Former economist transforming lives of the poorest of the poor in Dehradun
Dehradun. GK Swamy, founder of the Purkal Youth Development Society (PYDS) Learning Academy a school for the ‘poorest of the poor’ on the outskirts of Dehradun is like having a lesson in what one can achieve if one sets out to work selflessly for others. Swamy, who is now in his early 80s laid the basis for the school albeit unknowingly after he shifted to the Doon valley post his retirement from Mumbai almost 20 years ago.
With time on his hands, the former economist started teaching local children at his home in Purkal village almost 20 km from Dehradun city, while his wife Chinni ensured that the children had enough to eat by cooking meals for them. Soon, more and more children started flocking to the couple necessitating the home classes to shift to a nearby building where the children were given after-school tutoring. The aim, recalls Swamy, was to help the children make the transition to a good English medium school from the village Hindi medium school. “Poor children have to learn only in Hindi, while children of the elite go to English medium schools. This policy has hindered upward mobility and denied poor children access to good education. We wanted to change that.”
Not only did Swamy managed to change that, his after-school bridge centre soon grew into a full-fledged school (pre-school to class XII) which is now affiliated with the CBSE and is offering a quality of education to children from several villages in and around Dehradun that is comparable, if not better than most private schools. Many of the school’s alumni — mostly sons and daughters of maids, labourers, casual workers and gardeners have got scholarships after passing out and are now studying in premier universities in the US and across the world. “I believe that all children have immense potential and poverty should not be an obstacle in bringing it out. That is why, we give them an education which ensures that they and their families never have to get back to the life that they started from.”
Swamy’s accent is not just on quality education, he also emphasises on the need for children to be provided wholesome food. As a result, all the 510 children in the school are provided four daily meals cooked fresh in the school and are picked up from home and dropped back. The school also ensures periodic health check-up of every child and keeps all their medical records till they pass out . Plus, there is an insistence on every student speaking in English which as Swamy points out, is essential if the students are to have an edge in a competitive world, and emerge as self-confident individuals. The cost of educating each child is around Rs one lakh per annum and the annual expenses of over Rs 5 crore are met entirely by donations. “We are lucky to have people supporting our work but it is a constant challenge to generate enough funds to ensure that the quality of education is not compromised.”
The school has also introduced innovations like having teacher mentors individuals who sit in each class and give feedback to teachers, as well as ‘remedial teachers’ whose work is to conduct one-to-one sessions with students in order to ensure that they catch up.
The efforts put by Swamy and his teachers are evident when one interacts with the students. Two students, Mansi Chhetri and Shivam Belwal recently featured among the top .1% scorers for English subject in CBSE schools across India.
In the recent group of students who passed out in March this year, most have already got scholarships for pursuing higher education in fields like fashion designing, physiotherapy, hospitality, mass communication and architecture from renowned colleges. One student, Jyoti Mamgain, daughter of a lady worker in PYDS’s Stree Shakti division (which helps provide self-employment to rural women) recently got selected for a 100% scholarship for a four-year university programme in the US.
Another girl, Aditi Thapli, daughter of a small kiosk owner, is going to Wharton School for a summer training programme while Shalini Sharma, daughter of a gardener, has won the Kennedy Lugar scholarship and will be going to the USA for one year. “This school has given be the confidence that I can be anything I want, if only I work hard enough. My life took a turn since I enrolled here six years ago,” said Muskan Godiyal, a class X student who is also a Brown University scholar, having attended a cultural exchange programme in USA. She is also the daughter of a gardener.
(Source: Times of India)