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Atmabodh: Paper on a Social NGO Making a Difference in Education for the Underprivileged

Atmabodh: Paper on a Social NGO Making a Difference in Education for the Underprivileged

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Atmabodh is a student group run NGO based in Pune, which works for the overall development of the underprivileged children.
We use computer literacy as a means of attracting the children who have dropped out or have a high probability of dropping out of schools.
This paper is an academic paper which was accepted at IIM Bangalore at a conference for Educational Leadership.
Atmabodh is a student group run NGO based in Pune, which works for the overall development of the underprivileged children.
We use computer literacy as a means of attracting the children who have dropped out or have a high probability of dropping out of schools.
This paper is an academic paper which was accepted at IIM Bangalore at a conference for Educational Leadership.

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ATMABODH: A Student Initiative for Promoting Education

Sahil Pardeshi1, Ganesh Bhutkar2, Abhijeet Singh1, Pravin Pardeshi3
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Student, Vishwakarma Institute of Technology, Pune, India Assistant Professor, Vishwakarma Institute of Technology, Pune, India 3 Municipal Commissioner, Pune Municipal Corporation, Pune, India sahil.pardeshi@gmail.com

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Abstract: Problem of quality education has plagued India many years now and stunted well-known Indian dream to be a developed nation. This problem mainly observed in children from weaker sections and it makes hard for them to compete with other kids in this age of information technology. This paper discusses the unique computer literacy program started under the umbrella - Atmabodh, a registered national non-governmental organization (NGO), for promoting not only literacy, but also complete education. Atmabodh has over hundred student volunteers working throughout the year for the social cause of education. Atmabodh volunteers reach out to the underprivileged children and raise their skills to par level with other kids of their generation. Atmabodh stands out as a leading organization with difference in the field of child education; which was started and run by engineering students themselves. The paper gives the in-depth account of its formation, its vision, the programs conducted and the future plan.

Keywords: Atmabodh, Vishwakarma Institute of Technology (VIT), Pune, Computer Literacy, Children, Student Volunteers.

I. Introduction and History - Atmabodh: ‘Atmabodh’ means knowing one’s own self. It’s a non-governmental organization (NGO) registered under the Societies Registration Act 1860, dedicated to promoting human rights and overall development all over India. Our patrons include Justice V. R. Krishna Iyer, formerly Judge, Supreme Court of India, Gopal Subramanian, Senior Advocate, Supreme Court of India, and Pravinsingh Pardeshi, Commissioner, Pune Municipal Corporation. Within its limited resources and drawing upon the dedication of its members, Atmabodh has been able to accomplish some good results in advancing the cause of human rights and development. We have helped reconstruct the roofs of cyclone hit schools in Orissa; prepared booklets on prisoners’ rights in local dialects of Bihar; practiced innovation in promoting legal awareness among different groups like prisoners, college girls; trained law students to run awareness and legal aid camps in slums. Atmabodh initiated a legal services clinic at
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Patna in February 2000 by motivating students of three law colleges of Patna and orienting them for the work though an Orientation Workshop. A VIT student named Abhijeet Singh who is one of the authors, initiated Atmabodh’s Pune Chapter on 20th June 2006. It was done with the focus on education for underprivileged children for whom computer literacy would have just remained a dream. Abhijeet Singh along with his friends started this movement in Pune with a meagre seven volunteers. The initial workshop with just twenty children became sign of hope that good; no matter on a small scale can make a difference. The indigenous nature of Atmabodh’s Pune Chapter has allowed its number to grow over three hundred, within two years, through dedication and time. Three permanent centres are now set up to allow the children to have a place to learn throughout the year. The second workshop was a major success with over a thousand children from various schools participating in it. What was started in one college has spread to four other colleges and there are more plans of expansion into place.

II. Mission and Objectives: The mission of Atmabodh’s Pune Chapter is: “To impart computer literacy to the under privileged children in order to make them self dependant in a competitive environment. To this end, the volunteers are committed to inculcate in them, technical and social skills thereby ensuring a secure future.” Atmabodh has following objectives: To undertake multidimensional activities in the field of awareness and protection of human rights,
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2.
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To provide legal services to victims of human rights violations and to the public,

To undertake activities pertaining to preservation of the natural resources, protection of wild life and to spread awareness about pollution and protection of environment as a whole, 4. To undertake activities pertaining rural development and upliftment of rural masses,

5. To visit rural areas and spread awareness amongst masses in the areas of education and health, To undertake activities in the field of preservation and restoration of archaeological sites which are the cultural heritage of India.
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The Pune Chapter has more focus on the education, especially of that of children. We believe that we can have a better tomorrow if we target the youth. As they say “Catch them young.”

