Fragile walls barely hold the building up, the leaking roofs interrupt the lessons and toilets are a “luxury” that the schools can rarely afford. In some of the same schools, students sit on a thin carpet, their backs bent over their books. As the teacher dictates spellings to the class, the 5 to 6-year-olds hunch over further, trying to write in clean, crisp handwriting. This scene is not uncommon in India and a visit to a rural or even an urban one will confirm that a shocking number of schools in India are falling in on themselves.
Getting their eyes as close to the books as possible, the students unknowingly damage both their eyes and their backs. The young children have to endure this strain for more than six hours.
Prolonged hours of sitting in a bad posture have medically proven side-effects, Kyphosis is one of them. This condition affects the back making it look rounded and hunched over.
Add to such inevitable problems the fact that children in their formative years, easily adapt to daily habits that lead to a bad posture affecting them for life.
How the students would typically sit. Image courtesy: Eshan Sadasivan.
When Eshan Sadasivan, an alumnus of IIT-Kanpur, saw children ruining their eyes while bending over and trying to read, it moved him to design a low-cost, lightweight, portable and collapsible desk that doubles as a bag!
“In IIT-Kanpur, we had a volunteer programme to teach the underprivileged students around the campus. We would primarily teach English and Mathematics to the students who would eagerly come to class every day. Unfortunately, we did not have the infrastructure to place them in a proper class with basic amenities like a desk or a bench and so, I had to teach a group of 20-30 students who were sitting hunch-backed on the floor. It didn’t take me long to understand that this was extremely damaging to them,” Eshan tells The Better India (TBI).
After a few experiments, he finalised Deskit, a product that has changed the lives of about 1 lakh students across 16 states in India.
“The health problems are not limited to a hunchback. It wouldn’t be surprised if the children develop eyesight problems at a very young age,” elaborates Eshan.
If you remember, during school days, sitting on chairs and bending over the desks often strained our shoulders and put a kink in our backs. At times, we would even rest our heads on the desk while still writing.
If this was the case when we had wooden desks to be able to sit right, imagine what must be happening to the backs of the kids who don’t even have any desks at all.
The innovator who has helped about 1 lakh students. Image courtesy: Eshan Sadasivan.
Eye Way, an organisation that does extensive research on visual impairment, guidelines and problems in India notes, “Your body follows your eyes. To preserve proper posture, your visual target should be nearly parallel to your face and within your line of sight. Poor visual target position forces your spine to compensate by bending. This occurs when you try to sit in an erect posture to write on a flat surface.”
Ideal reading angles are at about 60°, give or take . . . Ideal writing surface angles are somewhere between 10° and 20°. This is not ideal for vision and your spine, as both your neck and back will have to bend forward somewhat . . . Ideal focus distances for reading and writing average between 15 to 25 inches from the eyes, adds the report.
Eshan could clearly understand that his students have to violate these guidelines. And the issue was not specific to the underprivileged kids that he taught in Kanpur. Over the next few years, as part of his educational and professional projects, Eshan travelled to various villages in India and saw that the problem is constant among thousands of students.
So, he started designing desks that the children themselves could carry to the school. He did this as a part of his social enterprise PROSOC Innovators—an abbreviated form of Products for Society.
Image courtesy: Eshan Sadasivan.
The final product, Deskit, is a school bag that can be converted into a study table which opens at a comfortable height for the students to use while sitting down. This innovation solves two crucial problems. One, that it helps improve posture and prevent eyesight damage and secondly, the cost of doing this need not be borne by the schools facing fund-crunches.
“We weren’t successful with the design in the first go. We had over 40 experiments, most of which failed and taught us what to do better. We tried many combinations of wooden, metal and fabric materials before we finalised plywood for the desk, mild steel tubes for its legs and a waterproof fabric for the bag. Currently, the entire bag weighs about 1 kg but we are trying to bring the weight down even further,” the 28-year-old founder tells TBI.
Aluminium, for instance, is lighter than mild steel and could reduce the weight of the bag considerably. But, Eshan clarifies, that will raise the cost of the bag which will work against its purpose of helping underprivileged students.
Each desk-bag is priced between Rs 500 to Rs 550 and can be purchased at The Better India Shop, here.
The children can now sit with their backs upright. Image courtesy: Eshan Sadasivan.
The price depends on the size of the bag.
“We had spoken to doctors about the health issues caused due to improper posture and we consulted with them while finalising the design. It is under their guidance that we designed these desks whose heights can be adjusted,” Eshan says.
Since Deskit was made available commercially, several corporations came forward to buy them as part of their CSR, distributing the much-needed desks to rural students free of cost. As of today, about 1 lakh students have availed its benefits.
Says the 28-year-old entrepreneur, “I have met hundreds of these students since they started using Deskit. At Prosoc, we wanted to take their feedback. The overwhelming majority of beneficiaries, as well as their teachers and parents, have one thing to say, that school has become much more enjoyable thanks to these customised desks. The young kids can now study without straining their backs too much and that has reduced the stress of school hours in an unimaginable way. And we are glad they have had such a positive outcome.”
