With the onset of COVID-19, there has been a significant shift from physical classrooms to virtual ones. Although students from rural regions and the ones residing in far-flung areas have been struggling due to poverty and digital divide, several organisations and individuals have started providing free online classes to students who have the urge to learn and those who are underprivileged. Although it becomes difficult on the 'affordability' part, it's all about the zeal, hard work, and the passion to bring a change that makes one surpass all the obstacles. Similar is the story of 'Path Pradarshak Fondation'.
Path Pradarshak was founded two years ago by four friends who were working with the Super 30—programme to educate 30 meritorious underprivileged students. The founders include Sumit Sharma, an ex-scientist, Dr Avinash Dwivedi, who has done his PhD from IIT Mumbai, Robin Mandal, who has done his B Tech from IIT Mumbai, and Saurabh Santosh, who has done his B Tech in Electrical Engineering from IIT Jodhpur.
To ensure students do not suffer amid the raging pandemic, the foundation approached five military schools in India, and free online education is provided to the students of all the schools. "There are a lot of students who lost their parents to COVID, and our foundation has decided to provide free online videos and lectures to them. It is difficult to compensate for their loss. I know this since I lost my mother two years ago. Nevertheless, we want students to continue with their education and get the best jobs too," Sumit told The Logical Indian.
The foundation has also tied up with people from Kota's U.S. Academy and Synergy Academy in Navi Mumbai. Utkarsh Shinde, who is a B Tech graduate, and Dr. Gagandeep Khanuja, who has done his MA in English have also given their share of help to the foundation. In addition to this, Abhishek Arora and Rahul Arora from the Synergy Academy have also helped the Path Pradarshak foundation in their initiative.
"Every day is a new beginning for us, and we are proud of the kind of work that we do. It feels as if we have done something huge! In Mumbai, we teach at other institutes as well so that we can earn money for our families. However, doing something for the needy is a beautiful feeling.The Super 30 students tend to prepare in 8 months and these kids were able to crack IIT within the same period. The kids sleep on the benches, and they are hungry for knowledge. That motivated us to teach even better and that's when our journey started," said Sumit.
Starting From Scratch
Sumit previously used to work at a commercial institute where he was able to witness different types of students. However, the ones balancing education with earning a livelihood always caught his eye. Being a teacher, he was in a dilemma as to how to help these students. Initially, Sumit started by giving money to the children. Soon after, he started a YouTube channel called 'Grow Bharat' in which he uploaded several lectures and other study material to help students. Currently, the channel has close to 46,000 subscribers.
"There are students of ours who were involved in working at a very young age. These students who were victims of child labour were our prime target. Students at puncture shops and students who clean restaurants and other places were asked whether they would want to be taught and continue their education. We wanted all these students to crack competitive exams and end up in top positions of reputed institutions," explained Sumit.
When asked about the rural and urban divide, Sumit mentioned how in urban areas, it becomes easier to join famous coaching centres because most of the students come from well-off families. In rural areas, the parents of such students are usually involved in daily-wage activities. Very often, if a person comes from a rural area at an urban institute, there are a lot of people who judge these kids which makes them lose a battle they never wanted to be a part of. Hence, it becomes important on the part of the teachers not to lose hope so that the students do not lose their zeal to learn.
"I urge all the teachers to come forward and be a part of any such foundation that trains underprivileged students. It's all about the effort that you take. The road to life is very long and it's time we all utilise the best out of it," he said.
He further added that the ultimate aim of this foundation is to provide free video lectures to all government schools and to all those students who need them. This includes students from classes 6 to 12. The foundation will also try to provide projectors and speakers to these governmental institutes so that once they start teaching at these schools, the students benefit the most.
One significant feature of the Path Pradarshak foundation is that it is focused on giving results. "Our aim is that even if we get one year to teach a particular batch of students, we will put our heart and soul into it no matter what happens. Dr Avinash who is working along with us has been so busy lately that he only gets to sleep 2-3 hours a day. The kids never sleep! They know that this is the only time they can prove themselves and reach greater heights," added Sumit.
Initially, the team helped those students who didn't have digital gadgets and basic services like having a proper data package or tablet to learn online. The members contributed some money to help these kids. With the second coronavirus wave, every student now tries to keep some money to fulfill the basic requirements of attending online classes.
"If ever there is a student who is unable to pay for the data package, we pay for them and tell them to pay us back one day when they get admitted in a top educational institute," said the teacher.
The daily routine of the teachers isn't hectic since they work on a shift system. Every day, a teacher gets to teach a batch of students and for a certain number of hours. The classes for the students go on. Nevertheless, if the team starts investing their whole day in the foundation, chances are that they might face a financial breakdown. Hence, they dedicate a specific number of hours of the day to their initiative and make sure that how much ever they teach, it is fruitful. The batches are designed in such a manner that both the teachers and the students do not face a lot of pressure.
Aman Jha, a student at their foundation, belongs to an economically weaker household. Aman's father is a pujari at a Mandir. There was a time when he didn't have the money or the resources to purchase a laptop as well. Aman decided and made sure that he would give the exam by hook or crook. Currently, Aman is doing Electronic Engineering at IIT Patna and aspires to be an engineer in the future.
The Road Ahead
In the next 5 years, Path Pradarshak aims at educating students in all the rural areas. In addition to this, relevant study material must reach all the students in those areas so that they get adequate material for revision. "If given a chance, the underprivileged can do wonders! They just need that one spark and then it's all rainbow," said Sumit. The foundation aims at hiring several faculty members in the future so that many more students could be admitted and could learn efficiently.
"The respect and recognition we get from the students is our source of motivation. Even people from commercial institutes told us that they would love to teach at our institute. We have nothing to spend our money on and that's why we decided to invest it in the underprivileged," he said.
The foundation also believes that the offline mode of teaching is much more feasible than the online mode. Discipline lacks when one is learning online. In addition to this, screen time also causes damage to the health of the students. While teaching offline, it becomes easier to facilitate classes since one can explain to students on a one-on-one basis.
"If you have any kind of talent and you want people to know about it, start spreading the word! Try making videos and upload them online. Social media platforms play a very important role in this. The pain of losing parents is terrible. Hence, if you ever find a child who has lost his/her parents to COVID, help them. It's all about the zeal in you," mentioned Sumit.
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