As students, we have all stumbled but somehow navigated the ups and downs of our education system, appreciating the positives and being critical of the pitfalls. But we all agree that the system needs to change for the better, atleast for the next generation.
Sweta Narayanan, our next pathbreaker, works on educational content solutions for a US-based company, to make learning conceptual, engaging and meaningful for learners.
Sweta talks to Shyam Krishnamurthy from The Interview Portal about her personal experiences with schooling that led to the realization that education was her passion and that there was a lot in the system that needed to change to bring innovation and fun in learning.
For students, with new educational policies being drafted and digitization happening in a big way, take up a career in Education to address the very challenges you faced as students !
Sweta, tell us about your background.
I grew up in Bhavnagar (Gujarat), Bangalore and Chennai. My father, a mechanical engineer, transferred jobs quite a bit during my childhood. My mother was a teacher, her specialization being Economics and English, and enjoyed helping children learn. My schooling was predominantly in Chennai, and I was a well-performing and an enthusiastic student at school. Language was always my area of interest and strength, as I grasped languages rather quickly and enjoyed learning their nuances. My stellar performances in the sciences could be attributed purely to rote learning, and neither interest nor ability, in a system that tests memory rather than conceptual understanding. I was always interested in sports, and took part in athletics and other sports throughout my schooling.
Which areas/disciplines did you pursue in your graduation/post graduation?
Much to the disappointment of my teachers who expected a high-scoring student in the Science stream to pursue engineering or medicine, I decided to pursue Journalism or English Literature. An interesting combination of Journalism, English Literature and Psychology took me to Christ University (Bangalore) for an undergraduate degree. I also interned with various newspapers during my summer vacations over the three-year graduation period; this helped me gain an insight and some experience into what the real world of journalism would entail. Post this, I pursued a Postgraduate Diploma in Print Journalism at the reputed Asian College of Journalism, Chennai. During this time, I also taught Spoken English to underprivileged children over a two-year period. I was placed at The Hindu as a sub-editor, which was my first job for about 2.5 years. As my fascination with the real world of journalism dwindled, I decided to pursue a Masters in International Relations at the University of Sussex in Brighton, U.K., after an elective in International Studies during my postgraduation diploma triggered my interest in this area of study. Upon my return, I got into education as a content writer, curriculum developer, project manager and teacher trainer.
What made you choose such an offbeat, unconventional and unique career?
My mother was a big influencer, as her passion to help children learn was very inspiring and motivational.
Dr. Swarna Rajagopalan, who is the Founding Trustee of The Prajnya Trust in Chennai where I have been a long-term volunteer, has inspired my drive and desire to work in the social sector and be of service to the community.
My experience with teaching Spoken English to underprivileged children that taught me that innovation and fun in learning (with specific objectives and a purpose of course) can lead to it being far more meaningful and enduring for any learner.
One of the biggest turning points was my personal realization that education was my passion; I had always wanted to get into the system to change it. Learning needs to be fun, meaningful and for life; and through my personal experience with schooling, I understood that there was a lot in our system that needed to change for this to happen.
How did you plan the steps to get into the career you wanted? Or how did you make a transition to a new career? Tell us about your career path.
Initially as I was very keen to pursue a career in journalism, I chose a suitable undergraduate degree that would give me a good understanding of journalistic evolution and theory. I simultaneously pursued internships during every summer of the three-year course so as to gain practical field experience of the profession. This gave me the opportunity to see how journalism unfolds in the real world and this experience was invaluable when I started my first real job in the world of journalism at The Hindu, Chennai. Around 2.5 years later, after having worked with the Editorial desk and having done a bit of reporting, I quit this job to pursue higher studies.
My Masters degree was not directly related to either fields (journalism or education) and I pursued it purely based on my interest in the subject (international studies). The course gave me a good foundation of world politics, international relations theory and economics among many others. Intellectually strengthened with this knowledge, I returned to Chennai and decided to take the plunge into education.
I got into Chrysalis through an acquaintance to the company. Chrysalis is a learning solutions and innovation company that aims to transform and awaken a learner’s mind to bring out their innate human potential. This is primarily achieved through a flagship product called the ThinkRoom, that includes print and digital learning solutions and field interventions. This is targeted at primarily private school students from K-10 across various subjects.
Over the next ten years, I learnt about the workings of the education sector, primarily across the K-12 segment, and developed content and curriculum extensively in English for the in-house flagship curriculum. During my stint here, I also had the opportunity to complete a certificate course in project management which helped me learn a few strategies and tools to manage projects better. Occasional meetings with teachers and students would offer insights into ground realities in school education, which would then become field inputs/feedback that would go back into revising the curriculum.
Last year, I moved to a US-based content development company as a Content Lead for Humanities (ELA and Social Studies) and now work for a US-based learner audience, which has provided me an opportunity to learn and enhance my personal growth.
How did you get your first break?
My first break in terms of my career was through campus placement; I was placed with The Hindu after graduating from the Asian College of Journalism, Chennai.
What were the challenges? How did you address them?
To be honest, I did not face any significant hurdles in my career path. I think this could be attributed to my being crystal clear about what I wanted to pursue, in addition to the constant support of my parents who encouraged me every step of the way. The only hurdle, if I may call it so, was my attempt to secure admission in a few women’s colleges in Chennai to pursue English Literature for my undergraduation. Owing to the reservation system here, I could not get through despite scoring very high in my 12th grade (96.3%). This was disappointing, but this is what drove me to look for more interesting and challenging courses outside Chennai. It took me to Bangalore and I am grateful I went.
Where do you work now? Tell us what you do.
I work with Six Red Marbles, a US-based company that provides educational solutions that engage, inspire and transform. This includes content development, learning experience design, production, project management and technological solutions.
I work towards making learning more engaging and meaningful for learners.
Some key skills required to be effective in this job are good language ability (particularly writing), good communication skills, a reasonably sound knowledge of one’s subject area, pedagogical knowledge, innovation, teamwork, and most of all, empathy (to put yourself in a learner’s shoes).
A typical day involves working on content across projects, subject and learner levels; this could be writing, reviewing or assessments. This learning can be in the form of print or digital material, as books or on digital learning client platforms, for learners in the K-12 school segment or higher education. This is predominantly for the student audience across US schools and colleges, and other corporate clients who have educational initiatives across this learner segment.
I love that I can make learning fun and meaningful for students through grade-appropriate writing, innovation in activities and connecting learning to real-life to make it more relevant.
How does your work benefit society?
I think my work benefits society at large as it engages with the fundamental aspect of education to create individuals, and future citizens, who are knowledgeable, compassionate and conscientious.
My work involves creating and reviewing content that helps a learner gain, apply or revise knowledge and understanding across subjects in a number of ways; for a customer this means getting high quality and pedagogically-sound content that aligns with international learning standards and quality.
Tell us an example of a specific memorable work you did that is very close to you!
I am also a senior volunteer with The Cattitude Trust in Chennai that strives towards making the lives of stray animals (particularly cats) better through feeding, vaccination and sterilization programs, rescue/fostering/adoptions and by dispelling misconceptions about animals. This passion has always found expression in my work, where I have brought in numerous aspects of animal welfare into learning materials in an age-appropriate manner. This work is very close to my heart, as it is an integration of my passion and my “profession”.
Your advice to students based on your experience?
Follow the path you think you should take, but also ensure you equip yourself professionally and personally to achieve your goals. If you can integrate your passion and your profession, nothing like it!
I plan to continue working in my areas of interest – education, animal welfare and the service sector.