January 11, 2011 3:45:13 am
In an under-construction school building in Chamanpura village of Bihars Gopalganj district,children are learning algebra,chemistry,Newtons laws of motion. Theres no teacher in the classroom,no blackboard. The teacher is hundreds of miles away,and he is teaching via Skype. In this very unsual school,teachers mark their attendance using a biometric fingerprinter,and students log their attendance in a computer.
The school is even more unusual because Chamanpura has no electricity yet. The computers are powered by two large generators. In an undeveloped corner of a state that has long been synonymous with underdevelopment,is unfolding a story of remarkable enterprise and innovation in several ways,a microcosm of the turnaround of Bihar itself.
The hero of the story is 36-year-old Chandrakant Singh,who founded Chaitanya Gurukul Public School to provide world-class,technology-enabled education to the children of Chamanpura,the village in which he was born,and where he completed primary school by the light of a kerosene lamp.
A merit scholarship took Singh to DAV College in Siwan,and then to a B.Tech from BIT,Sindri,and an M.Tech at IIT,Bombay. Then came a one-year stint at Tata Steel,followed by three years at Bosch in Germany and finally,his current job as an R&D researcher for General Motors in Bangalore.
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For a man of a distinctly academic bent of mind he got his first patent while in Germany it took,oddly,an incident of lumpen politics to fire Singhs dream. Three years ago,when Raj Thackerays MNS was attacking Bihari migrants in Mumbai,Singh decided he needed to do something.
I was greatly disturbed,and wanted to arrest the migration of students from Bihar,in my small way, he said. The first instinct was to get in touch with the principal of the primary government school in Chamanpura with an offer to fund six students who would pass a scholarship test. But the principal never conducted the test.
Singh then sought the advice of Surya Narayan,dean of IIT,Bombay,who suggested that he make a business plan for a revenue-generating,self-sustaining model instead of taking the charity route. Singh then wrote a 100-page plan a blueprint for a Rs 30-crore campus that would be completed over 10 years,including a school,an engineering college and an R&D centre. He e-mailed the plan to 3,000 friends,eight of whom agreed to fund it. With these eight and himself,Singh formed the Chaitnaya Gurukul Trust.
After the state government approved the proposal,the trustees met the villagers of Chamanpura and told them of the first step of the project the Class I-VII Chaitanya Public School. Within three months,they had 13 acres of land from 100 villagers who sold plots from 3 decimals to an acre in size,at a price that was 30 per cent above market rates.
The construction of the school began in May 2009,and the generators 15 KVA and 25 KVA came first. A year and a half later,the school has 45 rooms on two Wi-Fi-enabled floors 10 of which are classrooms,each with an LCD monitor or a projector,the rest being offices,a library,a 17-machine computer lab with 24-hour broadband Internet,and residential quarters for students and teachers.
There are four volleyball courts,four badminton courts and a cricket pitch. A swimming pool is under construction.
Teachers came from across Bihar,through a competitive exam. Sixteen of them received two months of training from teachers at Mount Carmel School and IIT professors at Bangalore. They were taught how to use Powerpoint and Flash technology,and given lessons in team-building and motivation.
Singh is himself on the faculty,teaching residential students Math on weekends via Skype from Bangalore. At a class attended by The Indian Express,he taught Class VI students concepts of perimeter and area,with his voice running behind diagrams and graphs on screen.
Knowledge gained through pictures and interaction stays longer, said Singh. Several other offsite trustees teach via Skype: Pankaj Kumar,a BIT,Sindri almunus,teaches Physics from his home in Singrauli,MP,where he works with NTPC,and Sanjay Rai,from BITS,Pilani,teaches Chemistry from Korwa,UP,where he works with HAL.
The schools first session opened in April 2010 with 500 students,10 per cent of the number of applicants. The students came from all backgrounds there is Om Prakash,son of a rickshawpuller from neighbouring Hakam village,seven-year-old Rima,whose father is an engineer in Chennai,and Harshita Kumar,the 10-year-old daughter of a doctor in Ballia,UP.
But most students are from 50 villages in Chhapra,Siwan and Gopalganj districts,many of them as far as 15 km away from the school. The basic tuition fee is Rs 300 for Class I and increases by Rs 100 for every class upward. Hostel residents are charged Rs 4,000 a month but concessions are made depending on the income of the childs family,which the trustees ascertain themselves by travelling to their villages and meeting their families.
(With inputs from Santosh Singh)
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