In a land where the curse of caste has often impaired the progress of the downtrodden, the story of Anand Kumar’s “Super 30” students cracking the IIT JEE is more than just a ‘feel-good’ Hollywood script with contrived plots and composite heroes.
In news recently for its inclusion in Time Magazine’s “Best of 2010 Asia” list, the personal tribulations of the institute’s students - often children of marginal farmers and landless labourers - reveal a larger, determined struggle to usher in a semblance of democracy within Bihar’s jaundiced education systems.
“This year, more than 20 students who made the cut-off were from the backward classes,” says Mr. Kumar, who, along with his mother, once used to sell papads in the Patna’s streets following the untimely death of his father.
For Anand Kumar and his dedicated team of teachers, the purpose behind setting up the “Super 30” goes beyond merely helping needy students secure a chance to have a go at the IIT JEE. It is a mission of social transformation – one aimed at subtly hacking away the fundamentals of Bihar’s repressive caste system.
Take the case of Anand Kishore, who secured an All-India Rank (AIR) of 1190, clearing the exam in his second attempt. He is the son of a landless labourer while his mother works as a domestic help. Dire poverty forced him to sell vegetables to support his family. Buoyed by his remarkable achievement, he now dreams of cracking the Civil Services and becoming an IAS officer.
“It will take us a long time to shake of this deeply entrenched feudal mentality,” opines Mr. Kumar. “It causes great discomfiture to the elite ruling classes when they see sons of toddy sellers and stone cutters crack the IIT JEE.”
In 2003, a year after the inception of the institute, 18 students cracked the exam while the rest made it to the regional engineering colleges. The following year saw 22 students clearing the exam.
Since then, there has been no looking back with all 30 students making it to the country’s most prestigious institutions for three years in a row.
“Even today, people from the upper castes seem to pursue a policy of segregation when it comes to selecting coaching institutes for their children,” rues Mr. Kumar.
To expand his students’ thinking skills within a relatively short time frame, Kumar uses innovative teaching methods loaded with socially conscious examples that instill a do-or-die spirit within the students.
The “Rikki and Bholu” slides are a good case in point. The slides feature “Rikki” as an archetypal privileged student who has access to all resources that money can buy, while “Bholu” is the classic village underdog who must live by his wits to survive.
It is hardly surprising that Mr. Kumar’s maverick teaching style strikes an instant chord with the students, for it is a situation they readily identify themselves with.
“He tells you to attack a problem in five different ways,” says Kumar Kishore, who aspires to be an IAS officer in the future.
Kishore’s father, a marginal farmer, sold a portion of his meagre land to enable his son to continue his studies in Patna.
“My hostel and lodging charges were exempted by Anand sir. I am indeed grateful to him for giving me a chance,” says Kishore.
“He knows that we have the talent to make it. So, he consciously focuses on improving our thinking ability,” concurs Chiranjeev Kumar of Samastipur, who aspires to be a research scholar after completing his M. Tech. from one of the IITs. “Our country needs more teachers like him who are actively transforming the face of the education system by giving marginalised students a chance to show their mettle,” he states.
“We plan to increase the intake this year to 60 students. Our aim is to find someone who is poor, but has the talent to deliver as well,” says Mr. Kumar.
Meanwhile, Bihar’s Maths Whiz has every reason to feel jubilant; for his students are not only standing up to the IIT challenge, but delivering as well!