The smallest of details can have a long-lasting impact on young children. With a simple innovation, Prosoc’s Deskit is addressing a lot of issues that affect children and that too at a very low cost! If you wish to purchase the desks, click on the following link.
(Edited by Saiqua Sultan)
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Empty stomachs and equally empty pockets bind lakhs of farmers and daily-wage earners living in the villages of India. Life does not come easy to those who work their entire lives filling the belly of the nation, and go to sleep hungry themselves. To earn a pittance, village children have to abandon their dreams of sitting in a classroom and pick up farm tools or go to cities in search of work to send money back home. And for those who want to challenge their fate, there lies a long road of constant struggles.
Ramjal Meena’s tale echoes the same.
He migrated to Delhi from Rajasthan in search of a livelihood. Having been married off at a young age, he had to leave his studies to look after his parents and his wife.
Speaking to The Better India (TBI), Ramjal shares, “It was in 2003 when I was got married at just 18. I was pursuing my BSc degree but had to give it up. There were two reasons for this. Firstly, my parents were old and could not work anymore to feed our family. Secondly, I had to provide for my wife too. It was decided that I abandon my education and focus on earning instead.”
Ramjal has been working as a security guard at the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) in Delhi since November 2014.
Though he had to leave the education he had always wanted to acquire, the vestiges of the long-abandoned dream remained somewhere in his heart.
And Ramjal chose to rekindle the flame and fight his destiny.
This year, he appeared for the entrance exam of JNU’s Bachelor’s course in the Russian Language. The results of the entrance exam have been declared, and Ramjal’s perseverance has paid off!
Soon, the conscientious student would start his course in the same college where he works as a security guard.
Ramjal’s voice becomes heavy with emotion when he speaks of his struggles, “For two years, I did labour work and kept looking for a steady job. It was only in 2005 that I got a job as a security guard with a salary of Rs 3000 per month with which I had to take care of my entire family.”
Neither the low salary nor the time crunch could deter Ramjal from his goal of studying. He bought second-hand books and took them to his workplace.
Often, the senior employees where he worked scolded him for studying during his working hours.
It took a few years for Ramjal to settle down with this income. It was then that he applied for and completed his Bachelor’s degree from Rajasthan University via the open learning system. But that wasn’t enough for him.
“I managed to get a degree from the University while juggling the responsibilities of my job and home. But that was never the aim. I always wanted to study at a regular college, like a regular student. I knew that I would realise this dream someday. But the fact that it would take 16 years was something I never thought of,” says the 33-year-old.
After completing his graduation, Ramjal, who was still in search of a better paying job, landed the security guard post at JNU for the night shift. He made it a point to carry his books and study during whatever free time he could find.
“I have three children and my wife is a homemaker. We live in a small house in the Munirka village near JNU.
When I am at home, I lend a hand in the domestic chores and also help my kids in their studies. I had no option but to study while on my shifts. There was no other time for me during the day. Of course, it was difficult in the beginning, but now I have learned to manage my time.”
Ramjal earns Rs 15,000 per month. After Provident fund (PF) and tax deductions, he is left with Rs 13,000 in hand. “Delhi is a city that gives a poor person generously but also takes away from him. Of the Rs 13,000 I earn, Rs 5000 go toward my house rent, and the rest is spent on the kids’ education, and food etc. My wife and I spend as little as possible on ourselves. I am confident in my hard work, and I know that these days of poverty too will end,” he shares.
Ramjal always wanted to prepare for the UPSC exams with the hope to become an IAS officer. He also appeared in two entrance tests of Rajasthan government services and even managed to pass the prelims, but unfortunately, he could not make it to the merit list.
But he is not one to give up easily.
“Why should the bad days pull you down? There’s no shame in struggling till you achieve your goal. In any case, I am the son of a labourer and I have learnt from them to work hard. Now there are only two aims in life. I want my kids to get a good education, and I want to complete my studies too. It doesn’t matter how hard I have to struggle, I will ensure I achieve these goals,” Ramjal says confidently.
Picture Courtesy: Manoj Jha
(Edited by Saiqua Sultan)
Written by Manoj Jha, this article was originally published in The Better India Hindi.
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Meet Tsering Tashi, the first scientist from Ladakh working for the prestigious Indian Space Research Organisation and the founder of a charitable trust named Ladakh Science Foundation.
LSF is not only promoting the sciences across the region but also helping students from low-income families secure various government scholarship schemes and attend some of the most premier institutions in this country.
Although the foundation was only registered as a charitable trust in May 2019, Tashi has been assisting promising students since 2002, when he first got a job with ISRO.
Tsering Tashi (Source: Facebook/Tsering Tashi)
“It began with 20 students in the first year. Last year the number touched 300, and this year, 350. Although there are drop-outs, the overall success rate of students pursuing their studies is about 80%. Most students who approach us are going after professional courses. We are also working on their career growth and placements as well, besides helping them pursue their entrepreneurial ambitions,” says Tashi, speaking to The Better India.
For the 2019-20 academic session, his foundation has helped more than 350 Ladakhi students obtain admission into courses and colleges of their choice through the Prime Minister’s Special Scholarship Scheme (PMSSS). Each student is eligible for a scholarship amount of Rs 4-9 lakh, depending on the course and all them come from economically weaker households.
