Basistha Sabar, 16, lives in a remote village in Kalahandi district, Odisha. His father has a small patch of land that barely feeds a family of five. Access to education, healthcare, water, electricity, road and rail connectivity, are common issues faced by families such as his, living in remote villages. But Basistha, with his heart set on education, has big dreams – to be the first in his family to complete Class 10.
Enter Vedanta’s Shiksha Sambal (Education Empowerment) program in Lanjigarh that provides pre-matriculation education support to local students. It is targeted at first-generation learners and is completely free of charge to them.
Basistha left home at the age of 16 to seek enrollment in the state government’s SSD Residential School in Lanjigarh – 80 kilometres away from his family. With the help of this programme, Basistha scored 80% in his Class 10th examination and his journey has been nothing less than extraordinary since. Access to proper resources set him on course to fulfil his dream of becoming an electrical engineer.
Making a difference
Lanjigarh village, situated in the southern part of Odisha, around 450 kms from the state capital of Bhubaneswar, belongs to one of the most backward districts in India. Through the ‘90s, Kalahandi stood out as an unfortunate and dark symbol of abject poverty, plagued by starvation deaths, social backwardness and a near-zero healthcare infrastructure. Even as the situation improved over the years, getting basic quality education remained out of bounds for those living in and around Lanjigarh. Under such circumstances, Basistha’s achievement stands tall.
In the late 1990s, the Vedanta Group signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Government of Odisha for setting up an alumina refinery at Lanjigarh. Only after extensively studying the impact this project would have on the environment, wildlife, and most importantly the people living in the area, did Vedanta move ahead with construction of the refinery in 2004.
Responsible manufacturing practices have always been the guiding philosophy in all plant locations. In fact, the Vedanta alumina refinery is the first in India to adopt the Zero Discharge System, which means no water or effluent is discharged externally from the refinery.
In line with its larger community engagement goals, the Vedanta Group has also rolled out a variety of initiatives in healthcare and education for the communities residing around its manufacturing plants. Shiksha Sambal is among them.
In Lanjigarh, the bare necessities of life are hard to come by and even getting a basic education is a luxury that the villagers can ill-afford. Under such circumstances, Basistha’s achievement stands tall.
First initiated in 2015 as a pilot project in two schools of Lanjigarh, the programme aims to build an ecosystem for children to learn and grow. It currently offers free pre-matriculation coaching in Mathematics, Science and English – all of which pose a challenge to the local students. Expert teachers are roped in from the vicinity and are adequately trained for the program. Students are given focused coaching for 90 minutes every morning for six months to prepare for the board examination. Currently, there are 17 part-time teachers coaching the students in schools of different villages in the region.
“The company is committed to making a positive change to the lives of the people we live and work with and in the communities we operate in. While Vedanta DAV International School in Lanjigarh has carved out a niche in bringing affordable English education to many students of Kalahandi and Rayagada districts in Odisha, much focus needs to be given to strengthen the support systems in government schools that will help enhance student competencies and confidence. The cascading effect of these steps is visible and we will continue to encourage children to be part of this programme,” Rahul Sharma, CEO – Vedanta Alumina, explains.
While Basistha became an achiever in his village, the quest for a successful outcome in the matriculation examination has always been a critical ask among the economically challenged students of the region. It is the unavailability of a supportive ecosystem that causes these students to drop-out of school or struggle with the regular curriculum, thereby adversely affecting their results. Most of these children are first-generation learners and there is nobody at home to help them with studies or counsel them so that they can overcome these challenges.
The education project also provides career counselling and the opportunities education can create for them. As per the school records, the project improving the pass percentage from 75.5% in 2015 to 84% in 2018. Last year, 80% students successfully passed the matriculation exams.
Like Basistha, take the example of Geetanjali Hial, who is also 16, a first-generation student from an underprivileged Lanjigarh family. Born amidst difficult socio-economic conditions, where her father, a mason, struggled to make ends meet, her self-motivation backed by encouragement from teachers fueled her educational aspirations.
Moved by her determination, her parents enrolled her in the Odisha government’s SSD Residential School which has several students from similar backgrounds. As the school did not have the extra facilities required to support students weak in certain subjects or the capability to support bright students to develop their career goals, Vedanta’s Lanjigarh stepped in with the education program, creating an enabling environment for Geetanjali and students like her, much along the lines of what they did with Basistha.
The result, her father informs us with barely-concealed pride, was that she scored 70% marks in her class 10th BSE (Board of Secondary Education), Odisha. A jubilant Geetanjali shares that she now aspires to go for banking services.
Geetanjali said that the teaching methodology of the Shiksha Sambal classes was markedly better as it was more interactive with greater scope for student participation, enabling her to understand the fundamental concepts.
“The under-served students of Lanjigarh and Muniguda blocks receive a lot of benefits due to the various educational interventions from Vedanta, such as the Shiksha Sambal program. In high schools in this region, there is an inadequate teacher-to-student ratio. Therefore, students don’t get sufficient assistance. As most of them struggle in Mathematics, Science and English, the Shiksha Sambal program is a big boon and a game changer for these students who are unable to pay tuition fees. The result of the previous examination is highly encouraging and motivates us to take this programme to higher classes (VIII, IX and X),” says Gopabandhu Prushty, Ex-Additional Block Education Officer (Ex-ABEO) & Block Resource Coordinator (BRC).
The programme continues to leverage the government’s educational infrastructure in villages and engages NGOs with the right capability to build an environment of integrated development. They are supported by research with participation from employee volunteers.
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