III. What is Computer Literacy?

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Computer literacy is the knowledge and ability to use computers and technology efficiently. Computer literacy can also refer to the comfort level someone has with using computer programs and other applications that are associated with computers. Another valuable component of computer literacy is knowing how computers work and operate. The precise definition of "computer literacy" can vary from group to group. Generally, literate (in the realm of books) connotes one who can read any arbitrary book in their native language(s), looking up new words as they are exposed to them. Likewise, an experienced computer professional may consider the ability to self-teach (i.e. to learn arbitrary new programs or tasks as they are encountered) to be central to computer literacy. In common discourse, however, "computer literate" often connotes little more than the ability to use several very specific applications (usually Word, Internet Explorer etc.) for certain very well-defined simple tasks, largely by rote. (This is analogous to a child claiming that they "can read" because they have rote-memorized several small children's books. Real problems can arise when such a "computer literate" person encounters a new program for the first time, and large degrees of "hand-holding" will likely be required.) Being "literate" and "functional" are generally taken to mean the same thing.

III. The Need for Atmabodh: India’s illiterate population equals the population of USA. That includes about twenty-one million children out of school. The literacy in India is about 61%. Appalling, isn’t it? Imagine what India can do with that many educated people. It could virtually solve all the problems plaguing us. But having to conduct schooling for present generation is impossible at a large scale. But what about the next generation? The children growing up can be targeted to make sure that they grow up to be educated citizens. Sounds simple, isn’t it? But despite enormous spending by government - almost 10.7 % of total expenditure, we still are unable to achieve results. The following table 1 clarify the complete picture. School Enrolment Primary Secondary Tertiary Table 1: Enrolment statistics Gross Percentage 116.2 53.51 11.76

The graph 1 shows the distribution of expenditure on education per level.

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Graph 1: Distribution of public expenditure per level (%) in 1999 Newly released data show that the primary school attendance rate has increased by more than a percentage annually since the beginning of the decade. In 2000, 76 percent of all children of primary school age (6-10 years) were in school. By 2006, this value had increased to 83 percent. School attendance rates also grew in urban and rural areas, and across all household wealth quintiles. However, close to 17 percent of all children of primary school age continue to be out of school.

