The Optimist Citizen

How one man’s resilience is helping to break the shackles of the failing education system

India is a paradox. One of the fastest growing economies in the world, the high GDP growth rate often glosses over the stark injustice, inequality and discrimination that prevails and leeches into every nook and crevice of this bubbling cauldron of a country. The colossal economic disparity existing in India also sheds some light on class, caste and gender as major factors contributing towards it. On reflection, both economic and social inequalities are concurrent and a bi-product of the failing education system in India. Supposed to be a fundamental right, education in India is delivered on the lines of caste and class and remains fundamentally flawed. Yet, there are people who rise above such indifferences and break the shackles of our floundering education system to emerge out as leaders and help create a positive impact. One such person is Gaurav, a young BSW student who did his SMILE in-turn-ship from Agrini, MP and is currently working on the periphery of Delhi to improve the conditions of its local government schools.

Gaurav has been a teacher since his graduation days

Residing in a resettlement colony on Delhi-Haryana border, Gaurav completed his primary education from a school run by an NGO called ‘Sharan’. He later transferred to a government school in the city to complete his middle and secondary education. Despite having financial troubles, Gaurav’s zeal for education did not die but did take a hit when he was admitted into an English-medium school to complete his 11th and 12th from Science background. While he was adamant he wanted to study science, the English language proved too big a roadblock to overcome as his primary and secondary education was in Hindi medium. It may be noted here that huge numbers of rural students fail their Board exams because they are not able to pass in English language, that is often a compulsory subject at this level. This eventually leads to students dropping out of school.

Due to personal problems, Gaurav had to migrate back to his village Farukhabad in Uttar Pradesh, where he completed his senior secondary education in Hindi medium. But this experience ignited a small fire within him and paved the way for his future endeavours. Rather than following the norm, Gaurav decided to pursue Bachelors in Social Work (BSW) to ensure that others don’t go through the same ruckus he persevered to pursue his dreams.

His admission into Indira Gandhi National Open University to pursue BSW was a turning point in his life. Gaurav himself describes the experience as an eye-opener. Within weeks of getting admitted, Gaurav took the job of a remedial teacher with an NGO which became his first foray into the world of social work. The experience was enriching and enchanting at the same time. He later also formed a theatre group called ‘Naughty Sitaare’ which allowed youth from his resettlement colony to take part in various street plays. As a kid, Gaurav was always excited for theatre but his social and financial circumstances never allowed him to spread his wings. Years later, he was fulfilling not only his but dreams of many under-privileged children.

While all this was going on, one of Gaurav’s closest friend recommended him to apply for SMILE in-turn-ship, a programme by Pravah where participants are given a 3 – 6 week voluntary placement with an organisation/movement in any part of the country intended for youth to experience inside-out development and leadership through real life social actions.
Without hesitation, Gaurav applied and joined their intensive summer programme in Pravah’s partner organisation Agrini in Madhya Pradesh. The four weeks he spent in Agrini exposed him to the grass root problems education faces in rural India. It helped break a lot of myths that persisted within him and provided a more objective way of thinking. One of the tasks he received was to improve the English of various rural kids, which sequentially improved his own English. Inspired by the in-turn-ship experience, Gaurav went back to form his own English improving group called ‘English Warrior’.

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The in-turn-ship left a huge mark on Gaurav and compelled him to join Pravah’s very own SMILE fellowship programme for a period of 6 months. The fellowship programme aims at providing leadership and learning opportunities through designing, implementing and leading social change projects while acquiring various skills like fundraising, networking etc. Their aim is not to create organisations, but to develop sustainable solutions to social issues. The issue close to Gaurav’s heart was, obviously, education. Tasked by the fellowship, he formed a committee called ‘Sabwa’ to work with his local School Management Committee (SMC). While appreciating the effective work of Delhi government regarding SMCs, he felt a lot of local residents were unaware of even their existence. Hence, most of his work revolves around linking the SMC with the government officials and local residents by organising workshops to create awareness.

Through one of his workshops, Gaurav brought to the notice of his SMC that eight girls in a local school were unable to pursue commerce stream as schools required a minimum strength of ten to offer a subject. His quick initiative ensured that the girls could pursue what they wanted. Accrediting this as one of his major successes, Gaurav hopes that the ‘Sabwa’ committee runs fruitfully beyond the 6 month fellowship programme. With his BSW complete and fellowship ongoing, Gaurav plans to join the Master in Development course of Azim Premji University (APU) in the future.

Life has come full circle for Gaurav. From a small NGO school, to potentially a post graduation from APU while working to improve the same rotten system. Gaurav has succeeded not because, but despite the system. He is a shining example of overcoming all the difficult circumstances that life has thrown at him. The education system may have failed him, but he is not going to let the system fail.

To apply to the Pravah SMILE Fellowship please write into


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