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Exploring occupational aspirations of children belonging to marginalized groups through their drawings

Rashmi and Meenakshi 

This photo essay attempts to explore the occupational aspirations of 8 children (8-12 years of age) living in informal settlements of Delhi, through drawings. These children are migrant children from across India, whose parents have moved in search of better livelihoods and educational opportunities for their children. They are growing up in poverty, which has been exacerbated during the pandemic, with no running water, toilets, or playground in their basti. In this photo essay, we present children’s occupational aspirations through the method of drawings. Drawings can be seen as symbolic representations of thoughts, feelings, and one’s perceptions. They can be used as a sign of developmental level, IQ, attachment, and a self-description tool (​​Merriman and Guerin 2006, p.48). Drawing has been used in areas of psychological research as it is a popular task among children, considered “fun and non-threatening” (Thomas & Jolley, 1998; Rubin, 1984). It is a child-centered method that demonstrates respect for children and recognizes them as capable of exercising their right to expression. Drawings also help in overcoming linguistic barriers in cross-cultural research and problems of translations are mitigated as it does not require literacy skills for the participant (DiCarlo, 2000). Brian Merriman and Suzanne Guerin (2006), among several other scholars, have suggested that drawings become a useful way to get at presentations of one’s own aspirations.


To begin with the activity, a game was used to know the names of the children and build rapport after which the participants were encouraged to draw a picture of the occupation that they would want to take up when they grow up. This was followed by a role play explaining the Dos and Don’ts, wherein they were expected to think about their aspirations before drawing and not to imitate their peers. Then drawing sheets were distributed along with stationary and they were asked to begin the activity. During the process, we were helping them, if they were stuck in drawing something. Most of the children drew themselves as professionals with whom they interact the most. For example, two girls aspire to become teachers. Other children drew themselves as those who would serve the nation and its people either in the army or as doctors. Only one child shared that she wants to become a singer. 


What becomes evident in these drawings is that structurally marginalized children have professional aspirations, but their pathway to these occupations remains precarious because of poverty. Poverty also affects the overall development of a child (Roy, 2018). The fulfillment of aspirations of “poor children” hence, is dependent on inequalities and banishment from resources, grants, benefits, exploration, and opportunities (Fletchner,2016 p.35). These inequalities have grown even more during the times of the pandemic, which not only deprives them of resources but can make them prone to exploitation. 

The following is the collection of the drawings by the children: 

12-years old Chanda wants to become a teacher to be able to teach children in future. 

“मैं टीचर इसीलिए बनना चाहती हूँ  ताकि मैं बच्चो को पढ़ा सकू।"

PE 1.jpeg

9-years old Panyashri wants to become a nurse to be able to treat the illness of the people.  

“मैं नर्स बनना चाहती हूँ ताकि मै लोगो का इलाज कर सकू।”

9-years old Shivam wants to join the army as he wants to protect people.

“मैं आर्मी मै जाना चाहता हूँ क्योकि मै लोगो की रक्षा करना चाहता हूँ।”


9-years old Pooja wants to become a teacher to be able to teach children. 

“मैं बड़े होकर बच्चो को पढ़ाना चाहती हूँ ।”

11-years old Kishan wants to join the army to protect people. His idea was inspired by a game related to the army named ‘chaipatti’ which they play on a daily basis. 

“मैं अपनी फ़ौज बनाना चाहता हूँ ताकि मै लोगो को बचा सकू।”

PE 2.jpeg

11-years old Aashi wants to become a singer as she likes singing.

“मैं सिंगर बनना चाहती हूँ क्यूंकि मझे गाना अच्छा लगता है।”

8-years old Raaja initially wanted to become a doctor, but towards the end, he decided he wants to join the army. The colorful building on the right represents hospital and on the left Raja is standing with a gun.

“मैं भी देश की रक्षा करना चाहता हूँ।”


8-years old Anjali wants to become a doctor, to be able to help people.

“मैं डॉक्टर बनना चाहती हूँ ताकि मैं लोगो की मदद कर सकू।”

Acknowledgements: This photo essay was conducted with the support of the Displacement, Placemaking and Welling in the City (DWELL) Project. Project DWELL is funded by the EU-India Platform (EqUIP) and Indian Council of Social Science Research (ICSSR) Consortium under the "Pilot Call for Collaborative Research on Sustainability, Equity, Wellbeing and Cultural Connections. We thank the PI: Dr Anandini Dar, and RA: Manushree Sinha for connecting us with the community who are part of the DWELL research project. 


Dalton, P. S., Ghosal, S., & Mani, A. (2016). Poverty and aspirations failure. The Economic Journal, 126(590), 165-188. 

Flechtner, S. (2016). Aspirations and the persistence of poverty and inequalities (Doctoral dissertation, Zentrale Hochschulbibliothek Flensburg).

Ibrahim, S. (2011). Poverty, aspirations and well-being: Afraid to aspire and unable to reach a better life–voices from Egypt. Brooks World Poverty Institute Working Paper, (141).

Mathew, L., & Lukose, R. (2020). Pedagogies of Aspiration: Anthropological Perspectives on Education in Liberalising India.

McCarthy, A. (2021). Children and NGOs in India: Development as Storytelling and Performance. Routledge.


Merriman, B., & Guerin, S. (2006). Using children’s drawings as data in child-centered research. The Irish journal of psychology, 27(1-2), 48-57.\

Roy, P. (2018). Effects of Poverty on Education in India. Journal of Emerging Technologies and Innovative Research.

Serneels, P., & Dercon, S. (2014). Aspirations, Poverty and Education. Evidence from India.(2017).,%20Poverty,%20Education.pdf

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