The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the education sector drastically. With the sudden shift from traditional classroom learning to the rise of e-learning, the crisis has certainly come along with a lot of challenges. In most parts of the world, teaching is still undertaken remotely and on digital platforms.
In India, students from rural areas or those from the underprivileged sector have borne the brunt during this period, some struggling with lack of facilities while others facing connectivity issues.
Tushar Joshi's circumstances are no different. The 22-year-old, who lives in the Mayapuri slum community in west Delhi, has been studying remotely in his one-room home, which is shared by three other family members, including his mother, father and sister. During night hours, he goes to one of the corners of the room and studies under the light of a dim lamp so that his family's sleep doesn't get affected.
But despite all the hardships and challenges, Joshi has bagged the 2021 Sydney Scholars India Equity Scholarship, worth up to $60,000 a year. Last month, he started his Master of International Relations, specialising in International Law, according to The University of Sydney's website.
Outside Joshi's home is one of Delhi's largest open drains, which often marks the entry of flies and mosquitoes into their house. Their community resides beside a railway line, and the noise of passing trains is deafening.
"There is always a disturbance here," Joshi said. "With the help of this scholarship, I will get a stipend, which will at least help me to pay for a reading hall where I can study in peace."
The University's India Equity Scholarship for residents of slum communities in Delhi was created in collaboration with an Indian charity, the Asha Community Health and Development Society. The scholarship is one of the institute's most generous, covering postgraduate tuition fees, a living allowance, textbooks, and – when Tushar is able to travel to Sydney – flights, health insurance and a place at a residential college.
During the pandemic, the University is also providing certain facilities for remote learning, like laptops and high-speed internet.
"This scholarship recognises the crucial significance of Australia's relationship with India and reflects our commitment to help deserving kids realise their potential, whatever their financial conditions," Vice-Chancellor and Principal Professor Mark Scott said, according to the university website.
"We are thrilled to welcome this bright kid to our institute and can't wait for him to join the university as soon as things get back to normal," he added.
Tushar is the first one in his family to pursue higher education. His father, Santosh is illiterate and works as a labourer in a scrapyard. His mother, Samta, is a homemaker and supplements the family income by looking after young children.
"My parents are pleased to see my progress. Studying in such a prestigious university is a dream come true for every parent. I hope that we will come out of this slum community someday," Joshi said.
Until he was 15 years old, Tushar expected to become a labourer like his father. He was "a mediocre student" until the Asha Society assisted him with free academic coaching and study materials. After scoring high in his 10th standard school exams, he went on to pursue his Bachelor's Degree in History at the University of Delhi, with Asha's support.
He did not know how to speak English when he started his undergraduate course. This was one of the factors that made him appear different from his fellow batchmates.
"In our country, the language you speak gives an impression about your background. I often felt out of place," he said. "But I had enough knowledge of my concerned subjects and my professors supported me at every moment," he shared.
Joshi hopes to work for the United Nations one day and is ready to help others. "I would like to make a positive impact in my life because I know the difference it can make to other people," he added.
Works As Ambassador For Asha Society
The Asha Society is still an essential part of his life. He is presently working as an ambassador for the organisation and encourages many students like him to complete their school and pursue higher education.
"I met Asha's founder and director, Dr Kiran Martin, when I started my university education. "She took me under her wing and mentored me ever since. She has opened various doors of opportunity for me, I feel so lucky to have her in my life," Joshi said.
During the nationwide COVID-19 induced lockdown last year, many people in Delhi's slum community lost their jobs, including his father. In these times of crisis, while his own family was struggling for a single meal, Joshi joined the Asha team of nearly 300 workers who visited their community, distributing food and important supplies, and motivating people to wear masks, maintain social distancing, and sanitise their hands.
As he sets for his two-year degree, Joshi enjoys the focus on critical thinking, and the opportunity to study with students from other parts of the globe. He is looking forward to a time when he can visit Sydney personally. "I'm excited about Australia's diversity. "I want to live in that kind of community, with their people, he concluded."