Ageless Passion: Masterji

Mr. Bhagwat Prasad Sharma has been a teacher par excellence and winner of several state and national awards for his outstanding contribution as a teacher. He, a highly respected Principal of a government school in Rajasthan, had all the reasons to retire from the service as a contended man and lead a relaxed and contented life thereafter. But, that was not to be.

Declining commitment of teachers to the profession, leading to a fall in the quality of education and consequent decadence in the value system among the students resulting in the breaking of bond between the teachers and students had left Mr. Sharma anguished and restless.

This is an inspiring story of what one man's initiative can do, and how that effort can be magnified manifold by timely and caring support.

Sandeep Bhatnagar is a fabricator by profession and a philanthropist by choice. Seeing underprivileged children in his neighbourhood deprived of education - and drifting away from the mainstream like so many before them - he decided to do something about it.

He started by taking two children under his wing in the summer of 1998: and began teaching them in the premises of his fabrication unit. By the end of the same year, the 'school' had already grown to 24 strong, comprising children aged between 4 and 12, half of them being girls! At this point, the students were merely divided into homogeneous groups based on their age and level of knowledge.

Next year, in 1999, the number jumped to 120, including 75 girls. A structure of hierarchy was formed - comprising Classes I to VI. Apart from the organizer himself (who was teaching Maths) and his wife, three teachers were now hired to assist them.

The children who were attending the Jupiter Academy Society (as it was now called) came from nearby villages and slums of Bastoli, Samadipur, Gajipur, Lavkuh Nagar and Pratap Nagar. Their parents were mostly casual labourers or daily wagers working at construction sites, small shops and roadside eateries.

Subsequent to its partnership with Smile, the Academy was able to hire more staff and thus take on more students. In fact, after the association, the number of students have increased dramatically from 200 to over 1200. The Academy has started operating from 5 'branches'. And multiple vocational training courses have been included in the curriculum: like artificial jewellery making, soft toy making, chikan embroidery work, glass painting, steel fabrication and welding. A tie-up with the local Government Polytechnic has added TV & Radio repair to the list - with an Instructor training students who have passed Class X, in the fabrication unit's office every day ! Today, the children even produce and market a branded toilet cleaner called 'Kick' !

The Academy has also been working for larger social welfare. It has provided employment to the needy under the 'Berozgar ko Rozgar' scheme - by first eliciting a promise from them to send their children to school as soon as their income stabilizes! It has tried to encourage the Muslim community towards family planning. It has identified 300 illiterate children who will be educated during the summer vacations. And has plans to construct buildings for schools that conduct classes in the open.