Opening a window to the world outside
By Ashvini Ranjan, Founder-Trustee, Pratham Mysore
The term mentor refers to a person who is a knowledgeable, trusted, experienced and willing to guide a less experienced person. While parents are the most ideal persons to mentor their young, a child may hesitate to discuss freely with the parent either out of shyness or out of fear. Hence the advantage of an unbiased third person to play the role of a mentor.
It is natural to have a number of doubts and questions during adolescence. A timely advice or guidance will be of immense value than putting off a doubt for one reason or the other. While it is ideal for every young individual to have a mentor to handhold and guide, the benefits are manifold more to a rural child who faces far more challenges than an urban counterpart. More so in the recent past when schools closed on account of the pandemic and leaving the students with little or no learning and confused. With limited access to advice or guidance either from an outside source or from the parent on account of their limited learning, rural youths are at a great disadvantage.
However ideal and desirable it may be to have a mentor to every young person, finding one to every child in a large country like India with a large child population can be a daunting task. But if a beginning is made with the help of a well-thought strategy, the number of mentors can be built up gradually. Thanks to technology, even a basic smart phone can provide connect between the mentor and the mentee, irrespective of geographical locations and distances.
Besides a reasonably educated and intelligent adult who with some basic training could function as a mentor, there are many other options to develop mentors. For instance, students studying to become teachers could be trained to be mentors by making mentoring a part of the curriculum. With such exposure to mentoring at the time of training, they will make better teachers when they become fully qualified.
The current experiment by Pratham Mysore has nearly half of the mentors being teacher trainees. The other half is mix of retired teachers, Government officials, educated home-makers, MSW students etc. Students of IITs, IIMs, IIITs, schools of planning and architecture etc., could be a catchment area for mentors. Large corporates too with young workforce can undertake mentoring as a part of their CSR activity. At the time of writing this article, Service Organisations like the Rotary, Lions, Round Table etc., have expressed their interest to adopt mentoring as a part of their service programme.
Pratham Mysore has been conducting a pilot programme in four villages in T. Narasipur Taluk in Karnataka for the rural students of class six to nine. The choice of this grade of students was made to ensure that the student is old enough to handle a mobile devise and secondly mature enough to communicate with the mentor. The experiment with seventy-five mentors and mentees has been a source of rich learning. The readiness to volunteer to be a mentor is most encouraging. However willing people may be to participate, some ground rules and training are required for the mentors to interact, more so with rural students.
The pilot programme currently underway for the rural students, mandates that there will be no physical contact between the mentor and the mentee. All interaction will be on mobile phones only. Further, there is to be no financial transactions. The scope of interaction will be confined to non-formal subjects only and not subjects prescribed in the school curriculum. This is to ensure that the children are not confused in the way lessons are taught in the school and that of the mentor.
India being a leading software developer to the world, it can help to scale with appropriate tech platforms. The State on its part should consider investing to make available specially developed digital devices for mentoring programme and improving internet connectivity in rural India. This should be given the highest priority.
Time and again it has been said and proven that a big portion of the knowledge capital of the country is in rural youth. They have as much talent and skills that is comparable with the students of any elite private schools. It is waiting to be unlocked and channelised. Student Mentoring by Pratham Mysore is one such programme aimed to harness the potential of the rural youths. Pratham Mysore will be happy to share its learnings with the Government or any other to make its vision of fostering education amongst the citizens of India a reality.