The School of Meaningful Experiences (SoME) leverages technology in innovative ways to help the young and older adults become more confident, learn persuasive communication skills, and be more collaborative.
In its second edition, Debato – India’s only online debating competition for teens – has evolved into an engaging platform that brings together young, isolated students from different parts of the country to partake in the ancient art of debating. More than 100 teams and 300 participants competed at Debato 2021 held earlier this month.
“Debating is integral to the functioning of a democratic society, promoting a healthy exchange of ideas while giving space to dissenting voices. Youngsters are our future citizens, and we felt it was imperative to inculcate this love of debating in them so that they, if they want, can change the country for the better through their words,” says Rakesh Godhwani, the brains behind the unique online competition.
As the Founder and CEO of the School of Meaningful Experiences (SoME), an edtech startup based in Bengaluru, Godhwani launched Debato last year to help enhance three important leadership skills in youngsters – grammar, logic and rhetoric (reading, thinking and speaking). “The idea was to encourage students to think critically on a contemporary topic, examine and structure their argument, and engage in real-world problem-solving,” he explains.
The success of Debato 2021 is a testament to how dedicated online educational initiatives for kids can improve their learning, critical thinking and teamwork. “We realised that increasingly technology was being viewed as a villain, especially when it comes to how it impacts children and youngsters. However, we sincerely believe that it can be a highly interactive enabler when leveraged as means to a purposeful end,” maintains the entrepreneur-cum-author, with a PhD in leadership communication.
For the love of teaching
Back in 1999, Godhwani had two careers – a full-time corporate job and a weekend gig teaching communication skills “to anyone who wished to speak with confidence”. He left the corporate world in 2008 in order to pursue his true passion.
What started as a summer camp experiment in 2015 for children in the neighbourhood grew into an edtech company in 2018 that helped teenagers, young and older adults to become more confident, learn persuasive communication skills, and be more collaborative.
“We wanted to create a company that would complement traditional Indian education, which unfortunately doesn’t focus too much on improving students’ communication or soft skills. This is problematic because as kids grow into potential professionals, they find it hard to assert themselves at their workplaces or communicate their ideas confidently,” says the adjunct faculty at IIM Bangalore.
Godhwani has taught at IIM Udaipur, Trichy, Vizag, as well as at Ahemadabad University and SDM Institute for Management Development in Mysore. His courses also run on edX and upGrad. “Working professionals, entrepreneurs, middle and senior managers of India are great at operations but struggle with communication in boardrooms and client meetings.
Many of them believe that knowing fluent English is the same as having good communication skills. It is not true,” he insists. SoME’s flagship programmes range from six to nine weeks, while the short-term programmes and workshops are tailor-made for a variety of age groups on how to ace a job interview, do storytelling, and present data visually.
“We aim to enhance our learners’ existing skillsets, empowering them to be more confident at school and work, seek answers when in doubt and increase their knowledge, collaborate with teammates/colleagues and present their ideas and thoughts confidently,” avers Godhwani.
Learning to be fearless
SoME started as a brick-and-motor organisation, but the pandemic forced the business to move their operations online. Harnessing the power of technology, SoME now caters to learners from around the world, including Saudi Arabia, Dubai, Vienna and India.
“SoME focuses on improving soft skills through instructor-led online and offline classes. This process is called blended learning, and our curriculum is based on our unique Six Cs philosophy,” says Godhwani. The courses are designed to ignite the learners’ curiosity, creativity and competence.
“I have tremendous respect for our Indian education system and am grateful to be a product of it. However, the gap between what this system teaches and what is expected from a modern world has widened drastically,” he explains. Traditionally, a strong focus has been placed on sciences and mathematics, but not on developing students’ communication, soft and other essential life skills. Also, examinations, an integral component of the Indian education system, are designed to test students’ memorising abilities and don’t encourage critical thinking and individual thought.
Culturally too, as Asians, we are not encouraged to ask questions or voice our opinions, as it is considered disrespectful. This act of taught deference, Godhwani reasons, gets perpetuated further in the professional world and reduces the scope of assertive communication, eating away at one’s confidence and motivation at work.
“Our organisation tries to solve these communication and confidence issues while encouraging our learners to become competent and fearless problem solvers of tomorrow,” says the entrepreneur, who doesn’t want to challenge or compete with the conventional education system, but to help bridge the existing gaps.