BHARAT CALLING – EDUCATION FOR ALL

Written by Jacinta Plucinski, Be Movement issue 4 – INDIA, published August 2014 “For maintaining the status quo, higher education is one of the biggest tools,” says Sandeep Mehto of Bharat Calling. Certain information does not get passed to students resulting in a kind of “corrupted [educational] guidance”. Sandeep’s particpation in the DBS-TISS Social Entrepreneurship programme at Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) gave him the chance to explore why and, more importantly, gave him the chance to change it. “Corruption is something which shakes me a lot …”, Sandeep says, “… [and yet] this can be fought very easily by making people informed and powerful.” The why, Sandeep learnt, rests on a few factors. Students from poor backgrounds aren’t guided towards engineering or medical careers, whilst teachers are often unaware of study possibilities beyond these disciplines which consequently exclude students whose tendency may be towards art, science or even sport. Additionally, university applications are moving online and entrance exams are increasingly only conducted in English. “82% of students still study in government schools, so language becomes of course a big barrier,” Sandeep explains. “It’s not because of intelligence anyone is getting into higher education. It’s because of the opportunity which one gets.” Be Movement Bharat Calling In January 2009, as part of his course, Sandeep conducted a pilot. He ran a motivational and informational session on educational opportunities beyond 12th standard for students at a school in the Kesla Tribal block in Madhya Pradesh. Sandeep recalls, “The school said ‘What the hell are you talking about? This is a tribal school and none of the students have ever made [it] to any good college.’” Five people said they’d apply but “Then we got news that there were 15 more students who wanted to apply,” Sandeep continues, “And then finally we had a batch of 50 students in April.” Of the 50 students, one student came just to see the laptop and 80% of students saw a train for the first time. “So we had this thought that, even if they just appeared for the examination, that would be enough,” says Sandeep, “But one got selected into TISS, some got selected into BHU, some got selected into central universities and some got selected into engineering. So out of 50, 35 were in a good college.” Through motivation and information, Bharat Calling has tapped into a latent educational well of hunger and potential in Kelsa’s tribal block. Over the past four years the organisation has expanded the sessions from five schools to 113, operating in two states and three districts. In 2014 it’s targeting 150 schools, expanding to ten chapters and hoping to target 12,000 students directly. The enterprise also runs summer camps to prepare students for entrance exams, provides assistance with filling in forms, admission guidance and coaching, linkages to universities, as well as individual and parental counselling. “A girl’s father, we motivated him a lot,” Sandeep recounts. “We said, ‘Your girl can do some good things.’” They encouraged his daughter to apply for the Eden Institute of Education. “She applied and failed, [but] then she got 70% in arts. She applied for that. She went into business of education. Her father called up and he cried for around ten minutes. He said, ‘For the first time I’ve seen such a big college … My girl is the only one who will study in this college.’” ___ The story of Bharat Calling is the story of Sandeep. Growing up in a farming family in a small village near Darsi in Andhra Pradesh, he was of the first generation to receive higher education. “Life was full of struggle, struggle, struggle,” Sandeep says. “Even being from the OBC [Other Backward Classes] dominant community, many times I’ve [felt] difficulty … why we have been rejected … because it is not our fault. It is the system’s fault.” His father’s elder brothers were doctors and engineers and there was the assumption that his father “being in the village [would] remain in the village” and so would his family. “One of the expectations which was from our side, it was like you just complete your 12th standard or do your graduation.” Yet Sandeep’s family were entrepreneurial in their own way, believing education was about self-discovery. “Both my father and mother they have studied ‘til … 12th [standard], but they have more wisdom than us.” His parents sent

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him to a good school in Gopal Residential and, despite hitting financial troubles in his final years, continued to help others when they could. “I kept on fighting with them, ‘Why are you doing this because we are struggling so much financially and why you keep on helping people?’ He [my father] just used to smile.” Sandeep channelled his frustration into his education, applying for scholarships, working part-time, studying for engineering, getting into a good college and topping university. In his final year, his father passed away. “When in [the] morning we took his body and we went outside, there were so many people standing outside just to pay tribute to him.” His father’s wealth was reflected in people, not in coins. “I realised [then] why he used to smile at me. I realised … the thing that he left.” For Sandeep, education became “that medium which makes you so competent, you can go back and you really can contribute in [a] very big way.” ___ Ultimately, Sandeep’s journey is one he’s been able to make because he was honest with himself. “It is just like magic that, when I just look back, there was Sandeep who was struggling to get into TISS,” Sandeep recalls. “Whatever you are doing …”, he continues, “… be honest with yourself.” When you are, magic can happen. •

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