“LSF has carried out career counselling sessions for the PMSSS scholarship scheme and various other competitive examinations like IIT-JEE, NEET etc. Our mentors guided more than 700 students in 2019, and our volunteers have supported the students in various phases such as online form registration, counselling, college finalization/selection, and travelling, among others,” says Tashi.
LSF has volunteers across major Indian cities ranging from Delhi, Bangalore, Mumbai and Pune to Darjeeling and Cochin.
“For scholarships, we look for students from Ladakh coming from economically weaker sections. We visit schools and interact with the students and provide awareness, career counselling and connect with them through social media. We guide them through WhatsApp, Skype etc,” informs Tashi.
Why is Tashi so invested in the future of Ladakhi students?
Tsering Tashi addressing students. (Source: Ladakh Science Foundation)
The answer, he believes, lies in his upbringing, which stirred his appetite for learning.
Born in Matho, a picturesque village located 25 km away from Leh, Tashi’s father was a jawan in the paramilitary forces and mother a homemaker.
Studying in a local village school till Class 8, he moved to the Government High School in the Chuchot Gongma village, which was six km away.
He passed out of the Government Boys Higher Secondary School in Leh town, following which he did his Bachelors in Electrical Engineering from the Govt College of Engineering & Technology, Jammu. Alongside, he also completed a diploma in computer science.
After that, he worked at a few places, including the Ladakh Renewable Energy Development and the Indian Astronomical Observatory, before finally landing a job with ISRO in 2002 as a scientist and engineer.
Subsequently, in 2010, he completed his Masters in Satellite Navigation from Politecnico Di Torino, Turin, Italy in 2010 under a United Nations fellowship programme.
Tsering Tashi, the first ISRO scientist from Ladakh. (Source: Facebook)
At present, he is the Deputy Project Director (Elect.), IRNSS Satellite at UR Rao Satellite Centre in Bengaluru.
Inspired by teachers and family, and understanding the limitations of the higher education system in Ladakh, he began working towards helping others acquire better opportunities for higher education.
“I have gone through many hardships, but there is one thing I have learnt through my experiences. If you have the will-power, you can achieve whatever you want in life. If I can study in a government school and reach this level in my life, others can do the same and reach greater heights. Our children must get opportunities and exposure so that they can benefit in a big way, and go very far,” says Tashi.
“Growing up, I also endured a lack of financial support. This is why I want to support others so that they can be successful,” he adds.
At ISRO, Tashi has worked on a series of projects—Indian Regional Navigation Satellite System, GAGAN-TDS, Navigation and Communication Spacecraft and application projects.
Tsering Tashi at a counselling session for school students. (Source: Ladakh Science Foundation)
“I had heard about ISRO sometime in my final year of engineering. Fascinated by their work in harnessing space technology for national development, I wanted to do my bit in the development of space technology and its applications. Of course, I had also read quite a bit about some of the eminent scientists at ISRO like Dr Vikram Sarabhai and Dr APJ Abdul Kalam and was inspired by their work. Thus, when the opportunity to work at ISRO came along, I didn’t hesitate,” he says.
For Tashi, the ultimate objective is to generate a genuine interest in science among young Ladakhis and make it interesting for them.
“Next week, the LSF is conducting a Ladakh Science Olympiad with school students from Class 9-12 participating in it. We shall also like to work with local authorities in the field of science education and related matters. Whatever we are doing today should help future generations,” he concludes.
If you want to contribute to Ladakh Science Foundation, click here.
(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)
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Be it the son of a farm-labourer or a small-time eggseller, the many competitive entrance exams held in the country provide a fair chance to students from diverse socio-economic backgrounds to prove their merit and study in premier institutes.
But given the nature of the exams and the tough competition that exists, many a time, students from adverse financial backgrounds find it difficult to crack the exams without the right guidance or coaching. This is where the heroes that this article speaks about come in.
Today, we look at the stories of five teachers who are empowering students from impoverished backgrounds with free coaching to help them pursue their engineering and medical dreams.
From selling papads to helping deserving candidates crack IIT entrance exam
Anand Kumar. Source: Facebook/Anand Kumar
He was born to a humble homemaker and a clerk in the postal department in Patna, Bihar. Unable to afford private schools, Anand Kumar studied in a Hindi-medium government school. The death of his father at a young age, pushed the family into deep financial crisis, where his mother had to start the business of rolling papads to sustain the family. Kumar delivered these homemade papads to shops and homes on his bicycle.
Despite his financial circumstances, Kumar was a gifted child, especially in mathematics. The papers he wrote on the number theory during his graduation were published in journals such as Mathematical Spectrum and The Mathematical Gazette.
In 1992, Kumar began teaching mathematics in a rented room for Rs. 500 a month, under the banner, the Ramanujan School of Mathematics (RSM). Within three years, he was teaching almost 500 students. In 2002, an underprivileged student sought coaching for IIT-JEE from Kumar, stating he couldn’t afford the annual admission fee.
