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Dr Nita Mukherjee describes a venture that encourages poor students to pursue studies and enhance their skills
Vidya Poshak aims to empower poor, meritorious students, mainly in Karnataka, to pursue their education after the 10th standard, and to increase their employability through enhancement of skills. The venture was the outcome of a personal experience that the founder and CEO, RN Tikot, had during his posting at a rural college some years ago. One of his brightest students dropped out of college because he didn’t have sufficient money to pay the fees after his father expired. It got him thinking and the teacher and counsellor for over 25 years set up Vidya Poshak.
Mr Tikot started the activities of the organisation from home, with his own money and some contributions from colleagues and ex-students. His first cheque came from his 80-year-old father. It was when the Ratan Tata Trust and the Sudha Murthy Foundation volunteered financial support that Vidya Poshak was registered as a society in 2001 and was able to set up a small office.
Vidya Poshak is a Sanskrit name which means ‘nuturing education’. Today, the organisation provides scholarships and enables deserving students in their pursuit of knowledge through knowledge resource centres (KRCs) that provide books and online materials. Each student inducted in the merit programme receives a set of textbooks. These are made available through a network of six KRCs and 59 rural book banks. The book banks are located in small towns and are run by volunteers at their homes at zero cost. Scholarships are given for college fees or entrance examination fees; in some cases, additional assistance is provided for tutorials and coaching too.
The process of identifying students is unique. Students are invited to apply through announcements in the media, over radio, at schools and colleges. Based on merit and need, the list of deserving students is finalised and the scholarships distributed. So far, the organisation has given financial assistance of Rs7.92 crore to nearly 11,000 students from 22 districts of Karnataka; it has distributed 42,000 textbooks and trained nearly 1,000 teachers. Last year, it started arranging low-cost/zero-cost education loans from donors; until now 31 students have received this benefit.
Mr Tikot explains: “It is our volunteer programme that has given us the outreach. Volunteers visit the students who have been short-listed through the Nurture Merit Test (conducted across Karnataka) for need assessment and they monitor their progress.” He converted the advantage of teaching in government institutions across the state for over 20 years, to help attract volunteers from among students and colleagues. Now, it has become self-generating as Vidya Poshak is a community-driven organisation. Donors contribute finance for the programmes and nearly 1,000 volunteers execute the projects. Often, students who have been beneficiaries at some time join up as volunteers (there are about 200 student volunteers).
Volunteers are engaged in all aspects of the work—generating scholarship applications, making home visits for need assessment and monitoring, conducting the Nurture Merit Test, acting as resource persons for training and fund-raising, etc. All they need to do is to invest a few hours every week/month.
One of Vidya Poshak’s programmes that has become very popular is the graduate finishing school. The 90-day training programme develops much-in-demand soft skills. It has a student ratio of 1:8 and relies mainly on visiting faculty to facilitate student exposure to the skills and knowledge requirements of the organised sector. That’s also why it has got 100% placement every year. The average monthly salary of candidates from the last batch was Rs8,000.
The organisation has branches in Haveri, Sirsi, Bijapur, Belgaum and Hubli. The contact details of branch coordinators and donations required purpose-wise are available on the Vidya Poshak website.