Giving the phrase "back to school" a new configuration, young techies are tracing their steps back to schools with lesson plans of their own. GEETA PADMANABHAN narrates their fascinating stories.
“Roger Federer is my idol,” says Baskar, who doesn’t play tennis. “I was inspired by the way he serves the needy through his foundation.” Honed by the CSR activities of his tech firm, Baskar launched “Payanam”, with kids’ education as his platform, since “a majority of people, despite efforts, do not have access to quality education.” Friends came along for a strange journey — driving around looking for a school to adopt. A teashop showed them the way to a primary school in a village near Thiruneermalai where “in one hall, mats divided the classrooms, but the headmaster was determined to help the 60 kids. We pooled cash and got them their first computer. Now they have three. We want to make it a model school. We need sponsors.”
With co-travelling techies Krishna Kumar (I wanted to start an orphanage and educate kids — and now I’m on the right track!), Jayan Ravanan (Gandhi said, “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.”), Krishna Kiran (“Nothing is stronger than the heart of a volunteer.”) and Dineshkumar (“I’m from a government school, I know the difficulties of pursuing studies there.”), Payanam conducts competitions, and wants to distribute school supplies and ID cards, plant saplings for shade and start a tuition centre. “We want to adopt as many schools as possible and make them modern in all aspects. All it takes is regular week-end visits.”
Getting a Teach-For-India fellowship (2010) was a natural progression for Gunvant Jain, a bio-tech graduate from IIT-M and an active member of the NSS. “I taught underprivileged kids in nearby schools for two years and continued that work at TFI after graduation,” he says. Teaching the same set of kids full-time for two years meant “dealing with the school system, understanding their cultural/socio-economic backgrounds, children’s issues and working within parameters. And raising funds to buy text/workbooks for the 65 Grade-4 kids in the Nanapeth-Pune school. Figuring out that science alone would give kids independent critical thinking skills needed for empowerment, he filled his second year with experiments, data gathering, postulation and curiosity-inducing activities. “The dramatic change in their personalities and their new-found love of books was a perfect end to my fellowship.” His current work, using FOSS to develop an ideal curriculum for thinking skills, Gunvant is sure, will create an impact and make his life meaningful.
Amrutash Misra’s www.iLoveRead.in library, launched, incubated at C-TIDES, Department of Management Studies, IIT-M in 2009 was meant to fit his dream of what a library should be. Members (individuals/corporates) order books online or over the phone and the books are delivered at home. The buying list is crowd-sourced and the library offers special packages to students.
A spin-off of that business is the Book Lovers’ Program for Schools. The idea is to get kids to pick up books to read says Naresh, CEO who joined Amrutash. They visit schools to read stories to classes 1-8, train teachers to wrap activities (drawing, theatre, writing) around a multiple-intelligence approach and set up an additional library. “In one school, a book we had read was later borrowed 206 times by a class of 150. Our training manuals will be out — as a teacher’s handbook and a student notebook.” With Tharini Viswanath, (“Reading and telling stories to kids — a brilliant opportunity to know my audience”), Ajay Subramanian, Bio-Olympiad bronze medallist (“I know I made the right choice when kids burst into laughter while I tell them a story!”) and Shilpa Krishnan, (“My happiest moments are when kids say, ‘Akka, you tell stories very well”) on the team, expanding BLPS looks doable. “Reading cannot be constrained by non-availability of books,” they say.
“Two experiences goal-posted my career,” says Karthik Rao-Cavale, who studied Mechanical Engineering at IIT-M (2004-2008). One was being shocked at the “violations of pollution norms and lack of responsibility towards environment and public health,” something she discovered while interning for a Supreme Court-appointed environment committee and his research finding that all infrastructure investment was benefiting the urban middle class at the cost of the urban poor. India needed professionals, not short-term volunteers, he thought, and joined an International Development PhD programme at MIT after Rutgers. “I'll teach and research,” he said, “I’m a social scientist and planner.”
Looking somewhat out-of-place, Abhinav Sharma sits in a stuffy room in a Guindy back alley, sorting discarded clothes for Goonj, an NGO. “Internship,” smiles this Chandigarh lad, a final-year Masters student in Mathematics at BITS Pilani. “We concentrate on connecting schools with Goonj,” he said. His sense of achievement, he says, comes from the success of his S2S (School-to-School) initiative, which channels educational/recreational material from the cities for children in villages/slums across the country.