This inspired Kumar to start the Super 30 programme in 2002, which hunts for 30 meritorious talents from economically backward sections of the society and provides free coaching, lodging and food to help them crack entrance exams for the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT). The past years have seen good results, with some shares of controversies too. The man’s work also inspired Hritik Roshan’s recent film, Super 30. Know more about him here.
In his first year of coaching, Odisha-based Ajay Bahadur Singh is a proud mentor. Why? Because 14 of his students from financially weak backgrounds cracked the sought-after National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (NEET) 2019.
Ajay once nursed the dream of becoming a doctor too. But his father’s untimely death after a failed kidney transplant put a stop to his medical dream.
To make ends meet, he set up a stall where he sold tea and sherbet. He juggled jobs like selling soda-maker machines, taking tuitions, and even selling soft drinks at weddings and religious functions to pay for his father’s treatment.
Eventually, the chaiwallah (tea-seller) decided to start an entrance exam coaching institute. Not only to help his finances, but also to help students in need of guidance to crack engineering and medical entrance tests.
But Ajay could never forget how circumstances did not allow him to pursue the medical path. He wanted to help kids who wanted to become doctors, but did not have the financial backing to do so.
In 2017, he established Zindagi Foundation, where bright students who couldn’t afford the highly expensive medical entrance coaching were enrolled and given free coaching, food and accommodation. Know more about it here.
Inspired by Super 30, Rajasthan Doc Provides Free NEET Coaching to Poor Students
Dr Bharat Saran. Source: The Better India
Inspired by Anand Kumar’s Super 30, Dr Bharat Saran set up ‘50 Villagers Seva Sansthan’ in Barmer, Rajasthan in 2012. The initiative coaches children from the economically weaker sections for medical entrance examination. It takes in 25 students from classes 11 and 12, each.
Speaking to The Better India, he shares, “So many students are forced to drop out of school once they complete their class 10 exams, we found that while many of them were talented and had the aptitude, it was their economic conditions that made them leave school. I wanted to help them complete their education.”
His team chooses students based on different parameters. One of the qualifying criteria is that the student should have completed class 10 with first division, post which they have to appear for a 50-mark paper that is designed to assess their aptitude, followed by a home visit to validate their economic status.
On an average, Rs 25,000 is spent each year for one student’s accommodation, food, books, and daily expenses.
Despite being in a debt of almost Rs 9 lakh for unpaid rent for the building that the students occupy and books they have bought, among other expenses, the institute continues to run.
“We work only on the donations which range from Rs 500 to Rs 5 lakh. We are often ridiculed and mocked for our work, but none of that has stopped us.”
This Cleric’s Initiative Helped Underprivileged Students Crack JEE
Students of Rahmani 30 Source: Facebook/Rahmani 30
In 2018, over 137 students from Rahmani 30 qualified for the JEE Advanced exams.
Rahmani 30, run by senior cleric, Maulana Wali Rahmani provides free residential-cum-coaching programmes for JEE (Main), JEE (Advanced), NEET, chartered accountancy and law entrance exams to economically, socially and educationally backward minority students.
Between 2008 to 2017, the programme helped 213 students get through the IITs.
Rahmani 30 enrolls students after a standardised, written objective test and an interview for the final selection. Once selected, the students are provided with accommodation and meals during the tenure of the coaching.
Skilled teachers teach specialised topics and regular tests and exams are conducted to measure the student’s progress. Even the lecturer’s progress is measured to maintain transparency between students and the administration.
Once a Naxalite, This Physics Teacher Has Educated Poor Kids For Free For 30 Years
Subhash Chandra Kundu with his students. Source: Facebook/Mortaza Mollick
Subhash Chandra Kundu from Basirhat rejected Naxalism to teaching the wonders of science. After being released from the Dum Dum correctional centre in 1974, he traded the path of armed revolution with the work of spreading education among the poor.
He established the Institute of Physics in 1988 on a small plot of land. Before this, as a teacher at Basirhat High School, he taught tuition to students for free.
Most students who come to his institute belong to families who cannot afford to send their wards to college. Thanks to his efforts, many have beaten poverty to teach at top institutions like the IITs and St Xavier’s College in Calcutta.
Thanks to donations from his ex-students and well-wishers, the institute has grown over the past three decades.
Today, the two-storey college houses two classrooms and well-equipped laboratories.
Despite suffering partial paralysis a decade ago due to a cerebral stroke, he has not only continued his work but holds exhibitions and quizzes across the district. Know more about him here.
Considered as a world-class platform for education, Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) gives students several opportunities like interacting with Nobel Laureates, visiting prestigious universities like MIT, Stanford and Harvard for research programmes, acquiring financial assistance on projects and landing enviable salary packages.
It is no wonder that lakhs of students appear for the entrance examination every year to be a part of these premier institutes. However, due to limited seats and tough competition, only few applicants make it to the IITs.
For those who fail to get an admission, here’s a good news for you. IIT Gandhinagar (IITGN) has opened its doors to students who do not clear the Joint Entrance Examination (JEE) or the Graduate Aptitude Test in Engineering (GATE). The course is open to students from the Humanities, Engineering and Science streams.
