Probably the best science and technology school in the world is the Indian Institute of Technology. Entrance into this prestigious university is even more difficult than getting into MIT or Caltech.
The dream of many Indians is to get into IIT. Every year 230,000 Indian youths sit for the rigorous entrance exams to get into IIT. Naturally, the results favour the better privileged Indians who have private tuitions and come from better off families.
Yesterday, I happened to watch a documentary (Aljazeera) on the work of Mr. Anand Kumar. Mr Kumar started a school known as the Ramanujan School of Mathematics to instruct students so that they can enter IIT. He will travel the Indian country side of Bihar, searching and identifying 30 bright students for entrance into his school. There he will provide the students free lodging and meals. Meals are given twice a day taken out from stainless steel Tiffin carriers. These students study for free under the personal instruction of Anand Kumar and that of his like minded colleagues.
The story of Mr. Anand Kumar and his Ramanujan Scool of Mathematics is truly an inspirational one. It takes a lot of resolve and hard work to come out of difficult situations and succeed in life. It takes even more to share one's success with others like oneself and help them also succeed. Anand Kumar has been there and done that.
Anand Kumar lost his father at a young age and his family faced many financial hardships early on. The family had to depend on their mother's earnings. Anand himself would sometimes deliver home made papad's made by his mother, to shops and homes on his bicycle.
Like his school's namesake, Ramanujan, Anand is gifted with superb mathematical skills. In 1992, he founded the Ramanujan School of Mathematics as a club where anyone could join free of any cost and attend training camps.
In 1994, he secured an admission to Cambridge and Sheffield universities but his financial health did not allow him to pursue his dreams. However he did not let that deter him. He converted his club into a coaching institute providing coaching for various competitive examinations. At the same time, he decided that what happened to him should not happen to others. Financial health should not come in the way of talent being recognized and nurtured.
This led to the creation of the Super 30 initiative.
This initiative provides free coaching, boarding and lodging to 30 talented students from financially weak backgrounds. These students are handpicked by Anand and his team and trained for the IIT entrance exam. Founded in 2003, 18 students made it to the IIT's in the founding year. The number rose to 22 in 2004 to 26 in 2005 to 28 in 2006 and 2007 and up to 30 in 2008 and 2009. Yes that's correct! In the last two years, the super 30 boasts of a 100 percent record with 30 out of 30 students coming through.
Today Anand Kumar has come a long way. His dream of going abroad has been fulfilled and he has been a speaker at Atlanta, where he addressed an annual conference organized by the American Mathematics Society and the Mathematics Association of America. He also has made contributions to The Mathematical Gazette and the Mathematics Spectrum, both reputed journals published from the UK, and Parabola, published in Australia.
But he derives most satisfaction from the fact that he has helped talented students from the lower strata of society to fulfill their dreams. With future plans of spotting and nurturing talent in young students, he now intends to set up schools for the financially weak segment of society and leverage a similar business model. So that talent does not fade away for want of finances and education does not remain the privilege of the financially stable only.
Every April, some 230,000 Indian youths sharpen their pencils and sit for the intensely competitive entrance exam to the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) -- the seven prestigious schools that train India's top-notch engineers and entrepreneurs. After the grueling six-hour test, only 5,000 students are offered a place in the IITs. Most come from middle-class backgrounds and prepare for the exams through private coaching. But in the past few years, a small group of desperately poor, talented students have made it into the IITs, thanks to the Ramanujan School of Mathematics.
The school, named after a famous Indian mathematician, is even more intense than the IITs themselves. Located in Patna, the capital of Bihar, one of India's least developed states, the Ramanujan School trains just 30 students a year to take the IIT exam.
Helping out Anand Kumar is an unlikely character. He is Mr. Abhayanand, 52, Patna's deputy director general of police and a lover of physics. I have never heard of a high ranking police officer dedicating part of hislife to the cause of education for the underprivileged. We are more accustomed to listening to stories about high ranking police officers threatening to arrest people.
Anand Kumar and his partner in good deed will scour Bihar's least privileged communities for 30 bright students to coach for the exam, providing free lessons and housing. They call their group the Super 30. "Intelligence is not birth-specific," says Abhayanand. In the first year, 16 of the group made it into the IITs. The next year, 22 made it. "This year," Kumar says confidently, "all 30 will get into the IITs." It has been 30 out of 30 for the last 2 years in succession.