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Building leaders from rural India

January 23, 2017 snfblog

Building leaders from rural India

Building Leaders from rural India

The Spark of Brightness at the Bottom of the Pyramid

When it comes to rural education in our country, most efforts have long been focused on quantum rather than qualitative outputs. Government programs have indeed helped boost the enrolment of children in rural schools. The Gross Enrolment Ratio in primary rural schools went up by almost 6% between 2001 and 2014. But just bringing children back to school does not ensure a secure future for them. A closer look at the statistics shows a grim picture of the quality of education these children are getting.

For example, according to the Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) released in 2015, every second child in Class 5 in rural schools cannot read class 2 textbooks. Only 26% of the children in the same class were able to do simple division. The situation continues to get worse as one climbs to higher classes. Without the correct basics in place, children are not able to keep up with more complex studies. Many drop out and those who make it through seldom pass with the kind of learning or knowledge expected from a high school pass out.

Where is the gap?

While there are more schools to enrol children, the quality of education imparted here suffers on many counts. Teachers are often untrained and over-burdened. There is no focus on teaching aids and creating a conducive learning environment. With the above missing, the softer elements that children need to succeed in today’s world – exposure to new ideas, digital learning, a spirit of curiosity, role models to look up to – do not even fall in the consideration set.

Even an “educated” child in rural India ends up becoming a farmer or taking up common jobs they have seen around them – a teacher, a driver, maybe a doctor. These are the future of our nation. Don’t they deserve a fighting chance to dream bigger and aim higher?

This is the effort being made at VidyaGyan, an academy that chooses the brightest children from the bottom of the pyramid and trains them to be leaders of tomorrow.

Why leadership?

Talent and potential can be found anywhere. But only the right intervention can help hone it and turn it into strong leadership. This is especially needed in rural India, where conscientious and capable leadership is hard to come by.

Young leaders in rural areas have the potential to create a ripple effect in their communities. They build aspiration for other children to expand their horizons. They inject new thinking and knowledge into their communities – from social to technological to cultural, and more. Above all, if instilled with the right approach, they can be harbingers of social change and impact for their communities. Imagine the kind of impact many such leaders can have in one village, one district, one state and then the entire country.

This can only happen if we make fostering values and aspirations to be a leader in rural children a priority. At VidyaGyan, this journey has been started with the meritorious – the children who have shown the most potential and ability to learn and lead.

The secret sauce

When meritorious students enrol in class 6th at VidyaGyan, they come from various backgrounds, mostly lacking in confidence and rarely at par with urban class 6th learning. At VidyGyan, they first get an environment to learn in a fully residential school with teachers, staff and even elder students acting as guides and mentors. Facilities at par or better than any urban school. And trained teachers, equipped with the aids and techniques befitting 21st century learning.

Then they are offered a variety of learning, training and grooming inputs to build not just a knowledge-base but the mind-set and personality traits to lead. For example, career counselling and mapping is provided to students. They are encouraged to be part of global leadership programs, student exchange and diversity initiatives. Apart from these, essential life skills such as effective communication, presentation techniques, team work, etc. are also taught to build interpersonal skills necessary to succeed in the outside world.

The demand for such quality education is indeed high amongst rural parents. Children come from varied backgrounds – be it farming communities or even tribal groups from some of the most isolated regions. A rigorous and meritocratic selection process is carried out to choose only the most promising candidates. All this to reach the bottom of the pyramid with the quality of education usually reserved only for the urban elite.

What has this led to?

The founding class of VidyaGyan graduated in 2016, and the results are a resounding testament to the success of this model of education. Students received admissions to some of the best universities in India and abroad, including Delhi University, NITs, NIFT, Delhi College of Art and even University of Massachusetts, US. The grade XII topper is a girl with 97% marks who is now studying Psychology at a premier college in the University of Delhi. Students also got selected to study at the prestigious London College of Fashion to become fashion entrepreneurs of tomorrow.

The training, tutoring, mentoring and exposure provided to these students has given them a launch-pad to come out of their shells, build self-confidence, expand their learning and find new opportunities. When they step out of the school today, they dream big – they dream of being an aeronautical engineer, studying international relations and setting up night schools for the women in their villages. They dream to be the change they want to see in the world.

Leaders in making

Vaishali, a girl from the village of Faidpur Jaskoli in the communally sensitive district of Moradabad, has proven that given the right platform, there is no goal that is too difficult for girls to conquer. Vaishali is the first student from VidyaGyan to study internationally at University of Massachusetts, Amherst, US, where she is pursuing an undergraduate course in Political Science. She scored 95.4% in her Grade XII exams and has already become a source of inspiration, not only for other students at VidyaGyan, but her entire village.

Shikha comes from a rural underprivileged background. Her father is a marginal farmer and her family struggles to make ends meet. However, she topped the school with 96.6% in Grade XII examinations and is now pursuing an undergraduate course with majors in Psychology from one of the most reputed and coveted college in Delhi University, the Lady Shri Ram College.

Arun has become a beacon of hope for his community, which has started valuing education as the means to improve their social-economic standing. He broke the barriers for his entire community by securing 96% in Grade XII examinations. He is now pursuing his under graduation in Computer Science from the National Institute of Technology.


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