In 2018, the Karnataka government announced that it was shutting down almost 29,000 government and aided schools due to poor attendance and the deteriorating education infrastructure in these institutions. Despite government efforts to revamp these schools, the issue has seen no respite, and an additional 5% of the remaining 50,000 schools may close down as well, the government announced in 2021.
However, a group of passionate weekend riders are trying to change the tide through their small contribution to education by revamping these schools.
Giving a fresh lease of life
In 2018, Rakesh Ramesh and Sanjay S, corporate professionals from Bengaluru, were riding bikes near Kanyakumari in Tamil Nadu, distributing pencils and other stationery items to children.
“We were trying to check the status of fair and free education in the rural area and distributed educational items to children to connect and interact with the locals. Our visit to 20 government schools made us realise the dire state of educational infrastructure in the institutions,” Rakesh tells The Better India.
On one occasion, Rakesh handed a pencil to a boy. “The kid was so excited that he started dancing with joy. His reaction surprised me. When I asked him why he was so happy, he told me that it was the first pencil he had ever received. The kid had never used a fresh pencil before,” he says.
The incident moved Rakesh and Sanjay. They decided to use their weekend riding adventures for a social cause and work in the education sector. In 2019, the duo founded an NGO named Ride For Cause.
The NGO has since revamped nine government schools in different parts of Karnataka, which has helped improve student attendance.
Sanjay says the NGO is an attempt at showing gratitude to society. “We started to identify rural government schools that were in poor conditions and on the verge of closing down. With a bunch of volunteers, we approached the villagers and sought their permission. As a part of the revamping, the schools were painted, and educational kits were provided to students, which included stationery and activity books,” he adds.
Slowly, other riders joined their cause and decided to volunteer on weekends.
He says that the group visits the schools and identifies their requirements. “We are selective about the schools as the locals should be willing to maintain and continue the smooth operations for self-sustenance,” he adds.
Recently, the volunteers started distributing 1,000 educational kits for students. The kits include workbooks designed by the volunteers. “The workbooks help students learn better and recall various concepts in subjects like English, Maths and Science,” he says, adding that about 32 schools have been identified, and 600 students have already received the kits.
The efforts have helped to improve attendance by at least 15 per cent in these revamped schools. Anand Ballagere, a native of the Ballagere village, says he has been following the work of the NGO since 2019 and approached them to work on the school at his native.
“The group of 50 volunteers visited the village, painted the school and introduced necessary infrastructure for the school on August 15. Since then, the attendance of the class 10 students has increased to around 150, which was close to 100 before,” he adds.
Anand says that the colourful paintings on the exterior school building have attracted many passersby. “The headmasters from nearby villages have approached me and expressed their interest in giving a new life to their schools,” he adds.
Moreover, the NGO has approached Spin Master Global, a toy manufacturing company that has agreed to give away 2,000 toys for free. “The company discards toys annually to replace them with fresh stock. We approached the managers and requested them to donate their products to us instead. The children in rural India do not get access to good quality toys, and it is an effort to provide them with better interactive products that will improve their cognitive and learning skills,” Sanjay says.
However, all social work comes with different levels of hardships. Madhu, president of the NGO, says, “Selecting a school is a major challenge as the effort has to sustain. It requires a lot of effort and willingness from the villagers and stakeholders to continue the work. Sometimes we find it difficult to get sponsors to fund the projects. Logistics and managing volunteers in a rural area for stay also becomes a challenge at times.”
Rakesh says the group wants to follow the beliefs of late APJ Abdul Kalam, former president of India, who said that “A pencil and a dream can take you anywhere”. “We want to provide better education in every rural part of India,” he adds.
Edited by Divya Sethu