Known as the non-degree programme, it offers an undergraduate and postgraduate student a full-time and part-time course that allows students to spend an entire semester on campus.
Students can use all the academic facilities like laboratories, on-campus accommodation, internet, library, computer centres, sports, meals and so on.
The main objective is to give a chance to the deserving students to be introduced to the IIT systems, which is otherwise not possible for a large number of students owing to the cut-throat competition in entrances. Hence, the students are no longer restricted to qualifying JEE or GATE to learn from the culture of an IIT, Sudhir K Jain, IITGN’s director told The Times of India.
Comparing the non-degree course with online learning programmes, he said that unlike them, the teachers and students will get to have a direct interaction.
This course that was introduced in IITGN a decade ago also aims to shed the image of IITs being exclusive institutes, “The idea to start this initiative was to change the notion of IITs being exclusive. We want IIT to be inclusive and transparent and hence we started this initiative. But our reach was quite low and even now, not many know about the programme. Hence the experts felt that this is a very powerful tool to engage with students from outside and suggested us to be aggressive with this programme,” Jain told DNA.
This programme will also guarantee a credit to students who take up this course in the middle of their respective courses, so as to not hamper their regular degree.
For students who have completed their degree courses (Bachelors or Masters) from other educational institutes, IITGN offers part-time courses.
Source: IIT Gandhinagar/Facebook
Academics being the focus here, students wanting to join full-time and part-time must have a good academic record.
On being admitted in IITGN, students are mandated to pay the fees for the entire semester and follow certain rules and guidelines. At the end of the semester, students from the non-degree courses can give feedback or suggestions to ensure that the quality of the course improves for the next batch and the institute evolves overall.
After completing the course, the student will be presented with a certificate from the institute after which they can resume their college programs.
Application Deadlines: Admission offer is open for both Semester-I (August-November) and Semester-II (January-April). Application in the prescribed form can be submitted by 1 July for the Semester-I and by 1 December for Semester-II of the academic year.
Criteria for admission: The applicant has to be a part of a recognised institute or university in India or abroad and should be officially sponsored by that Institute/University to complete part of his/her academic requirements at IITGN.
With this brilliant initiative, IITGN is indeed setting an example of inclusivity and transparency.
The country is losing its green cover at a rapid rate. But that is nothing new. What matters are the proactive people and the government policies conducive to bring a massive change in the dark scenario.
As activists and NGOs join hands to fight a difficult battle against human development that threatens the environment by stripping the land of its green cover, the Rajasthan government is making small efforts to turn state-run engineering campuses green.
Imagine planting a tree at the beginning of your academic year and nurturing it til the day you graduate? Or digging water conservation structures to revive depleting groundwater? Or dedicating a few hours every week to clean up your campus?
The Rajasthan government has ordered the launch of four such environmental initiatives in its state-run engineering colleges with the idea of eco-conservation in celebration of the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi.
Representational Image, Source: Maxpixel
The Better India (TBI) caught up with the State Secretary, Technical Education Department, Vaibhav Galriya (IAS) to know more.
Rajasthan runs 11 engineering colleges out of eight campuses. The department of technical education holds regular meetings with the principals of the colleges, the board members, experts from Malaviya National Institute of Technology Jaipur (MNIT) and other institutions to discuss and deliberate steps that they can take to improve the performance of these engineering colleges.
Speaking to TBI, Galriya adds how they held four exhaustive meetings in the last six months, where several suggestions came up, and decisions were made to improve academics, infrastructure and environmental development in the colleges.
The technical department for the state also joined hands with the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) with the aim to include one industry nominee in the departments of each stream of engineering. This is to help bring qualitative changes in the syllabus, update how the subjects are taught and keep students abreast with the latest changes in the industry.
The department is also planning to change how these colleges appoint their principals. Working with the guidelines of the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) and planning to issue some of their own in the coming weeks, the department intends to recruit principals for the state-run colleges on a contractual basis for three years.
But what stands out from the highlights of this meeting is the funding (about ten crores) that these colleges will be receiving for infrastructural development like procuring latest laboratory equipment.
By September, we will distribute about Rs 30 crores to help strengthen their infrastructure. Part of the project funding will be allocated for eco-conservation activities within their campuses. Many of these activities fall under the ambit of the Gandhian philosophy as the country celebrates the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi, informs Galriya.
Here’s a sneak peek into these initiatives:
“Each new student will be encouraged and motivated to plant a tree when she/he joins this academic session. Their name will be put up next to the tree. From the day of their admission until the day they graduate (four years), they will be the guardians and nurturers of the tree. They will ensure their survival.”
The trees to be planted will be local or native varieties of the region the college is located in. With the average number of new students admitted every year is about 3500, you can imagine the magnitude and scale of the project and its results in the years to come.
Water conservation & solar energy:
Representational Image. Source: Flickr
Simultaneously, the government has directed all engineering colleges to involve students in the construction of water harvesting structures within the campus to tackle the depletion of groundwater. The students will put in certain hours for shram daan (voluntary service) to contribute to the construction of ponds, bunds, or other structures that can collect rainwater within the campus and help recharge the groundwater table.
