Changing the existing education system in India is no mean feat. Souvik Saha and Gautam Gauri are two young visionaries who decided to work in the field of education in their home states – Jharkhand and Bihar. They are creating spaces where young people can learn in an inclusive, joyful and democratic manner.
A safe non-judgmental learning space in schools
Souvik Saha, Founder Trustee, People for Change, Jharkhand
When Souvik was a schoolboy, his teachers did not encourage him to ask questions. If he got curious and asked something, he was often met with remarks like “what a stupid question!” or “don’t ask such silly things!”. He felt that he could never freely express himself in the classroom.
In college, Souvik studied commerce and obtained a CFA degree. Coming from a middle class family, he faced the pressure of getting a “safe” job. Soon he began to work in a bank where he found himself applying procedures from the rule book day after day. “I was not learning anything new and my work did not have much of an impact,” he says.
Despite a promotion and a bigger salary, one fine day Souvik took a complete leap of faith. He walked into his office and quit his job.
All he wanted now was to go back to where it all began – to school. He says, “I wanted to create a safe, non-judgemental space that would promote freedom of expression and self-enquiry. A space where students could have fun, trust each other and feel loved…where they could have deeper self-awareness, the feeling of connection and the power to create change.”
With this idea in mind, Souvik applied to the Changelooms fellowship and got selected. “The lessons I learnt from the programme and the connections I made with other fellows gave me a sense of relief. I was not alone in this. I began to look at social entrepreneurship as a legitimate career,” he says.
In 2010, Souvik conceived the idea of People for Change, a social enterprise based on the belief that the schooling system should have formal & structured spaces for adolescents to understand themselves and the world around them.
As a solopreneur, Souvik started approaching private schools with programmes to train students in life skills which would help them connect the dots between self and society. Over the years, People for Change has expanded its work to include government & trust fund schools, colleges in the city and youth groups in rural communities in Jharkhand.
It also works in the field of CSR by helping corporates train youth volunteers. For instance, it collaborates with the Tata Trust in Jamshedpur, Gopalpur, Noamundi and Potka to work with their beneficiaries.
People for Change offers a mix of paid and free workshops, sessions and long-term structured programmes to schools and colleges by incorporating non-curriculum elements like active citizenship, critical & creative thinking and decision making skills. It also designs interesting experiences for adolescents by organising exposure trips, workshops and social action tasks.
Till date, the social enterprise has engaged over 20,000 youth and adolescents by working with 35 schools, 6 colleges and 3 youth resource centres in urban and rural Jharkhand. Currently Souvik leads an 8-member team and works out of an office close to the XLRI campus in Jamshedpur.
With the desire to inculcate entrepreneurial spirit in the young, People for Change started its unique and fascinating Entrepreneurship Development Programme in private schools. It has resulted in three successful local businesses – a neem skin care product line, a compost manufacturing unit and a mushroom farm, all of which are run by high school students!
Victories and challenges go hand in hand and Souvik knows that well. Like any other social enterprise, his organisation, too, struggles with convincing schools and parents about the value of their work, recruiting team members and fundraising. Yet no challenge can stop Souvik from dreaming about a truly free education system.
“I’d like to see a system where young people can take decisions that are good for them and for the community. My larger vision is to see young people as empowered agents of change who will shift the narrative towards youth development through creating social businesses and having greater participation in all aspects of society,” he says.
An informal alternative learning space outside schools
Gautam Gauri, Co-founder, Diksha Foundation, Bihar
While pursuing an M.Phil in Education at the University of Cambridge, Gautam had a transformative learning experience that gave him a strong theoretical foundation in the field of education. He researched the aims and values of education as the subject of his dissertation.
“I had been working in the education space for a while when I went to study but I was not clear on why we were doing certain things. This experience answered those ‘why’ questions for me. That is why I want individuals who are being educated to be able to answer the ‘why’ questions for themselves, ” says Gautam.
In the past, Gautam studied engineering and management and worked as a business analyst at Cognizant. “My work did have an outcome but it was on the other end of the globe. I could not see the its direct impact and that drove me to start something of my own,” he says.
Gautam and his friends from school came up with an idea together – they wanted to start a school in rural Bihar. He believes that true education goes beyond being literate and securing a job. “Education involves the holistic growth of a child which helps her/him to make a connection between the self and the larger world,” he explains.
Gautam shared his idea with Professor Anil Gupta from IIM Ahmedabad, who later invited him to work at SRB Alok School in in Bulandshahr, Uttar Pradesh. At the school, Gautam helped set up a library and computer lab.
Gautam was keen to dive deeper into this field. In 2010, he was selected as a Changelooms fellow. Through the fellowship, he met Ravi Gulati who runs Manzil, a learning centre in Delhi for students from low income families. The meeting inspired Gautam to start a learning centre on similar lines in his hometown Patna.
Over the last 8 years, Gautam’s small project has blossomed into Diksha Foundation, a full fledged non-profit located in Patna that is now run by a 15-member team. Currently, Diksha runs three KHEL (Knowledge Hub for Education and Learning) centres in Patna, Nalanda and Delhi. The centres employ creative methods such as theatre, music, group discussions and movie screenings to facilitate learning.
“I wanted to create a space for children that would embody joy, freedom and democracy. A non-hierarchical structure where the roles of teacher and learner would be reversible,” says Gautam.
“We started learning centres because we wanted to create model spaces for learning on our own before taking our innovative methods of education to schools. Our newer projects have two stages. In the first stage, we pilot programmes in our KHEL centres and in the second stage, we take them to schools and other NGOs.”
In the last five years, 921 children have benefitted from the free supplementary education and computer training programmes provided at KHEL centres.
Gautam’s main source of motivation is the time he spends with the children at Diksha. He says, “They have taught me to be happy and positive no matter the circumstances may be.”
Both Souvik and Gautam have set impressive examples of what young people can do when they take ownership of their own education. The need of the hour is an education system where knowledge is no longer a monopoly of adults.
We need more spaces in India where learning can be led by the learner. This will enable young people to become self-aware, nurture their leadership capacities and it will eventually help them figure out how they want to contribute to the world.
ComMutiny – The Youth Collective is a coalition of 35 (& rising) youth led and youth engaging organizations across India working towards promoting empowering spaces for youth leadership. CYC aims to be one of the key youth workers’ associations in India. People for Change and Deeksha are members of this collective.