Nitin Kalaskar, one of the 15 lakh students graduating with an engineering degree in India annually, initially followed the standard path – pursue a degree, attempt a government job, and plot a linear career course. But in 2020, he veered into an intriguing alternative, joining a fledgling startup.
The co-founders had an ambitious vision – harnessing technology to make early childhood education accessible to every child. Nitin, struck by the potential revolution this could bring, signed up.
This World Mental Health Day, we caught up with him to talk about his journey, personal and professional challenges, and how he takes care of his mental health.
Q. Looking back, do you think you made the right decision to choose the social impact sector?
Absolutely! Working in the social impact sector offers me the unique opportunity to efficiently reach families in remote areas and make a tangible difference in their lives. My conviction solidified after a few field visits when I witnessed the impact of our work on families; it was mind-blowing.
Nitin during one of his early field visits
Q. How are you using your mechanical engineering skills in this job?
My technical background helped me quickly grasp the tech aspects of our EdTech model. The problem-solving skills and systems thinking I learned during college are invaluable in my role.
Q. You are one of Rocket Learning’s earliest employees. How has the journey been from a small team to now approaching 300 employees?
The growth has been remarkable. Starting from just one district in Maharashtra, we now cover 70% of the state and 25% of the states in the country! Rocket Learning and I have grown together.
Nitin conducting workshops on field
Q. What are some challenges we faced in the first few months after our pilot launch in Maharashtra?
We initially focused on engaging government officials and understanding the ground reality of Anganwadi workers and parents. Spending extensive time on-the-field in Aurangabad, where we launched, allowed me to gain unique insights we later implemented statewide.
We encountered challenges, like gaining approval for in-person training during COVID-19 and building trust with Anganwadi workers and parents. We delved deep, conducting user testing visits and learning about parents’ routines, such as their farming schedules. We also ran campaigns to educate parents that learning is not confined to classrooms.
Q. What is one significant challenge we still face?
Smartphone access is a critical issue. While Anganwadi workers have smartphones, they can perform more efficiently with upgraded devices. Government initiatives to improve their access could be transformative. Additionally, raising awareness among parents about early childhood education remains a challenge. Many parents we work with still need to understand that learning begins from birth, not at age 6.
Q. You recently became a parent yourself. How has this influenced your approach to parenting?
My daughter was born six months ago. I’ve learned the importance of dedicating time to children. In India, we work hard to provide for our children but often neglect spending time with them. Being highly responsive to a child’s emotions and actions, conversing with them, and comprehending their needs in their early years are crucial for building a solid foundation. I’ve applied the lessons from Rocket Learning in my parenting journey.
Nitin with his family
Q. How do you take care of your mental health?
Taking breaks and maintaining a routine are essential. I also ensure my wife gets some respite. Spending quality time with my daughter during walks helps me relax and is a bonding opportunity. Routine is crucial to avoid feeling overwhelmed. My child’s mental health is a priority for me as well.
Q. Amazing! Thank you for taking the time to talk to us. Is there anything else you would like to add?
I have mentioned this before, but I love seeing Rocket Learning, and I grow together at such a fast pace. I started as a District Coordinator and am now the Senior Program Manager. Rocket Learning started with 20,000 parents and children, and we are close to impacting 2 million children! It’s a fantastic feat to achieve in just three years.
This article is part of our #DriversofECCE series, where we get to know our team members better and understand the people behind the Early Childhood Care and Education sector reshaping India.