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  • Writer's pictureAmal Dev M

School of Dreams

Updated: Oct 15, 2022

Parindey: Pranith Simha Moolam Reddy

Alivelihood: Education

Region: Dantewada District, Chattisgarh

Pranith Simha (Photo: Amal Dev)

“There are numerous lesser known regions across India for the youth to explore. A platform if established for the same would benefit the youths and the regions alike. That is how we, in 2012, started a volunteer organisation. We named it Bachpan Banao.“

- Pranith

Pranith Simha Moolam Reddy is the founder of the NGO ‘Bachpan Banao’. The NGO is located in the Dantewada district of Chhattisgarh. The primary objective of Bachpan Banao is to improve the education system in rural-tribal regions. Pranith hails from the Kurnool district in Andhra Pradesh. The life journey of Pranith, liberating the children of sidelined families from Dantewada through education, is quite a beautiful one.

At first, Pranith arrived in Dantewada to volunteer with a doctor couple serving the rural communities there. His primary assignment was to assist them in conducting medical camps. Fond of spending time with children, Pranith used to conduct science workshops for school students. The reflections of these life experiences inspired him to start Bachpan Banao. For, all of his Dantewada experiences were new and unique.

Pranith with students of Sapnon ki shala (File photo)

Bachpan Banao took its shape as an organisation through a group of young volunteers. Pranith started Bachpan Banao with the aim of bringing together youth from different parts of India and sharing their knowledge with the children of Dantewada and at the same time creating an opportunity for the youth to develop a deeper understanding of the region.

Pranith openly admits that he only had a quaint understanding of the education system during the initial stages of Bachpan Banao. It was only a year later, the above-mentioned volunteering activities became a one-year-long fellowship programme. Even though the fellowship became a success, one year being too short a time, the goal of building a team was not achieved. After that, with further efforts, it became Bachpan Banao, the organisation we see today. Bachpan Banao now works towards the empowerment of the public education system. There are two model schools- 'Samata' and 'Sapnon Ki Shala' operating under the NGO. Samata school is located in Kurnool district in Andhra Pradesh and Sapnon Ki Shala is in Dantewada district of Chattisgarh. With the two schools, Pranith aims to set examples for how government schools can operate utilising limited resources. Bachpan Banao also trains the teachers for transforming government schools.

Students and teachers at Bachpan Banao discuss topics that won the science Nobel prize. (Photo: Amal Dev)

Pranith's engagement in social action roots back in his parents. He grew up with around 30 other children in the orphanage run by his parents. After completing his schooling, Pranith joined IISER (Indian Institute of Science Education and Research), Pune, to pursue his five years integrated engineering degree.

Even in Pune, what attracted Pranith was social work. There were numerous slums around the college. Pranith, along with a friend, started a tuition centre to provide better learning opportunities for the children there. The duo ran the tuition centre in the first year, and their classmates joined them in the second year. Gradually they became a volunteer group of around 40 students working in four slums. The initiative later came to be known by the name 'Disha'. Pranith used to spend more time at these study centres than in his own classrooms. He received numerous accolades and appreciation from his college and outside.

From his life experiences, Pranith understood that people would easily recognise and appreciate even if one engages in small social activities in urban settings. Activities of 'Disha' offered him similar experiences. These appreciations and felicitations made him think- "Why am I doing this? Are people really getting benefitted from my work? Or am I doing it because of the happiness I derive from the appreciation for doing this work? I started asking these kinds of questions to myself. That's where my journey began," says Pranith.

Dropping out of college in the fifth year instead of choosing a research topic, and travelling to Dantewada was the answer to these questions. It was from this journey, the NGO Bachpan Banao and the school Sapnon Ki Shala took shape.

"After having worked with government schools, we strongly felt that there had to be a model school so that the teachers understood the ideas we were putting forward," says Pranith.

Sapnon Ki Shala (Photo: Amal Dev)

Pranith worked in government schools of Dantewada for 6 years before starting the model school, Sapnon Ki Shala, in 2018. The aim of the school was to provide teachers with a reflection of the ideas put forward by Bachpan Banao. To bring about the transformation of government schools, Pranith used to arrange trips for the teachers to well-functioning private schools across India. Even though the teachers were able to appreciate the functioning of these schools they were reluctant to get used to such systems. The difference in the socio-economic backgrounds of the schools was a major reason. Government schools functioned with limited resources, while private schools had highly qualified teachers and deeper pockets. Pranith realised that it was crucial that they have a school set in the socio-cultural backdrop of Dantewada, this was the start of Sapnon Ki Shala.

“96-98% of the tribal children in Dantewada get enrolled in 1st grade. Providing education to these many children is a big win for the government. However, the reservations guaranteed by the constitution can only be availed after the completion of the 12th standard. The real question is how many children complete their 12th. Only 33% of the children complete schooling. 60-65% of them drop out of school between 1st grade and 12th. This means that 60-65% of children cannot avail of the reservation guaranteed by the constitution for uplifting the social status of the tribal communities,” says Pranith.

Another reason behind starting Sapnon Ki Shala, according to Pranith, is the importance tribal cultures are given in the current mainstream education system. Pranith has been working for the past 10 years for the educational upliftment of tribal children. He questions the injustice and non-representation in the varied issues he has seen through these times. The most significant of these is the Brahminism reflected in the syllabus.

“A for apple, B for ball, is how the English alphabets are usually taught in schools. But the children from the tribal region of Dantewada would have never seen an apple before coming to school,” says Pranith. Children are to be initiated into education by introducing them to objects and events of daily life. Pranith points out that it is mostly people belonging to the upper caste who prepare the education syllabus in the mainstream education system. The reflections of these can be seen even in the examples mentioned in these textbooks. Pranith added that one major reason for children dropping out of school is that there is nothing the tribal students can relate to in this kind of education system.

Another problem similar to the above-mentioned one is that of an unrelatable academic calendar. “Children are given holidays on occasions like Diwali, Holi, Ramzan, Christmas, etc. But tribals do not even celebrate any of these,” adds Pranith. Inscriptions in golden letters speak volumes of how India is a land of diversities, however, these diversities often only reflect the interests of the mainstream population. Pranith proves the practicality of a point through Sapnon Ki Shala- students must have their weekly holidays on their market day and not weekends. On Wednesdays, teachers and students won't be seen in the classrooms of Sapnon Ki Shala. They would be busy with the activities of their weekly market. On the following day, they share in the class, their experiences and observations in their tribal languages.

‘Sapnon Ki Shala’ means ‘school of dreams’. One feeling that ripples onto all the visitors of Sapnon Ki Shala is how huge the role of freedom in schools is. One would see students rising up to the teachers and teachers humbling down to the students. Starting with what language to communicate, when to study, and what to study, all are decided by the students. Yardsticks of freedom of conventional schools turn invalid here.

“I do not consider Sapnon Ki Shala as an alternative school. I do not even agree with the term alternative education. This is how education should be given. This doesn't happen in the mainstream education system. The mainstream schools that provide holistic education are the ones that give alternative education,” says Pranith. Pranith puts forward the idea of how government schools can operate within limited resources. He has been successful in making this idea a reality. He hopes there will be more such model schools in the future. Pranith is tinkering with his dreams of taking knowledge and values, derived from experiments carried out to fulfil socio-economic-cultural needs, and applying them in the mainstream education domain.

Pranith can be reached at:

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Amal with students of Sapnon Ki Shala

Translated from Malayalam to English by Susmith C S.

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