Bright ideas for a better future

seeds of change

Bright ideas for a better future

Transforming the educational landscape

While leading a plantation drive in the campus of Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Bombay in the early 1990s, Pradeep, a doctoral student in Mathematics, would not have thought that creating biodiversity zones would become a priority in his life. Or did he? Twenty five years later, Pradeep, along with his wife Sarayu, an Indian Statistical Institute graduate, and two kids, is creating a biodiversity zone in Gubbi taluk of Tumakuru district. The desire to cover barren lands with different plant species was deep in Pradeep’s mind, since his IIT days. Over the years, it attained a proper shape. Thus, eight years ago, when the couple were at the helm of their career, they decided to shift to Pradeep’s ancestral village and take up farming.

“Except for the innate desire and enthusiasm, we were totally unequipped for the new life,” says Sarayu. Pradeep adds, “We waited till we had a manageable bank balance to switch the profession.” Their idea was to work part time and as freelancers, to meet the livelihood needs. But there was a pleasant surprise as they shifted to Basavanagudda in Gubbi taluk. A local engineering college offered them teaching posts. Pradeep, who is known for his skills in delineating mathematical concepts, is much sought after as a resource person at seminars and conferences across India.

Inspiring young minds
After shifting to the village, the couple decided to utilise their skills and experience to encourage and enlighten rural students. They set up a resource centre comprising a library and audio-visual facilities. Videos are shown here every week, to make learning fun and effective. Regular activities are organised in collaboration with volunteer groups from cities, to offer these kids an exposure to the outside world. To supplement children’s learning, the couple also take them on annual educational trips. Kids approach Pradeep and Sarayu whenever there is some problem — not just with curriculum, but also personal. “We are always ready to support kids who want to study more and get into a college.”

Fun sessions are also held to make Maths and Science child-friendly. Every morning the house verandah bustles with students of different age groups, who come to get a better understanding of topics. Pradeep and Sarayu have also formed a Maths Club in Tumakuru and organise programmes once a month to facilitate students to explore the subject and its concepts. Villagers feel that these activities have made the younger generation enthusiastic, and encouraged them to study further. Hence, the number of students pursuing their education after Class 10 has gradually increased. “We never wanted to lead life in isolation and hence, decided to take an active role in nurturing the village children,” says Pradeep.

On the one hand, the couple are encouraging the young generation to dream big and helping them  achieve it, while on the other hand, their lifestyle and approach towards farming has set up a model to those who want to nurture soil and heal the earth. To start with, they have built an eco-friendly house in the farm. Solar power is the only source of energy. The unit meets the basic requirements of the house including operating a laptop. In fact, they are very cautious when it comes to the use of modern gadgets and have kept it at a minimum. A borewell with water at 200 feet supplies water to the house.

While the water level in the area has gone down to 1,000 feet, their decision to not fix a motor and use a hand pump to draw water has stopped indiscriminate use of water.
Rainwater harvesting structures in the farm and near the borewell have also helped.

Three tanks with a total capacity of 36,000 litres store rainwater, which is used for household and cattle during summer. A biogas plant meets the needs of kitchen. Water harvesting structures retain the moisture level of the farm, which is completely rain-fed. Vegetables are grown using recycled water. The couple knew that they couldn’t expect monetary returns from the farm immediately. In fact, they were more inclined about the satisfaction the effort would give. Though the land is inherited, Pradeeps’ ancestors had stayed away from farming for two generations. The knowledge accumulated during interactions with farmers and the Internet gave them required clarity and confidence. Since the farm was left barren for many decades, land preparation was crucial. Hence, they took enough care to improve soil nutrition before taking up farming. The eight acres plot is divided into 15 patches. Millets and pulses are grown in five patches while horticulture plants and forest species are nurtured in the remaining area. Focus is on restoring native species and adding new ones. Hardwickia pinnata (locally called kamara), an important native tree species that had once vanished from the area, could be seen in good numbers in the farm.

Constant efforts have transformed the barren land into a biodiversity zone with more than 50 varieties of plants. Visit www.basavanagudda.blogspot.in for more information.

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Giving wings tostudents’ dreams
Weekends start with a different note for Reshma Hegde, an engineer at Microsoft in the US. Every Friday, as the clock ticks 9.30 in the night, she logs on to her skype account to connect with government school kids thousands of miles away, in Bada village of Dharwad district, to teach Science in the first period of Saturday. Reshma is one of the many volunteers who are trying to facilitate quality learning among government school students in rural India.

eVidyaloka, a civil society organisation, is connecting the passion of young professionals and the enthusiasm of disadvantaged children by applying technology. The founders of the initiative, Satish Vishwanathan and Venkataramana Sriraman see the effort as an ecosystem that would complement the existing system of school education and supplement the quality teaching capacity. At a time when teacher shortage has become a major concern, the effort invites educated people to be a part of the solution. The initiative was launched in 2011 in three states — Andhra Pradesh, Jharkhand and Tamil Nadu. In Karnataka, it began in 2015 and is currently operational in three districts, benefitting over 700 students.

The eVidyaloka team makes a base survey of schools with the help of local organisations and choses a particular school considering its student-teacher ratio and basic infrastructure. At present, English, Maths and Science — where quality teaching is still a distant dream — for Class 5 to Class 8 are covered under this initiative. The entire set up consists mainly of a digital classroom, teaching volunteers and an online database where the syllabus along with multimedia aids and language support is posted for the reference of teachers.

Students are happy with this system for reasons more than one. “Now we don’t feel inferior to students who go to private schools in the cities. In fact, we are more privileged as teachers from different parts of the world teach us,” says Ganesh, a Class 7 student in Bada school. It is the in-depth  knowledge of these teaching volunteers and the proactive sessions that make students wait for the online classes every day. Short videos are used to make the sessions interesting and bring clarity to the topic. Last 10 minutes of the class is reserved to share out of the box information.

“These videos help our students get a better understanding of the concept than teaching them orally. Moreover, it compensates the lack of lab facility,” says Shantha Gabbur, a school teacher and admits that these classes also help them improve their teaching techniques.

Graduates who are fluent in Kannada, know the subject, and have a passion for teaching can apply to become volunteer teachers. They should have infrastructure necessary for online sessions. A core team selects them after a detailed online discussion. Teaching volunteers are expected to take two sessions every week and continue for at least three months. These teachers supplement the teaching requirements of that particular class, easing the burden of regular teachers. 

“Teaching is a passion for me. When I heard about this venture, I decided to be a part of it,” says Reshma. Though she has never visited Bada, regular interactions with students have helped her visualise the village life there. She knows each student by name and the fun-filled conversations hint at the special bond that has been created over the last eight months.

In Bada, the entire village supported the idea and took the responsibility of guarding the digital classroom, which had to be set up in the school premises outside the village for better connectivity. The School Development Monitoring Committee has pooled in money to hire a security guard during night. “This is an opportunity for our children to get better education. We don’t want to lose it,” says a resident of the village. Students now look beyond exams and have changed into young scientists.

Deepika Begur, state co-ordinator of eVidyaloka says the response from all the stakeholders has been tremendous. Individual donors and corporates have supported the initiative to meet the operational costs like setting up of a digital classroom and hiring a class assistant. eVidyaloka website indicates that so far 6,823 online classes have been conducted in the country involving 533 teachers and benefitting 4610 students. And the e-tribe is increasing constantly. Visit www.evidyaloka.org for more information.

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