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Across India, 90% of the students who attend IITs have undergone rigorous tutoring in addition to conventional classroom learning. Known as “coaching,” these tutoring sessions occur in order to prepare students for the IIT-JEE exam. Of the 500,000 students who take the exam each year, only 2% pass. The Indian coaching industry is worth over $2 billion dollars a year – drawing proceeds from student’s families who have the means to afford extra coaching beyond the fees of private schools.
Many students from disadvantaged backgrounds do make it to an IIT through self-study and their own jugaad. The ones that do are faced with the struggle to compete and maintain their academic standard in such a foreign environment. With limited mentors or role models from their own schools and communities, students lack alumni contacts or guidance. They face the insurmountable task of adjusting to the unique IIT lifestyle on their own and in finding employment post-graduation without a network.
A variety of factors contribute to these challenges: students from disadvantaged backgrounds often have little opportunity to interact with other academically focused youth, or access to the networks that will help them excel. Their families may send them to school, but depend on them to work after class to contribute to the family income, thus limiting study time. The challenges a student can face are limitless. In the years prior to the IIT Examination, middle class and wealthy students spend hours a day in tuitions that are out-of-budget and out-of-reach for most Indians.
Avanti Fellows, an NGO founded in Mumbai and now present across seven cities in India, is working to address these challenges through an intensive tuition and mentorship program. Avanti was founded in 2010 by Krishna Ramkumar and Akshay Saxena, IIT-Bombay graduates who had seen the struggles of a close friend from a disadvantaged background. Though their friend made it to IIT from a small village using borrowed books and teaching himself math and science, he lacked the confidence, guidance, and useful networks of his peers.
Ramkumar and Saxena graduated IIT Bombay and went on to work at the prestigious Boston Consulting Group, during which time they worked with an IIT mentorship program. By 2010 they were motivated by these experiences and pitched for the Stanford Bases Social Entrepreneurship Challenge with an idea to “provide bright, motivated students from low-income homes with the intensive support and mentoring they need to attend India’s top-tier colleges”. Their pitch was successful, and Avanti Fellows was born.
Avanti Fellows works to intervene with the brightest low-income students while they are in school, and prepare them holistically for the entrance exams, university life, and job-market after university to empower all students to reach their potential. Avanti secures them free or heavily-discounted seats in some of the country’s best tuition programs, thereby providing access to a level-playing-field with other IIT applicants.
Avanti’s vision, however, goes beyond just free seats in coaching institutes. Additionally, each selected student (Fellow), is assigned a mentor who meets with each student and their family in their home. Mentors work with the student and families to develop an understanding of the rigors of the IIT entrance exam. Avanti’s aim is to provide the Fellow with an optimum psycho-social environment to enable them to live up to their potential.
The mentorship program aims to educate the Fellows on goal-setting and effective study techniques while providing career and academic guidance. This includes assistance with internship placement. Avanti’s program is not solely academic: it encourages emotional development through recognition of the social systemic constraints of entering the IIT environment while improving equality of opportunity to access the opportunities of an IIT education.
To find out more about Avanti Fellows, visit www.avantifellows.org
Originally from a small town in Connecticut, Maeve graduated NYU Stern School of Business in 2010 with a degree in Economic Policy. She moved to India in search of professional challenge and personal enrichment and found plenty of both, through her job as a Management Consultant in Mumbai and explorations across the country. Prior to Consulting, she worked in Outdoor Education.
The views expressed above are those of the author, and not necessarily representative of the views of the Mahindra Group.
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