₹72,394 crore is a lot of money. It’s a large budget for educating a nation.
But after we’ve considered the fact that 37% of the country’s population is of school-age, and that only about half the national education fund is allocated to state-run schools, judicious distribution of funds becomes an onerous methodological challenge for policymakers, bureaucrats and educators.
Not surprisingly, the dominant priority in densely-peopled, low-income geographies is to keep institutes running in the education system, or at any rate, to not let them close down.
This means that Indian government-sponsored schools stay open for a vast body of students but offer next to no infrastructural support to learning. There is no space, and so students are crowded into one or two cramped rooms. They try to follow lessons from a book shared by four, or – in some cases – without any book at all.
There is a lack of furniture so children often have to sit bare-legged and barefoot on the floor. They feel grateful if someone has arranged some sort of floor cushion or carpet.
Often, there is no toilet. Children take to bushes, shrubberies and thick undergrowths for relieving themselves. Sometimes, a single teacher is assigned in remote, poorly connected rural areas to teach grades one through ten.
It goes without saying that the median learner at this sort of school has limited access to learning materials. Investment in children’s textbooks, notebooks, stationery, school uniforms and shoes for that matter, are not overriding concerns in poor farming families. Many children are sent to school so they can have their free mid-day meal there, after they have helped in the fields in the early mornings.
This state of affairs is roughly representative of the more cash-strapped states. Go to Jharkhand and Rajasthan or into the interiors of Andhra Pradesh; go into the hamlets of Chattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh. This is, in all likelihood, the picture you will see.
And in fact, this is what Jhanvi Patel observed on her trips into the far-flung villages dotting the Bhopal district in Madhya Pradesh. The long drives through the countryside were usually to visit relatives scattered across the district, and stopping at small village schools on the way due to curiosity.
When we talk about her mission to raise funds for renovating rural schools (the broader scheme includes a plan for setting up a self-help group network of foundational support to promote primary education for girls), Jhanvi acknowledges that she has a full plate.
There is so much room in the way of providing these schools with the essential supplies they need – the cheapest of sturdy desks and benches that will survive some years of wear and tear, thin coats of whitewash, repair works for roofs, and segregated lavatories for boys and girls at ten schools identified as having the lowest standards of sanitation.
Jhanvi thinks it is a good idea to also buy books and stationery for the pupils at each of these ten schools; these children, she says, are vulnerable. She knows she is aiming high. And she is willing to be patient. She is crowdfunding online in cycles to split her goals into independent projects so that someday, all these requirements will be met and school children in India’s villages will look forward to going to school.
This is the willpower of an altruistic 18-year-old. This is a girl who’s had the best of everything, has never had to pause and count her privileges, but who knew intuitively, when she did her survey of ten government-sponsored primary schools in Bhopal, that the chasm between the life she knew and lived and the lives of these children could be bridged with nothing except education.
Jhanvi is crowdfunding with Impact Guru to address pressing wants first. This is a method she learned about purely through coincidence on the internet, as she spent hours every day searching for ways to locate matching grants and philanthropists who might donate to school improvement activities in the nameless habitations of central India.
The concept of crowdfunding appealed to her because she could get started on it with no layout, work from home on publicising her campaign, and could leverage her substantial social media following for this important and vital cause.
Her campaign is called “Samvedana”, which translates to ’empathy’. The title strikes a ringing resonance with Jhanvi’s intent, and the ways she has adopted to bring change. Her focus is directed at a grassroots body of people, with whom she has nothing in common, except that she feels enough affinity with them to push herself to work for them.
She spent hours writing, editing and revising her fundraiser story. She had a folder on her laptop with hundreds of photos she had taken at the schools she had visited. She chose the best ones and uploaded them on her Impact Guru fundraiser page.
In a span of about three months, she has achieved her target of ₹11 lakh. She had pulled out some funds in the beginning, as renovations are underway at two schools for girls on the fringes of Bhopal. Repairs and building a set of modern toilets for each school is her first priority. The rest will follow, she says, leaning back in her chair.
For the first time, I see her shoulders relax and the possibility of a smile on the young but serious face. A good thing, I think, that the young keep their faith in change.