Every year, lakhs of students dream of cracking one of India’s most coveted entrance tests, the IIT-JEE exams. But for Vishal Kumar, a boy from Nathodi, a small village in UP, this was never really true. He hadn't even heard about IIT until he was a teenager!
Yet, he went on to make it to the prestigious institute and is now completing his BTech in electrical engineering from IIT Mumbai.
Speaking about his journey, Vishal says, “I come from a low-income family, and my parents work as small farmers. By toiling in the fields, they have managed to feed a family of six and given us a chance at an education. I used to study in a government school and although I liked it, completing my education was not a priority; earning a livelihood was.”
Vishal could have been yet another talented student to drop out of school due to financial problems, if not for the school headmaster, who recognised his merit and filled the application form for VidyaGyan on his behalf.
“I was in Class 5 at the time and was thinking about dropping out of school and picking up a small-time job to earn and support my family. But, thanks to Sir, I was selected for VidyaGyan in 2011, and my life changed forever. What I am today is all because of him and VidyaGyan,” he adds.
An initiative by the Shiv Nadar Foundation, VidyaGyan is a platform to identify and nurture gifted students from economically challenged backgrounds by providing them with the best possible education.
Vishal recalls that before VidyaGyan he used to live in an environment where there was limited knowledge about career opportunities and almost zero awareness about institutes like IIT.
All of this changed soon.
“The faculty at VidyaGyan not only taught me what was in the curriculum but also supported me, made me believe in myself and stay focused. I initially wanted to join IISc Bangalore to pursue research in Physics, but I didn’t get through the Kishore Vaigyanik Protsahan Yojana scholarship programme for the same. My hopes went down, but my Physics teacher helped me get my spirits up and focus again, this time on IIT,” he explains.
With perseverance and hard work, he managed to get selected in the National Talent Search Examination (NTSE) scholarship in 2016.
“This was a huge boost of confidence. From then on, I never looked back and realised that the only way to go is forward,” adds the IITian.
Vishal mentions another heartwarming incident from his school days. “In Class 12, my friend and I approached a teacher for help regarding the JEE exam form. He not only filled our forms, but he also paid the fees and bought us preparation books, and didn’t take any money. And this was not unusual at all—every teacher in VidyaGyan was like this.”
Now a second-year student, Vishal dreams of being an agent of change for underprivileged students.
“I want to design and construct an indigenous PC that can help rural students get the best exposure to quality education. Furthermore, I want to start an NGO that works in the education sector. This is because education is the best tool to make a change, and only by learning and realising oneself and the world can we change our thought process,” concludes the future changemaker!
VidyaGyan is a residential academy for high achievers from economically backward sections. Established in 2009 by the Shiv Nadar Foundation, it was one of India’s first rural leadership academies that focused on transforming meritorious and underprivileged students of Uttar Pradesh.