Degree colleges have mushroomed across India but are all the graduates from rural areas truly employable?
This was a question that troubled Pranjal Dubey when members of his community sought his advice for their children’s futures.
Families sold their land holdings to get their children the opportunity to pursue tertiary education only to see them stick to simple businesses like the running of grocery shops, computer shops or other retail projects.
Working with SAP in Bangalore, Pranjal, an M CA graduate who hails from Sandalpur in Madhya Pradesh, realised there was a gap between the education provided to a young person studying in rural India and a similar experience in an urban centre.
It was not just the quality of education provided but the exposure, the internship opportunities and soft skills training that come so readily to students in urban India.
In 2011, Pranjal and his wife Amita decided to move back home. A bold move for a well-settled couple, they took a bank loan to build Sant Singhaji Institute of Science & Management.
With courses that they feel would have steady demand such as biotechnology and computer applications, their key focus remains a job-oriented education.
Hoping to impact the community in a short time frame, SSISM, inspired by the Arvind Eyecare Model, ensures that students who have the capacity to pay the fees subsidise the education of those from poor families.
At Rs 25,000–30,000 per student per year, nearly 1,000 students have graduated over the years and secured jobs with leading IT firms like Cognizant, SAP, Infosys and Wipro.
You have helped us raise Rs 10,000 loans at extremely cheap rates (<2.5%) for 237 students that qualify for the subsidy.
On Saturday, we have invited Pranjal to our quarterly Rangdezvous, an event where we showcase leaders in the field of rural development whose organisations have transformed areas with their efforts.
Sandalpur is a deeply rural and patriarchal area in Madhya Pradesh. Not just the provision of education, SSISM has the responsibility of tackling traditional mentalities that have refused to change for decades.
A cadre regularly goes to the villages to convince parents to send their girls to university. A fleet of buses is also hired so that children can travel safely from far-off villages to the university.
Engaging with the community at a deep level, SSISM wants to change the mindset that people have towards education for boys and girls in Madhya Pradesh.
SSISM exists amid small hills and is completely cut off during the monsoon. There are many months when they don’t have internet access. They depend on diesel for a lot of their infrastructure needs.
After regular class hours, students are enrolled in courses on English speaking and computer literacy as students from government schools rarely have the opportunity to interact with computers.
With help from SAP who built a computer lab and even a professor at IIM Bangalore, Pranjal has ensured the teachers at the institution focus on preparing students from rural backgrounds for the wider working world.
Even after students are hired via campus placements, the institution collects feedback to find out the weaknesses their students demonstrate in urban environments. They have learnt that while many students have the requisite technical skills, they do not speak up in meetings or in public settings.
The English teachers at SSISM are now teaching the language from the very fundamentals, seeking to correct 15 years of sub-par education and underutilisation of the language over three years.
Students even get to go on trips to visit IT firms so they know what they are aspiring to while the ones that struggle to get jobs are given opportunities to do work from home or at the institution’s own IT services company — Sant Singaji IT solutions.
“The problem today is that there is no curriculum designed for rural youth. They always play the catching up game and are never able to come at par with the mainstream students. My idea was to bridge that gap,” Dubey told the Better India in December 2014.
And Pranjal has bridged that gap.
If there is any avenue that can be pursued to make a difference in the lives of his students, Pranjal has always been keen to explore it.
Do visit us at Thought Works and hear the story of this wonderful social entrepreneur up close and hear more about an institution that has gone the extra distance for the sons and daughters of farmers of Madhya Pradesh.
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