Imagine a scene, where a teacher walks into a classroom with broken window panes, poor lighting, inadequate standards of cleanliness and no plug point to even use basic teaching equipment like a projector.
This is what Ravinder Singh Dahiya, an ex-Army officer, walked into when he first made his way to a Government Senior Secondary School in the nation’s capital to teach science to class 7 and eight standard students. As part of Teach for India, an organization that provides opportunities for people to teach underprivileged kids, Ravinder is on a mission to serve society.
There are other concerns too. “The facilities for organized sports are virtually non-existent. The school’s (in Saket) application for enrolment into the National Cadet Corps sent over five years ago is still awaiting approval. Their library is poorly stocked,” he said.
Ravinder was born into a military family in Sonepat district, Haryana, as the youngest of five children. His father had served in the British Indian Army, fighting for the Allied forces in North Africa during World War II. For a chance at better education for his children, Ravinder’s father decided to move his family out of the village to Dehradun, where he was posted.
After school, Ravinder enrolled in the prestigious National Defence Academy (NDA). After his stint in the NDA and the Indian Military Academy, he was commissioned into the Army Ordnance Corps, which takes care of the materials management functions of the Indian Army, fulfiling his father’s dreams of seeing his children get commissioned into the armed forces.
“Being the enthusiastic learner, I did well in my courses and was generally given the ‘I’ (recommended for Instructor) grading. I specialized in Armaments and Ammunition and was posted as an instructor at the College of Materials Management, Jabalpur where I had the pleasure of training young officers from all arms. This is where I learnt the joy of teaching,” he said, speaking to The Better India.
After serving two decades in the army, he took premature retirement in 2001, as a Lieutenant Colonel. He soon moved his family to Gurugram in search of a career in the corporate sector. In his 15-year tenure in the corporate sector, he did a stint as a process trainer with IBM Daksh, and went on to serve as the GM and DGM in other companies. His skills as a trainer allowed him to impart clear instructions and monitor employee performance.
“It was during my years in the corporate sector that I realized the importance of quality education in the development of our young workforce,” he said. After spending 15 years in the corporate sector, however, Ravinder had enough and wanted to pursue his own interests.
It was a return to his village that finally lit the spark for a future in teaching. “I went back to my village to understand their lives and find ways to improve their lives. One of the elders in the village reminded me of the good work my father had done to help people get an education and enrol them in the army and various other jobs. Naturally, I thought it would be a good idea to help poor children in the village get a better education,” he said.
However, merely funding a few thousand rupees here and there from his home wasn’t enough. He wanted to do more. Moreover, Ravinder felt that he wasn’t equipped to help anyone productively without a requisite knowledge of the education system and the people involved in it. Thus, began his search for an organisation working in this sector to learn first-hand.
“A friend of my son used to recount his experiences at Teach for India, and I felt I should join their movement,” he said. “My family was supportive and encouraged me to take this step.” He joined Teach for India in May 2017 and underwent their intense five-week training programme in Pune. The experience, Ravinder recounts, was so rigorous that it reminded him of his time in the NDA.
After completing his training, he was assigned to the Government Senior Secondary School in Saket, New Delhi. At the school, there are over 50 boys in each class desperate to learn new things. What stands in their way is the lack of proper training aids and stationary, among other things. In fact, some students come to school without proper tiffin boxes or water bottles to eat and drink with dignity.
Through Milaap, a popular crowdfunding site in India, Ravinder hopes to raise funds that would enhance the classroom experience of his students.
“I would like to make my classroom as good as any public-school classroom with better seating, smart boards, a laptop with a projector so I can share the wonders of science and other subjects with my kids. I would love for them to have required stationery, their own lockers where they can keep their stuff, proper tiffin boxes, water bottles and school bags. We would also love to create our library filled with storybooks of their choice, encyclopaedias and other educational material that ignite their minds,” he said.
In the six months he has spent teaching science in a government school, Ravinder realises the massive task at hand to provide quality education to all children.
“I am confident that we can reach there one step at a time. It is going to be a long journey with a lot of challenges on the way, not the least being involvement and commitment of all the stakeholders viz. the parents, teachers, community leaders, administrators, political representatives, NGOs and the children themselves. Every one of us has a stake in this as the young children today will become adults tomorrow. Hence, it is essential that all these children receive an excellent education, equipping them to face the challenges that life may throw their way,” says Ravinder.
You can donate to Ravinder’s cause here.