Kalkeri is the name of a school for underprivileged kids. It is a boarding school which runs on grants and donations from the outside world. The kids don’t need to pay anything but are given the love, affection and education they deserve. They are taught not just math and science and English, they are taught dance and music, they learn to appreciate our Indian culture, In waysthat even we lucky privileged private school studying kids don’t.
I want to tell you the story of Ganesh. Ganesh is a 4th grade kid in Kalkeri. Ganesh, for lack of most descriptive words is a rock star. No kidding. A fourth grader with the IQ of a 6th grader and the wit of a seasoned standup comedian, Ganesh caught and held the attention of almost 15 25 year olds at the same time. We asked Ganesh, “what do you want to be when you grow up?” Ganesh replied in impeccable English, “I want to be an IPS officer.” We asked Ganesh “do you know what IPS is?” and he said “Indian Police Service.” When asked why he wanted to be an IPS officer, Ganesh said “because I want to catch the bad guys and beat them and put them in jail.” Ganesh is 9 years old.
Throughout the Jagriti Yatra, I have been surprised and astonished by the energy, enthusiasm and sheer brilliance of kids all around our country. Be it Ankita, whom I met in a slum in Patna or girls we met in a school under Gram Vikas in Orissa or a girl in first year of college in Deoria in UP- there were some resounding themes in their attitude towards education and their own dreams.
1. The older they are, the less likely they are to want to discuss their dreams.
When I asked Ankita, “tumhaara Sab se bada sapna Kya hai,” she said “sapna sach nahi hote.”
She is in 8th grade, yet she speaks like an old woman worn out by life and it’s miseries. After much prodding, she said “hum bhi hamaare teacher jaise bacchon ko padhaana chahte hain.” A 8th grader who wants to give back to society the same love and understanding that some teacher had given her. When her intentions can be so noble, why can we as a society not create an environment for her to achieve her dreams?
2. Yet, they dream.
Whatever the flaws of our education system be, every child in India has a dream. And I think that this is somewhere that we as a society have been successful. Every kid wants to be an engineer, a doctor, a lawyer, a teacher, a government servant.. Something of value to the society. (of course the fact that in India we are streamlined into either being a doctor or engineer by society, is another story).
But here I would like to highlight a little known fact about Singapore and the Singapore education system. As part of a school student mentoring scheme, some of my friends from university went down to a nearby public school. They carried out an exercise where 8th grader kids were asked to write down their dreams on a post it note and stick it on a board. A shocked friend described to me how the team had been devastated to realise that 90% students said that they “wanted to go to polytechnic.”
According to global education rankings, Singapore constantly outperforms all other nations.. India cannot even compare to Singapore. The entire world has been trying to analyse the Singapore system to understand why their kids are so good at math in Grade 6. And they do have a brilliant education system- I have seen some of the most hard working smart people graduate out of the Singapore system. But what about dreams? Why is a kid in a remote village in India with zero opportunities and living in poverty dreaming more than a kid in school in Singapore? Its definitely a question to ponder about.
It’s a miracle that these kids in slums in India still continue to dream. And for this we must be thankful.
3. So they already have dreams, and they already have capabilities .. Can we give them the opportunity to shine?
So that brings us to the question that if we have super smart kids like Ganesh in every slum and village in this country, what can we as a society do to create opportunities for these kids to excel?
2% of every transaction in India is educational cess. Right to education is a fundamental right according to the constitution. Yet, even the poorest of poor send their kids to private schools. Why? Because government school teachers don’t even go to school. The government is trying its hardest: Kapil sibal is working on as many reforms as possible, yet india is a large country. Before the fruits of what our ministers are trying to do reach common man, it has been eaten up by the layers and layers of corrupt officials in the middle.
Here, there are a few things we should think about:
1. Why is teaching not a lucrative + honourable choice of profession among students top universities of the country?
This is where Singapore succeeds in ways that India can truly learn from. This
is the promo video of the Ministry of Education program inviting graduates to take up teaching as a career. Its definitely worth a watch. No wonder Singapore boasts of one of the best education systems in the world.
The pay is as lucrative as a college graduate would get (barring investment bankers), they send you to study in the best education schools -all expenses paid and your career path is completely based on merit. In short, if you’re the best teacher, In about 15-20 years time, you get a shot at being the Minister for Education.
This is for Mr.Kapil Sibal to note and I’m sure he already knows, and is doing his best to reform the process. But a top down approach is not enough for a country as big as India.
2. Need for a bottoms up approach
Change cannot be created until 1000s of US – educated youth – the future of the nation really step into the picture and get their hands dirty.
No, don’t tell me that you are ‘passionate about education’ when you sit for job placements in investment banks and FMCG companies. Save that line for your b-school application.
If you’re passionate about teaching kids – go ahead and do that. I’d like to highlight the story of my fellow Yatri- Shadab Hassan from Ranchi. Shadab finished his MBA and started his own school to teach the underprivileged in Rural areas. The school is self funded (with little startup capital) and they have 500+ kids enrolled today. Shadab made a decision to do something about the cause that he was passionate about. 2 years into it, he is changing the lives of 500 kids, hosting workshops in collaboration with the IITs and truly making a difference in many lives.
The point I’d like to make here is that Shadab could have done exactly what you are planning to do. He could have stuck to a plush job, make a lot of money and say that ’10 years from now I will do something about my true passion- education.’ But he didnt. He made sacrifices to give back to the country. He did the unconventional. And that made all the difference. You can make that same decision. If you are passionate about teaching kids, go ahead and teach them. Teach them NOW. India needs 1000s and 1000s of Shadabs before the problem of education is solved. And India needs them TODAY. Not after 10 years.
What can YOU do?
There is a lot that can be done in the education space. The govt. is rolling out Aakash 2 tablets to be distributed to rural kids. The Internet connectivity is going to change millions of lives and open up millions of opportunities. Online content delivery to rural areas, how to make learning fun for kids (gamification), how to standardise and measure learning in rural areas, etc etc is one avenue.
When we asked villagers in Deoria, ‘apka sabse bada problem Kya hai, hum apke liye Kya jar sakte hain?’ they replied – ‘bas sabki Naukri laga do.’ There is a big need for vocational training courses in villages. I met a fellow yatri (Nikhil Kulkarni) who was working on a mobile platform that helps teach people conversational English. The mobile phone penetration in rural india along with the upcoming govt scheme to connect villages to wifi networks holds many opportunities for local enterprises. These people are smart – smarter probably than you and me, they just need access to opportunity. Give them this and they will shine. Looking for an idea on what you can do? Just visit a village and stay there for 2 days. I bet my life you will think of atleast 100 ideas. So what if it has been done before? Implement it in a different location. People ask me- what if other teams start implementing Social Cops? I say ‘the problem I am solving is so large, that I welcome other teams to implement it. Even if 10 companies work on the same model, the problem is too large to be solved and there will still be opportunity.’
There are millions of young kids dreaming in our country. Do your part in making at least 100 dreams come true.