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Poverty Should Not Be A Barrier For Education: Venkatesh’s Vision

The most dedicated architects of change are the ones who lived through a time desperate for change-makers.

All your life, you have been told that your life would be a paradise if you put your head down, attended school, mugged up, and got good grades. However, seems like employers worldwide did not get this memo as they continue to burst more than 75% of the young population’s bubbles by calling them unskilled or incompetent even though they are Educated till the graduate level. This was precisely what Venkatesh N felt when he moved to Bangalore for a job after completing his graduate studies in rural Tamil Nadu. It took him years to adjust to this atmosphere where his counterparts who received quality education in private schools strolled through their lives while he struggled to grasp what was going on. This is when he realises that this is not an isolated case but instead a prominent problem nationwide. This is where we start penning the story of our architect of change. Venkatesh, or Venky as he prefers to be called, started volunteering in organisations like the Bosco or NavaJeevan based out of Karnataka in the late 1990s to help make a difference. During his initial time in the social sector, he identified a pressing problem India faces. While there is a significant rise in the enrollment rates of students all over the country, there seems to exist a gap in the enrollment rates for higher education, that is, for 11th and 12th grade compared to the enrollment rates till class 10. Venky pointed out that the reason for this hides behind two facets:

Until 10th grade, Govt. provides free meals, books and other amenities for the students. This brings students from Rural areas to the schools. However, when it comes to 11th and 12th, the cost suddenly increases, and due to the cultural differences they face when they go to city schools, the students hailing from rural villages drop out. This is where I wanted to intervene, he said.

Having found others who share the same passion, Venky started Friends of Children, and it catered to the need Venky spoke about earlier. While this was still alongside his regular corporate job, this organisation led him to network with many architects of change in the country. This is how he was introduced to a wonderful organisation called Vidya Poshak, which catered to the needs of the children in the northern Karnataka region. Being overflowing with passion, Venky left Bangalore and his corporate job to join Vidya Poshak as a full-time member in 2008. He has been working in Vidya Poshak wearing multiple hats, ranging from a project manager to a CEO, for the past 15 years.

In 2018, Venky realized that it was time to expand his vision and stepped into the role of an Executive Director to focus more on implementing new programs to reach more children. This was when Venkatesh crossed roads with TFIx, and he became part of the 2020 Cohort. Vidya Poshak has been running the Yuva Fellowship successfully for the past three years and has reached 900+ children with over ten fellows. When asked about what changed before and after being part of TFIx, Venky said,

Till now, we saw problems of children and connected with it emotionally. Then, we went on to implement solutions for the said problems. However, TFIx brought a certain structure to our ideas, and now I can explain why we do what we do because everything was done systematically.

Vidya Poshak Team

In Karnataka, there exist two big tyrants that are children's biggest enemies; they go by the names Mathematics and Science. According to Venky’s research, due to the complexity of these two subjects complemented by the humdrum teaching style, there seems to be a drop (3 Lakh Students) in the enrollment rates in higher education in the northern part of Karnataka. Hence, Venky has ensured that the fellows would focus on creatively imparting content so that students let go of this fear, conquer Math and Science, and emerge victorious.

Through the fellowship, Venkatesh hopes to address the problem of staff shortage in government schools. The ratio of teachers to students in primary and secondary schools is 1:300 and 6:100, respectively. Such a disheartening situation leads to more than half of the students being neglected, which can destroy the foundation of what reputed Acts like RTE have built till now. Yuva fellowship focuses on being an immersive experience as the Fellow resides with the community. Venky intends for it to be a holistic development as the stakeholders are not confined to the fellow and student. There are multiple stakeholders, including the government authorities, govt teachers and parents. There have been numerous instances where the Fellows have had to educate the parents so they don't send their children to work or marry them off to a different village. Yuva Fellowship is set on solving these fundamental problems in Karnataka and is looking to expand to other parts of the country in the coming years.

I believe that when we educate a child for a few years, we can indefinitely bring a family out of poverty. - Venkatesh N, An Architect of Change, 2023.

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