A social worker’s fight to empower the youth in backward Nuapada district

A social worker’s fight to empower the youth in backward Nuapada district

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Little Star Public School, Odisha

Gopal Chandra Dash, Little Star Public School, Nuapada,Odisha

Gopal Chandra Dash founded the Little Star Public School in backward Tukla village in Nuapada district, Odisha, in 2010. He has also been a member of an NGO, Pratishtha, that works to enhance educational standards in the state, with a special focus on educationally backward districts. Gopal Chandra has spent his entire life working to ensure that marginalised children in the eastern Indian state receive decent healthcare and education. He speaks at length with us about how he wants to enable all children to have access to quality education in an equitable and inclusive classroom environment.

Nuapada, he says, is one of the most backward districts in Odisha based on various educational parameters including gross enrollment ratio, college population ratio and average enrollment per college. He explains, “This area is infamous for child trafficking and starvation death issues. Because this is not an industrial area where the government can create job opportunities, the majority of young people here are deprived of income, accessibility to facilities and services and social status.”

Gopal Chandra Dash, Little Star Public School, Odisha

How the school started

We all know that rural cultural factors adversely affect the educational ability of rural students. Little Star Public School, located in the heart of a Maoist-hit southern Odisha district, was established to bridge that gap.

 

“We started the school after discovering that students coming from poor families were having difficulty finding the right school nearby. Poverty is one of the most critical and common problems here. Parents of these students, who cannot afford to send their children to school, are now getting free education or education at a very minimal fee in my school,” the social worker and activist shares. He also discusses how he campaigned and fought for quality education in his institute. He gives full credit to the Principal of the school, Sudikhita Das, who is a classical dancer and an experienced teacher. “She understands the importance of education in the lives of children here and we identified a shared passion to create a culture in which lower-income families can easily access an affordable school in the community.”

He only had 40 students and started from a small one-floor unit before constructing a new improved building. Varthana enabled him to increase the size of the classrooms, which now accommodate more than 500 students. “I also ensure a bright future for children in need of care and protection. Most of these children struggle to survive and are often trafficked or pushed into illegal work. So, I believe it’s my duty to provide them with a decent living and an education. I want to secure their lives and encourage them to enhance their skills so that they can get the right job opportunities.”

Also Read: From Inheriting a School at a young age to Leading the Way

Bringing a change after COVID-19

After COVID-19, he intends to bring rural students up to speed on the chapters that they missed in the past three years. “The learning crisis has escalated to new heights and school children are at risk of dropping out. I have also observed hours of lost learning. Children have to get back to the classroom, but changes are needed to ensure that they really learn, starting with the foundational basics of reading and numeracy. We are training parents and teachers to assess language skills and math skills, making this a habit to give them adequate homework to make up for lost years. We are doing everything possible to ensure that the most vulnerable kids don’t drop out,” he reveals.

Partnership with Varthana

“If we are to give children a strong educational foundation, it needs to start right from the beginning and this can only be done if the school infrastructure is done well. After receiving a loan from Varthana, we started constructing the school so that it is recognised in the area, that our school is unique and that there are brand new facilities like a playground, gardening area, and a stage where children can play, dance, sing, and have fun,” Gopal Chandra says adding that they have built a second floor with the help of a loan from Varthana. He also shares how building a proper institution has given him and the parents of the students such confidence that the school committee is considering expanding the classes to 10+2.

During COVID-19, Varthana not only helped us with the Unlock School Program books, which encouraged parents and children to continue studying at our school but also motivated us to keep the construction work going so the students could learn in a proper environment,” he expresses joy and outlines how Varthana loan helped him to provide a comfortable learning environment for his students. “We are also adding technology, online methods to keep up with the latest trend so our students can compete with the urban world.”

Gopal Chandra has a burning passion to cultivate the next generation of IAS officers, social workers, and individuals deeply committed to serving humanity and making a positive impact on society.

 

Apart from the school and NGO, Gopal Chandra also worked to prevent drug misuse in tribal-dominated remote areas of Nuapada district, to address de-addiction in the area and to rehabilitate them in their respective families. In 2011, he organized a months-long anti-corruption movement in his district, following the footsteps of chief crusader Anna Hazare. He also spearheaded one of the people’s movements to fight against corruption which went on for 44 days, ultimately resulting in the Right to Information Act in 2005, which now allows every citizen to get information and access government records.

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