Meet the 13-Year-Old Indian Girl Who Is Going to Speak at TED-Ed in NY

“I feel that people look at cooking simply as an act of survival – you cook, you eat the food, and that’s pretty much about it. I look at it from a different perspective. From a young age, I saw my mother and grandmother cooking, and also found myself surrounded by cooking shows on TV and YouTube, etc. It really fascinated me because cooking is so much more than an act of survival – it has creativity and innovation. People would say that you can’t mix things like chilli and chocolate because apparently, it just doesn’t work. I wanted the break the so-called rules so I just tried it and found it to be good,” says Esha Karthiraj, a 13-year-old whose passion for cooking is now taking her to New York to speak at the inaugural TED-Ed Weekend event at TED headquarters.

A youth and education initiative by TED, TED-Ed was started with the aim of celebrating the ideas of children and teachers around the world. The organization has started a TED-Ed club programme to help students across the world express their ideas in the form of TED-style talks. Esha joined the club about three years ago with the help of an institute named Sparkling Mindz in Bengaluru.

Today, she has been selected as one of the 20 children from across the world to speak during the event to be organised from December 1-3.

Founded by Sreeja Iyer, Sparkling Mindz runs a pre-school and an after-school programme called Young Thinkers and Achievers. “Esha has been a part of our after school programme for four years now. When the TED-Ed club was launched three years ago, we decided to sign up for it because our vision is very similar to theirs – that children have ideas, they need to be empowered, they need to feel heard,” says Sreeja.

In their first class after becoming a part of the club, Sreeja asked the 15 children who has joined in to list down three things that they are passionate about. For Esha, one of those things was cooking and that’s what she spoke about — of how cooking gave her many important life lessons. The students worked hard on preparing their talks and recording them. A few months after the talks were submitted, Sreeja received the information that three of them had been selected for being uploaded on the TED-Ed blog. And a year from then, in August this year, Esha was selected to speak live at their first event.

“I didn’t really know what TED was before Sreeja Ma’am told us. And I knew that it wasn’t going to be easy. I was just 11 when I joined the club and it was really new for me. It was Sreeja Ma’am who kept encouraging me. ‘If you don’t do it, it is not going to get done,’ she would tell us. She pushed me a lot and enabled me to open up to express my ideas in a better way,” says Esha, talking about Sreeja’s role in her success.

Currently a student of Class 8 in CMR School, Bengaluru, Esha is passionate about writing and arts too.

A shy student from the beginning, it required a lot of perseverance on her part to emote herself the way she wanted to. That was also one of the reasons why her mother, Rakhee Prabhudesai, enrolled her in the programme. “Before joining Sparkling Mindz, I was really shy. I was the kind of kid who would just sit behind in class and act like she is listening to everything. I was so quiet; I didn’t know how to communicate my ideas. I didn’t talk to the people in my class until a good month or so after I joined school. My mom realised that this could be a problem later in life,” she says.

Talking about the after school programme, Sreeja says that it is different from other such classes because Sparkling Mindz works on children’s creative thinking, critical thinking, communication skills, decision-making, managing emotions, etc. It is layered programme with five levels and children have to come once a week for two hours. “It is a completely game-based programme,” says Sreeja, excitedly. “Children come, play games, and in that process, they learn how to shift emotions and behaviours…We work with them on their fears and help them open up and express. Most of the time, children are told that you will grow up and do something. But we believe that they can do something today.”

The pre-school programme works on the Reggio-Emilia play-based methodology that is inspired by the fact that kids like to play with things they get in their hands. And in that process of playing, they are leaning too; so one can create a play-based structure to enable children to learn.

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“It’s a really interesting programme. I really like it. It is different from other schools because children interact with the teachers not just to get the syllabus done and get out of the school. The goals of the teachers are different. They don’t even call themselves teachers. They are called facilitators because they learn with the kids. It is really amazing and fun,” says Esha.

An Indian School of Business alumna, Sreeja worked in the corporate sector for about a decade before starting a career in education, which is her passion. After starting Sparkling Mindz about six years ago, she also went to study at Harvard Graduate School of Education to enhance her knowledge. She feels that Esha’s talk came from a very reflective place and was awesome because she took constant feedback and worked on it for about eight times in a year before the final recording.

Listen to her talk here.

Know more about Sparkling Mindz here.

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