I am a big time sceptic and a stingy one at that. My family has to constantly justify cost of an investment to me before I agree to spend the money. For many years I have been homeschooling my children because I felt that the time and money being spent for schooling was simply not worthwhile. I still pay numerous kinds of tuition fees many times a year. Each time I pay the fees, I wonder whether the money being spent is really worth it. Is the institution good enough to charge this much fees? Is the student putting the amount of effort to justify the investment? Could there be a better investment of this time and money?
Something happened today that changed my cynicism towards the education system of India. Today, for the first time in my life I felt so much joy on seeing a College Fee receipt. This time there are no doubts, no questions in my mind. I never imagined a simple fee receipt could translate into so much joy for a person like me. This fee receipt has changed me from a sceptic of the education system into a believer of the system. If I can have my way today, I will pay fees for thousands of more children and have them go to a proper school. So what was different today that caused such a big internal shift in me.
Looking back, I think the biggest factor leading to a change of heart for is not the education system itself, or the college, or the process of fee disbursement. The biggest factor is the authenticity of the student for whom the fees has been paid. Ankita (name changed), a 19 year old, pursuing a diploma in Computer Engineering in Pune has made me a believer of formal education. I met Ankita, through Adopt a Family (AaF) initiative which is working on the ground to support blind and disabled families in Pune sustain their basic livelihood. At the same time, it is also working with families to build long term recurring sources of income so that they become self reliant. Ankita approached me during the last months food distribution drive seeking support to pay her college fees. I could sense her passion to learn and her sense of pride conflicting right in front of my eyes as she briefly explained her situation to me. Life has been rough on her small family. Her father lost his complete vision 7 years ago in an accident. To earn a living, both parents set up a small tyre tube shop and were making do before Covid struck and took away their little earnings. Her 10 year old sister moved from an English school to a semi English School and Ankita herself struggled to continue her education for her last year of diploma. A well wisher introduced them to Adopt a Family and since then they have been taking monthly food through Adopt a Family grocery initiative.
Even after listening to her, the cynic in me was not convinced. I have heard many cases of people asking for support. Why should we help her and not someone who is wanting to set up a business? I knew she was different but how could I be sure. Over the coming days and weeks, I evaluated her progress reports, spoke to her parents, college HOD and met her in person with her family. Her score cards revealed that she is a bright student. Her conversations about her college project told me she knows how to apply skills she is learning in real life. I realized she has been teaching other students after college hours to earn some tuition money and help kids in her society. Above all, what impressed me the most was her consistent, professional follow up. She completed all tasks assigned by me, on time and kept me posted about their progress. She has been to the point and extremely well mannered in her communication. I had not expected any of this from a 19 year old child coming from an underprivileged background. She won my heart and the heart of the entire AaF team. We had planned to collect funds for her college fees but then a donor came forward to support the entire fees. The fees was paid today and needless to say I am so overjoyed that I cannot stop talking about it.
Just as I was hanging up my call with Shweta, the founder of AaF, my son called me to hear his latest Piano piece that he has been learning in his Piano class. As I walked into his room, I heard the notes floating in the air. All these years, I had been simply listening to his notes. For the first time in my life I could hear the music in his music. It sounded beautiful and I was instantly thankful for his piano teacher. I realized Ankita had changed me. She had made me appreciate life way more than I ever felt possible. I now believe in the value of formal education and working hard within a system that has its constraints but it also holds tremendous oppurtunity! Thank you Ankita ! Thank you AaF!