Not often would an IPS officer make a conscious decision to serve education. And if he has done that, it is obvious that he holds his passion above his own life. Several stalwarts from various fields have done it this way. To create something worth-while giving yourself to it full-time is mandatory. Praveen Kumar falls into this category of men who have deemed it prestigious to give their life energies for a worthy cause, i.e. Education. Having returned with Masters in Public Administration from Harvard University, this dynamic officer kicked off many innovative projects at Andhra Pradesh Social Welfare Educational Institutions Society (APSWREIS). Amidst growing concerns over quality of education in the state run schools in rural India, APSWREIS has emerged as the lone bright spot by producing thousands of outstanding students despite many challenges. In 2013 alone, it had sent approximately 60 students to IITs and NITs and hundreds to medical and engineering colleges in the state. Students of APSWREIS schools have been consistently showing extraordinary performance in the board examinations vis-a-vis other state run educational institutions.
Armed with thorough understanding of the subject, level-headedness and an able team, Praveen Kumar says he couldn’t ask for more and hence without wasting much time, simultaneously kick-started several new initiatives. Be it Boot camp for the teachers, Science Projects which allow students to explore the improbable, interactive learning programmes with experts on Mana TV, Digital Learning in the classrooms, E-PLUS CLUB conducting different activities for the students to enhance their soft skills, or CCE (Continuous Comprehensive Evaluation) customised to the State syllabus, all these innovative measures brought about a fresh lease of life to education. SWAEROES (meaning ‘arrows’), an in-house newsletter of APSWERIS agog with excited sharings /contributions of the students, is a befitting acknowledgment to the incessant efforts of Praveen Kumar and his team.
TCG also had an opportunity to meet with his vibrant team members, Siddardhana Reddy, Joint Secretary, Mohammed Erfan, Controller of Examinations, APSWREIS and Mr Fatima Reddy, in-charge SWAWROES.
In a candid chat with TCG, Praveen Kumar shares his passion, ambition and dream, all which seem to be ‘a bright vision’ for APSWREIS! It is no wonder that all his team members unanimously agree upon his mammoth capabilities and describe him in one phrase, ‘his insight begins where all ours’ ends!’Read on…
1) It’s quite uncommon to find an IPS officer interested in education matters, unless it’s a passion. How did you come into this post?
It is said that mentors are the one who sow seeds of passion and inspire you to dream big. In my case, I owe it all to my teachers, senior students at APSWREI and all those who touched my life and made the difference! It was only after I went to Harvard and rubbed shoulders with stalwarts from all fields did I realise the value of dreaming a vision for a better society. I was awestruck with humility of established businessmen, entrepreneurs and even soldiers who were my batch mates in Public Administration and aspired to redefine education. Unlike yesteryears, the ‘single career’ idea is changing and people are willing to explore completely new career, after having tasted success in their primary career. These were the people who were willing to take a ‘U’ turn at 40 plus and blaze new trails! It was a very humbling experience for me; apart from learning about the subject, I simultaneously started seeing a vision for my country. This was the impetus which drove me to meet up with the Chief Minister after returning to Andhra Pradesh and I requested him to give me this post.
2) Could you tell us about your parents?
My parents are Smt. Premamma and Sri Savaranna .We are a lower middle class family and due to certain obligatory situations my parents admitted me in the APSW Hostel, Kurnool branch. They always had the desire of giving me the best and at that point it was the best thing that they could have offered. As everywhere, the hostel conditions were deplorable and the school wasn’t very conducive. I did struggle a lot to get out of the clutches of depression and deprivation. Thanks to some sensible and focussed seniors that I didn’t get caught in any quagmire of evil distractions. My teachers and my seniors taught me how to work towards self-set goals, without getting chickened out at every obstacle.
3) How often do your workshops happen and who trains your staff and teachers?
We had a brilliant training session on mind-mapping by Victor and Sarah of Reading Wise. Thanks to MANA TV which operates in 198 institutions today, students are exposed to daily lessons as per the schedule given on SAPNET Website (www.sapnet.gov.in). Further, the academic section of the Society is conducting MANA TV lessons from our own faculty of various cadres depending on their competence, confidence and contribution. Apart from this our other initiatives like Digital Learning, Boot Camps and P5 programmes empower students with soft skills, communication skills, confidence, IT literacy etc.
4) Your special programme V4G or Voice for Girls has become very popular, why?