The government is also planning to encourage the colleges to harness the power of the sun. “We want to utilise models that exist in the market that require no-input costs. Some companies set up solar panels at their own cost and charge you based on the power you consume per unit, which also is at a discounted rate, almost half the price.”
Keeping Bapu’s emphasis on ‘Swachata’ (Cleanliness) in mind, the students will also dedicate a few hours a week to keep their campus clean.
To help students inculcate Gandhian values, the colleges will invite professors from other universities and experts on Gandhian philosophy conduct seminars and discussions.
“Mahatma Gandhi was instrumental not just in our struggle for independence but also in shaping our country and its values. Engineering students too are responsible citizens of the society, so the idea is to help them seek inspiration from his life and adopt values that will help them contribute to a better society to the best of their ability,” signs off Gariyal.
On June 5, celebrations in Dedawas ka Goliya, a remote village in Barmer district of Rajasthan, refused to die down even as the day ended.
Neighbours and relatives flocked Naringaramji Patel’s house with congratulatory messages, mithais and blessings.
His son, Jodharam, had made history by becoming the first person in the village to crack the National Eligibility Cum Entrance Test (NEET) exam.
Jodharam is the first person in his village to crack NEET
However, nine years ago, the situation in Patel’s family was completely different.
Irregular rainfall patterns coupled with policy failures and high debts made farming a dismal occupation.
Struggling to meet ends, Patel gave Jodharam an ultimatum in 2010—either score above 70 per cent in the boards to secure a stable job or move to Mumbai and work as a labourer. He didn’t want his son to continue with farming.
Though the young man had no plans regarding his profession, he wanted to attend college instead of just leaving his fate to his father’s will.
Two years later, in 2012, when he scored 65 per cent, he knew there was a very tiny possibility of his father allowing him to continue his studies.
My brother Mevaram was the only one who believed in me and was of the opinion that I was not wasting my time by studying. Our neighbours, relatives, and even my mom told me to get a job and financially contribute in the house, Jodharam tells The Better India.
After a lot of convincing and pleading, Jodharam moved to Jodhpur K R Public Senior Secondary School. Thankfully, his fee was partially waived off as he belonged to OBC.
His hard work and sincerity during classes 11 and 12 were noticed by the school Principal Kuparamji, who encouraged him to appear for competitive examinations.
I had no idea about such examinations. When I saw the study material, it was overwhelming and even before I started, I had accepted defeat. I appeared for the exams nonetheless,” says the 22-year-old.
Jodharam secured an all-India rank of 150000. He failed to get an admission in government colleges and private colleges were too expensive for his family. Not giving up, he attempted NEET four times before making it in the fifth attempt this year.
During my first two attempts, my peers would actively participate in classroom discussions and answer confidently every time teacher asked a question. By the time my answer was ready, it was too late. It took a lot of time before I reached where my peers were, he says.
Since his rank was 12903 in the fourth attempt, his fee was partially waived off in a coaching institute in Kota.
Describing his time there, Jodharam says, “The atmosphere was completely different. There were no distractions and every student had a definite goal. I got a much-needed continuity and that, I believe, helped me reach my objective.”
As for his parents, Mevaram again came to his rescue and gave them an assurance that Jodharam would make it one day.
Fortunately, the brother’s promises were fulfilled by Jodharam as he scored an All India Rank of 3886 this year.
He now hopes to get an admission at Sampurnanand Medical College in Jodhpur. He plans to become a doctor and save lives in the rural areas.
The medical facilities are not very fruitful in my village and other neighbouring villages. Villagers cannot afford private medical care. I want to make healthcare affordable and accessible. I want to become a Cardiologist but dad says I should consider general surgery as well, he tells us in the telephonic interview.
Meanwhile, his father, who is sitting with him under a huge neem tree, is excited and proud to flaunt his son’s achievement.
I am very proud of my son and he has gone beyond all our expectations. I am glad he proved me wrong. I wish the best for him and I am sure he will make a brilliant doctor one day, Naringaramji tells The Better India.
With the hope to save lives, more than 13 lakh candidates appeared for NEET this year. The nationwide competitive entrance exam is conducted by the National Testing Agency (NTA) for admission to MBBS and BDS courses in medical and dental colleges.
Transformation is a keyword for any individual who wants to make a substantial impact. But, for this 30-year-old man, it is a daunting challenge that defines his life.
An optimist, who has dedicated his life for the betterment of others, Abhishek Boney Singha feels that transformation is a slow and subjective process, the outcome of which cannot be measured numerically, but only socially.
“It’s not about how many lives we change, but about how much we change in their regular lives,” says Abhishek.
Born in a Golaghat, Assam, Abhishek grew up observing the reality of class, caste or gender-based discrimination.
It was these observations that pushed him to choose a life in social work.
“Looking away was never an option for me. Ignoring the prevalence of something bad is equal to doing it, and I wanted to put an end to it. But, I knew that I had to start small as I had no backing or experience in social work. So I decided to start with schools and began to save up my pocket money to help them,” he shares while speaking to The Better India.