Table 2: Enrolment and dropout ratios India does a good job of getting its children to start school, but it fails miserably to keep them studying as they grow older. Some dramatic changes have taken place in India's education
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system in the past couple of decades, of which only a few are reflected in statistics. Enrolment has increased tremendously. Official enrolment figures reflect this increase, but cannot capture the immense and universal aspiration for education that continues to sweep the country. Unlike the bygone days when it was often necessary to persuade people to send their children to school, today parents largely see it as a bounden duty, while the youngsters themselves are busy working out different options of studies. The table 2 shows enrolment and dropout ratios of Indian students in 2000-01. The traditional methods and schemes used to bring children back to educational mainstream, have failed. Thus, we at Atmabodh thought to use computers as means of attracting children to learning again. Atmabodh is trying to use this angle to get children back on course and at same time equip them with basic computer literacy. Everywhere you look and you see some sort of computer. They’re everywhere from schools, to the grocery store, checkout line, movie theatres and even in the shirt pockets of some businessmen. Thus, computer literacy is a must for the next generation. Computers are the wave of the future; they’re not just a fad that’s going to disappear in a few years; they are here to stay. Having young children grow up with computers is already happening everywhere. Thus a need has been identified to bring the benefits of Information Technology within reach of underprivileged children. The world is in the threshold of a new revolution where time and space will no longer be barriers for communication. While many have access to computer, there are still quite a few, who have no clue whatsoever to the so-called technological revolution. There is a need to bridge the digital divide. These kids in a non-IT space grow up with a distinct knowledge disadvantage, not only compared to the more developed countries, but also to those kids who have access to Information Technology in India. Therefore, we require the organizations like Atmabodh. IV. What We Do: As the statistics clearly show shocking number of children who will be the youth of tomorrow, are out of school. And also the number of children staying in schools after primary education is abyssal. Government initiatives like free mid day meals are also not working. What can be done about it? We feel we have the solution. We feel attracting kids on a level they understand is more effective. Children are naturally curious and creative. By the programs we run, we can bring all the underprivileged, in and out of school, children together to at least some kind of vocational training. We can use this base to encourage their creativity and dreams. Giving children a creative space is important to bring their imagination to life and to develop inspiration, wide ideals and an active imagination that may constantly lift the them to higher and finer level. We feel the methods we use, will not only empower them intellectually but also help them dream big. Atmabodh can achieve this because the computer and the advances it makes for human civilization itself is an intriguing subject that interests people of all ages. Children, no matter what the background is, are not too different. By attracting them to our programs is only the start. From there on, we can engage them for language sessions, career counselling,
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aptitude testing, etc. We have found that they can communicate with us better about their lives, their inadequacies because they see us as their elder brothers and sisters. They feel we can understand their problem better than adults, which helps in reaching out to them. Our objective would be to look at the training as an overall learning experience for the underprivileged children. An exposure, which should be able to introduce them to new and necessary information, enabling them to explore more options for a better quality of life. At Atmabodh, kids will be using graphics and animation programs that will allow them to utilise their creativity and imagination to the fullest. Our program might just focus on computer literacy, but use that base to engage the students for personality development, confidence building sessions etc. Personality development can help one improve and achieve career goals. In this age of competition, a child has to be very intelligent and smart right from his childhood. Self-confidence must be increased in a child right from the beginning. Our objective would be to help them recognize their abilities to build confidence. Atmabodh has over hundred student volunteers working throughout the year for the social cause of education. This literacy program started for underprivileged children includes sex workers’ children, street children, kids at remand home and municipal school children. Atmabodh volunteers reach out to these children and take the responsibility of raising their skills to par level with other kids of their generation. The program for street children is being run under Pune Municipal Corporation. VIT, Pune has been hosting the high scale projects for Atmabodh. V. Organization of Atmabodh at VIT, Pune: The management of Atmabodh continuously changes every year, which is in best interest of the organization. When the students pass out from college and engage in their professional lives they can hardly participate actively for Atmabodh. Hence there are stages of participation designed to ensure everyone gets the chance to do their bit for Atmabodh’s ideals. In First Year of Engineering (FE), the students are the main teaching volunteers. They are the main acting force of Atmabodh. In Second Year (SE), they become the coordinators between Third Year (TE) and FE students. TE students are allotted the main management responsibility. Once they pass out to the Final Year (BE), they supervise, assist and advice. When they pass out they are most welcome to contribute in any way possible. The selection of management heads and coordinators, is done by the students one year senior to them. This is to make sure the right people take control step by step. This structure ensures that there is no dearth of people actively working for Atmabodh. More over, this provides complete transparency to the process. Then only those who actually want to make a difference are absorbed in the organization. Table 3 shows the management section and their heads. VIT, Pune students form the main core of the Pune Chapter of Atmabodh. The volunteers from other colleges in Pune like Maharashtra Institute of Technology (MIT), Pune Institute of Computer Technology (PICT), Indian Law College (ILS) and Cummins College for Women, are the representatives, who give feedback about the programs run by them. Per college, a
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head is selected, who co-ordinates with the main team. Under the respective college heads, the same process is engaged. Each college adopts the schools or kids nearby.
No 1 2 3 4 Position Chairperson Executive Head General Secretary Administrative Heads Person Dr. Mrs. A. M. Moolchandani Abhijeet Singh Akshay Naval Sandhya Krishnan Reshma Wadhve 5 Human Resource Heads Richa Maheswari Pushpak Bhandari Monish Munot 6 Public Relations Heads Sahil Pardeshi Sneha Malpiddi 7 Publicity Heads Ravi Soni Priyanka Samarth Suchi Surekha 8 Treasurers Neelam Chavan Vaibhav Thorath 9 Design Heads Prachi Birla Vinayak Jain 10 Syllabus Design Heads Rashmi Krishnan S. Ashwariya

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Table 3: Management heads at Atmabodh VI. Activities: Atmabodh conducted the following workshops in last two years as shown in table 4. Duration Centre No. of No. of Participating Organization children volunteers 7th Aug – 20th VIT, 20 10 NGO named Eklavya Nyasa Sept, 2006 Pune 1st March – VIT, 31st March, Pune 2008 1000 250 Yashwant Chavan Madhyamik Vidyalaya Sitaram Aabaji Bibve Prathmik Vidyalaya Sikshan Mandal Vidyaniketan Kendra P.M.C.

Eklavya Bal Shikshan Arogya Nyasa

Table 4: Workshop details Atmabodh’s permanent programs are depicted in table 5:
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Starting Date March 2007 NGO:

Centre

No of Children 40

No of Volunteers 15

No of Computers 8

Eklavya Bal Shikshan & Arogya Nyasa August 2007 September 2007 PMC: Remand Home Rotary Club: Nutan Bal Vikas Shikshan Kendra Table 5: Permanent program details 20 5 4 20 10 4

VII. Achievements: The following are the major achievements of Atmabodh at different levels:
1. First Prize in Maharashtra State Quality Circle Convention (CCQC - 2007), Pune

Chapter in Academics Section. 2. “Special Case Study” Award at National Quality Circle Convention (NCQC - 2007), Kolkata.
3. First Prize in 11th International Case Study Quality Circle Convention (ICSQCC -

2008), Turkey.

