On October 31, 2011 a lady walked into our home in Bangalore,India, sat down and said: “I don’t know who to talk to, but disaster has befallen us. 4500 kids are going to be out on the street as of March 1 – and I don’t know what to do”. She was and thank God, continues to be, the Headmistress of a nearby school, which charged Rs.35 per month and offered good quality K to 12 education for the poorest children from families with below Rs. 5000/- per month ($3 per day for a family of 5). She told me that the philanthropist who founded 10 such free schools in 3 Indian cities – 2 in Kolkata, 7 in Hyderabad, 1 in Bangalore– had suddenly passed away and his successors had announced that day that the schools would be closed for ever at the end of the year.
As I listened I was horrified as any one who knew India even a bit would be. In a country where 8.1 million kids never even see the doors of a school let alone drop out, it seemed unconscionable that good schools offering free education for thousands of the poorest kids were to be closed. The divide between the rich and the poor in the two largest democracies –India and America– had doubled in the last 20 years. And education was THE key to reversing this heinous, and potentially life-destroying, trend. Close the only schools that these children could ever ‘afford’? It was insane. In the 11 years since return to India we knew enough to know that these children and their families would lose their only chance to a better life.
Hence was born the PUPIL project. Here is why, what, and how of this effort to keep these 4500 children in school – and may be, just may be, help lots more of the deserving and under-served kids everywhere.
A private motivation for this ‘public’ project: I have ‘two mothers’ – India and America. Both have fed my body and mind, and made me what I am. So I thought it would be nice to do something that would ‘pay back’ a little to both.
Project “PUPIL” (Progress for Under-served Pupils through International Learning https://projectpupil.tumblr.com/) run by ILID (https://www.ilid.org/) , is a bold endeavor, which envisions a world where quality education is accessible to underprivileged children in India and America (and potentially all over). Tutors sitting at computers in India, with advice and counsel from educators in the local US communities, help children in the inner cities of America at low or no cost and the income thus generated (through sponsoring Foundation grants) we fund the education of poor kids in India.
Inner city schools in the U.S have high dropout rates and continuing students struggle, especially in Math, English and Science. Our program is designed to benefit the children and the school by providing supplemental instruction in Sciences, Mathematics and English customized to the needs of each school. This includes help with the homework assignments, Test preparation and regular assessments of progress. We also plan to offer ‘virtual’ cultural exchanges (sports, Art, Music, dance, chats) among children in these schools and our free schools in India.
In this pilot year PUPIL is funded by Gates Foundation and Infosys Foundation, and offered free of cost to the sponsoring organization and students. The pilot program is being launched in New York City, Philadelphia and Washington DC.
It is a win-win model wherein all participants stand to gain – Under-served students in US, under-served students in India, the Foundations (their mission accomplished in the most cost-effective and high quality delivery), and the Indian teachers (their incomes enhanced 50% to 100%), and the American teachers getting valued assistance from the Indian teachers to serve their students even better. The philosophy behind the program is the multiplier effect whereby each US student covered for the academic year will fund the education of 23 Indian students in Ekalavya Schools, run by ILID (part of Kasturi Trust).
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