When Pramod Kumar, who belongs to a small village in Bihar, decided to prepare for engineering exams, he was struck by the lack of educational resources like textbooks in regional languages. Pramod’s parents belonged to a remote area in Bihar — his father passed away when Pramod was very young, and his mother could attend school only up to fifth standard because the nearest one was 10 kilometres away from her village. Pramod finished his schooling at a government school. He says, “I studied in Hindi till 12th standard, and I always thought that communicating fluently in English was my weak point. I used to feel insecure about my accent and people even bullied me about it.”
Pramod went on to graduate from IIT Varanasi and later completed a degree in management from IIM Kozhikode. But, he knew that he was one of the fortunate ones, that many other students like him were unable to achieve their potential because of the dismal state of the education system in Bihar.
He left his cushy job in Tanzania, so he could make children in Bihar more confident about their potential when they leave their homes to pursue a career or higher education.
He founded an institution called Prakash Academy in March last year, which runs after-school programmes in rural Bihar to make sure that children from the villages can access the same resources as their urban counterparts. Pramod recalls how he convinced parents in the village to get their children enrolled in Prakash Academy’s after-school programme by going door-to-door. While speaking to them, Pramod and his team carried laptops with them to show parents the different teaching modules. “The parents were very enthused by how we facilitated our lectures with interactive videos,” he says, “they were happy that we were familiar with technology, which is a very useful tool for education.”
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As a part of the Digital India initiative, regular classrooms all across India are being converted to ‘smart classrooms’, which use technologies like internet enabled-TVs to impart lessons to the students. These classes are immensely useful because they make it easier for children to visualise what they are taught in their lectures. “The only problem is that a lot of schools in Bihar don’t have this facility,” Pramod says. “Exposing children to technology will help them get normalised with what they’re going to experience in cities, and it won’t be such a culture shock for them.”
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But when he started out, setting up smart classrooms was not the only goal Pramod had in mind. A report from 2016 found that only 46.6 % of students in Bihar pass the 10th standard exam conducted by the Bihar School Examination Board. Pramod says, “The present condition of government schools in Bihar is deplorable. There aren’t enough teachers in most schools, and even if there are, they tend to be involved in administrative chores like ensuring that every child is fed during the mid-day meal.
Pramod also found the lack of practical elements in the curriculum, like experiments and workshops, troubling. “All of these problems contribute to the fact that they don’t get employed at a reputed organisation, and can’t earn a steady income. What’s disheartening is that a lot of them just drop out because they have no faith in the education system.”
Pramod intends to make the children excited about learning through interactive digital classrooms. In the past year, the Academy has managed to enrol 170 new students. Prakash Academy runs two centres — one in Bhore and the other in Husseypur.
Initially, Pramod was running the operation single-handedly and using his own savings to run the Academy, but then he realised that he couldn’t sustain the venture without help. He hired a teacher and other support staff by requesting parents to pay Rs. 100 per month for the after-school course. He adds, “If the parents are in a tight financial situation, then we fund the child’s education. This might seem steep to some, but it is difficult to run a school if the teachers aren’t compensated well.”
At Prakash Academy, the medium of instruction is Hindi. But the children are taught relevant terms and definitions related to math and science in English so that they get acquainted with such terms before appearing for an exam. The schools are around five kilometres away from the villages so that distance is not a deterrent from attending classes. The lectures are accompanied by practical elements such as videos about historical events or hands-on experiments to learn about chemical reactions. Pramod says, “The children are thrilled to attend classes now.”
If you want help Pramod build more such after-school classrooms across Bihar, and positively affect the learning outcome of underprivileged children, donate here.
Know of any individuals or organizations transforming lives and creating a positive impact on society through digital initiatives? Get them registered for The Digital India Awards here.