Friday, June 4, 2010

Abhigyaan's Impact

While Abhigyaan has been instrumental in helping many mess workers and their kids living inside BITS Pilani, Goa Campus it has been of tremendous importance to the students who run this incredible program effectively and efficiently.

While I joined Abhigyaan it meant nothing more to me than just another experience at BITS. But today when I look back I feel that I can join the dots. Abhigyaan was not just another activity at BITS that I was a part of but its like a milestone of my life or a turning point in my life because it not only inspired me but has given direction to my life.

My association with Abhigyaan brought me closer to a life I always knew existed, but was never aware of the everyday struggles it carried with itself. Interaction with slum dwellers, mess workers and their kids for whom just sitting and talking with college students for an hour could be the reason to walk a mile every other day provided me insights into the simple lives of people from lower segments of our society. It gave me immense pleasure being with them and to continue such interactions when I was shifting to Bangalore for 6 months I joined Dream a Dream as a volunteer. I was happy working at Abhigyaan with a few kids but it was only with Dream a Dream that I could see how much is possible for these kids and what all can be achieved with the efforts of a few individuals. At Dream I saw a lot of innovative approaches while teaching simple concepts to kids so that they can easily retain whatever they are told. It was a fine learning experience for me and I learned to engage my audience with different team games and activities which also teach life skills to kids while they are enjoying the games. This was the time when I found out about a revolutionary movement towards bringing equity in Education going on in India called Teach For India. I got to know about TFI from one of the posts on this very blog by Pratik and only a few days back I was discussing this with him that how things happen in a funny way in our universe.

Since then a lot has happened and to make the long story short I will say that I am joining Teach For India as 2010 fellow for the next two years of my life. :)

PS: You can know more on my experiences with Teach For India here.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The revolutionary Hole In the Wall

An Indian physicist puts a PC with a high speed internet connection in a wall in the slums and watches what happens. Based on the results, he talks about issues of digital divide, computer education and kids, the dynamics of the third world getting online.

New Delhi physicist Sugata Mitra has a radical proposal for bringing his country's next generation into the Info Age.

To test his ideas, Mitra 13 months ago launched something he calls "the hole in the wall experiment." He took a PC connected to a high-speed data connection and imbedded it in a concrete wall next to NIIT's headquarters in the south end of New Delhi. The wall separates the company's grounds from a garbage-strewn empty lot used by the poor as a public bathroom. Mitra simply left the computer on, connected to the Internet, and allowed any passerby to play with it. He monitored activity on the PC using a remote computer and a video camera mounted in a nearby tree.

What he discovered was that the most avid users of the machine were ghetto kids aged 6 to 12, most of whom have only the most rudimentary education and little knowledge of English. Yet within days, the kids had taught themselves to draw on the computer and to browse the Net. Some of the other things they learned, Mitra says, astonished him.

The physicist has since installed a computer in a rural neighborhood with similar results. He's convinced that 500 million children could achieve basic computer literacy over the next five years, if the Indian government put 100,000 Net-connected PCs in schools and trained teachers in some basic "noninvasive" teaching techniques for guiding children in using them. Total investment required, he figures: Around $2 billion.

Read the entire interview here

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Teach For India

Hey all,

Below is a clipping from Times of India's teach for India program selection for this year.

Teach For India is currently accepting applications for its 2010 Fellowship.Teach For India is a nationwide movement that aims to end the educational inequity by creating a powerful force of leaders in many sectors who will advocate for educational opportunity for all children.To create this leadership force, they recruit only India's most outstanding college graduates and young professionals, from all academic majors and careers, to teach for two years in under-resourced schools. They look for people who live for a challenge, who excel academically, who believe India can be a better nation for all its citizens.As teachers in classrooms, Fellows have multiple opportunities to confront and tackle challenges, motivate diverse stakeholders to work hard toward a shared vision, create and adjust plans to move further towards their goals and gain the confidence they need to succeed.

Every Teach For India Fellow has two main responsibilities, through which he/she learns leadership skills in a hands-on, results-driven environment. 1.Classroom Instructional Leadership & 2. School Transformation/Leadership Project.Teach For India Fellows will be paid a stipend of Rs. 15000 per month and will be given a housing allowance along with an allowance for school supplies.Teach For India Fellows are placed in 2nd, 3rd, 4th or 5th standard classrooms where they teach all major subjects — including mathematics, reading, history and science — with the exception of languages.

