When Vaibhav Chidrewar was a young boy, his father abandoned the family and left them with an enormous Chit Fund debt. To repay the loan, make ends meet, and end harassment from loan recovery agents, the family was forced to sell their belongings and open a Bhelpuri stall on the pavement. Vaibhav and his mother knew that he had great potential, despite the trying circumstances. At a young age, Viabhav vowed to become successful.
He focused his energy on his academics and by sheer hard work, scored 92 and 93 percent in SSC and HSC, respectively. These scores helped him secure admission to the renowned Pune Institute of Computer Technology, where he remained at the top of his class throughout his education.
Challenges Facing School-Age Children In India
Viabhav’s family was committed to helping him pursue an education. For many families, however, this isn’t a choice. They simply can’t afford to lose a wage earner to education, even a free one. Those who can afford it may not live near a quality public school or they may not be able to afford a private education.
These obstacles are evidenced by poor enrollment figures: from 2005 to 2009, the net enrollment in primary school was 83 percent. That’s 7.1 million primary-school-age girls and 5.5 million primary-school-age boys who were not enrolled in schools. Of those who were, only 63 percent continued until the last primary grade. In part, these numbers are impacted by the poor quality of education.
Public or Private? Options for Rural Communities and Poor Families
In the face of lackluster public education, even poor families turn to private education. By scrimping and saving, many can afford “cheap” private school—and this is often the only way to obtain a quality education. In fact, private schools flourish in rural or low-income areas. The World Absenteeism Survey found that they were more likely found in villages in India where the public system was lacking.
India’s “Right to Education Act” offers vouchers to help poor families pay for private schools. “Bargain” private schools in many regions also offer admission for as low as Rs. 1.50 a month. They’re usually established in someone’s home or operated by unqualified teachers. But even they are often more effective than public schools. Consider a 2008 study by ASER, which indicated that 47 percent of public school students in fifth grade could not read at the second grade level. In private schools, it fell to 32 percent. That number is still dismal, and indicates that it’s critical for children like Viabhy to pursue knowledge on their own beyond the school system.
A Dream to Give Back
After working for two years as a software engineer with Cisco Systems to earn money for his family, Viabhv was accepted into a master’s program at Stanford University. He plans to eventually pursue a doctorate there, which he hopes will help him play a pivotal role in the development of next-generation networking and wireless access technology. In his spare time, Viabhv has developed NPTEL, a vocabulary software that he hopes will give others like him a competitive chance for scoring well at GRE exams and securing admission to international universities.
What challenges, aside from economics, do you think school-age children in India face? What can we do to improve our public education system and better equip our next generation for the future?
Vaibhav Chidrewar is a graduate of the Pune Institute of Computer Technology. With the support of the K C Mahindra Fellows Fund Scholarship, Vaibhav will be working toward a master’s degree at Stanford University, where he also plans to pursue a doctorate.