Thursday, May 31, 2007

Empowering the un empowered – a different paradigm

The divisive debate rages on at the national capital Delhi and various state capital on ‘Reservation’ as a tool for bringing social equity. In this backdrop, the efforts of the coaching institutes at Patna to empower the poorest of the poor is worthy of note and of emulation. Their objective is to prepare the students from the most underprivileged classes to sit for the competitive IIT entrance examination. Many of these students are first generation literates. Most have not even heard of IITs till they are picked by these institutes. One candidate is the son of a security guard. Another is the son of a nurse at a private hospital. A third is the daughter of a road roller driver. Yet another is the child of an unemployed father.A very large number of them are from the so called backward castes, but their success is not under reserved quota but general category.

Mr Anand Kumar, a Mathematics genius and Mr Abhyanand, Addnl DG, Bihar police, started an institution called Super 30 some four years back. They selected 30 bright students from the poorest of the poor and gave them intense coaching to compete in the prestigious IIT Joint Entrance Examination. Over the last four years, their success has increaed from 14 out of 30 to all 30 making it to the IITs this year. Abhyanand, in spite of his very demanding police job, finds time to teach Physics to these students.

The even better news is that the model has been replicated by others as well. Genius 40 picks up 40 students from the underprivileged background and provides them not only tution but also food and lodging so that they concentrate on the task of preparing for the competitive examination than worry about their next meal. Another similar initiative is I Desire which has been set up by former IIT graduates in the memory of Satyendra Dubey. Dubey, an IITian from Bihar was murdered in 2003 by the mafia due to indiscrete information leak from the Prime Minister’s Office while fighting corruption at the National Highway Authority of India.

Unlike the commercial coaching centres with their slick air conditioned class rooms, these coaching centres have the bare necessities such as the black board, the roof above and functional seats for the students. Books are re used. These private initiatives have ascertained what are the essentails and just focus on those, leaving the non-essentials for their more privileged counterparts.

It is pertinent to note that while the reserved seats are getting cornered by the well off Meenas and other creamy layer, this private initiative strikes at the root of the problem and brings empowering education to the really needy. The fundamental question, how will reservation help if the candidates for whom it has been made are not even aware that such institutions of higher learning exist, remains the most fundamental and unanswered question.

Let me end with a quote from Mr. Abhayanand, one of the founders of Super 30: “For only when we can open up opportunities otherwise blocked for the underprivileged can we aspire for a just and equitable society.” This is indeed not an empty boast. Apart from the direct contribution of teaching 30 carefully selected students from the underprivileged sections of the society, they also ask for a guru dakshina from their students : “Give back to society what you have got, if not more. "

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