Open a window to the outside world
By Ashvini Ranjan, Founding Trustee, Pratham Mysore
The term mentor refers to a person who is knowledgeable, trustworthy, experienced, and willing to lead a less experienced person. While parents are the most ideal mentors for their young, a child may be reluctant to discuss freely with parents, either out of shyness or fear. Hence the benefit of an unbiased third person playing the role of mentor.
It’s natural to have a number of doubts and questions during puberty. Timely advice or guidance is of immense value than putting off a doubt for one reason or another. While it is ideal for any young person to have a mentor on hand and to guide them, the benefits for a rural child who face far more challenges are far greater than their urban counterpart. This is even more true in the recent past when schools were closed due to the pandemic and students were learning little or not at all and were left confused. Rural youth are severely disadvantaged with limited access to counseling or guidance either from outside or from parents due to their limited learning.
As ideal and desirable as it may be to have a mentor for every young person, in a large country like India with a large population of children finding a mentor for every child can be a daunting task. But if a start is made with the help of a well thought-out strategy, the number of mentors can be gradually increased. Thanks to the technology, even a simple smartphone can establish a connection between the mentor and the mentee, regardless of geographic locations and distances.
Aside from a reasonably educated and intelligent adult who, with some basic training, could act as a mentor, there are many other ways to develop mentors. For example, student teachers could be trained to become mentors by including mentoring in the curriculum. With such mentoring at the time of training, they will be better teachers when fully qualified.
In Pratham Mysore’s current experiment, almost half of the mentors are student teachers. The other half is a mix of retired teachers, government officials, educated housewives, MSW students, etc. Students from IITs, IIMs, IIITs, schools of planning and architecture, etc. could be a catchment area for mentors. Even large companies with young employees can carry out mentoring as part of their CSR activities. At the time of writing, service organizations such as Rotary, Lions, Round Table, etc. have expressed an interest in including mentoring as part of their service program.
Pratham Mysore ran a pilot program for the rural students in grades six to nine in four villages in T. Narasipur Taluk in Karnataka. The selection of this class of students was made to ensure that the student is old enough to use a mobile device and secondly mature enough to communicate with the mentor. The experiment with seventy-five mentors and mentees was a source of rich learning. The willingness to volunteer as a mentor is very encouraging. Regardless of how willing people may be to participate, some ground rules and training are required for the mentors to interact, especially with rural students.
The current pilot program for the rural students stipulates that there will be no physical contact between the mentor and the mentee. All interactions take place on mobile phones only. In addition, no financial transactions may take place. The scope of interaction will be limited to non-formal subjects only and not to subjects prescribed in the school curriculum. This is to ensure that the children do not confuse the lessons at school with those of the mentor.
India is a world leading software developer and can help scale with suitable technology platforms. For its part, the state should consider investing in making specially designed digital devices available for the mentoring program and improving internet connectivity in rural India. This should be given the highest priority.
It has been said and proven time and time again that a large part of the country’s knowledge capital lies in rural youth. They have so much talent and skill that they are on par with the students of any elite private school. It’s waiting to be unlocked and channeled. Student Mentoring by Pratham Mysore is one such program that aims to unlock the potential of rural youth. Pratham Mysore will be happy to share his insights with the government or others in order to realize his vision of promoting education among the citizens of India.