Nervous new students and proud parents sit in rows and are welcomed by the inspirational dean. We are at a world-class university, with a strong reputation and great outcomes for alumni. A final polite request was given to parents: please avoid WhatsApping your children – and emailing professors – during classes. Give students their independence and trust the faculty.
Our student’s mother was not in the audience. She would have loved to be there, but she spoke no English. Though she was multi-lingual, as almost all Parikrma parents are, Kannada, Urdu and Tamil just don’t make the cut at top universities. Single, not having been to school herself, and working every hour of the day to provide for her son, our student’s mother had – for the last 13 years – placed her trust, and her son’s education, in the hands of a truly inspirational set of teachers at Parikrma Humanity Foundation. She hasn’t been alone: since 2003, Parikrma has provided K-12 English-medium education, two meals a day, and much much more to 1700 children from Bangalore’s poorest slums and orphanages.
Whilst sat in that lecture hall, I was struck profoundly by two things. First, the sheer monstrosity of the task that Parikrma has set itself. 12 years of a high-quality education is only the first baby step on the journey to equality. Every other student’s parent will call regularly to hold the faculty to account, instantly provide that new textbook their child needs – and will have spent the last 12 years giving their child countless lessons in how to walk with confidence, how to sound intelligent when you don’t know what you are talking about, and what music, cricket, food and theatre to talk about to ‘fit in’. I doubt that any other nervous student in the hall had said goodbye to their mother before sunrise, battled through crowds of people to change buses at the Majestic bus terminus and filled up on a 10 rupee dosa before arriving.
My second realisation brought an optimistic tear to my eye. Unlike any other student in that hall, our Parikrma alumni had the most wonderful support network, made up of 6 generations of alumni, huge supportive communities, tireless teachers, inspiring mentors and generous donors. I had spent a year working with this enormous Parikrma community.
Parikrma understands that no one succeeds in a vacuum – though, of course, many will claim to. ‘Education for all’ starts with providing everyone with people they can rely on. Everyone needs someone to talk to in times of need, as well as people they themselves can help out. At Parikrma, teachers are more than the conduits of facts; they are Akkas (big sisters), Annas (big brothers), mentors, friends and problem solvers. Never have I seen such a large group of people so dedicated to the growth of a child. A set of paragraphs will not do this organisation justice. What can assert is that, in tirelessly helping one child at a time, Parikrma is a shining example of ground-up emancipatory education.
Vasant Chari lives in the UK and is half Indian. He spent a year working with Parikrma to develop the way students were mentored and gained exposure to the outside world.