Education is the most life-changing experience for any individual. India has more than 20 lakh schools across all the states and union territories. However, unfortunately, several problems like more emphasis on theoretical education over practical, inability to choose a variety of subjects, and no overall development have plagued the Indian education system. Several organizations have come forward to flag concerns faced in the education sector today.
Bal Utsav, a Karnataka-based NGO, is one such organization that focuses on revitalizing the state's education system in rural regions. Ramesh and Binu Balasundaram began the NGO in 2009 because they felt to do more for children in India, a country with one of the largest populations of children. On emphasizing the need of uplifting the children in India, Ramesh Balasundaram said, "Even though the conditions have improved in a decade, and is a bit better than how it was 2009 when you do a Google search of 'children in India', all that you get to see is children with torn clothes and protruding ribs looking dead into the camera".
Ramesh and Binu both were previously working as corporate employees in the learning and development space. When they tied the knot in early 2009, they planned the idea of Bal Utsav. In a conversation with The Logical Indian, Ramesh also mentioned that they used the money they received as a gift as an investment for the first school.
Childhood: The Happiest Period of Life
The couple believed childhood is one of the happiest periods of anyone's life. Therefore, the idea was to celebrate childhood and children in the country and take up problem-solving that would impact them. Thus, the name 'Bal Utsav' really came up, which essentially meant celebrating children. Ramesh mentioned that the NGO started by conducting in-school events that touched upon elements that were not a part of the regular curriculum. Their first school was a regular school established from the museums of the city, in which exhibits of the museum become the subjects of study. The founder mentioned that this was all in the backdrop of the Right to Education Act 2009.
After digging data about which lot of children contributed the most to dropping out from schools at an early age, they found that children from urban schools who left education mid-way were the highest in the list.
The second in line were the children of migrant labourers, and the third-largest were the children in tribal pockets. While giving further details about their initiative, Ramesh Balasundaram told The Logical Indian, "We picked the problem of dropping out of urban slum children for a scaleable solution. This was not a Bangalore-specific model; we chose the classic urban slum children. Further, we realized that every city has a large museum that is meant for learning but is grossly under-utilized."
They started their first school in Bangalore with 114 children and called The Museum School. All those children belonged to the urban slums, had never been to school and had never even held a pencil in their hands. In this school, they would send a bus to pick the students around noon from their homes, and teaching would happen from 12 in the afternoon to 5:00 PM. The day would start for the children with lunch at school, and post-learning, they would get snacks and then be sent back home in the same bus.
The program was designed to run for two years to give substantial results. However, it exceeded expectations within the first year itself when out of 114, 47 students who had never been to a regular school could get themselves admitted into one. In their second year, they took to the cause of children of construction workers.
To further substantiate this decision, Ramesh told The Logical Indian, " If look at a gated community or an IT Park or a Special Economic Zone(SEZ) that is getting constructed, on an average for a 100 crore project, about 1200 people work there. Assuming that each of the 1200 workers has one child each, even though that is never the case, we are talking about hundreds of children who are denied education just because their parents are involved in construction work".
People Started Pouring In Donations
After their first two schools, Ramesh said that people had started noticing the change, and donations had started pouring in. This is how they could sustain the first two schools for the students belonging to slums and those of construction workers.
In 2013, their target was to uplift children from the tribal pockets. For this mission, they interacted with tribal families in the Nilgiris in Tamil Nadu and set up schools. The couple was involved in each of these models and was working for out-of-the-school children. In 2014, they took up an initiative with the Government of Karnataka. Under this new initiative, they focussed on doing their previous work only but by taking the non-utilized classrooms in government schools.
Flagship Programme: Sampoorna Shaala
After working in and with the government schools for some months, they began to notice the loopholes of government education. Therefore, in 2015 they launched 'Sampoorna Shaala'. It was a flagship program of the NGO that was designed for urban India. It provided a holistic intervention to revitalize government schools to benefit millions of children by making focussed and sustainable interventions in school infrastructure, teacher development, providing scholarships and WaSH, which meant Water, sanitation and hygiene. They believed that if they needed to change, the school would be the agent of change.
When the intervention is done in a large school comprising about 500 students, they call it 'Sampoorna Shaala'. The same project in a relatively smaller school of 100 children is called an 'iShaala'. This is a small school that is powered by the internet and involves students. It also inspires communities at the same time. The couple hopes to have at least one school cluster under the flagship programs in every district of India. They want to reach out to more government schools and empower them through their unique flagship programme.