Krishnanagar, Jan. 30: Sanju Pal, 37, a lady management consultant from London, who is a non-resident Indian having her ancestral home in Nadia’s Dhubulia, has been conferred with the “Points of Light” awards by the British Government as recognition of her innovative education charity, RISE (Rural India School Enterprise) that aims to improve education both in the UK and rural India.
The award was conferred by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson last week that recognizes outstanding individuals who have been making a change in their community and inspiring others.
Sanju is the 1306th winner of the Points of Light award, which has been developed in partnership with the hugely successful Points of Light programme in the USA.
Over 6,000 Points of Light have been awarded so far in the USA, and former Presidents have publicly supported the partnership with Points of Light UK. There is a similar cross-party approach to the UK programme and MPs from different parties often present their constituents with their Points of Light awards for shining examples of volunteering social works.
In a personal letter to Sanju, Prime Minister Boris Johnson wrote, “I know you do this with no thought of praise or reward, but allow me to offer my own recognition of how you are improving education for students in the UK and in India”.
Speaking to NfN over the phone from London Sanju said, “I am very happy to be recognized for this award by the Prime Minister, which is very unexpected and inspiring too”.
Sanju through his charity RISE had started a unique literacy programme in during 2010 titled ‘Yearn to learn’ – a supplementary intervening coaching in schools in Nadia that aims to improve literacy rates among the children, reduce dropout, increases school retention and also intends to raise the aspirations of learning among the children and their parents.
Daughter of Sunil Kumar Pal, a chartered electrical engineer, Sanju was born and brought up in London. She had done her M Sc after obtaining a first-class honors degree in Mathematics. At the age of 23, she became a teacher after obtaining ‘Qualified Teacher Status’ (QTS), a mandatory degree for teachers in London and joined the Mulberry School for Girls in London.
While working as a teacher, Sanju had developed a participatory programme called ‘Enterprise Challenge’ to develop a sense of responsibility among students in the UK through extra-curricular activities. Her endeavor earned the prestigious ‘Teach first Learmonth school project award’.
After this she founded RISE in 2009 and which so far supported over one thousand students through “Reach Out And Rise” (ROAR) Challenge in the UK and through ‘Yearn to Learn’ in India. Her inspiration to work in India came from a wondering experience while visiting her native village Shondanga in Dhubulia during a 2012 vacation.
“During a visit to the ancestral home, I wondered to find that many children of class five in my area could not identify Bengali alphabets. I asked them to read a story from their books or from a Bengali newspaper. But, many of them failed. I was shocked to realize that they could not even identify the Bengali alphabets”, Sanju said.
“I found that these students basically attend schools only for the mid-day meal. I also talked to their parents who hardly aware of progress in their studies. I later undertook a research initiative which revealed that at least 46% of the children of 10-years are at least 3 years behind their expected reading level. This led me to plan a programme for the children who are at the risk of dropping out”, she added.
To help children overcoming the drawbacks, Sanju launched “Yearn to Learn” as a pilot project during August 2012 in three schools in Krishnagar as supplementary coaching twice during the weekend at the end of their regular classes. The three schools extended support by identifying their students who had problems in understanding.
“It is not an alternative to the regular teaching imparted in the school, rather supplementary support to the children. Our goals are to improve literacy, reduce dropout and to raise aspirations of children and their parents”, Sanju added.
A teacher in Krishnagar said, “In primary schools, teachers cannot take individual care which creates the problems among children. Sanju’s programme helped to overcome problems”.
On the other hand, Sanju’s ROAR Challenge is a programme of workshops that inspires the UK students to set up their own social enterprise to support students under “Yearn to Learn” in India, by establishing an intercultural partnership that strengthens their role as global citizens.
Sanju used to make time in the evenings and weekends to oversee RISE’s operations in the UK and India.
“I was born and raised in London but my parents, who came to the UK in 1967, encouraged me to visit and learn about the challenges of rural India. When I became a teacher in London, I decided to help students in India and at the same time empower my students in London through social entrepreneurship”, Sanju said.