The broader idea of education in India is synonymous with just ‘basic literacy’. Millions in the country await to be actually literate, even after attending school for several years of their life. In their book ‘Poor economics’, Nobel laureates Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo have mentioned their concern about how more than 50 million school-going children in India cannot read a very simple text. For underprivileged families living below poverty lines, free classes and mid-day meals have served as the prime stimulus to go to school. A few days ago when a student, who hailed from a small village in UP was asked by the media about the teachers of his school, his reply was spontaneous – “Sarkari school mein kahan padhaai hoti hai?”
While parents encourage their children to dream of becoming a doctor, engineer, civil servant, lawyer, and what not, the major concern is that nobody tells them how to become one. Basic literacy lends basic education no doubt. But the vicious cycle of poverty does not allow every student to dream at the expense of their family’s survival.
So, what could make free education fruitful? Keeping explanations aside, we have an amazing example with us here. We have a foundation that runs and serves as an epitome of welfare for the bright minds of our country.
About Path Pradarshak Foundation
Path Pradarshak is a registered Nonprofit foundation that works for providing free classes to underprivileged students – who aim to crack competitive exams and get into prestigious educational institutions in India. Founded in the year 2019 by four outstanding teachers together- Sumit Sharma, Robin Mandal, Dr Avanish Dwivedi, and Saurabh Santosh – the foundation aimed to not only provide transparent and best education but also every collective effort was made by the faculty to ensure that no one gets deprived of the knowledge they deserve to have.
We got the opportunity to talk to Mr. Sumit Sharma to learn more about the foundation and how it functions.
“Me and my fellow faculty members have been teaching at various coaching institutes of Mumbai and at the same time we have our ‘super 30 batch’, where we not only provide the required education to the underprivileged students, but also we shelter them and take care of their basic requirement during their preparation for the entrance exam”, says Mr. Sumit Sharma.
When they started teaching their first batch of ‘super 30’, they observed how proper guidance can foster miracles for not only the student but also their families. When such students prosper with great achievements, their family’s perspective towards education changes. It motivates them to educate everyone in their community. This is what inspired Mr. Sumit and his friends to keep going.
“Usually when we come across anyone who is underprivileged all we do is, lend them some money that would help them buy few necessities for a short run. But soon I realised a hundred or two won’t help anyway. Rather, if we educate them, and show them a proper path of earning a skill for themselves, they will learn how to stand up for not only themselves but also for their entire family. And since they would go through such a platform that helped them discover their potential, they would go ahead and do the same for others in the future” – Sumit Sharma
Problems faced by the students
It is reportedly observed that parents who are financially weak, refrain from allowing their children to choose a course whose fees are out of their reach. Gauri was a student preparing for NEET examinations with Path Pradarshak Foundation. But since she could not clear her exams at the first chance, her parents forced her to take admission in a different stream and thus she had to do her Bachelor’s in Humanities. Maybe if Gauri was given a second chance, she could have cleared the exam and become a doctor.
But it’s not just her parents who are scared. If we consider this case as a whole, parents from financially weaker families are made to believe that any job that pays is enough for survival, and the sooner you get placed, the better it is for the family.
This is where free education from foundations like Path Pradarshak plays a key role. When families realise what education can do for their children, they stop convincing them to settle for less. When students are given a chance at a platform like Path Pradarshak, they become inherently determined to achieve their academic goals. For students from well-off families, there is always a plan B. But for students who get limited time and chance to showcase their potential, there remains only one major plan.
Online free classes – a blessing for many
As the surge of COVID-19 began in India, the members of the foundation collectively decided to provide online education with an internet connection to their students from the super 30 batches. Additionally, they also began preparing videos related to the study material, which they would soon be gifted to the government at free of cost.
Sumit Sharma explains, “We can’t turn away from the situation that is in front of us. Whether we are privileged or underprivileged, if we don’t make the best of the resources we have, we won’t be able to grow at our optimum.”
“Thus our faculty members and I collectively decided to make the best use of online education and make our free classes available to all. The current scenario has taught students to be more dependent on themselves, and this is where we can provide them with the best resources by giving them education for free.”
Getting students on board and taking care of them from every aspect might sound courageous and glorious, but the challenges are aplenty. When asked about the various ways through which the members tackle such situations, Sharma said, “Before we got started with the foundation, the plan of action we built was strong enough to handle the basic situations. Apart from teaching our super 30 batch, we visit other coaching centers in the city as visiting faculties, to help bear all the expenses of the students.”
“The four of us make sure at least one or two among us give ample time to the students every day. And when the finances stay intact, all the other things that people may term as a challenge seems invisible to us. Our focus has always been on the welfare of the students, so we hardly find any other factor as a challenge for us”.
Reservation for the deserving
Opinions about reservation in India have always been controversial. But does reservation really reach the ones truly in need? In this context, Sharma says, “Reservation does help a lot of students to get into good colleges. Reservation indeed is a must for underprivileged students and the initiative by the government is reaching them for sure, but all we hope for is that it benefits the deserving ones.”
How can we ensure free classes for all?
At the crux of this pandemic, we have realised the importance of technology. But making online education more transparent is usually considered a major loophole. The government, with its collective efforts, has always tried to make education free for all.
At present, as the world is crushed under microscopic units of destruction, we have the time to rethink the traditional ways of providing free education. A lot of government-funded schools have teachers who themselves hardly know anything about the world outside. The same would go for teachers who never conduct classes regularly. Proper monitoring of every government school is important, but the conventional way of monitoring is not easy.
Sharma believes, “Online education has eased learning in various ways. But getting used to it is something not many students can do. In such a case, the government should make a system where we can get connected to a lot of people like us from all across the country, who want to help students study for free with ease through technology.”
“The government should also work on a system that would enable the teachers to track down how much the student covered in terms of studies and is he/she really able to understand the subject material. If the government can help us ease the process, we can definitely make a hybrid model of both online and offline classes.”
What can you do to help such foundations?
If you are someone who is interested in helping such foundations, you can definitely reach out to them through their given email ID and volunteer with them in your city.
Talking about Path Pradarshak in particular, you can reach out to them through their email ID – email@example.com – so that they can help you know how you can get started with accumulating the resources by staying in your city. The more we collectively participate, the more we have the chance of collectively helping each other grow. The world needs you and your ideas and efforts matter.