The founder of Zoho Corporation, Sridhar Vembu who is considered a Silicon Valley star could be spotted on a bicycle in Tamil Nadu these days in his new role as a teacher.
For the locals of Mathalamparai village in Tamil Nadu, he is a dedicated teacher who moves around the village and ensures that the rural kids are getting access to education.
His educational venture started six months ago as home tuition for three children. Initially, it consumed two-three hours of his free time. But now his initiative has expanded and the classes are now taken up by four teachers. All children who are getting taught by him mostly belong to families of farm labourers.
After witnessing the impact through this initiative, he is now set to take this "lockdown experiment" to the next level. Sridhar Vembu who doesn't believe in conventional education has come up with a new model which doesn't consider degrees or certificates of utmost importance.
He plans to set up "a rural school start-up" that is different from a conventional schooling system. With this school, he wants to provide free education as well as food to children.
For now, he is completely sure that his school will not seek affiliation with any conventional educational board.
In his previous stint, while managing Zoho University, he has successfully helped many Class 10, 11 and 12 dropouts to turn into IT professionals. Even many students after getting sufficient training have taken up roles in his firm.
What differentiates his school from others is that he has classified children based on what they know rather than putting them in separate classes as per their age.
With the lockdown regulations, it has not been easier for him to conduct classes for students. Vembu shares that it was not possible for many of them to attend online classes with no smartphones.
Teaching with social distancing in his open-air class where the number of students increased from three to 25, he realised how hard it is to perform the duties teacher.
He noticed that many kids came to his tuition centre without having any food at home. He feels that for such students learning anything or studying is difficult as the child is hungry. He further adds that his 'school' provides two meals a day, and snacks around 4.30 pm before children are sent home.
According to Vembu, policies made in Chennai or Delhi with good intentions get diluted when they reach villages. He also feels that there is not enough ground talent to do the implementation of policies and it is a major reason why policies are not successful at ground level.
One of the major challenges he has faced until now is retaining the dropouts of students in the village. Another challenge faced by him is the scarcity of teachers in the village. Most teachers travel from town which is situated at least 30-40 km away.
"Alcoholism is another problem. If a father is drinking heavily, he won't be bringing the income home and the kid will get neglected, they will go hungry. I see it here," he says as reported by The Indian Express.
Vembu insists that credentialism or certification is the biggest problem in our education system is As most students even the bright ones focus only on grades, there is no focus given to the knowledge acquired by children, according to him. He stresses the requirement of accomodating the non-traditional learners in the system.