Monday, 6 August 2012

An Intern's Insights

by Ishaan Jalan
(Ishaan was an Intern with the 'Learn, Out of the Box' team from the the 18th of June till the 6th of August, 2012)
Ishaan (right) with Shahid (left) during staff training. 

I started my first real internship on the 18th of June. I had a few thoughts before coming in on the first day: “Am I dressed too casually for work?”, “Is my boss going to be a real tyrant?” and “Is this really going to work?” The last question was the most interesting of the three. It had many connotations in my mind. It had a personal meaning, which meant - how am I going to find it here? Will I enjoy it? Will I do well? Will I be able to actually contribute? Or even if I can’t contribute, will I at least get to learn something? 

As an experience, it allowed me do a lot of different tasks. Initially, a lot of work was focused on going through and checking the different content being put in the WebBox. Subsequently the work diversified into searching for related articles and websites for the project; testing and tracking all the WebBoxes, SIM cards and laptops; loading content; and creating documents and files. However, I realized during the first week that there was so much more to learn during this internship, and in the atmosphere that I was working in, than just the work I was doing. Before starting, I assumed that I would not be able to contribute anything at all because I have not studied anything related to this field and that I would just be observing. In a way, I was right – I was just observing. However, I wasn’t just observing the way in which a non-profit worked, but rather, observing how people worked. The first thing I realised was that studying something related wasn’t crucial. Far more essential was the attitude. I saw around me people putting in more hours than I thought were legal. The most refreshing part of this was that this seemed like a far cry from working in the halls of a purely monetarily driven endeavor. Here, it was obvious that everyone really wants the project to succeed. Every time someone asks me how I like my internship I reply saying that the greatest part is the people. It’s only now, with a day remaining, that I realize how much I’m going to actually miss this and how much I actually want to return next summer. 

The other interpretation of the question ‘Is it going to work?’ was whether the product and the project itself would work. As a member of the ‘Generation Z’, mentioned in the last post, it was natural for me to believe that technology and its advances are obviously the future and the solution to all our problems – in this specific case the spread of education. So when I heard that this project would be using a device called a WebBox to enhance the process of learning, I thought I had probably found the coolest summer internship out of all my friends and that this would ‘obviously’ be one of the revolutionary steps in education - typical thoughts of an overexcited intern. 

In my first week, I didn’t get a chance to actually see the WebBox, there was a ‘shroud of mystery’ surrounding the device. I started to get apprehensive about it. Then, the following week I started researching articles on previous attempts of ICT and education technology and I read an article by Anurag Behar, the CEO of the Azim Premji Foundation, on their attempt to create digital learning resources in schools. He categorized their project as a “qualified failure” and said that “At its best, the fascination with ICT as a solution distracts from the real issues. At its worst, ICT is suggested as substitute to solving the real problems, for example, “why bother about teachers, when ICT can be the teacher”. This perspective is lethal.” 

Articles like this abruptly awoke me to the realities of this market and, for the first time, I was concerned. Getting a chance to actually see and use the WebBox later that week did, however, ease my apprehension and it was hard not to be impressed by the product. Then when we went to Aurangabad for our staff training, I got to see the different ways in which people could actually use the device and my enthusiasm began to return to its originally high levels.

At the end of the day, I don’t know enough about the WebBox and have no experience in the field to estimate the reactions of schools and teachers.  I have not been part of the project enough to know where it’s going to go from here and no degree or ability to make any sort of qualified or quantified opinion on how I think the WebBox will turn out. However, I am excited about it and I definitely feel that if I had to teach someone and I had been given this resource, that I would use it! And I think that does mean something. 

As an experience, and to answer my other question of how I would find it here, all I can say is that if you are an intern and you are looking for a summer job – look into this one - it’s a great place to work. I’ve really enjoyed my time and learnt a lot while working here and never felt really inadequate. You get to meet a lot of really cool people both in the office and in the field, at least I definitely did.Taking this internship has influenced me in terms of what I want to do after I graduate from college. 

(And I wasn’t too casually dressed and my boss was the furthest thing from a tyrant, incase you were wondering)