April 14th, 2017
“The price of anything is the amount of life you exchange for it” – Henry David Thoreau
As a network engineer, Gourav Jaiswal, 23, travelled to various rural areas in the country.
Once he found himself caught in a political debate at a road side tea stall in the quaint town of Seoni in Madhya Pradesh. As a seasoned traveller throughout rural India, he realised that all arguments, irrespective of the place, led to one important gap in the society – the lack of quality public education. He came across many people who equated expensive education with good education. And this idea, if proliferates, would end up dividing the society into further groups based on the investment in education.
Born in Kurai, he knew the children’s struggle in getting a good education. He realised that the problem of lack of education can be solved by debasing the larger society’s misconception of expensive education being equal to good education. He believed that the idea of education isn’t expensive service providing to a clientele of children, but developing a sense of learning from resources around us. In fact, there is no correlation between learning and monetary investment in it.
“ I grew up in the village of Kurai. Kurai is located adjacent to the Pench Tiger Reserve. Residents are largely farmers, Government officers and teachers. The only schools present were Government schools, where teachers were rarely present. Parents with better financial stability could afford sending their children to Seoni. Rest had to let go of education,” said Gaurav.
With a strong belief that education is the only sustainable change, Gourav quit his corporate career and returned to his village of Kurai in MP. Gourav founded a non-profit organisation, Agrini in 2010.
Attempts at removing the price-tag from quality education
The organisation and its team spent a year researching and understanding low cost learning techniques.
Programmes by Agrini:
After observing how expensive play schools had mushroomed in cities Gaurav wondered why should rural children should be devoid of pre school education. He saw a solution in making Government Anganwadis function as efficient as play schools using local resources.
To achieve this, Agrini ensured that Anganwadis are equipped with child-friendly infrastructure. Along with this, multi-media learning was made available for children using Internet and old computers. It was the first time in India that such an experiment was successfully done in an Anganwadi in 2011. Teachers were trained by Agrini to use the computers and create their own zero cost fun learning content.
Impact – One such program has been adopted by the Government of Madhya Pradesh for implementation in 15,000 anganwadis for a pilot project.
From Anganwadis the idea was then escalated to rural youngsters.
The idea of Shikshalaya was to have an out of school learning space for rural youth were they can spend their leisure time learning from each other. Agrini converted a Gram Panchayat godown into Shikshalaya. A library and a computer learning center was constituted in it. Having a self-sufficient learning system in the village, busted the notion of attending expensive tuition classes for learning computers and personal development.
Impact – Teenagers in villages had nowhere to go after schools. They didn’t feel the need to do something productive in their leisure time. After their introduction to Shikshalaya, they understood the actual benefits for learning for themselves. They explored and self-learnt computer operations. They interacted with each other, bonded over common problems and figured out ways out of it. The girls who would remain indoors post school, now had a space to vent out their frustration and discover their rights.
- Agrini Public School
After 3 years of groundwork and experimenting with low cost education, Agrini’s team was now ready to build its own school. The school is very different from regular schools.
- Parents, students and teachers together take decisions on financial and operational issues.
- Traditional local art and dance forms are not just learnt by students but they also perform this art in public places to create social awareness.
- Project Based Learning is being followed and innovated on everyday at the school.
- Neighbouring Govt schools are also often part of workshops and teacher trainings organised at Agrini Public School.
The school does not want to just remain as a model rural school but also establish itself as an innovation and research space for people working in the education sector.
There is a huge involvement of community and local people in all the interventions of Agrini. The teachers at the Agrini Public School are from Kurai and nearby villages. For many of them it is their first job and hence the energy and willingness to learn is high. The staff has grown along with the school and us. Every year, we together think of something new and thus the staff has become more innovative and enterprising.
Shikshalaya opened new frontiers for leisurely youth like never before in the village. The women have become much more confident and aware of their rights.
The growth of Agrini’s efforts are best seen in the children of Agrini Public School. Their minds have swiftly welcomed innovative learning over rote learning. Children belonging to the rural areas, who were low on confidence can now speak up in a changed urban setting also and perform on stage fluently. The most radiant example was their performance of Gedi – tribal bamboo dance in Bhopal’s largest mall, D. B. Mall.
Through Agrini’s various educational interventions, 20,000 children have directly benefitted, in the last 7 years. Apart from children, around 200 teachers have engaged with Agrini for their personal and professional development. Through its innovations, Agrini wishes to strengthen the country’s public education system and influence educational policy makers, private schools and the larger community into understanding that expensive education is not necessarily good education. In the long run, this idea would help children explore their dreams, loosen up peer and parental pressure of studying over-hyped subjects and most importantly create an independent sense of learning from self and surroundings. Gourav believes that it is only when you invest your life into learning, you will learn how to live it.
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