21-year-old IITian, Divanshu Kumar is transforming the way Indian students learn. Here’s his fascinating story

Divanshu Kumar is a young student who wants to improve learning outcomes of students and teach them skills outside of textbooks that will eventually help them succeed in life.

21-year-old IITian, Divanshu Kumar is transforming the way Indian students learn. Here’s his fascinating story

Who better than a student to transform the stagnant Indian education system. He knows why it is not working. He knows the challenges. Importantly, he has the solution.

Meet Divanshu Kumar, a final year Mechanical Engineering student at IIT-Madras. With his non-profit ed-tech startup Involve Learning Solutions Foundation, he has set out to change the way young minds learn. 

Along with his partner Samyak Jain, Kumar is bringing peer-teaching to schools, an idea that began forming when he himself was in Grade 8. Having studied in a school in Gaya, Bihar that did not have the best faculty and infrastructure, he wished he had a senior student to turn to.

Here’s the inspiring story of how he built on the idea, enlisted with Avanti Fellows – a non-profit that promotes collaborative learning, and launched his very own initiative.

Excerpts:

How does Involve Learning Solutions impart quality education to India's underprivileged students?

We train senior students from Grade 8 upwards to teach youngsters between Grade 3-8. The programme ensures that younger students get the individual attention they need to excel.

We approach schools to get buy-in from the management. This initiative takes place after regular school sessions. We provide orientation to senior students – we call them senior leaders – to equip them to teach, as well as provide curriculum support. This also helps them develop their leadership skills. Additionally, we provide 6+ hours of intervention per week to help them teach effectively and engage better with the young students. The system also deploys a manager in each school to oversee the programme. 

What is our goal with Involve Learning Solutions?

We want to change how the traditional education system works in India. We want to improve the learning outcomes of students and teach them skills outside of textbooks that will help them succeed in life. The foundation of Involve Learning Solutions is based on peer teaching wherein we train senior students and give them the tools to teach students few grades below them. This helps both sets of students. 

On one hand, the juniors struggling with academics get the attention they need. A personalised approach to learning helps them flourish. Learning from someone just a few years older to them helps them open up, ask questions. It also creates a cohesive and supportive learning environment. Most importantly, it helps build motivation for learning in them.

On the other hand, the older students (read teachers) learn important skills. It teaches them leadership, patience, listening and communication skills, among other things. It also helps them understand things better as when you teach, you yourself learn and grasp concepts better. 

What was your motivation/drive for quitting a well-paid job and start a not-for-profit social initiative that aims to improve learning outcomes? How did it all begin? 

Samyak and I don’t get motivated by money. For us, money is a means to an end. This is at the core of what we are doing. Getting coveted placements made us realise that we had the capabilities of bagging a high-paying career going if we wanted it. This confidence was key in our decision of getting into the non-profit sector. The other thing was that on talking to senior who took up conventional jobs, I learned that such a job had their own pros and cons. Sometimes, they lost independence to do what they love to do.

I always wanted to start something that I was passionate about and something I owned – whether it was for-profit or non-profit.

After talking to mentors, I realised that peer-teaching and making students self-sustainable can impact millions of young minds into becoming better learners, and leaders of tomorrow. We believe this is better than any high paying job.

What are the challenges you faced while onboarding schools to Involve’s innovative learning methodology? 

The biggest challenge is building trust and getting buy-in on the concept. While schools have embraced the smart classroom trend, peer-learning is something entirely new. As every new phenomenon, we are seeing resistance to change. Secondly, even if the like the idea, practically implementing it is a challenge. Making them understand why we need time to train senior students, creating an after-school learning schedule, getting students to join the programme, getting a budget approved to facilitate this, etc. are few hurdles we need to overcome.

Being a non-profit, how do you sustain the initiative? Who are the people funding Involve Learning Solutions’ programmes?

When we work with government schools, we do not charge them any money. Instead, we raise money from other non-profits, donors, innovation grants, etc. When we work with a low-income private school, we do a partnership model, wherein they bear half the cost and we raise the other half.

For additional funding, as of now, we have been funded by a couple of very prestigious organisations. We have won international awards from Northwestern University Chicago and Singapore International Foundation. Apart from this, we are incubated at Bangalore-based N/Core; it has given us a grant of Rs 10 lakh.

The biggest deterrent for youngsters starting a non-profit is that we cannot get CSR funding for the first three years. This is the reason we cannot grow as fast as for-profits startups. It does get easier to raise funds after the first three years. 

Could you share the number of students who have already been trained under your programme and what kind of scale are you planning to achieve?

Till date, we have worked with 1000+ students and developed 200 Student Leaders to become teachers across seven schools in three cities in India. Our objective is to touch 25,000 students and develop 5000 Student Leaders across 200+ schools via our Young Students Leadership Program by 2022.
 

Where do you see Involve Learning Solutions in the next five years?

We want to standardise and improve our programme in the next few years. We want to leverage the power of technology to scale our initiatives rapidly and expand to other parts of the country. We want to be present in 1000 schools in the next five years. We strive to make students understand the importance of the learning process and help them become change-makers within their own school. We want to take the bottoms-up approach and involve students right from the beginning to make them part of the growth story.

What is your take on the education sector in India?

Education in India is very much focussed on academics rather than learning and skills that students actually need to succeed in life. The need for education has actually evolved over the years. Earlier young adults had to do repeatable tasks at the workplace. This is no longer the case. We have technology and automation to take care of such tasks. The workplaces of today demand innovation and problem-solving. Unfortunately, our education system has not evolved to meet this change. Our curriculum is still the same as it was 20-30 years ago.
 

How did you prepare for your IIT-JEE? Any study tips for IIT aspirants?

Preparing for IIT-JEE is not a 100-metre race, it is a marathon. It’s a two-year journey full of mountains and valleys. There will be highs and lows. You need to focus on getting your concepts rights, and not just clearing the exams. Focus on learning and not just getting into a good school. If you learn well, everything else will follow. Do not let small setbacks pull you down. They are bound to happen, take them in stride, learn from them and move on. Lastly, do not look at the local competition, your goal should be to beat the national competition.

Any parting words for fellow social entrepreneurs?

Do it for your own happiness and passion, not the heroism that comes with it. Heroes come and go in the social sector. If that is the only reason, your motivation will fade in three months or so. But if you are here for the right reasons, the process will become a lot more sustainable and enriching.
 

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