Last year, my daughter had to choose between two options in secondary school: the conventional, academic track and the open schooling track with its internships and work experience. She chose the latter. She wanted to go to hotels and offices, be part of the team that runs the school cafe, and dip her toes in the real world.
Why is our education system in such a rush to get our kids to specialise early or to choose streams? I wish my daughter had more time to understand herself and pick subjects she likes but it’s difficult for a 13-year-old know where her path truly lies. On the other hand, if she can try out different tasks and scenarios, she can discover what career counsellors call ‘transferable skills ’ — abilities that can be used across roles, occupations and if you’re inventive, over many years.
Internships are great ways to test the waters and discover transferable skills. Here’s how you can get your kids to explore their way forward.
My friend told me that her son’s school in Bengaluru arranged internships for its students in grade 9 but despite their best efforts, the interns were only asked to clock in, attend a few meetings, and go home.
In contrast, 17-year-old Aviana Bhatnagar sat down to administer an important reading fluency test to a primary schooler as part of a special education resource unit in a school in Bengaluru. Bhatnagar, who is a high schooler from California, is interning with an education organisation in the city, whose co-founder is a close friend. The internship is her way of exploring different fields.
“When I leave India, I will take a class on cognitive science at the University of California, Berkeley, a college-level course directed at high-school students before they make their choice,” she says.
Internships need not specifically cover your specialisation. Anuj Iyer, who studies a masters in Psychology from the Ahmedabad University, interns as a sports writer for a popular sports website and even gets paid for it. “I am a huge sports fan and for the last four years, I’ve been watching a lot of basketball,” says Iyer. “I also have my own podcast on sports. The internship really helped me because previously, I had had no experience in working in a routine and in setting schedules.”
“Want to swim? Don’t read about it, get into the water with a coach,” says Mala Mary Martina, the young CEO of Teen Interns, a paid platform that offers 14 to 19-year-olds a landscape of internships they can do over a selected period of time, along with school. Teen Interns offers two kinds of internships - a skilling internship and a work internship.
“Our most exciting internships have been in forensic psychology…,” says Martina. “We have had internships with character animator Prashanth Calve from Dreamworks USA, UI/UX design with mentors from Amazon USA, and more. With internships, teenagers can explore several career choices, obtain real-world experience, and make educated decisions about their future. Our teens even created an event at Starbucks called Teenovators, where they showcase their work and companies pick them for various internship opportunities.”
When 16-year-old Mihir Bhatlawande signed up for the Genwise Residential Internship at the Manipal Academy of Higher Education (MAHE), he was interested in computer science and programming.
“The internship was a journey of self-discovery through experience,” he says. “I worked on a project related to computer science and programming. In parallel, I met many people already working in the industry. A combination of my experience and their input led me to rethink my career path," he says, adding that he was emboldened to pursue his “self-expression”. “Moving forward, I have chosen to pursue Physics, instead,” he says. "After all, the goal is to be an interesting person, not just a successful one.”
The internship program, which combined experts from fields like emergency medicine, design, environmental studies and robotics, also gave each student an authentic feel of college life.
“Being away from home and consistently working on just our projects every single day gave us interns somewhat of a clear idea of what our lives would look like in a few years,” says Bhatlawande. “Whether it be the projects, the campus visits or even the no phone policy, the mentorship at the residential course was everything we could ask for.”
Personally, too, I am excited that my daughter is heading into a world of careers that will no longer be linear or hierarchical. Internships are great ways to to explore this changing shape of work.
Shweta Sharan is a freelance journalist based in Mumbai