Kiran has grown up in a small room that he shares with his parents and two younger sisters. The room has one light bulb, no running water and no restroom.
Despite his humble circumstances, Kiran was the top student in the government elementary school that serves his community. He now attends a selective Bangalore-area boarding school where he’s studying in English and is being exposed to sports, music and even yoga classes. And the 12-year-old has set a tough, but rewarding, goal.
“I want to be an engineer,” he said through an interpreter. “Engineers come up with all the ideas. They’re the ones who innovate.”
Opening the doors of opportunity
While government schools are accessible to children from low-income households like his, there is a need for better amenities, infrastructure and teaching support to encourage more children to attend school. And today – thanks to a partnership between our company, non-governmental organizations and some of the government schools – Kiran and other motivated students are embracing education as the path out of poverty and into a better future.
The help begins with the basics: providing back-to-school backpacks and notebooks, installing clean drinking water systems, offering breakfast and lunch, building separate restrooms for boys and girls, organizing health checkups, painting the school, and paying the salaries of some teachers so that schools are adequately staffed for learning.
“If a child does not have food to eat, clean water to drink or access to a basic education, we have to focus on that before we can help them learn topics like science, technology, engineering and math,” said Aditya Salian, who manages our company’s corporate citizenship efforts in India.
This year, our company will provide back-to-school resources for about 18,000 students in 130 schools in Bangalore and in far-away rural areas.
After the basics are in place, the doors of educational opportunity swing open. Our company has adopted 16 schools where we provide in-depth support to about 2,000 students, including computer labs, science labs, backup power supplies, visits to historical sites, smart classrooms and learning centers where students can get help with their homework – all far beyond what’s typically available in public schools. We also fund mobile science centers – many sent in vans or even in boxes on the backs of motorcycles – that serve about 120 schools in rural areas.
Passion for volunteering
Ganesh Shamnur, a design automation manager for our company, is among the hundreds of TI volunteers who spend much of their free time improving educational opportunities for students in India. Every year, like many TIers, he loads up boxes of backpacks and notebooks and sets off by train on a couple of 12- to 14-hour journeys to villages in some of the remotest, hardest-to-reach areas of southern and western India. His mission: Work with local non-governmental organizations to deliver the school supplies, check on learning centers we support and, just as important, let the students know that someone cares.
“Many of the kids don’t even have proper shoes,” he said. “In these situations, a school bag or a notebook and pen are luxuries and amazing motivations for students to be in class.”
That passion for volunteering is an important part of our support for education.
“Volunteering is integral to our whole program,” Aditya said. “Volunteers are driving it, and that makes a difference in the communities. The people know we’re not just throwing money at problems. We’re getting involved.”
But the volunteers get something in return.
“I started volunteering because I saw my parents help many people when I was growing up,” Ganesh said. “But it has become a habit and then I started enjoying it. It’s an amazing feeling to see people get pleasure with the help we provide.”
Getting parents to send their children to school isn’t easy in the low-income communities in Bangalore. While government schools are accessible to most of the population, they often aren’t equipped with the facilities, teachers and other support to provide the education that children need. The government system provides one teacher for every 30 students, and the teachers have to go door-to-door to recruit students.
The first year that Pavithra was headmistress at Kiran’s school, 2005, the school had 12 students who met in a single small room and didn’t even have paper or pens. But with clean new restrooms, pure drinking water, back-to-school supplies and uniforms, computer and English classes, and other educational opportunities that our company has provided, attendance has increased to 78 students.
“Most of the parents here are daily wage workers,” Pavithra said. “For them, even the expense of notebooks and bags is big. They’re not comfortable spending the money. But because of TI, we don’t have that problem here. We are able to provide the basic things they need, including uniforms.
“To clap, you need two hands,” she said. “While teachers, parents and support staff are one hand, the support we get from TI is the other hand. Both are required to clap. I hope the sound and energy of the clapping is in the lives of the children.”
And now Pavithra is persuading parents of the best students to send their children to a free boarding school after fifth grade. The first year, only one student attended the school. This year, the second for Kiran’s school, five have been admitted.
“Most of the parents here haven’t been to school, so these students are first-generation learners,” she said. “Most of the parents are daily-wage workers and many of the students only aspire to that kind of life. They don’t have examples in their day-to-day lives about how education can bring about change. So this is a huge change in the mindset of the parents. They are OK sending their kids for a better future.”
Kiran’s parents are convinced about the importance of learning and committed to his education.
“I do not have any hope of wealth,” Kiran’s father, Shyam, said through an interpreter. “Whatever I earn, I’m putting into my children’s development. I hope they’ll get educated and have a better future.”