November 04, 2011

Indian teacher mines for talent among destitute

November 04, 2011

Gulf Times

An unassuming teacher from the Indian province of Bihar was in Doha for the World Innovation Summit for Education (Wise 2011).

Overcoming adverse conditions with grit and determination, the 38-year-old Anand Kumar, a teacher of Mathematics has produced amazing results in coaching Indian youth to succeed in entrance exams to the country’s universally acclaimed Indian Institutes of Technology.

More than 200 students have qualified from the poorest sections. All coached from his ramshackle rooms in the city of Patna.

At Wise 2011 which concluded yesterday at the Qatar National Convention Center (QNCC), Kumar stood out like a sore thumb in his casual clothes and leather slippers - in sharp contrast to an immaculately-dressed gathering of 1,200 from 120 countries.

The presentation that Kumar made at a session on “new methods to improve engagement and learning” on the final day of the summit was an inspiring experience for participants, some of who came forward personally to appreciate his work among the downtrodden as soon as the audio-visual demonstration of his project Super30 was over.

In nine years since he started his Super 30 project, 236 of his students, almost all from low income families have made it to the IITs. “Parents of my trainees cannot afford to pay me any fee and I am meeting their expenses through the support that I am getting from a few philanthropists and some of my ex-students who are well-placed. I also impart tuitions to some affluent children in my evening sessions to meet my institute’s requirements,” said Kumar, who could not go to Cambridge in 1994 owing to his poor financial condition even after securing admission there.

During 2003-09, 182 out of 210 students made it to the IITs and last year all 30 students were successful. Kumar said in the early years he had to sell snacks to finance the class.

The resounding successes of his students landed him with lucrative offers from leading institutes in India and abroad but Kumar’s sole mission in life is to provide educational access to the underprivileged. “The achievements of my children earned me the wrath of some greedy private coaching centres and a gang, fired bullets at my classroom and seriously injured a staffer and a student. After the incident, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar provided me with round the clock security.”

The teacher’s achievements have made headlines on the Discovery channel, the New York Times, Time Magazine, The Newsweek and most recently Al Jazeera International Channel. While Time Magazine placed Kumar’s school in the list of “Best Schools in Asia” last year, he was selected by Europe’s Focus magazine as one of the global personalities who have the ability to produce exceptionally talented people.

For success in Mathematics, Kumar said: “Think systematically, analytically, scientifically and more importantly practically.” Honestly speaking, there’s no short cut.