Move Forward: Avanti

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A statistical analysis of the JEE results by ISI (Indian Statistical Institute), Kolkata reveals that students from high income background and urban areas bag most of the IIT seats. The success rate of the creamy layer (number of qualified candidates divided by the number of registered candidates) is around 10.3% whereas in the low income group it is as low as 2.6%. Around 6 million high-school graduates of India are deprived of quality education they deserve.

These are some statistics which motivated Mr. Krishna Ramkumar to start Avanti Fellows in March 2010. Krishna, along with his few other IIT friends, envisioned Avanti as a platform to mentor students from economically-poor backgrounds aspiring to study in premier engineering and medical schools. It is a platform for these children to gain awareness and guidance about tough competitive examinations like JEE and AIPMT that they generally miss out on due to financial reasons. Alongside, it gives them academic mentoring through Avanti volunteers who have cleared these exams themselves and are in prestigious engineering and medical colleges.

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How the Avanti Fellowship Program Works

The Avanti Fellowship is aimed at high school students coming from poor backgrounds who cannot afford private tutoring for entrance examinations. A search is conducted for such students through career awareness sessions in schools. This is followed by aptitude tests for the interested students and an interview with students and their parents to test their dedication and to make them aware of the journey ahead. Thus enrolled, the Avanti Fellows are provided with mentors (volunteers) who coach them for IIT-JEE and state entrance exams (engineering) and AIPMT (medical) and also help them cope with the pressure of these competitive exams. These students also get career advice and counselling from IIT alumni and are mentored during their undergraduate education and aided in securing internships and jobs.

Avanti and IIT Madras

IIT Madras is proud to be a part of the Avanti programme and has played its role in helping Avanti achieve its goals. Currently, Avanti Pondicherry has about 45 members, with two managers and one director. The operations have expanded to mentoring the students from the central government-run Jawahar Navodaya Vidyalayas (JNV).  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. Apart from these, IITM students also volunteer to help students enrolled in Chennai centers. These centers are different from those in Pondicherry as they are not residential.

Most of the students studying in JNV Pondicherry have never met each other before, except for a few who participated in their inter-JNV sports competitions. They study and work together as a family and the amount of experience they gain at the end of two years is dubbed as invaluable. The classes are majorly online, conducted by Vidyamandir Classes and the students attend weekly tests to gauge themselves. Absence of the teacher-student interaction calls for the mentor programme which is aided by our students i.e, from IITM. One of the mentees, Vedant Somani, who was mentored by Ayush Bhargava, has taken up the Computer Science dual degree programme here. Ayush, who is also studying Computer science here is extremely elated to see his mentee follow in his footsteps. When asked on how Avanti had evolved over the years, he replied, “The Institute students barely knew about Avanti a couple of years ago. We have grown from 10 to 170 applicants in the past few years. The most delightful part is that Vedant has joined us this year as a mentor, which shows how much this means to them.” When quizzed about the activities undertaken for the mentors, he recollected a few team outings to the beach and a couple of trips around Chennai. He feels the team is best built through synergy and perseverance. He finally added, “Avanti is one organisation which has revolutionized teaching by substituting teachers with mentors. It focuses on collaborative learning which can ensure that even the poorest of the masses get access to quality education.” Ayush was the Head of Avanti, IIT Madras chapter, for the year 2013-14.

My Experience at Avanti, Pondicherry

My stay at Avanti, Pondicherry was a very short one. I stayed there for a fortnight in the second half of July. I was accompanied by my classmate Anand. We were very excited about our stay at Avanti as it was a first for both of us.

The first couple of days were a little arduous as there was no regular water supply and the food served in the mess was not very great but when our interactions with the students took off, we were least bothered by any kind of inconvenience. The students treated with with utmost respect and affection. By the end of first week, we had broken the ice between us and we were all cosy and comfortable there.

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The students used to ask a lot of questions about IIT Madras, the glossy life ahead and sometimes even the culture here, particularly Shaastra. Every year, the Avanti students come to Shaastra to witness the technology at display and return awed and inspired. We also conducted a couple of tests and monitored the students on a daily basis. Other than academics, we used to play outdoor games, watched a couple of movies and even ordered pizzas for lunch. Needless to add, it was very difficult for us to bid adieu and return to the institute.

 My experience at Avanti, Pondicherry helped me change my way of looking into the outside world. It reminded me about the appalling poverty which curbs meritorious students from achieving their dreams. If anybody feels that they want to make a positive impact on a someone’s life then Avanti is the place to be.

PS: The Pledge-A-Book campaign by Shaastra this year has made arrangements to already set up a library at Avanti. If you want to donate your old JEE books or any books which can help these students for their preparation, please free to call Shubham Jain (9962035992) or send a mail to [email protected]

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