July 2013 | Suchita Vemuri

Back to better schooling

Where most bridge-course education programmes aim to bring dropout students to high-school levels, the Tata Chemicals initiative seeks to prepare dropouts among girl students for college

The Tata Affirmative Action Programme jury named the Tata Chemicals education initiative in partnership with SNDT University, Mumbai, as a best practice for its successful efforts in enabling school dropouts to access higher education.

This education initiative began with Mangubhai Chavda, a resident of Surajkaradi village of Okhamandal, near the Mithapur plant of Tata Chemicals in Gujarat, where he was employed. The 2001 Gujarat earthquake had destroyed several structures in the area, among them the Mahadevpara School at Mr Chavda’s village. The widespread fear and despair that prevailed after the disaster resulted in many schoolchildren staying away from class. Families were hesitant to allow their children to go to school.

It was in this situation that Mr Chavda, motivated by a sense of duty, began to repair the school building as a personal initiative. He painted the walls in bright colours, cleaned the yard, planted flowering plants and even offered to help some children with fees and school materials. The children returned to school; months and years passed and Mr Chavda remained engaged with the institution, helping in various ways — from moral support to financial and material aid. Then, in 2004, he persuaded five girls from nearby Surajkaradi village to join a distance-learning programme run by Mumbai’s SNDT Women’s University.

Tata Chemicals became involved in this initiative in 2009 when company executives learned about Mr Chavda’s remarkable efforts to encourage the schooling of local girls, even helping them enrol for college and a university education. The school lies in an area where 65 percent of the population is from scheduled caste communities and, hence, the project was brought under the Tata Chemicals Society for Rural Development (TCSRD) ‘Hope’ initiative, part of the company’s Tata Affirmative Action Programme engagement.

Tata Chemicals decided to introduce a bridge programme to help students prepare for the entrance exam of Mumbai’s SNDT University. Designed in partnership with SNDT University, the programme is aimed at girls who are 18 years old or more, but have dropped out of school. It seeks to bring them up to the level where they can sit for university entrance exams — unusually ambitious, considering that most bridge courses in India aim at bringing dropout students to high school education levels.

After the candidate clears the entrance test, she is enrolled for the SNDT Women’s University distance learning programme. The courses offered by the university are for bachelor’s degrees in science, the humanities, commerce and law. The university also offers diploma courses in tailoring, parlour education, art and commerce.

The bridge courses offer education in mathematics, history and women’s rights, allowing students to qualify for the university entrance examination. All courses are conducted in Gujarati and students are allowed two attempts at the entrance exam. Every student enrolled for the bridge course since Tata Chemicals began this initiative has successfully cleared the entrance exam. Since 2008, 1,045 girls have graduated from this programme, of who as many as 790 are from the scheduled castes.

Building on the success of the bridge programme, which has given the girls a prized degree, Tata Chemicals has also started vocational training courses in tailoring, computer work, etc for girls (certified and supported by the Gujarat government). Since 2008, close to 500 girls have trained at the vocational centre. Tata Chemicals also helps the graduating girls get jobs or bank loans to set up businesses and some 155 of the graduating students have set up their own enterprises, more than 200 have got employment, 125 in government jobs.

For Tata Chemicals, the way ahead is to expand the programme and involve former students to mobilise support. For Mr Chavda, who was honoured with the Shram Veer Award for his work by the Government of Gujarat and remains engaged with the programme, its growth and success is a matter of much personal satisfaction.

Vocational training for affirmative action

Year Number of girls enrolled
(and successfully graduated) from bridge course
Number of girls
trained in vocational courses
2008 85 (100%) 65
2009 125 (100%) 85
2010 155 (100%) 125
2011 185 (100%) 85
2012 225 (100%) 75
2013 160 (100%) 66

 

 

This article is a part of a special report on the Tata Affirmative Action Programme published in the July 2013 issue of Tata Review. Read other stories:
Overview
TAAPing into positive and inclusive growth
Indian Hotels: Leg up for employment
Tata Business Support Services: Business, socially speaking
Beneficiary case study: The advantage of ability
'We must correct a historic injustice'

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