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One Man Provides Free Education to lakhs in Maharashtra's Backward Areas

by Rishika Choudhury

Date & Time: Aug 17, 2022 10:00 AM

Read Time: 3 minute

Prafulla Shashikant (33) has worked tirelessly to ensure that children from the country's most disadvantaged and marginalised groups are able to complete their education.

This was influenced in part by his personal experiences.

Born into a lower-middle-class family in Maharashtra's Beed district, he was a primary technology learner who witnessed the challenges that Marathwada still faces today. The region is extremely prone to drought, and farmer suicides are common. It was critical for Prafulla to use his experiences to change the narrative of the area.

In 2018, VOPA, or Vowels of Individuals Affiliation, was born from this change concept. Prafulla works with this organisation to ensure that children from low-income families in the state receive the best possible education. He created VSchool, a free online platform and app that provides students with useful resource materials based on their language medium. According to Prafulla, this can be replicated with any district, state, or syllabus.

Hundreds of students and teachers in the state's most underserved areas have discovered a more convenient and inclusive way to continue their education as a result of this. Prafulla has always felt compelled to effect change.

To create a ripple impact

After clearing Class 12, he moved to Aurangabad to pursue mechanical engineering. Impressed by Ambedkar and Gandhian values, he began a youth social activism group referred to as Janeev together with two of his mates.

He decided to join civil companies after graduation to serve the nation. He relocated to Pune, where he was accepted into Yashada, a coaching institute run by the Maharashtra government.

He passed the pre-examination and went on to the UPSC mains in his first year. However, tragedy struck when his mother was diagnosed with cancer, forcing him to abandon his research halfway through to care for her.

Prafulla was left to deal with the uncertainty of life after her death in 2010. To cope, he began looking for a way to contribute meaningfully to society.

This search led him to the Gadchiroli district, where he joined Nirman, a programme that encourages young people to contribute to social change and is led by Padma Shri awardee Dr Abhay Bang.

Motivated by their work and method, he decided to join their efforts and worked on numerous academic initiatives while spearheading a venture known as Kumar Nirman, which focused on social sensitization and value education of faculty students.

‘For and by the individuals’

VOPA also created content for lessons 1-9, this time geared toward adults teaching younger children. Instructions were provided in audio, video, and pictorial formats, and included fundamentals such as how dad and mom should sit with the child, what they're supposed to say when a baby provides an incorrect response, how to respect when a baby does something good, and many others.

The VSchool website was converted into an app in June 2021 to make the initiative more accessible, cost-effective, and user-friendly. The website concepts were used in the development of the VSchool app — identical pedagogy, no advertisements, low internet connectivity, and all content in a single click.

VSchool runs on a “for the individuals and by the individuals mannequin” — with donations usually coming in from stakeholders themselves.
Currently, the VSchool App has helped over 2,000 teachers create and deploy over 2,700 lesson plans in Marathi, semi-English, and Urdu, with over 9,000 videos for student use. Prafulla claims that using the app has also reduced the number of dropout women, adding another feather to VOPA's cap.

VOPA’s journey has been accelerated by ACT, a non-profit enterprise philanthropy platform that goals to catalyse social change at scale, and is presently enabling the VSchool app to construct contextual studying sources for extra kids throughout different districts; together with a partnership with the Tribal Improvement Division in Nasik. .

In the meantime, Prafulla says, “By increasing VSchool’s attain, we wish to give an accessible, free and qualitative e-learning choice to all the kids. That is our contribution in direction of social justice.”

Also Read: Civil Engineer in Vadodara gives free education to children from low income families on footpath

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