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Sharing Educational Opportunity (or Why I’ll Give the News Another Chance) October 14, 2009

Posted by ippg in news.
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I’ve been thinking of quitting the newspaper. Every day for the past week I’ve woken up to news that’s left me distraught, grieving and very very angry – Obama winning the Nobel Peace Prize as US drones turn parts of Pakistan to rubble and terrorists retaliate with suicide bombings, photographic evidence of sexual violence and torture amidst war in Iraq. So I decided, I’m done.

But today is a wonderful new day of faith. A seemingly inconsequential link on Facebook led me to discover Babar Ali, a 16 year old boy in West Bengal, India, who is changing the world from his own backyard. By day, Babar is a diligent, high-achieving student at a formal local school but in the afternoons he is teacher and headmaster to eight hundred other children from poor families who regularly attend school in his backyard. He, along with nine other volunteers like him, teaches the lessons as he learns them in his classes. And guess what, he’s been doing this since he was 11.

For everyone who’s interested, BBC News carried the whole story here .

I’ve been trying to figure out why his story moved me so much. And no, it’s not just because it’s the highlight of a really bad week. I think what amazes me the most is this young boy’s magical, infectious optimism. When he was 9 years old he discovered two things: One, that he could teach, he enjoyed it and was good at it. And two, that he should teach, because there were so many other children who could not afford the same opportunity. So this ordinary kid from an average family, armed with nothing but a purpose, started a school.

Of course he’s had some help along the way – donations pay for books, local officials help procure food supplies as an incentive to maintain attendance, and 9 other young men and women volunteer as teachers. But at the end of the day, it’s a very simple community-based model for delivering education to the poorest, and especially to children who work to help their families get by.

As a student of public policy, though, I’m itching to ask, has the model worked? Are literacy rates in Babar’s village actually falling as a result of his intervention (as some news reports have vaguely claimed)? How consistently are the kids coming to school (apparently, there’s roll call!)? How many girls v.s. boys are in attendance? All that and then I’m thinking.. upscaling, potential for replicability. But how do you replicate a 9 year old’s sense of responsibility and community? How do you replicate an initiative that’s being driven not by compensation but by shared motivation alone?

– Khadija Bakhtiar, MPP 2010

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