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Millennium Post

Using education to bring development

Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.

This famous quote by South African rights leader Nelson Mandela seems to have inspired Dantewada district collector Om Prakash Choudhary, who has pitched education as an engine for his development initiatives in Chhattisgarh district, a place that has always been in the news for all the wrong reasons.

The district, a part of the Red Corridor, has seen huge devastation since 2005 due to the clashes between the naxalites and the security forces, leading to large scale displacement of people. In April 2010, naxal rebels killed at least 75 CRPF men in a series of attacks. A month later, they blew up a bus killing 40 people including several special police officers (SPOs) and civilians.

‘The situation has been pretty grim. Out of 246 gram panchayats, 82 are out of reach of the administration. Eighty six schools and ashram buildings were blasted and 183 out of 615 villages are still without electricity. There were at least 18,655 children out of school,’ said Choudhary speaking at a UNICEF consultation.

To pull the situation out of this morass, Choudhary who took charge of the district about 21 months ago, put in place a slew of measures keeping the focus on education. First of all, efforts had to be made for building infrastructure and other facilities to bring back both the students and teachers to schools. ‘About 53 residential schools, popularly known as ‘porta cabins’ or
ashram shalas
, are in operation. Some more are under construction. The administration has launched initiatives like the ‘Nanhe Parinde’, which aims at bringing back deprived tribal children to schools. The enrollment of out of school children has gone up to over 11,000 now including more than 4,000 girls,’ he said.

To make education attractive, various activities like talent festivals and summer camps are conducted for children. These activities involve children to take part in music, dance and drama and also creation of audio visual rooms in pota cabins with Tata Sky and learning CDs. Motivating teachers to get back to school too is a big challenge. ‘We have roped in volunteers from different sectors and different parts of the country to spend at least a month in the porta cabins as fellows. Under this initiative titled ‘Bachpan Banao,’ these fellows try to motivate the teachers and ensure that the students excel in their academic pursuit. The programme being implemented in three schools and has had nine fellows since August,’ the collector explained.

Pointing to the fact, Choudhary said, ‘there is always a sudden dropout after Class VIII. While the number of students at the elementary level (Class I to VIII) is 38,000, it dropped to 5,116 from classes X to XII’.

‘Even if they pass out school, the quality of education in the state is so poor that they are not able to go for higher education or get any employment. Then there is disillusionment. So to help them prepare for competitive examinations, the administration has launched the ‘Choo Lo Aasman’ (touch the sky) initiative. Special coaching is undertaken by Vision Kota with regular classes, he added.

‘If our students do not qualify for IITs and AIIMS, they will at least qualify for polytechnic, nursing, pharmacy, dental sciences, which is a big achievement for us. If five or six students from each village get into these streams, it will have a demonstration effect on other students, as well,’ he emphasised. Choudhary pointed out that the Chhoo Lo Aasman scheme has more girls (549) than boys (224).

Apart from these schemes and programmes, Choudhary’s mega initiative is the ‘Education City’ project which has already been recognised by global audit major KPMG as one of the 100 urban infrastructure projects in the world. Coming up over 150 acres at Gidam on the Jagdalpur-Bijapur NH-30, the education city will have around 15 institutes, including an engineering college, an ITI, a sports school, a tribal girls’ school, a Kasturba Gandhi Vidyalaya, besides a residential school for children orphaned in the naxal violence. The good news is that a few institutes have already started functioning.

Mitali Mohanty Ghosh is a freelance media professional
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