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IITians take education beyond hallowed campus - Classes here, coaching there

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By NARESH JANA
  • Published 18.11.13
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Their classes start at eight in the morning. But for some IIT Kharagpur students, another set of classes start at 6am, away from their campus.

The Gopali Youth Welfare Society, an organisation of about a hundred IIT students, runs an English-medium school in a village about 3km from the campus, taking care of every aspect of administration, from student welfare to funds.

Many of the students come from low-income, tribal families.

The primary school, Jagriti Vidya Mandir, is located on the premises of the Indranarayan Memorial High School in Gopali panchayat area. It is being run since 2008 by the IIT students’ society. It has 240 students studying up to Class V.

As the primary school's building is under construction, arrangement has been made for children to study at Indranarayan.

The IIT students come on bicycles - they are not allowed motorbikes because of space problem - to the school early in the morning to monitor its functioning.

“We first ask about any problem faced by any student. If we come to know that a student has been absent for more than a day, or cannot manage homework or is facing a problem in understanding the lessons, we try to meet the students to figure out where the problem is. Sometimes, we visit their homes. We usually meet their parents on Sundays,” says Kaushal Yadav, a fourth-year mechanical engineering student and a member of the society.

Shivani Sahoo, a second-year student of aerospace engineering and another member of the society, says every month a parents’ meeting is held where the students' report cards are discussed.

“We discuss the problems separately with the students and parents. Sometimes the students don't open up before us, but are freer with their parents. In that case their parents can help us,” says Shivani. “We understand where we are going wrong.”

The school, now housed in four rooms of the Indranarayan Memorial High School, will soon shift to a new building being built by the society on a two-acre plot nearby.

“Gopali Youth Welfare Society was started in 2002 by our predecessors for development of people in the area. But the society realised early that development required the primary education of children. The school was started in 2008. Every year a class was added. We will have a full-fledged high school in five years,” says Kaushal.

There at least five English-medium schools in the area. “But the poor cannot afford them. History tells us that when opportunity has been given, many have risen from the poorer sections to become leaders of society. That is why we want to teach these students in English,” he adds.

The school follows the CBSE syllabus.

The society provides the students with books, exercise books, uniforms and food. “We raise money by asking for donations from students and teachers at IIT. Our former students also send donations. Five teachers have been employed at the school,” Shivani says.

“We had appealed to our donors to sponsor a student for Rs 4,000 a year under a programme called “Donate a Child”. For the construction of the school building, we have a scheme called “Earn a Smile”, under which someone can contribute towards building the roof and buying a chair for a student. We have received a good response to both,” says Shivani.

Sujata Bhanja, a teacher, says that it initially it was difficult to get students from poor families. “Let alone English medium, parents often do not show interest in sending their children to Bengali medium schools. They were used to sending their children to work at an early age to the fields. It was difficult to convince them at first. But now they send their children on their own.”

She adds: “They come from Amrakola, Rakhalgeria, Notunbosti, Noshooting (named after the command 'No shooting' in the Eastern Frontier Rifles zone) and Kanthra. Students come from as far as Khajra, 8km away.”

“We often think that students at an institution like IIT would be careerists. But the way these boys and girls are trying for the advancement of children from poor families up while being committed to their own studies is inspiring us to do good work,” says headmaster Bikash Pattanayak.

The IIT students also work for the general development of the area. They hold medical camps and plant trees. Recently they held a camp on 100 days' work.

Shivani talks about a project to empower women in the villages. “We are 8,000 students at IIT. Most of them subscribe to newspapers. We have started a special drive to collect the newspapers, which are given to the women in the villages to make paper bags. We sell the paper bags in the market and distribute the profit among them.”

But the school is not free.

Says IIT Kharagpur ocean engineering professor and dean of student affairs R. N. Mandal: “We don't teach for free. The fees are Rs 50 per month. But if a student fails to pay that we find out about his/her circumstances and if they are harsh, he/she is exempted from paying fees. We feel that if something is provided free, it is taken for granted.”

He adds: “The issue of education of the underprivileged also becomes an underprivileged thing. Our students try to prevent that. They don’t only stress on studying, but also see to it that there are no dropouts.”

Kaushal says that being a student of IIT is not enough.

“We need intelligent people to run the country. And this intelligence is there in most of us, but remains dormant. The state cannot always cater to everyone. So we have to come forward,” he says.