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Sharon Lobo

IWB Blogger

Sneha Krishnan Uses The Force Of Women Dropouts To Uplift Outdated Computer Science Classes

  • IWB Post
  •  November 1, 2018

While I can’t even decide what I should have for dinner tonight, this young entrepreneur is trying to solve two major problems at the same time.

Sneha Krishnan is the founder of Mind champ, an organization that leads women to rejoin the workforce after their sabbaticals and also helps kids to upgrade their computer science learning systems. This idea sparked during her days at St. Xavier’s College. The social involvement program that is compulsory for all students led the path to her own company.

“Students still learn very outdated programs like Paint and MS Office which is good to learn but today’s kids are so good with technology we should be using that time to teach them something more meaningful,” she says.

This in itself is a big challenge that takes up most of her time, but she has found a way around this to solve the second problem too. “There is always a desire to go back to work, but the family becomes accustomed. There is great inertia. Most of the women want to have a job but also don’t want to compromise with their child’s upbringing,” is what she told me while explaining to me why she came up with an idea to employ these women.

Here is her take on education, working women and the snippets of her day. Excerpts:

Tell us a little bit about MindChamp,

There are two problems we are trying to solve with our initiative, firstly, the way computer science is taught in our country. None of our national boards has prescribed a curriculum for computer science. So, whatever is part of the school syllabus is what the school wants to teach which again is a function of the quality of teachers, and in most cases, that isn’t really great. Programming or coding needs to be developed as a discipline that then has a positive correlation to other subjects. We do after-school programs for students where we teach them programming through fun activities.

How we do this is that we encourage women to get back to work. We partner with women who have a background in technology with any undergraduate degree and relevant work experience and now have dropped out. We train them to take coding classes at home. It’s like a micro franchise for them. It enables them to engage themselves productively, have the flexibility of doing it from home, and it becomes an extra source of income too.

What challenges do you think women face that stop them from getting back to their jobs?

One of the problems is that kids are very young and given that, a lot of families are nuclear families, so the responsibility automatically comes on the shoulders of the women. This is the reason why women tend to leave their jobs. It’s a gender role that everyone had adopted. Secondly, it is on the part of the corporates, women don’t want to deal with office politics, the stress of promotion and long working hours. There is no strong incentive in the workforce as such so staying at home becomes a better option. It is also the responsibility of big organizations to create an environment that helps women thrive.

Is the number of women in tech very few currently?

Not really. When you look at the five top IT cities like Mumbai, Pune, Bangalore, Hyderabad, and Gurgaon, there is a large section of women working owing to the nature of the IT industry who somewhere along the way drop out. Even in Tier 2 cities there are women with degrees but don’t opt to work because they are from business families and probably there is not much opportunity in smaller towns.

Since coding needs critical thinking, do you think introducing it to kids at the age of 7 helps them develop new skills?

Absolutely. What we at MindChamp focus on is to make every course that they learn related to real life. For example, there is a concept in programming called the loop. It is an action that repeats multiple times until you make it stop. Something as simple as a fan. We encourage them to look at daily objects in a different framework.

Do you think parents are more willing to send boys rather than girls to learn to code?

Sadly, yes. Out of all the children that we had taught, most of them have been boys. Since we teach coding and how to make video games, it automatically relates with boys. Girls, as they stereotypically say, are more artistic. So, parents don’t even try and explore coding for girls. Not because the parents are biased but because they see their kid is not interested in it. It’s just a matter of interest and how it is generally perceived.

Are you doing anything to change that?

What we generally do is organizing demo sessions for parents. We call the parents and kids together and conduct activities. This helps them open up to the concept.

Have you noticed lower confidence in girls as compared to the boys?

Not particularly. At that young age, confidence and ability are at par with boys. I don’t think stereotypes seep in that early.

We have girls in tech colleges who then mysteriously disappear from the career path. How can we challenge this issue?

I think there are two ways to look at it. Firstly, there are the women who have taken a break, for them to encourage to just start working either part-time or as a freelancer builds up the momentum. Once they see they are contributing towards something other than their households, they are willing to take up a full-time role. Secondly, for women who are in the workforce, corporates need to create a culture that they feel they are a part of the bigger picture. A lot of work can be done about HR policies, and the way office politics is handled. When we create better spaces for women to thrive in, they will find value and meaning to come to work.

How does office politics stop women from getting back to work?

The potential for growth is minimal. The boss looks at the employee who puts in a higher number of hours to give a promotion. Though the efficient productivity of other employees might be the same. Just because they are around, it creates an availability bias. A woman might have a greater commitment to finish her work faster because she then has to go and look after her kids, but that is often overlooked. So even though her contribution is same, the measurement of contribution is not. We need better ways to measure work.

Give us an insight into your day.

We have our centers in Mumbai, so we visit women to help them start their classes. Then we are either working on the curriculum or trying to change few things. Every day is so different that there is nothing typical about my day. Generally, the common thing is a lot of problem-solving.

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Tell us about that one skill you wanted to learn but have been putting off.

Time management. I think I can do much better.

What can the search history of your computer tell us about you?

That I am always looking for information to share with the kids. I make them believe that even if they are just 10-year olds, there is no limit to what they can do. Also, I try to figure out how to scale the organization and how to make the training sessions much more effective.

What is your idea of a relaxing Sunday?

Cooking and Painting. I generally try not to do anything. During the week, you think of the same thing over and over again, so it does not enable you to think out of the box. When you chill for a day and then go back to work, you have the ability to look at things differently.

What does the future hold for MindChamp?

We want to be present in at least three more cities in a year. We want to onboard more and more educators and impact as many children as we can.

Anyone wanting to get in touch with Sneha can drop her an email at sneha@mindchamp.in.

 

This article was first published on August 15, 2017.

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