His gaze doesn’t waver nor does his voice falter. For a 12-year-old he is pretty clear in his mind about what he wants to be. A doctor – nothing short. Those who know his family background will take it as a crude joke. His father, a carpenter, died long ago and his mother, Shailaja, shoulders the burden of running the family by working as a labourer.
But on the plus side Jeevan Kumar’s biggest advantage is his poise and self-confidence. “I want to be a good citizen and a doctor”, he says picking his words carefully. Divya, 13, also exudes the same buoyancy. She waxes eloquent on world affairs in fluent English? What’s the big deal? Many students of class IX do that. But a look at her background will show that her feat is indeed special. Divya hails from a poor family in Ibrahimpatnam where her father ekes out a living by cutting stones.
There are any number of such inspiring tales of grit and determination in the Andhra Pradesh Residential Educational Institutions (APREI).
A silent revolution is sweeping across the 294 schools in the State where children from the underprivileged sections of society are learning the three Rs. Almost all of them are first-generation learners. And their aspiration is writ large on their faces – they want to redefine their identity. And they are desperate about it. They don’t want to carry the tag of backwardness and illiteracy anymore. And, at the same time, they want to be globally competitive.
Tough get going
When the going gets tough, the tough get going. Helping them in this arduous task is Dr. R.S. Praveen Kumar, secretary, A.P Social Welfare Residential Educational Institutions Society (APSWREIS). Within 10 months of assuming charge, Dr. Kumar has, sort of, breathed new life into this gargantuan organisation with 1.6 lakh students studying in 294 schools spread all over the State. Credit also goes to Raymond Peter, Principal Secretary, Social Welfare, for extending support to the new initiatives. If numbers are anything to go by, one can see them in the SSC and Intermediate results. The boys and girls have notched up an impressive 94.25 percent in the just announced SSC results and in senior Intermediate it is a comfortable 84.78 percent.
But numbers don’t tell the complete story – certainly not the students’ resolve, the burning of midnight oil and their unputdownable spirit to come up in life. What matters to Dr. Kumar are not results but the quality of results. “I am worried about equipping children with life skills and employable skills,” he says, referring to the scores of youth who have failed to land jobs despite acquiring degrees. Education is helping the child realise his potentialities.
A slew of measures are being employed to make this happen. The P5 strategy introduced by Dr. Kumar has paid off. It is essentially about addressing five areas: teacher empowerment, creation of good learning environment, promoting competition, utilising technology and involving the community. Teachers are the most important stakeholders in the system but sadly there is no recognition and no effort made to improve their skills. Addressing this problem was half the battle. An MoU with Eflu resulted in training of 120 teachers and brushing up their English communication skills.
The ‘boot camp’ approach also proved to be a big success. No, it is not the strenuous way the military conducts its boot camps but one where everyone is required to perform to a highly competent and dependable level. The camps helped teachers explain their problems and children too shared their experiences. This is not all. The zonal academic review meet also did its bit in making teachers more accountable. While student academic monitoring system led to improved performance, the zonal science fairs roused their scientific temper.
A child is not a vase to be filled, but a fire to be lit. That’s what Dr. Kumar has done. He has ignited their little minds with big ideas. Switching the medium of instruction from Telugu to English was the best thing that could have happened to them. Children were encouraged to speak in English and give up dependence on rote learning. The Mana TV reach was extended from 11 schools to all the 294 schools. Best of teachers and inspiring personalities were roped in to address the children – a case of leveraging technology. The alumni of the social welfare residential schools were also brought in to tell their own success stories. So meticulous has been Dr. Kumar in enthusing the students that he has not even wasted the front and back space of the 25 lakh notebooks freely distributed to them. The covers carry pictures of successful alumni, a 10-point code of conduct and useful information on career. All this have had a positive impact on the children and they also put in their sincere efforts ably aided by the teachers. Result – today there is mad clamour for admissions in these schools. There are two ways of spreading light. To be the candle or the mirror that reflects it. Dr. Kumar and his team tried to be both.
It’s a silent revolution which has taken the academia and intelligentsia by storm. And the results from the 294 schools under the ambit of A.P. Social Welfare Residential Educational Institutions Society where children from the underprivileged sections are the stakeholders have been astounding.