INR 72,394 crores is plenty of money. It’s a large budget for educating a nation, even if we are discussing India in the context of this year. But after we’ve worked in the factors that 38% of the country’s population is school-age, and that only about half the national education fund is allocated to state-run schools, judicious distribution of funds becomes an onerous methodological challenge for policy makers, bureaucrats, and educators.
The State of Education Affairs, Primarily
Not surprisingly, the dominant priority in densely peopled, low-income geographies is to keep institutes running in the education system, or at any rate to not let them close down. This means that Indian government sponsored schools stay open for a vast body of students but offer next to no infrastructural support to learning. There is no space, and so students are crowded into one or two cramped rooms and trying to follow a lesson from a book shared by four, or without any book at all. There is no furniture, so children sit bare-legged and barefeet on the floor, and give inward thanks if someone has arranged for some sort of floor cushion or carpet. Often there is no toilet; bushes, shrubbery, thick undergrowth does for relieving themselves. Sometimes, a single teacher is assigned in remote, ill-connected rural areas to teach grades one through ten.
It goes without saying that the median learner at this sort of school has limited access to learning materials. Investment in children’s textbooks, notebooks and stationery, or school uniforms and shoes for that matter, are not overriding concerns in poor farming families. Many children are sent to school so they can have their free, filling mid-day meal there, after they have helped in the fields in the early mornings.
This state of affairs is roughly representative of the more cash-strapped states. Go to Jharkhand and Rajasthan, go into the interior of Andhra Pradesh, go into the hamlets of Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh; this is, in all likelihood, the picture you’ll see.
They Need So Much More
And in fact it is what Jhanvi Patel observed on her trips into far-flung villages dotting the Bhopal district in Madhya Pradesh. The long drives through the countryside were usually to visit relatives scattered across the district, and stopping at small village schools on the way were initially fueled by curiosity. What are their schools like?
When we talk about her mission to raise funds for renovating rural schools ( the broader scheme includes a plan for setting up a self-help group network of foundational support to promote primary education for girls), Jhanvi acknowledges that she has a full plate. There is so much room in the way of providing schools with essential supplies they need- the cheapest of sturdy desks and benches that will survive some years’ wear and tear, thin coats of whitewash, repairwork for roofs, and segregated lavatories for boys and girls at ten schools identified as having the lowest standards of sanitation. And then some.
Jhanvi thinks it is a good idea to also buy books and stationery for the pupils at each of these ten schools; these children, she says, are vulnerable. She knows she is aiming high. And she is willing to be patient, crowdfund online in cycles to split her goals into independent projects so that someday, all needs in education support will be met, and schoolchildren in India’s villages will look forward to going to school.
This is an eighteen year old’s altruistic will speaking. This is a girl who’s had the best of everything, has never had to pause and count her privileges, but knew intuitively, when she did her survey of ten government-sponsored primary schools in Bhopal, that the chasm between the life she knew and lived and their lives could be bridged with nothing except education.
Crowdfunding For First Things First
Jhanvi is crowdfunding with Impact Guru to address pressing wants first. This is a method she learned about purely by incidence, on the internet, as she spent hours every day searching for ways to locate matching grants and philanthropists who might donate to school improvement activity in nameless habitations in central India. The concept of crowdfunding appealed to her, because she could get started on fundraising with no outlay, work from home on publicizing her campaign, and could leverage her substantial social media following for this important and vital cause.
Her campaign is called Samvedana, which translates directly from the English ‘empathy’. The choice of title strikes a ringing resonance with Jhanvi’s intent, and the ways she has adopted to bring change. Her focus is directed at a grassroot body of people, with whom she has nothing in common, except she feels enough affinity with them to push herself to work for them.
Getting Things Moving
She spent hours writing, editing, and revising her fundraiser story. She had a folder on her laptop with hundreds of photos she taken at the schools she had visited. She chose the best ones and uploaded them on her Impact Guru fundraiser page.
Change Will Follow
This was sixty-three days ago. In just over two months, she has gotten comfortingly close to her target of INR 11 lakhs. She has pulled out some funds already, and renovations are underway at two schools for girls in the fringes of Bhopal. Repairs and building a set of modern toilets for each school is her first priority. The rest will follow, she says, leaning back in her chair.
For the first time, I see her shoulders relax and the possibility of a smile on the young, serious face. A good thing, I think, that the young keep their faith in change