VIII. Sources of Funds: Following are the major sources of funds for Atmabodh:
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Bansilal Ramnath Agrawal Charitable Trust (BRACT), Pune Municipal Corporation, Donors: RIECO, CFP, MITCON E-School, Individual Adoption Schemes Volunteer Registration Fund Raising through Sale of Atmabodh T Shirts United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (Proposed) World Bank (Proposed)
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2. 3.
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5. 6. 7. 8.

IX. Future Plan: We plan to expand the work of Atmabodh phase by phase. Phase one has two steps. Step one is to expand all the local colleges in Pune within a year. This will be done along the same lines of Atmabodh at VIT, Pune. This will enable us to break down the task of handling the kids all over the city, college zone wise. Every college will take care of the children in its proximity. Step two has Atmabodh’s Pune Chapter’s initiative going to a state level with recruitment of college students from Mumbai and Nashik. These cities were chosen because of the small distance among them. This will allow volunteers at other centres study Atmabodh. Phase two is to tap the massive resource of the IT sector. IT professionals and their companies will be approached to extend their help in any way possible. They can train the kids who they feel are outstanding and get them scholarships. They could provide the infrastructure like transport or their building complexes for Atmabodh. While working with Atmabodh, they get their tax concessions plus could find new talent through Atmabodh. This way both the parties win. Phase three is to get UNICEF’s and World Bank’s attention to the cause we support and the platform it can give to overall child development in India. This would help in projecting national level programs. Final phase (as of now) is designed to unite all the organizations possible working in similar field of child development, i.e. Teach India, Akansha etc.

X. Comparative Case Study: 1. Teach India: Teach India is a nation-building initiative (or social initiative) from the Times of India that brings together children in need of education and people who can contribute a little time towards teaching them. It is based on one simple principle that if you have the desire to teach, they will put you in touch with underprivileged children who are willing to learn. Atmabodh and Teach India are based on same principle of bringing together children and volunteers. Both the organizations target the education aspect of those children. Where Teach India focuses on overall basic education, Atmabodh focuses on computer literacy. Also Atmabodh has only student volunteers unlike Teach India. 2. Akansha: There are thousands of slum children who needed and wanted to be educated. There are thousands of college students who had the energy, enthusiasm and time to teach. There existed pockets of available spaces located in schools that seemed ideal teaching environments. The simple idea then, was to bring together the three - kids, student volunteers and spaces- in schools for less privileged children run by college students. This is the idea Akansha is based upon. Akansha is imparting both formal and non-formal education through its various different centres. Syllabus is also school curriculum based. Atmabodh also has only student volunteers but plays a more definitive role of overall child development through computer literacy.
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XI. Conclusion: Atmabodh has made its mark in child education and is trying to satisfy the need for organizations required for development of children. Atmabodh through its unique student initiative has been able to impart mass computer education among children. Our plans to expand horizons through distinctive approach will create a movement, where every student will take a responsibility for social transformation. It will prove as an inspiration to number of other student organizations and many more may follow its path.

Acknowledgement: We would like to thank all the people who made Atmabodh a success for their valuable inputs. We thank Mr Bharat Agrawal (BRACT), Prof. H. K. Abhyankar and Dr. Mrs. A. M. Moolchandani for their constant support. References:
1. W. Jawadekar, Management Information Systems, Tata McGraw Hill, 2nd Edition,

2005.

2. http://www.measuredhs.com/ - Demographic and Health Survey Statistics. 3. http://hetv.org/india/india-statistics.htm#definitions#definitions - India MICS 2000,

India DHS 2005-06 – Organization for Statistics of educational scenario in India
4. http://www.uis.unesco.org/glossary - School enrolment/attendance - UIS and

UNESCO, including the Education for All 2000 Assessment, Multiple Indicator Cluster Surveys (MICS) and Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS).
5. http://hdr.undp.org/- United Nations Human Development Programme. 6. http://www.geographyzone.com/new/index.php - The Geography Zone. 7. http://www.akanksha.org/ - Organization for education for underprivileged children. 8. http://www.i-indiaonline.com/ - Organization for welfare of street children. 9. http://teach.timesofindia.com/

- Organization for education for underprivileged

children.

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