A Political Science college student then, Abhishek would somehow collect funds to buy school supplies for students coming from low-income houses. Eventually, after graduation, he was able to set up a non-profit youth organisation, All & Sundry in 2012. Under the organisation, Abhishek mobilised Assam’s youth towards various social projects that have had a grassroots impact.
One such initiative, The White Revolution: A Sanitary Pad Bank for the Needy Ones, launched in 2017, is very close to his heart.
“In my district, women still don’t use sanitary napkins or have any awareness about menstrual hygiene. Shockingly, when I would ask them about sanitary napkins, many would not even know about it, while others would laugh stating that the packaging looks like biscuit packets. The zero awareness is what pushed me to launch the white revolution,” he says.
Majorly focused on helping school girls, especially in the remote tea garden areas and border conflict zones; the initiative is the first sanitary pad bank in Assam.
Every year, inadequate menstrual protection pushes almost 23 per cent adolescent girls to drop out of schools.
“The communities are rife with superstition, taboos that often push these women to adopt unhygienic and dangerous methods like a dirty cloth, during periods. This, in turn, hampers their health and exposes them to deadly diseases in the later stages of their lives. Plus, the increasing number of school dropouts push up the prevalence of child marriage and early on-set of pregnancy, etc.,”
It’s a domino effect with its root in lack of awareness about menstrual hygiene, and, so to counter it, we decided to reach out to schools and educate young girls so that they can grow into agents of change, says the young social worker.
From counselling sessions on menstrual health to classes on hygiene, and diet, among others, the organisation reaches out to hundreds of students and also provides a 3-month supply of sanitary napkins and other period-hygiene products.
“I remember how a girl student came to me to tell how she had pushed all the women in her family to start using sanitary napkins after the session. This is what motivates me to continue,” Abhishek, who has changed the lives of more than 700 girls in Assam in the last two years.
We have a holistic approach to this. It begins with starting a conversation, breaking inhibitions to hygiene and the kind of food they should eat during periods.
For instance, studies claim that chocolate is helpful during periods, but these girls come from families that might not be able to afford it. So, instead, we suggest eating bananas or laddus made of til (sesame seeds), Abhishek informs.
Owing to his efforts, Abhishek has received several accolades; appreciation letters from the Prime Minister’s Office in 2015, Prime Minister’s House in 2016, Embassy of India in Bangkok in 2014, American Center to India in 2012 and Hon’ble Governors of Assam in 2016 and 2017 respectively.
“It’s great that mainstream films like Padman (2018) has brought the matter into the forefront with more organisations working towards it. However, it’s important to make sure that the change is substantial and not superficial. For instance, we have been able to change the lives of 750 girls by now and are proud of that, because through repeated follow-ups we have seen how they have transformed their lifestyle and are encouraging others to follow suit!” he concludes.
In a career spanning seven years, Priya Nadkarni has worn many hats.
After completing her BA, she worked as a business journalist for a year. Her interest in finance and marketing led her to pursue an MBA degree from ISB, following which she became an investment banking analyst with Unitus Capital in Bengaluru.
Field visits were an essential part of her work with Unitus, and as she came across various social issues, she realised that she wanted to work towards addressing them.
So, in 2012, she decided to quit banking and joined Pradan, (Professional Assistance for Development Action) an organisation that works in coordination with the government to introduce various programmes to train women and youth in Madhya Pradesh.
For two years, she worked to design programmes for the employability of tribal youth in Mandla. Even though Pradan was helping the youth secure well-paying job in cities, Priya noticed that a majority of these youngsters were returning to their villages after a few months.
“The training was very efficient for those who wanted to live in the cities, but for the rest, it wasn’t very sustainable,” she tells The Better India.
The Riverside Natural School team.
“It was like putting a band-aid on a deep wound and employability training, I found, was inadequate. Digvijay (Singh), who was my colleague at Pradan at the time, also reflected my thoughts and so, we thought of starting a venture of our own. We wanted to tackle the more basic issues through this venture.”
Digvijay, who has an MBA in Rural Development from XIM, Bhubaneswar, started his career working in the fields of agriculture, women empowerment, and youth employability, and had joined Pradan with the vision of helping uplift tribal communities in some of the most remote areas of Central India.
In 2014, Digvijay and Priya quit their jobs and visited schools like Vikasna in Bangalore and also conducted summer camps in Mandla before finally deciding on starting the Riverside Natural School.
A venture to help tribal youth find joy in education:
Priya with the kids.
Mandla, one of the most backward districts in India, has a 68 per cent literacy rate. A part of the dense Kanha National Park, the district has seen some Naxal threat over the past few years.
“However, we do not work in the Naxal-affected part of the district. For us, it has been extremely safe, and we have been welcomed in people’s houses in the last ten years,” says Priya.
Although most of the tribal population of the district believes in the power of education, their belief remains unrealised thanks to the less-than-sufficient primary and secondary education facilities.
And so, Priya and Digvijay decided to start a school that would benefit the young children of tribal communities. With 90 children and 6 teachers, they began in a rented building in the first year. Today, they employ about 17 teachers—half of whom are from Mandla.
