A progressive initiative to give less privileged school students hands-on training in a variety of vocations is paying good dividends in Himachal Pradesh
It is lunch time and students are queuing up to buy the savoury, chatpati (spicy) chaat (a dish consisting of fruit or vegetables with spices) selling like hot cakes. What is so special about it, one may ask. Well, it is not any street vendor standing outside the Government Senior Secondary School Tutikandi in Shimla, hawking his wares, but the students themselves who are selling the mouth-watering channa chaat with tomatoes, cucumber, spices and a squeeze of lemon.
A plateful of chaat is priced at Rs 10 to suit the pocket of the students of the school, as most of their parents are daily wage earners. It is not a one-time affair, nor is it a part of a school fete or fair or any other annual event organised as fundraisers or to showcase the talent of the students. The chaat, which is a hit also with the teachers of the school, is now regularly on sale.
The initiative was begun as part of practical lessons in entrepreneurship for the students who opted for the Retail course under vocational education, a centrally sponsored scheme. Right from buying ingredients for the snacks, to preparing the food and selling it to fellow students and teachers, everything is done by the students under the guidance of Amit Thakur, who teaches the subject.
Although students love chaat made of white or black channa, potatoes or seasonal fruit, a variety of sandwiches and other snacks are also on offer. This venture is a first of its kind in Himachal Pradesh. The students are also learning how to maintain account ledgers and experiment on snacks that find favour with students but require minimum preparation time. “We discovered that children loved the channa chaat best. It is nutritious, tasty and we are selling it at price that suits their pockets,” says Sneha, a Class XI student.
Khushboo Tamang of Class XI chips in to talk about the lessons learnt. “The first day saw a great rush for this ‘chatpata dish’ and many students had to be turned away as the chaat was sold out in no time. So, the lesson learnt was that we need to assess the demand and that some kind of survey is needed, even on a small scale, before buying the ingredients,” she says.
After working out the expenditure and payment to the girls and boys who are involved in the preparation, the Retail students are able to earn a reasonable profit. There are 70 students from Classes IX to XII who have opted for the course. Students get to sell their preparations by rotation. The objective is to ensure that all the Retail students get practical training on skills that may come handy when they want to start their own businesses and at the same time enable them to earn some money as an incentive. For the children of daily wage earners even a small amount of money is welcome.
“Snacks prepared by the students are not only tasty, nutritious and filling, care is taken to ensure hygiene at every step,” feel the teachers who have become regular customers. In another first by the school, a craft mela was organised with the help of an NGO, Karwan, in which 60 Retail students took part. The students were trained in creating decorative as well as daily use items from pine needles found in plenty in forest areas near the school. The products included flower vases, fruit baskets, roti containers, trays and pen stands. They fetched good prices at the mela.
The students not only learnt creative skills but also how to market their products. Two of the students, Khushboo and Dinesh, earned between Rs 2500 and Rs 3000, says the course teacher. Others earned smaller amounts, depending on the finish of the products. Some of the students continue to make pine needle products at home in their spare time and earn money.
The practical lessons are not limited to chaat making or learning a handicraft; there is also a provision for On Job Training or OJT. Fifty Retail students of the school were given OJT with Tata Motors. The students worked for eight hours daily for five days, getting to know about servicing and selling cars, dealing with customers, finance, and how grievances of customers are addressed.
Vanita Chauhan of Class XII, one of the students who took part in the training, liked handling customers at the reception. “I found dealing with customers quite interesting and therefore I may think of working with a company like Tata Motors at their reception counter,” she says. Samrit, also of Class XII, was more interested in the service centre at the Tata Motors outlet. “The purpose of the OJT is to expose students to professional environments. Also, such opportunities can help the students in choosing a profession for their livelihood,” says the Retail teacher. The students also got exposure to mega markets.
Retail as a vocational subject was introduced at GSSS Tutikandi only last year. Under the vocational education scheme, bona fide Himachali students aged 16 years or above are given Rs 1000 per month for a period of two years. In addition, books and stationery are provided free of charge. Since it is an optional subject, only the students who have aptitude for retail join the course. After completing the course, the students will get a certificate from the National Skill Development Corporation that may help them get jobs when they pass out from school.
The scheme for vocational education was introduced in the state in 2013-14 and as of now 15 areas are covered. Apart from Retail, some of other vocations are Tourism, Healthcare, ITES, Security, Agriculture, Telecom, Media & Entertainment, Physical Education, Beauty and Wellness, Electronics and Hardware, Plumbing, Tailoring and Designing and Banks and Financial Services. Visits to industrial houses and guest lectures by experts are part of the curriculum.
“Activities under Retail are designed to help students look at entrepreneurship as a career option, says the GSSS Tutikandi Principal Nitika Sharma. The fact that these students are earning while learning is an additional incentive, she says.