How Students of IISER Kolkata Are Using College Classrooms to Teach Underprivileged Kids near Campus

“Education is the key to bring transparency and accountability in the society. It is our collective responsibility to get our children educated. The vision I have is to see every single child to be in school, in a playground.” – Kailash Satyarthi

With education comes the ability to lead a dignified life and the power to contribute towards nation-building. But India still has 58 million out-of-school children, and millions don’t have access to quality education. As educated individuals, it is our responsibility to create pathways for them to join mainstream schools for all-round development.

It is with this thought and vision that the students of Indian Institute of Science Education & Research (IISER), Kolkata, have been working in Nadia district of West Bengal.

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In January 2015, seven undergraduate students of IISER started working on a project with the aim of providing quality education to underprivileged children living in and around their college campus and in the nearby villages. Today, the project has turned into an on-going effort called Ek Pahal, under which college students teach children on a regular basis. The students conduct classes using modern tools and infrastructure available at IISER.

Started by Shubham Chaudhry, Prithvi Raj, Preethi Thomas, Abhinash Kumar, Sai Madhav, Rohit Bhagawat, and Jayshree Deheria, Ek Pahal is a team of over 100 volunteers now. The seeds of this idea were sown about two years back when the founders decided to celebrate Diwali with people living near the IISER campus. They distributed sweets and lit candles in the neighborhood and it was here that they came across numerous children. A brief survey of the area revealed that most of these children were not going to schools because they could not afford to pay the fees, or because they couldn’t understand what was being taught.

That is how the initiative was born, with the idea of providing free, concept-based education to these students.

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Ek Pehal has adopted a mechanism to educate children in a structured manner. Students between the ages of 10-18 years (Class 5-12) are welcome to join. First they sit for comprehensive Maths and English exams, after which they are sorted into courses depending on their marks. The courses include basics, intermediate, and advanced. The students are also divided into Bengali and Hindi medium batches. Volunteers conduct classes from Tuesday to Thursday for the Bengali medium batch and Friday to Sunday for Hindi medium batch. There is a game night every Monday for all kids to engage in games, dance, puzzles, origami, painting sessions, experiment demonstrations, computer workshops, etc.

Additionally, Ek Pahal also organizes talk sessions by IISER faculty members who discuss their work and personal journeys to motivate children.

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From teaching the wonders of Vedic mathematics and ancient history, to organising science games and experiment sessions, the students do it all. Kids participate in fun learning games and are also taught about the importance of sports for self-development. They get a chance to utilise the smart classroom facilities of the college. Other than the general subjects taught at school, they are also taught astronomy and geological sciences. These are aside form classes on personality-development and communication skills.

Lessons taught by IISER scientists and researchers make the project one-of-its-kind and this helps. Currently, Ek Pahal has around 250 registered students. One of them is a girl who was unable to clear her Class 10 board exams for two consecutive years due to her medical condition and financial troubles. She joined Ek Pahal last year and has finally cleared her exams. She has regained her confidence and wants to continue studying.

This project shows how young people are working towards strengthening civic engagements with their eyes set on providing quality education for all.

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They are also working on making communities aware of the need for education to fight poverty, for the economic growth of families, and to unleash the full potential children. Positive efforts like these coming from each and every citizen of the nation can indeed lead to a beautiful world tomorrow.

(Written by Abhilash Borah)

To know more about Ek Pahal, write to Abhilash at [email protected]

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