Pudumai Penn turns three

A report from the Managing Trustee – Pudumai Penn turns three

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In May 2017 the Foundation completed three years: a proud moment for Foundation members, volunteers, students and me personally. These years have been a journey of learning and growth: we have grown from 8 students in 2014 to 90 students in 2017.

Our goal is to ensure that our students shine in the areas of their choice and grow successfully in their respective careers. For this, it is essential to equip our scholar with certain additional skills to supplement their curricular learning. Our internal training plan is designed to achieve this and fortunately we have a minimum of three years to achieve this for every student.

During the first year of their joining the Foundation, our focus is on building students’ confidence by improving their proficiency in the English language, improving their digital literacy and improving soft skills.

Improving scholars’ English proficiency

We have outsourced English language training to Transendix who have created a customised language training programme that not only teaches our scholars the basics but also helps them to develop confidence and enables them to participate effectively in presenting themselves and in group discussions.

Another initiative in this regard is the Spoken English mentorship program, which kicked off in January 2017. To provide more opportunities to practice speaking English, students identified as needing help were attached to volunteer ‘mentors’. Over 15 students have benefitted from this program, showing remarkable improvement in speaking skills and confidence.

A library has been launched, stocked with a range of books donated by a well-wisher to provide students with access to high quality reading material.

Fostering digital literacy

We launched a computer centre for scholars to use and practice on.

Cognizant Technologies, a leading global IT organisation, as part of their CSR programme, has conducted basic and advanced digital literacy classes over the past 3 years. All our students have benefited from this training, sometimes securing part time jobs to augment their income.

Soft skills for employability

This is a key area for development of young graduate students from marginalised sections of society as their home environments are not conducive for the development of such skills. Following the positive response received to early informational sessions on a range of topics, we formalised an ‘employability skills building program’ in 2016.

Run entirely by volunteers, our soft skills program takes the form of interactive workshops to facilitate active participation by students. These workshops are led by experienced coaches and facilitators who generously give their time to our students. Each student receives around 80 hours of such training during the three years of their graduation.

Workshops conducted include but are not limited to :

  • Speech Crafting and Presentation
  • Personal Leadership
  • Goal Achievement
  • Giving and Receiving Feedback
  • How to Build Relationships (Personal and Official)
  • Listening Skills
  • Scientific Techniques on making Dreams a Reality

Our aim is to make this a full-fledged certification program with suitable independent assessment processes in place by 2018.

Challenges and learnings

On this journey of growth and learning we have had to battle two key challenges: dropouts and absenteeism.

Of the students inducted over the three years to date, approximately 22 have dropped out. Given the realities of the circumstances of some of these girls we cannot expect a 100% success rate at all times. Some level of dropout is a reality that the Foundation must live with and accept, which we are trying to minimise through support and mentorship.

Another of the challenges we faced was absenteeism with class attendance at 35-50% at times. Recognising that follow-ups and reminders were ineffective, we have adopted the strategy of giving ownership and accountability for attendance to the students themselves.

The way forward

The Foundation’s first three years have been spent on establishing processes, inducting volunteers and testing the concept of our focus and employability. Every year so far we have inducted a batch of 25-30 students.

The focus and the process is now tested and ready for acceleration. Our desire is to accelerate, cover more schools and increase number of students supported.

We are limited by funding and infrastructure – to use for training, discussion rooms, and expand the schools supported across Chennai so we can cover all Government and Corporation schools by 2022. Therefore the Foundation’s focus in the next 12-15 months will be increase awareness and raise more funds to support a larger section of Chennai metro before we move on to support other towns and villages in Tamilnadu.