Prafulla Shashikant (33) has labored tirelessly to make sure that youngsters from the nation’s most backward and marginalised factions are in a position to full their training. 

Partially, it was his personal experiences that impressed this. 

Born in a decrease middle-class household in Maharashtra’s Beed district, he was a primary technology learner who witnessed the challenges that Marathwada continues to wrestle with even at present. The area is extraordinarily drought-prone and sees excessive incidence of farmer suicides. For Prafulla, it was crucial that he used his experiences to alter the narrative of the area. 

pots of water waiting to be filled from a small tank connected with a pipe in marathwada
Prafulla belongs to the Marathwada area, which is extraordinarily drought-prone and sees excessive incidence of farmer suicides. (Photograph: For illustration)

This concept for change gave delivery to VOPA, or Vowels of Individuals Affiliation, in 2018. With this organisation, Prafulla works to make sure the proper to high quality training to youngsters belonging to low-income teams within the state. He developed VSchool, a free on-line platform and app that gives college students with useful resource materials primarily based on their language medium, Prafulla says this may be replicated with any district, state, or syllabus. 

With this, 1000’s of scholars and lecturers within the state’s most underserved areas have discovered a better and inclusive approach to proceed studying. 

For Prafulla, this have to drive change has been innate. 

To create a ripple impact 

VOPA co-founder prafulla shashikant sits between two friends
For Prafulla (center), the necessity to drive change is innate. (Photograph: Alankrita Khera)

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 known as Janeev together with two of his buddies. 

“These have been the times that formed my imaginative and prescient for the long run,” he remembers. “It’s once I realised that my goal in life lay past engineering and that I used to be extra fascinated with addressing social points.” 

After commencement, he determined to enter civil companies to serve the nation. He moved to Pune, the place he was chosen at Yashada — a coaching institute run by the Authorities of Maharashtra. 

Within the first 12 months, he cleared the pre-examination and went for UPSC mains. However tragedy struck when his mom was identified with most cancers, forcing him to depart his research halfway to take care of her. 

When she handed away in 2010, Prafulla was left to take care of the uncertainty of life. To manage, he started looking for a approach to contribute meaningfully to society. 

This search took him to Gadchiroli district, the place he joined Nirman, a programme that motivates youth to contribute to social change, led by Padma Shri awardee Dr Abhay Bang. 

Motivated by their work and method, he determined to hitch their efforts and labored on varied academic tasks whereas spearheading a venture known as Kumar Nirman, which centered on the social sensitisation and worth training of college youngsters.  

a young boy hugs his mother while she prepares food
When his mom grew to become sick, Prafulla was compelled to depart UPSC preparation midway by way of (Photograph: Alankrita Khera)

Throughout this time, Prafulla additionally pursued the Submit Graduate Programme in Improvement Administration from S P Jain College to deepen his understanding concerning the social sector.

In 2017, he realised that whereas Nirman focussed on the mental youth, younger adults from backward communities and with much less publicity deserved the identical alternative. 

After a six-month hiatus of soul looking and brainstorming with buddies and mentors alike, he began VOPA. 

“Many individuals ask me what’s the significance or that means of Vowels within the identify. As an organisation, we need to use core drivers of social change — Agitate, Educate, Ignite, Organise, and Usher — to assist marginalised communities uplift themselves. Every of those phrases begins with a vowel, in order that’s how the thought got here from,” he says. 

VOPA engages in constructing an ecosystem that may democratise the creation, consumption, and standardisation of data and academic studying. 

“Schooling is probably the most efficient approach to resolve social points — sustainable change drives cultural change, which in flip is pushed by training. It impacts generations. As a substitute of working with only a few colleges in just a few districts, I needed to create a ripple impact,” Prafulla explains. 

Right this moment, VOPA works carefully with the federal government, lecturers, college leaders, mother and father, and college students to allow youngsters from marginalised communities to get their proper to training.

For his or her pilot venture, they labored with Snehalaya, an organisation that runs a faculty in Ahmednagar for HIV constructive youngsters, orphans, youngsters of intercourse staff, and extra. They labored on the excessive attrition fee of lecturers, which Prafulla attributes to social taboos across the points Snehalaya was tackling. 

people gather in a circle to lead discussions
VOPA works to allow youngsters from marginalised communities to get their proper to training. (Photograph: Alankrita Khera)

In 2019, the organisation deliberate to scale its efforts — the Zila Parishad of Beed and Ahmednagar had given permission to the staff to work on enhancing the training expertise of kids within the district. 

That’s when the coronavirus pandemic hit. Faculties shut down and folks anticipated lecturers to show on-line, though that they had by no means accomplished so earlier than. Native governments have been approving untested on-line studying options, and anticipated lecturers to implement them successfully, Prafulla notes. 