Over a period of time, they realised that the children would do well in the areas of hands-on science, applied technologies, including robotics, because they have a great sense of application, and can build basic agricultural and fishing tools and solve simple problems that they encounter on a daily basis.
These skills can be honed to train children to use technology to solve major problems in the region and thus create entrepreneurs and jobs.
Similarly, sports was another area that these tribal children are not first-generation learners for, as they are for academics. In a short period of time, the children did well, even representing Madhya Pradesh in the under-14 category. You can read the detailed story about it here.
They hired Chandra Shekhar, an electronics and communication engineer and Kailash Raj Bhatia, who had played basketball and football at multiple levels in Nepal, to steer these programs. In the future, they may explore other areas like agriculture, healthcare or the arts.
A school with 200 students
All work and no play is not what Riverside follows.
Since the couple had started small, they had to focus solely on the most vulnerable, most deprived of the students. So, the team—Priya and Digvijay along with Chandra Shekhar, Satyajit Sen and Kailash—went from village to village, speaking to families to select children for the school
The team had by then recognised that malnutrition was a big issue in the region. Indeed, Mandla has the highest number of women in the reproductive age group that are anaemic— thus, their children are anaemic as well.
Recognising this, they started the hostel in 2018, which housed 41 children with full care, food and accommodation provided to them.
Yet another facility that has helped the students stay in school in how the organisation encourages them to pursue their passion.
Till Class 5, the students follow formal education. By this time, the teachers can identify students’ innate talents. In the following years, the students, along with basic schooling, also pursue sports and applied technology, fields which as the founders say, give them “immediate awards” and reinforce them to continue with their education.
“The end goal is to get them a job that they are happy with. For example, if a student is extremely passionate about football, s/he should not be stuck in a desk job that has nothing to do with the sport once she passes out of school. Instead, she should be equipped to pursue a career related to football. Only then will the students be happy and able to earn a decent living for a long time,” Priya explains.
The project has been funded by many individual donors who have gone out of their way to trust their work.
With proper guidance and training, not only will the students at Riverside be able to start earning, but will also develop entrepreneurial skills that aid the issues of the communities. The goal, after all, is not to have the results on their plate in the short-term but secure a sustainable living in the years to come.
If you too believe that organisation is doing some fascinating work with the MP tribal communities, reach out to them on firstname.lastname@example.org.
(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)
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With so many different kinds of schools in the country, it is extremely difficult to pick one that best suits the needs of your child. As a parent, I remember doing thorough research before picking three top choices for my older child. In this article, we look at some of the policies that schools in other countries follow, which can very well be replicated in India.
One of the main focuses in South Korea is the primary education system—a solid foundation that stays with the individual through the rest of their academic life. For this, students attend school seven days a week.
According to World Bank data, 5.3 per cent of the country’s GDP in 2015 was spent on education. In comparison, 2014 data of the USA was at 5 per cent, while India recorded 3.8 in 2013.
Not only are teachers in South Korea highly qualified, but they are also paid good salaries. Being an educator in this country is an important job.
Takeaway: Build a strong foundation in children and pay educators well.
Children in Finland do not start attending formal school until the age of seven. By law, after every 45 minutes of instruction, teachers must give a 15-minute break. With no homework or standardised testing until high school, the system has been praised by academics world over.
Moreover, teachers are revered and have a high barrier to enter the profession. At the same time, they have the flexibility to plan lessons as they deem fit, and receive feedback at the end of the sessions, that helps them improve.
One of the key policies in this country is to provide a college education for free. Notably, this is not limited to bachelor’s degrees but includes a master’s degree as well as doctoral programmes.
This relieves parents and students from taking on large loans for education.
Takeaway: Delaying the age of entry into school, coupled with making higher education accessible is a win-win.
Switzerland’s education system is counted among the best in the world. It’s not one or two but several factors that makes this system a favoured one. The presence of four national languages and the resultant multilingual education has a variety of benefits for students, including improved proficiency in spoken languages, superior problem-solving abilities, and higher executive functions.
From a young age, children are encouraged to make their own decisions; they can paint, draw, or even pick a musical instrument from as early as three.
Another fascinating aspect is the apprenticeship programme, where students can choose to take up an apprenticeship after elementary school. This gives them the opportunity to be trained in a company or occupation for 2-4 years. Alternatively, they could proceed with secondary school.
Takeaway: A flexible education system makes learning accessible to all.
Children in the Netherlands are said to be among the happiest—they also excel in math, science and literacy. The education system also considers the mental well being of the child. Until the age of 10, students receive a negligible amount of homework and in most cases, no homework at all. This allows them to spend their time outdoors after school, rather than be bogged down by homework.
Interestingly, this system does not advocate competition among the students, and they are seldom graded against each other.
Rather than rote-learning, students are encouraged to learn by experience. The teaching approach uses hands-on methods to achieve an understanding of the subjects.
Takeaway: Allowing students to learn by experience and keeping them happy makes them efficient.
While each country has its own system to impart education, it is ideal to borrow from others for a solid foundation for tomorrow’s leaders. These are some examples that India could consider borrowing from.