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In Service of a Billion Dreams


By Ayush Prasad

February 25, 2012

It was a warm Tuesday afternoon in Pune when my friend and I crossed bustling malls and reached a rusted gate with a board, “Rabindranath Tagore Primary School”. Beyond the gate was a large play ground and in its end was a one storey building. As we walked closer to the entrance we could hear our friend Pritish Mohan (aka Mohan Zee and Bhaiya). We quickly walked up to find Pritish in a class full of 2nd Graders- shouting at the undisciplined and praising the disciplined.


Teach for India

Pritish is not a teacher employed by the Municipality. Instead Pritish is a Fellow with “Teach for India”. Teach for India is a nationwide movement of outstanding college graduates and young professionals who teach full time in low income schools for two years. The Fellowship enables them to become lifelong leaders advocating for educational equity. Every year, bright students and young professionals from all streams apply for this fully paid Fellowship and once selected, go on to transform their lives and the lives of children in their classrooms.

Pritish grew up with all the luxuries and anxieties of a middle class family. He graduated from a premier Engineering Institute in India and also landed a corporate job. But his passions to do something for the country and the society took him to this non-descript municipal school. It was not easy getting there- he had to overcome the common opposition from family as most families would like their children to do something for themselves first than for others and also the gruelling selection process at Teach for India.

When we stepped into the classroom, the children were excited to see visitors. Pritish introduced us by suffixing Deedi and Bhaiya to our names.  We went around the class and met every student individually- some shouted out their names while some were shy. The class was divided into different groups- A, E, I, O and U. Each group has ten children in five rows with two students on each bench. The groups were named to teach the children vowels. In the last 6 months, Pritish has managed to teach every child to read and speak English- a huge achievement considering that most of them come from low income families that spoke no English.

We distributed white-sheets of paper and boxes of crayons that we had brought for them. We asked them to draw anything they wished. We had expected majority to draw the most common sketch- a scene of three hills, rising sun, flowing river and a hut. But I was surprised to find that scenes varied from a family of bears to tree laden with mango to a school of fishes. They drew inspiration from text books to things they had seen in their lives or on television. Though not a child psychological study, we offered prizes for the best painting. Some remained as focussed as they had been while some energetic ones suddenly became focussed on their paintings. Some children rushed to Pritish seeking reassurance that they were doing fine while few others rushed to my friend to show-off their good work.

Almost an hour later my friend became the judge to choose the best amongst the good paintings. The choice was difficult each painting was unique, with its own colours and imagination. Four paintings were chosen and the artists with rewarded with a big bar of chocolate. Then each child in the class was given a couple of toffees.

I remembered my own school days when the last ten minutes of the day seemed to pass like hours. The children got very fidgety and it was a challenge to keep them interested in class. Pritish rewarded children who sat quietly with remaining chocolates.  It worked, but I wondered if he had inadvertently taught them a lesson in corruption- behave (as it servers my purpose) and I will give reward you material gains (chocolate).


Dream Big

There was a poster on the class wall which proclaimed in bold letters “Dream Big”. Dreams and desires are the most important thing for all of us- the 2nd Grade Children, Pritish, you and me. If all our dreams come true, we will truly make India a great nation. Today most people in our country are so overwhelmed by their present reality that they hardly dream about a bright future. By going into these low income schools, Pritish has not only encouraged them to dream but also is providing them with a path to achieve it.

India is the world’s youngest nation and we are growing younger every year. Over a billion people will be added to the world’s population in the next 15 years and a majority of them would be in India. This young population either is India’s greatest strength or India’s greatest weakness; it can either propel India as a Super Power or destroy the very idea of India.

If the darkness of illertary (and semi literacy) and inequality continues in the Indian society then the dreams of our founding fathers would not get fulfilled for another 60 years. When nations have faced challenges such as war, people (especially youth) from all walks of life have volunteered for military service. Today India has to win a war against illiteracy and it needs young individuals to fight the war overcoming the challenges that would be posed by their own families and then later challenges of tradition, ignorance and poverty. Not everyone needs to be teacher but we could support in our own ways- financial and material support (books).

A young boy living in a slum and looking out to a large shining mall aspires to go inside like everyone else, but he is intimidated by its apparent wealth. His confidence is also often dented by the secondary status that is accorded to the native languages in comparison to English. But when someone like Pritish goes into his school, invests his time and uses innovative ideas to help him, it has transforms both their lives. Due the consistent effort and dedication of Pritish, there is hope and the children have begun to live up to their potential.

My friend to Pritish, “Mohan Zee you should wear shades (sun-glasses) to class”

“Why”

“Your kids are so bright”

India will not become a superpower with nuclear weapons or space programs or due to the leadership of youth leaders of pedigree or because of anyone or anything. India will certainly become a superpower due to the collective efforts of these bright young kids with their dreams and hunger to succeed along with the opportunity and path provided by teachers around the country and people like Pritish Mohan.


Pritish Mohan is based in Pune and can be reached at pritishmohan@gmail.com.

 

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Comment on this article

  • Naveen Shetty, Mangalore

    Thu, Mar 8 2012

    This is to all parents who are sending their wards to English medium schools. There is website called www.khanacademy.org which is giving free lessons on most of the subjects. This website may be useful to many students especially for Maths.

    DisAgree Agree Reply Report Abuse

  • Shekar Moily Padebettu, Udipi/India

    Sun, Mar 4 2012

    Congratulation Pritish,This innovative initiative is highly commendable.You are the true incarnation of God with “Dream Big” message,for the unpriviledged young students.That too in the present materialistic world,your service to the human kind without any expectation,in building the nation is praiseworthy.You are the future for India.God bless you.Keep doing many more works which can in turn India in to a Model/great India.Superb!!!:)))

    DisAgree Agree [2] Reply Report Abuse

  • ad, mangloor

    Tue, Feb 28 2012

    Service to the nation- a repayment for the good education he hot in India.
    Mr. Pritsh hats off to you, you are an exception- always our young ones run off to USA now a days.

    You are the future for India.

    DisAgree Agree [1] Reply Report Abuse

  • molly, surathkal

    Sun, Feb 26 2012

    congratulation Pritish,great work really!!may god give u the strength and energy to do this work and be happy always.keep smilimg

    DisAgree Agree [3] Reply Report Abuse

  • rohan, Mangalore

    Sat, Feb 25 2012

    This initiative is highly appreciative but you are teaching at a school which has teachers already and class rooms. You service would be more required in such unstructured and non-formal schools.May be at construction sites etc.Teach India is another campaign but it is nothing but making the existing funds and infrastructure of Govt.lazy.

    DisAgree [2] Agree [1] Reply Report Abuse

  • John DSouza, Mangalore

    Sat, Feb 25 2012

    Congratulation Pritish,
    Education helps mind to dream big, food gives strength to body and individuals like Pritish help to realize big dreams and implement great ideas. Identification and acceptance of excellent opportunities and their appropriate utilization will surely help us to achieve our ambitious goals, which can make as a developed nation. All the best

    DisAgree Agree [11] Reply Report Abuse

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