More here

However I was wondering how many of us or how many of outstanding college graduates and young professionals, from all academic majors and careers, that they want to select from would actually seriously apply for this. At this stage in life where everyone has invested significant amount of time and effort into building their careers, the above cause has only two implications: Philanthropy and Making your profile look very good in case you want to apply for something related to social entrepreneurship or public policy at a later stage in life.

In case anyone is actually considering the above as an option, kindly post it out here or let me know on, 'coz its been a long time I came across any person who's done a thing like this.


A few days back I had to go to my native village a few 100 kms from our campus. I was conducting lab sessions for computer programming and it was 7:30pm by the time I was done with them. It started raining cats and dogs the moment I came out of the Computer Centre, to be followed by me having no umbrella. I just managed to get one from someone and was trying to rush out of the campus, when I saw a guy trying to run in the rain. I offered him my umbrella. We shared the umbrella finally, and walked out of the campus gate. The umbrella did not provide much resistance to the strong monsoons and we both were getting wet anyway. We started a conversation : He was a guy working for the past 4 months at the saloon on campus. He asked me about what students do on campus and I tried explaining it in the simplest possible way. He started speaking about his schooling; that he never took it seriously and dropped out before he could complete anything significant. I tried telling him about Abhigyaan@BITS but deep withing me I knew he was helpless. He said if he started studying, there wouldn't be anything to eat at home. The contrast between the two of us was same as that between BITS Pilani Goa Campus and the Zari slum dwellings on the other side of the road. He lived at Chicalim and we boarded the bus. He paid my fare on insistence and at Chicalim stop took me to a tea shop and sponsored me some tea and snacks. I couldn't find out more about him 'coz I had to travel far and there weren't any buses left.

Later that night loitering at panjim bus stand I came across several people like him who are now used to the way they live. Hapless, helpless and yet happy? There's no 'Audacity of Hope' as Barack Obama puts it, as there's nothing more they wish then to survive; life is what happens everyday to them. I saw it as later in the night I had to hitch hike along North Goa's Coastal belt from Betul, candolim, anjuna, baga, calangute, shiroda and finally Mandrem. There was just one guy in the bus who knew how to read English and helped the tourists who had boarded the wrong bus. Goa has close to 100% literacy and yet this is the real situation. Do we have a solution or are we the solution?

That's one after a looong time!

Pratik Mandrekar

Thursday, June 18, 2009

A call and a question

Abhigyaan , though is an experience to cherish, pride and satisfy has needs. This post, my first, perhaps is a call.

A call for the family to grow
And a call for help.

We are a happy family, the students and the student teachers, but to sustain ourselves, and succeed (a term vaguely defined but ill quote it nonetheless), we need to grow, in terms of the initiatives taken, in terms of achievements of expected deliverables, and in terms of people participating- teahers, students and volunteers. Of course, one might (as I have, countless times) prefer perfecting the symbiosis of the existing members before planning on growing, but i believe growth is, in itself a pre eminent necessity- growth gives incentive to improve, and encouragement to participate and contribute. So I call for help when I ask a question asked a countless times before in a counless different avenues, since times immemorial:

How do we scrutinize prospective applicants? How do we highlight our motives and our ideals effectively and encourage applicants who honestly believe in such work? The problem with such a question is, the answer itself is not definitive. In the sense, how do we know if a system we develop is effective? I guess I would call a system of recruitment effective if we can bring in people who

1. Want to contribute ( for incentive? for personal satisfaction? as a passion? as a responsibility?)
2. Are a valuable asset (excellent with kids, teaches brilliant, excellent language adaptation)
3. Would encourage and motivate (interacts with the 'jhopadi' community of workers, knows people at Zari and brings them in, is a marvel to watch at Abhigtyaan at work)

There might, perhaps be no ideal system. But one can try.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Teach for India

Today as we had our farewell in the VGH, someone mentioned the Teach India campaign and I just remembered the time when I was a part of it just when it got launched but for some reason that our undergraduate life demands, the reason just got blurred.Probably it was the system or maybe it'll take time to stabilize but, the Teach for India campaign can surely be way more successful and effective that say the Teach for America-the place where it all started.In times of recession of career uncertainty it sure does help to have alternate career plans that you've always dreamed of like' being the change you want to see in this world'. I don't know what prevents us from running start ups,we do have the talent, y fear? Below I've an excerpt from how the Teach for America (on which Teach for India is based on) got actually started.I think if you liked abhigyaan you surely would love to do something like this:

"At Princeton, after another student expressed an interest in teaching, I had an idea: Why didn't this country have a national teacher corps of recent college graduates who would commit two years to teach in urban and rural schools? A teacher corps would provide another option to the two-year corporate training programs and grad schools. It would speak to all of us college seniors who were searching for something meaningful to do with our lives.

