The system needs to be pro-poor. For the rich, there will always be plenty of options. But for the poor, the system will have to think more seriously.
It was a sheer vision born out of personal adversity that the nation is proud of today. In a scenario where the country’s education system is facing innumerable challenges, this one man army has been sieving out gems, shaping and honing them with the same lack of resources which is the hallmark of all the government educational institutions.
This one man army is of Anand Kumar. A native of Patna, Bihar, Anand today is a noted mathematics teacher. More than being a teacher, he is a man behind a silence social transition “Super 30”. It is an initiative that is ushering Kumar’s idea of revolutionary education.
Fascinated by mathematics since early childhood he formed a Mathematics Club, ‘Ramanujam School of Mathematics’, while he was still in graduation. During the same period, his mathematical problems and articles were being published in several renowned magazines and journals.
In 1994, Anand got an opportunity to pursue higher education at Cambridge University, but could not go due to his poor financial conditions. His father had passed away and his mother made papads (Indian snack) to make ends meet.
When his father, who was a low salaried employee in the postal department, suddenly died, the family lost its sole source of income. Having witnessed extreme financial hardships since childhood, he felt the pangs of poverty so much that he decided to do something for the poor students, who invariably fade away without getting right opportunities; and thus Super 30 came into being, inspired by a personal calamity.
In last 12 years, Super 30 has sent a phenomenal 308 students to the Indian Institute of Technology, the gold standard of Indian technical education. What is remarkable about this achievement is that most of the successful candidates have been from most underprivileged sections of the society.
Talking about his experiences, Anand says, “It has been a fascinating journey; I never dreamt Super 30 to be what it is today. I just had a dream of helping the poor students so that they don’t have to suffer like me due to poverty. By the grace of God, my dream has come true, as I see Super 30 students doing so well in their respective fields.”
Under the Super 30 program, many students from extremely poor background are given an opportunity to hone their talents and make it to the topmost institutions of India and abroad. They live under Kumar’s supervision and are provided with free food, accommodation and above all, free coaching.
Anand Kumar supports the entire exercise all by himself, financially as well as physically. He teaches these kids himself and earmarks a portion of his earning from private tuition for these 30 students. Several institutions from across the world have offered financial help to Kumar but he has declined them all.
The institute has won a lot of praises and made India proud. Many TV channels, leading newspapers and magazines from around the globe have tried to capture the essence of Super 30. Discovery Channel, which made an hour-long documentary on Anand and Super 30, described it as a “revolutionary experiment to bring about social change”, while Yoichi Itoh, chief economist of STB Research Institute, Japan, which also made a film on Super 30 for the famous channel NHK, dubbed it as a “secret weapon of India”.
Super 30 received praise from United States President Barack Obama’s special envoy Rashad Hussain, who termed it the “best” institute in the country. Newsweek Magazine has taken note of the initiative of mathematician Anand Kumar’s Super 30 and included his school in the list of four most innovative schools in the world.
The task though was challenging. Anand Kumar says, “Initially, there were a few disappointing moments when some coaching mafiosi attacked me and my staff, as they felt threatened by Super 30, which offers free mentoring, stay and food to 30 selected students. Some even tried to start programs under the banner of Super 30 to create confusion. But I had a firm belief in the adage ‘Truth always triumphs’. My commitment and students’ hard work helped me overcome all hiccups.”
Talking about this commitment Anand says that today across streams there is lack of commitment amongst teachers. Teaching has become more of a business. Indeed there are several good and dedicated teachers but the profit-minded lot outnumbers them by a huge margin. “Fortunately, in my case not much has changed. The passion remains the same and this keeps me going,” he adds.
A number of negative issues in the education sector make it to the headlines. Be it the teachers not receiving their salaries, absenteeism, drop outs or other such incidents. To check these as Kumar says, “The system needs to be pro-poor. For the rich, there will always be plenty of options. But for the poor, the system will have to think more seriously. Education for them needs to have quality. That will add to nation’s progress. Inclusive and quality education is the key to most of the problems.”
A very saddening development in the education sector today is that the youth has been seen refraining from the profession. “That is the biggest tragedy. Teachers shape all the professionals for varied fields. Without sufficient number of quality teachers, the entire system will crumble sooner or later,” said Anand Kumar.
He rues, “Why are students not opting for teaching as a profession? This is a big question that begs an answer. Teaching will have to be made more respectful and lucrative to attract the best of talent.”
A man who began Super 30 with almost nothing at hand and made lives of so many students worthwhile says that the government schools today have been reduced to a poor man’s school.
Talking on why is it that the government schools, despite having so much funding and facilities, fail to make a difference to the lives of so many, Kumar says, It is the commitment which is lacking. The society’s privileged class doesn’t have stakes in these government schools. Once the society has stake in these public schools, things will start improving.”
He further adds that funds do not make institutions. Teachers do. Yes, funds are the very basic requirement and important as far as infrastructure is concerned, but we need committed teachers. Funds must be spent on attracting the best of the teachers. Infrastructure can follow.
Kumar, who himself is a teacher says that among the other things that need to be changed to improve the deplorable condition of public schools today is improvement in teaching quality. “Teaching needs to be improved and for that teachers will have to deliver. Whenever a student fails, a teacher also fails. Time has come to invest in teachers.”
Our present government has been emphasizing on vocational education. However, Anand Kumar differs here. He says, “Vocational-oriented education is a good thing, but it should not be a substitute for higher education. The deserving students must be encouraged to take up pure sciences. It is from there that we will get quality teachers and researchers. Education sector needs serious introspection, for the future of the country depends on that.”
Sharing of his real time experiences, Anand Kumar concludes with a message to all the students of India and the other countries that “Hard work has no substitute.”