Then there was additionally the issue of scholars being unable to afford on-line training. 

The VOPA staff studied present options like Google Classroom, Zoom, native apps by the district governments, and so forth, however realised that they weren’t efficient for youngsters’s studying. “The interface was constructed for adults who might examine independently, it was not interactive and had no imagery or color. College students and lecturers alike had a troublesome time navigating these apps to search out the best content material,” he explains. 

Inclusive training made easy 

That’s how the thought of the VSchool was born. The staff developed a lesson plan web site which was open supply and user-friendly for each college students in addition to lecturers. Prafulla says the web site was designed in a method that it might load on any cellphone with web entry, even when the bandwidth was low. 

To create the lesson plan, Prafulla labored with Rahul Rekhavar, former district collector of Beed, to coach 15 lecturers in growing digital studying content material for Class 10 college students. 

little muslim girls use an online app to study
The VSchool is free, user-friendly, and obtainable within the native language (Photograph: Alankrita Khera)

The teachings have been constructed utilizing movies, tales, and puzzles to encourage pupil curiosity. All lesson plans have been in Marathi, together with topics like English, Science, and Maths, to swimsuit the language wants of lecturers in rural areas.  

With no a number of clicks or pages, and no adverts, the outcomes grew to become evident. “Beed had round 50,000 college students learning in Class 10, however the web site noticed over 5 lakh distinctive guests throughout India in simply 2-3 months,” says Prafulla.  

Rahul Rekhawar says, “We carried out the VSchool initiative in Beed and in a really brief time period, it has very positively impacted lakhs of scholars, who weren’t in a position to afford common on-line training. Two years since then, it appears to have unfold throughout Maharashtra and is benefiting college students throughout grades, particularly from economically poor sections of society.”

Atish, a village boy from Dongarkinhi in Beed, who accomplished Class 10 in 2020, used VSchool to show youngsters from his basti. “Our mother and father didn’t have cash to spend on on-line lessons. Through the use of VSchool, now we have saved Rs 40-50,000,” he says. 

A 12 months later, all the scholars who studied utilizing Aatish’s cellphone handed with greater than 80% marks of their board exams, he claims. 

One other pupil from Beed, Bhakti, stated, “Initially it was tough for us to check; all the fabric obtainable on the web was in English. However in VSchool, we obtained all the educational content material in Marathi, which helped us. Additionally, it’s quite simple to make use of.”

a man named aatish smiles as he sits before a cycle

‘For and by the individuals’

VOPA additionally developed content material for lessons 1-9, this time designing it for adults to show younger youngsters. Directions got in audio, video, and pictorial format, which included fundamentals like how mother and father ought to sit with the kid, what they’re speculated to say when a toddler provides a flawed reply, the way to admire when a toddler does one thing good and so forth. 

In June 2021, the VSchool web site was transformed into an app to make the initiative accessible, cost-effective, and user-friendly The web site rules have been utilized to the creation of the VSchool app — identical pedagogy, no ads, low internet-enabled, and all content material in a single click on.

“We imagine that the social sector has lots to be taught from corporates. Take a look at Gmail or Wikipedia — free for everybody and environment friendly to make use of. The picture of social staff is commonly related to jhola carriers who don’t imagine within the energy of know-how to convey social change. However that’s altering,” says Prafulla.  

VSchool runs on a “for the individuals and by the individuals mannequin” — with donations typically coming in from stakeholders themselves. 

children gather near a cowshed to use an online app to study
In June 2021, the VSchool web site was transformed into an app. (Photograph: Alankrita Khera)

Prafulla says that for a serious a part of VOPA and VSchool’s journey, he didn’t draw a wage. “My sisters and my spouse have been an enormous monetary help for the household — they know that sacrifices should be made if we need to attain our mission; our dream of enabling all youngsters from underserved backgrounds to finish their training,” he says. 

Right this moment, the VSchool App has skilled over 2,000 lecturers to create and deploy over 2,700 lesson plans in Marathi, semi-English and Urdu, with greater than 9,000 movies for pupil use. Prafulla says using the app has additionally decreased the variety of drop out ladies, including yet one more feather in VOPA’s cap.

Abhijit Raut, Jalgaon District Collector, says “We’re implementing VSchool in Jalgaon and the VOPA staff has been instrumental in making digital training accessible to every pupil of the district. They’ve supplied a beautiful platform for our lecturers the place they create high quality digital content material and utilise it for the scholars.”

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 assets for extra youngsters 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 need to give an accessible, free and qualitative e-learning choice to all the youngsters. That is our contribution in the direction of social justice.” 

Edited by Divya Sethu

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