The more I thought about it, the more convinced I became that this simple idea was potentially powerful. If top recent college graduates devoted two years to teaching in public schools, they could have a real impact on the lives of disadvantaged kids. Because they had themselves excelled academically, they would be relentless in their efforts to ensure their students achieved. They would question the way things are and fight to do what was right for children.

A national teacher corps could be huge, I thought. This could be the Peace Corps of the 1990s. Thousands would join, and we would fundamentally impact our country."

Excerpted from One Day, All Children... by Wendy Kopp, Copyright 2001

So where did it all start?

On April 12, 1989, the day after I turned in my thesis, I went back to the computer room to turn it into a thirtypage proposal. I was excited to be moving forward but anxious about what needed to be done in the less than two months before graduation.
I needed a seed grant so I could survive after college with no other source of income and so I could spend my summer traveling around the country meeting with education leaders, school districts, and as many potential funders as possible. Without a grant, I would have to get a real job and there would be no teacher corps.
So I went to Princeton’s library. This time I wasn’t searching for volumes about the state of education or the history of the Peace Corps but for a reference book. I needed the names and addresses of the chief executive officers of major American corporations. I picked companies I recognized and also those that had surfaced in my thesis research as being committed to education reform.

Read more here

Click below to check out The Teach for India campaign and how you can be a part of it.There's even a section to convince parents on the site.In case someone does have an Idea relating to anything above or below please do comment.

Abhigyaan can do a lot more than what it does now.Please help make it bigger, better!

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

My experience

Unlike Divesh I didn't get selected for Abhigyan the first time I tried getting in, that was almost my first day in BITS '06. 2 years down the line I finally got a chance. Nothing could be a more motivating reason to wake up early morn other than helping someone learn something that could change their lives.

My student's name is Raju.He doesn't know when he was born and neither does he have much of a clue of his last name.He know's hydraulics even though he is just learning the language fundamentals. That's coz he is a crane operator in Birla.The reason he joined Abhigyaan is something that we all take for granted: education. He dropped out of school in the 4th standard, was never serious when given the chance to study till now.Why the sudden transition? He is skilled enough to do the job he is good at yet he was denied visa/work permit to go abroad since his communication skills in English weren't as good as the rest.Now we need to ensure that he gets compatible enough to clear a 10th class private exam.I'm not aware if Abhigyaan has helped anyone get an exam done, but I told him I would help with the exam, there are a few agents around who do this but is there anyone in Abhigyaan who could help with this?

Teaching students@ Abhigyaan is quite different from teaching students at a private tuition which I had been doing since past several years before coming to BITS.When marks are the only thing at stake students do anything to get marks.So disinterested are most in their studies that they go to school only for the Sports, friends and those free little things you get on chips.It's more a problem of under-education than illiteracy. The Finnish school system is reported to be the best. Finland 1 and Finland 2 will give you an insight. We may not be able to adopt it but we can surely adapt to it.We just need a few good people to get working.Times of India's Teach India Campaign has been a wonderful Initiative on paper though I have no clue of what kind of results they have obtained. We are also trying to use this MAD platform to help us in doing the same. Whatever the platform we may use, if each one of us can make a constructive difference to one person/year , it would make a lot of difference.

We sure do have a legendary tag line "Knowledge is Power Supreme" but What use is Power if we don't use it properly.

Ciao :)

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Hundred Years from Now

Stumbled upon these lines on the website of an organization called Dream a Dream which is quite similar to Abhigyaan, they do almost the same job on a slightly larger base.

One hundred years from now,
It will not matter,
What kind of car I drove,

What kind of house I lived in,

How much I had in my bank,
Nor what my clothes looked like.

One hundred years from now,
It will not matter,
What kind of school I attended,
What kind of typewriter I used,
How large or small my church.

But the world may be. . .
A little better because. . .
I was important in the life of a child.