Interview by Mibu Minami
Living in Delhi, it often feels like each community is connected in some special way. Like a spider-web of connections between communities where someone always knows that someone and that someone is your friend’s husband’s childhood friend or colleague. Perhaps it is pure chance “it’s a small world” type of coincidence? Or maybe it’s due to effects of the friendly and approachable way people are in Delhi, that’s what we like to believe. And within this web of connections, we are often introduced to amazing people doing amazing things.
Mangoli Mag co-founder Carla reconnected with longtime family friend and veteran tennis instructor Jaideep Bhatia to discover his youth empowering project EduTennis. We reached out to him via email to ask about his approach on the connection between sport and learning.
Mangoli Mag (MM): The idea of integrating sports and learning for children is truly amazing. Tell us about the history of EduTennis and How you came up with the idea.
Jaideep Bhatia (JB): Tennis has been my passion since I began playing as a young teen. One thing that always struck me is that playing tennis is about more than competitions. Far more critical are its benefits on learning in general and life skills in particular. The kinesthetic aspect of play opens up an entirely new way of learning, that could potentially be harnessed with the help of a planned program and curricula.
This was the kernel of the idea. With this, we developed a concept under the mentorship and guidance of EduTennis’ seed funder, young philanthropist and corporate owner, Agastya Dalmia, who agreed to adopt the idea for his Foundation. Today, EduTennis is running under the aegis of the Amba Dalmia Foundation Trust, which is incubating the program at low-income schools in Delhi.
MM: Was there a particular reason to focus on Tennis as the main sport for the program?
JB: Tennis is considered an elitist sport, so when we decided to use tennis as a tool to teach 21st century life skills, the level of interest it drew from potential participants – both children and teachers – was high. Unlike other sports, tennis is played in a well-maintained facility, something that becomes aspirational for children.
MM: Who are your main students, girls participate too?
JB: Children from low-income schools are our primary participants. We use the curriculum in a mixed group setting, where boys and girls can learn to play and learn together. This is deliberate, a co-educational session enables us to trigger important learnings in gender
MM: What is a usual training session like at EduTennis?
JB: A typical session opens with an ice breaker. The coach then explains the main game or activity and starts the game. This takes between 20-25 minutes. Once the game or activity is done, the real learning begins, as the coach uses instances from the game or activity to ask specific, pointed questions. For example, if the game is the universally used tennis drill called “around the world” and the session is on critical thinking, participants will be asked to utilize their observation skills to provide a constructive critique of what transpired. The coach will then segue into the key messages of the session, leaving the group with a “lived experience” of critical thinking as a life skill.
MM: I can imagine the program motivates many kids who are part of the program. Can you share some of the positive effects, or the impact it has had on the students?
JB: For girls and boys both, the first change that begins to happen is in the arena of attitudes about self and others. Over a period of time, as children’s sense agency is bolstered, they are expected to develop skills and negotiation powers that will help them stay in school instead of dropping out, resist major destabilisers such as child marriage and child labour, and learn to plan for lives and careers that have a chance at breaking the barriers of poverty and marginalization.
MM: How has the COVID-19 Pandemic affected the program? The students and coaches involved? Have they learned to adapt with the current situation?
JB: Schools have been shut since April 2019 and the tennis courts have opened only partially, with stringent anti-Covid safety protocols in place. Adaptability is part of the curriculum and one way in which we exercised this skill is by designing a small program specifically to address the huge digital divide that doesn’t allow many children to access online learning freely. With the help of a small donation from Xebia Technologies, we launched digital literacy classes that help familiarize children with the world of computers and the internet.
The coaches have adapted to the experience of open-air training and online assessments. Overall, the lesson for us was that it is critical to keep the vision of where we want to go with this idea at the very core of how we face the pandemic.
MM: Living in India, we see that it is not easy to break the cycle of poverty in marginalized communities. Many want to see change but it cannot be done overnight. If you can, could you share what you think are the issues and what we all need to keep in mind to initiate change?
JB: From working with young people, I know that they have a deep-seated desire for progress. People who want to bring in sustainable change can work in partnership with youth to make sure this generation grows with a sense of agency, which we understand as the ability to identify goals or make choices and then act upon them. Education and a nurturing environment can make sure women and men can exercise agency as individuals and collectively in their communities, families, and in the public sphere of work.
MM: Can anyone be part of EduTennis?
JB: People and organisations who are working on education, with girls and boys, may find our approach something worthy of use within their program design. Individuals looking to collaborate can run social media campaigns for us, as fifteen-year-old Ayaan Jaiswal Singh did in 2020.
MM: For those interested in playing tennis in Delhi, can you recommend a place?
JB: Most tennis infrastructure is owned by private schools or clubs. There are very few public courts in Delhi. The Delhi Development Authority operated sports complexes around the city are one such place where one can play without being a member of a private club.
MM: Tell us about any upcoming events or news at EduTennis.
JB: We have a Donate a Birthday campaign running in the period January-March 2021. Under it, all you need to do is to pledge one of your birthdays towards the cause of children’s education. So, instead of gifts, you ask your friends and family to donate any amount of their choice to EduTennis.
For more information on EduTennnis: