This academic year started on a very high note for me, thanks to the Vidyadhan students. Once again, across the states, they gave a sterling performance in their 12th-grade examinations. The first batch of Karnataka Vidyadhan graduated this year and all but 6 have already been placed or have gone for higher studies. At Vidyadhan, we are very proud of the fact that there are hardly any dropouts from the program. It is not surprising given the fact that the “will to win” attitude is something that we look for while selecting a student.
Contrast this with the situation at large in our country: India’s Gross Enrollment Ratio ( GER ) for higher Education is only 25.2%. Due to the huge dropout rates, a significant part of our youngsters is losing the opportunity to transform their lives through education.
Over the course of my time with the foundation, I have seen that paying a scholarship to cover the fees is not sufficient to prevent dropping out of meritorious students. Economic disadvantage manifests itself in various facets like health issues, change in family situation and performance anxiety each of which may serve as a trigger.
For instance, Vishwa, our coordinator for Karnataka, got a call from the mother of *Asma, a brilliant 12th Grade student from rural Karnataka, with a severe hearing disability. Since her hearing aid was not working properly and she could not afford a new one, she stopped going to school. She was also being pressured into marriage. We arranged for her to come to Bangalore and managed to secure a new improved hearing aid for her. She went back to school and scored over 90% in the Board exam. Today she is in college.
Personal challenges at home, mostly to do with the breadwinner, also contribute to dropouts. *Pooja, who hails from a village in Madurai for instance, was not reachable, despite several follow-ups with her father. Thanks to his persistence, Jacob, our coordinator for Tamil Nadu realised that the father has deserted the family and had not communicated any of our messages to her. Jacob requested senior Vidyadhan students from the nearby area to visit Pooja’s house and counsel her, after which she enrolled in college.
Bhavani* from AP was shattered when she failed to secure a seat for MBBS after taking a year off to prepare for the NEET exam with a considerable financial burden to the family. She refused to continue her education. Her desperate father who was a farmer reached out to Vidyadhan coordinator. Umasankar traveled over 100 km, to counsel her and encouraged her to apply for a paramedical course. Today she is happy with the choice.
These are some of the many reasons, seemingly small yet profound, which put brilliant students in impossible situations, resulting in dropouts.
Another major reason for students dropping out/under-performing at the college level is in adjusting to the new environment at college. This includes the transition to English medium of instruction, cultural differences etc. However, they often make up for their early performance and do exceedingly well once they have adjusted to the new life. One of our sponsors had specifically requested to sponsor under-performing students, as he wanted to give them a fair chance. A large majority of these students managed to significantly improve their performance over the year.
Sruthi*, another of our students told me about her passion to be an RJ. She was unsure how to go about it, while also helping her mother who was a domestic help. After spending some time together, we felt the best way forward was for her to intern at a radio station outside college hours.
The above stories had happy endings because we could learn about the issue and hence could intervene. This is easier said than done and requires strong commitment, sustained interaction and a genuine passion to make a difference – qualities which the Vidyadhan state coordinators exemplify. However, many a time those who need the help most are also the last ones to ask for it. For this high touch model to succeed, we need more hands to mentor the students.
Learning from the success of sponsor mentor ship model, we hope that going forward, all sponsors will play a more active role in mentoring their students. This would not require a massive amount of effort; even something as small as follow up phone calls every few months would go a long way in giving the students confidence that there are people who want to see them succeed, and are willing to help them along the way. I have no doubt in my mind that a strong network of sponsors, mentors, and volunteers along with the Vidyadhan team can make a huge impact in ensuring that nobody is left behind!
*not the real name