth benefiting the most. It also found that these programmes are better at improving youth’s non-cognitive and social skills than their academic performance. It also claims that these benefits dissipate quickly over time, and even programs can backfire, especially in the long run (Rodríguez-Planas, 2014). Despite the large body of evaluation of literature on mentoring programs, not enough is known about their effectiveness. Shreds of evidence from MICs (middle incomes countries) and LICs (low-income countries is very scare and considering the potentially unintended medium-to-long-term effects of some of these programs, policymakers, practitioners, and researchers should design programs and evaluations to better identify who benefits most (and least) and why so that programs can be tailored to the problems and needs of particular adolescents and youths. 

Being a past student of a government school in Delhi, it is very encouraging for me to see a state government investing in education so heavily. The most important thing is that this investment is not only financial but one by one it is focusing on all significant areas of an education system. From children’s point of view, I can understand how these investments in various areas can change their lives in coming years. Desh ke Mentor initiative under the Youth for Education programme is not only one more initiative of the Delhi Government but it also involves the Center for Extension and Field Outreach, Delhi Technological University. It will be very interesting to see how this collaboration turns out and helps in an overall educational revolution in Delhi. 

Deendyal Singh, Project Manager in Youth for Education Program Center for Extension and Outreach, DTU, Government of Delhi.