Pratham Mysore Rural Student Mentorship Scheme

Open a window to the outside world

By Ashvini Ranjan, Founder-Director, Pratham Mysore

The term mentor refers to someone who is knowledgeable, trusted, experienced and willing to guide someone less experienced. While parents are the most ideal people to nurture their young ones, a child may be hesitant to chat freely with the parent either out of shyness or fear. Hence the advantage of having an impartial third party to play the role of mentor.

It is natural to have a number of doubts and questions during adolescence. A timely advice or guidance will be of immense value than dispelling a doubt for one reason or another. While it is ideal for every young person to have a mentor to hold and guide, the benefits are manifold for a rural child who faces many more challenges than an urban counterpart. More so in the recent past when schools closed due to the pandemic and left students with little to no learning and confused. With limited access to advice or guidance either from an outside source or from parents due to their limited learning, rural youth are at a great disadvantage.

As ideal and desirable as it may be to have a mentor for every youngster, finding one for every child in a large country like India with a large population of children can be a daunting task. But if a start is made with the help of a well-thought-out strategy, the number of mentors can be increased gradually. Thanks to technology, even a basic smart phone can provide a connection between mentor and mentee regardless of geographic locations and distances.

Besides a reasonably educated and intelligent adult who, with basic training, could function as a mentor, there are many other options for developing mentors. For example, students studying to become teachers could be trained to become mentors by making mentoring part of the curriculum. With such exposure to mentorship at the time of training, they will become better teachers when fully qualified.

In Pratham Mysore’s current experience, almost half of the mentors are trainee teachers. The other half is a mix of retired teachers, civil servants, educated housewives, MSW students, etc. Students from IITs, IIMs, IIITs, schools of planning and architecture, etc. Also large companies with a young workforce can undertake mentoring as part of their CSR activity. At the time of writing, service organizations like Rotary, Lions, Round Table, etc., have expressed interest in adopting mentoring as part of their service program.

Pratham Mysore conducted a pilot program in four villages of T. Narasipur Taluk in Karnataka for rural students in grades six to nine. The choice of this class of students was made to ensure that the student is old enough to handle a mobile device and on the other hand mature enough to communicate with the mentor. The experience with seventy-five mentors and mentees has been a rich source of learning. The willingness to volunteer to be a mentor is very encouraging. Regardless of people’s willingness to participate, some ground rules and training are needed for mentors to interact, especially with rural students.

The pilot program currently underway for rural students requires that there is no physical contact between mentor and mentee. All interactions will be on mobile phones only. In addition, there must be no financial transactions. The scope of interaction will be limited to non-formal subjects only and not to subjects prescribed in the school curriculum. This is to ensure that children are not confused in the way lessons are taught at school and that of the mentor.

India being one of the leading software developers in the world, it can help scale with appropriate technology platforms. The state, for its part, should consider investing in making available specially developed digital devices for the mentorship program and improving internet connectivity in rural India. This should be the highest priority.

Time and time again, it has been said and proven that much of the country’s knowledge capital resides in rural youth. They have as much talent and skills comparable to students at any elite private school. It is waiting to be unlocked and channeled. Pratham Mysore Student Mentorship is one such scheme aimed at harnessing the potential of rural youth. Pratham Mysore will gladly share his knowledge with the government or any other to make his vision of fostering education for Indian citizens a reality.

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