Our senior students started succumbing to peer and social pressures and slipped off into depression .They even started taking extreme steps like suicide, unable to handle the psychological stress. We sought the help of an international NGO called Voice for Girls, which conducted motivational workshops for adolescent girls and opened up a whole new meaning of life for them. This became extremely popular and caught on like wild fire as it changed the perspective of students in a big way. They started seeing a new and meaningful dimension in their lives. These girls called Sakhis turned into volunteers and started propagating the message of goodwill in all 290 schools. We now have a battalion of 1200 sakhis!
5) All your 291 schools begin from grade 5 only, why isn’t Pre-Primary and Primary included? Especially it is said that those are the formative years, why is it excluded?
It is believed that till the age of nine the child needs parent so he or she is advised against a residential school. Hence it is only after 9 years that we start taking enrolments from grade 5 upwards. However, we do plan to include the Primary very soon. In fact by the time the students enter grade 5 they are already coming from a vernacular background to English medium school and find it difficult to cope. One of our pre-requisites is that the class should be very noisy! If it is not so, we assume children are troubled and not comfortable in the class. Hence, we have to ‘undo’ and start refilling the cups again!
6) Is APSWREI also involved in vocational training?
No, in fact the Board of Intermediate has banned vocational courses so we don’t have it either.
How is the infrastructure in terms of labs and sports?
It’s good, you must see our nearest school in Goulidoddi, at Gatchibowli. From August, we plan to start refurbishing them in a big way.
7) Are the students given exposure to computers too?
Of course, there are 20 computers in each institute. A budget of Rs 20 crores has been allocated for upgrading the schools with new computers.
8) Your website says that approximately 160 students went into IITs and NITs and hundreds to medical and engineering colleges in the state. What is the coaching mode for them to get into premier institutes like IIT?
We have special trained teachers who coach the students for these competitive exams. In fact, we have Sri Chukka Ramiah garu’s expert guidance and he also happens to be the member of our Management Board. He actively helps us in selecting the bright students through an entrance test for admission into IIT coaching.
9) What are non-upgraded schools?
These are the schools which do not have junior colleges.
10) How often is the study tour conducted?
We started this recently, in the month of July. All the school principals were supposed to plan a study tour to the nearest place of interest to kids.
11) How is the students’ response on Science fairs you recently started?
Students were thrilled with science fairs and it was based on this response that we started Social Studies Fair too, for them to get a good exposure on geographical facts. We soon plan to include Math Day too.
12) The organisation’s objectives speak about curriculum, syllabi modification. Could you elaborate on that please?
We are living in a dynamic world. We strongly believe that our curriculum should be designed such that it is relevant for situation we live in and reflect the growing aspirations of the students. We are laying tremendous emphasis on comprehension, peer learning, and project- based learning. Similarly, we have been placing huge thrust on communication skills as well. We have banned all the study guides in the classroom this year so that our students are forced to think creatively and originally. Many of our students work as teaching assistants in the classroom, which gives them recognition and a rare opportunity to acquire more knowledge. Our goal is to prepare them for a dynamic and diverse world.
13) Of late a lot is heard about the appalling state of affairs and facilities in residential schools. What would you say about that?
Yes. It’s true that we have been facing numerous challenges in residential schools. Firstly, we are facing the shortage of qualified teachers who can work with us on permanent basis. This gap is partially bridged with contract or part-time teachers although, temporarily. Secondly, we have huge gaps in infrastructure. For instance only 8% of our schools have dual desks in the classrooms. Imagine, how difficult it would be to sit in such classrooms? In about 100 schools students still use classrooms as dormitories! Thanks to the latest SC Sub Plan, we are going to overcome all these obstacles in a record time.
Praveen Kumar made a humble beginning and went up the ladder of success, step by step. He set a goal and went at it with utmost passion and involvement, not with hesitation and calculation. He redefined success by giving it a rich flavour of humanity and earned unparalleled laurels from his team as well as the students he is working for. He clearly is the role model for all those brilliant students who look up to him with adulation and reverence. It is no exaggeration that every issue of the SAWROES has at least one student’s gratitude towards him or his initiative. Though he says impatience is his weakness, ones working with him look at it as an infused enthusiasm
It is said that the best way to remain permanently etched in people’s hearts is through your deeds. He indeed adorns the altar of every APSWREIS’ heart which is radiant with hope, a new hope in education!