“Literacy is not a luxury, it is a right and a responsibility. If our world is to meet the challenges of the twenty-first century we must harness the energy and creativity of all our citizens.”
– President Bill Clinton on International Literacy Day, September 8th 1994
Acceptance rates of less than 2% at premier government institutes in India have spawned a $6.4 billion coaching class industry, making additional tutoring a pre-requisite to clearing highly competitive entrance examinations like the IIT-JEE . There is a systemic bias against low-income students gaining admission to and succeeding at India’s premier universities. The problem is two-fold. Students from low-income homes have limited access to the coaching required to perform well at the highly competitive entrance exams due to the high fees charged. Those few who do clear the entrance exams have trouble coping in college due to their lack of fluency in English and limited access to professional networks.
Avanti Fellows (Avanti) is a largely student-run social enterprise founded in March 2010 with the objective of broadening access to top quality tertiary education to meritorious students from low-income families. In May 2010, Avanti won the Stanford BASES Social E-Challenge and in July 2010, Avanti was selected as a Pan IIT Alumni India initiative. The main objective is to be a guiding light for the bright and the motivated but not so privileged students. The means by which it is achieved entails three basic steps:
- Free access to quality tutoring at partner coaching institutes.
- Dedicated one-to-one mentoring by IITM students who help guide, motivate and monitor academic and personal progress during this critical period.
- Access to financial aid, English classes and exposure to internships.
With dedicated chapters in all the main stream IIT’s, Avanti Fellows is ruling the roost amongst organizations of its kind. The IITM chapter was set into motion in September 2010 with just a 5 member task force. Their belief and passion for the cause has caused them to embark on this staggering mission with fervor and faith. The main challenge on hand was reaching out and spreading the word. As Adhiraj, the current Director of Avanti says- “ The biggest challenge in the beginning was selling the idea to various stakeholders – the principals, teachers, parents, and students themselves, that kids from economically and socially backward backgrounds could, with focused hard work and right mentor-ship crack an exam like the JEE”. The team managed to reach out to schools and to conduct a written test as phase one of the selection procedure which helped in mobilizing eligible students for further filtering. The second phase was visiting the fellows at their homes to check authenticity, helping them realize what they are getting themselves into and preparing them for it. The selected fellows are enrolled into partnering coaching institutes for their preparation for the competitive exams and undergo one-on-one mentoring from the students of IIT Madras. Eventually after the selections were done they had fellows hailing from different realms of the society all coming together with a passion to excel. Currently, Avanti has a stronghold of about 45 members with two managers and one director. The operations have expanded to mentoring the students from the central government run JNVs. The mentors are the pillars of this whole structure as they play a key role in measuring the metrics and acting as springboards through the students’ transition from high school to an engineering college.
Currently there are about 113 fellows who are supported under the Avanti bracket. The fellows hail from a wide stratum of the not so privileged. There are students hailing right from fishermen families, daily wage workers to menial government class workers. The vision of Avanti is to increase student teams at 100 colleges across India with an annual enrollment of 2,500 students to the fellowship program by 2017 and to not be limited only to the engineering stream.
Associating with Avanti :
The IITM Avanti team is on the constant look out for people who want to help out in their activities.
Interested people are encouraged to drop in a mail at naga [at] avantifellows.org