“Do not go with the flow. Be the flow” - Elif Safak from her book The Forty Rules of Love”
A chance buy of Amanda Ripley’s “The Smartest Kids in the World: And How They Got That Way” at Boston’s Logan Airport and the subsequent eighteen hours that I spent devouring it, changed something within me.
This was a book trying to find clues to improve a failing US public education system. Having spent my career as a teacher and then as part of school management, my mind was constantly comparing this with the situation in India. The dismal failure of India’s public education system is now mere statistical quote in annual ASER reports, meant to be discussed each year in posh conferences and then forgotten.
Now it is time for those of us who were fortunate to have received good education and a comfortable life, to start giving back, one child at a time. Education is the only saviour that can transform lives of families and generations. We have to move outside our comfort zones.
In April 2014, I tested the waters with my first summer
camp for the less privileged children at a municipal school in Vadodara. It was two weeks of fun-filled learning for the children. They danced in formal dance classes, they were artists playing with colours and clay, they were disciplined yogis, or Ramanujans grappling with fractions and divisions, or learning flamboyant English words.
The camp was made possible by the generosity and hard work of benevolent citizens of Vadodara. Each one of my volunteer team was an accomplished individual, very busy in their professional careers – yet they took time out for this cause!
The decision to continue with this project stemmed from the success of this workshop. Thus, our flagship programme Vadiksha smart camp was initiated. Our programmes are carried under the Sai’s Angel Foundation Trust. Vadiksha smart camp is a special educational improvement intervention programme, where we work with government schools, providing formal coaching to students of sixth, seventh and eighth grades in Maths and English (and Science) to improve their fundamental concepts. This programme has been reaching out to 500- 600 kids each year. Our approach is to follow a predefined set of goals and to initiate a formal lesson plan customised for each class of learners. Each student is tracked individually and our teachers facilitate the process. We periodically carry out reviews with the help of RAG (Red-Amber-Green) reports that are generated from baseline tests and kept updated thereafter as the child emerges from the shadows of Red or Amber into Green. We constantly monitor attendance as absenteeism is the biggest villain in our quest to “greening”! This is where we depend on extracurricular activities involving Bollywood dance sessions, projection of movies, values-based talks, weaving play methods in mainstream delivery, and gamification of education.
Have you heard of Mehul Nayaka and Roshni Parshuram? Well it’s perhaps too early in history. But there is a good chance you will in future. They are both Vadiksha “Scholars”, part of our selected set of kids who receive special mentoring, financial support, and guidance to help them fly and claim their true fame. They are just a few of the countless stars who lie undiscovered, covered under the dark shroud of poverty.
We have made a small beginning but a definite one. With the support and encouragement from the readers of this magazine and like-minded citizens, I am sure we can collectively be the David who killed the Goliath of poverty with the brahmastra of education.