By Amrita Paul
Nelson Mandela had once said, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” And although primary education, in India, has been guaranteed for children, up to class VIII by the Right to Education Act, the deplorable conditions in many government schools has seldom done anything, to combat student drop out rates, assist the ones performing poorly or even ensure that children in start coming to school in the first place. But in Surat, Gujarat, things are changing slowly, thanks to the constant effort and engagement of one Beena Rao. She is changing the lives of thousands of slum children around her with her simple initiative.
She set up Prayas which is a free coaching institute for slum children. She started out with teaching 2-3 children herself, she now has a team of 34 volunteers who teach around 1,200 students at eight different coaching centers across Surat, Gujarat
Beena, a former homemaker, recalls fondly of how her father, who was a violinist, used to always find time to teach blind children free of cost. His spirit of empathy and charity was a primary source of inspiration when Beena decided, that she also wanted to be of service to the society and ensure that education is being made accessible to all children, up to the age of 14.
Her dad’s spirit of empathy and charity was a primary source of inspiration for Beena
“My husband, who is a professor, and I used to venture out to the slums in the city and teach children there, But there needed to be a streamlining of the process, as the children were of different age groups and levels and hence couldn’t be taught together,” she says.
During this time, Beena also consulted professor Anil Gupta, who also heads the National Innovation Foundation in Ahmedabad and in 2006, she started Prayas, a coaching facility for underprivileged children.
Beena adds, “It was professor Anil who suggested that we interacted with the children personally, engage them in games and then slowly start teaching them, otherwise no one would even show up.”
With a host of volunteers, who are mostly college students, Beena finds a way to engage the children even during their vacations. For the younger lot, there are movies to watch in the evenings and for the older students, they are encouraged to read books which are supplied to the slums, via a mobile library.
Over 5,000 students have been taught at Prayas, since its inception and Beena is now also looking at expanding to the nearby villages.
“Most students try and study till 10 standard, but if they fail in their examinations, there is no motivation to reappear. The ones who pass and study further, make sure they attend college as well.
Over 5,000 students have been taught at Prayas, since its inception and Beena is now also looking at expanding to the nearby villages
“But irrespective of that, primary education creates opportunities and ensures that they get a job and do well for themselves and many of our earlier students are already working and doing good for themselves,” informs Beena.