Anand Gopakumar: Helping Students to ‘Tap’ Their Real Potential

By Deepu Aby Varghese

Thiruvananthapuram: In the May issue of Destination Kerala, I had attempted a comparative study on the importance of skill-based learning among students, particularly focussing on ‘job-readiness’ of graduates in Kerala. I felt fortunate when I was tasked do the MAD column for this issue as I did have a story in mind that could do justice to the nature of this series and be seen as a follow up of my previous article. I hope it would elaborate on how the next generation of professionals must be trained on the basis of their hidden talents and skills, which often are neglected by the existing constructs of pedagogy.

 

TAP, a student-mentorship project Anand Gopakumar co-founded, provides an opportunity to every child to learn and master what she or he loves to do

 

This is the story of Anand Gopakumar who hails from Thiruvananthapuram. ‘The Apprentice Project’ (TAP), a student-mentorship project he co-founded, is not known to many people in Kerala. That is because Anand and his team of volunteers mainly work in the less-affluent schools on the outskirts of Pune. They have one goal: ‘To provide an opportunity to every child to learn and master what she or he loves to do.’ He ditched a comfortable career following his engineering degree to passionately guide school children who are the torchbearers in our journey to the future. It is important to understand the factors that persuaded Anand and his team of qualified professionals to volunteer to chart a new course for the children to a bright future.

During his school days, according to Anand, he was just another average student who felt the ‘weight’ of a cumbersome syllabus. The more it burdened him the more he became aware of the absurdity of it. He finished his engineering in 2012 from Sree Chithra Thirunal Engineering College in the Kerala capital and took off to Delhi, where he worked in a private company. During his stint in Delhi as a Product Manager for a company, he decided to enrol in the ‘Teach for India’ fellowship (two years), a mentoring programme in which professionals volunteer to teach students of schools in poor conditions. The idea of TAP dawned on him from a realisation in his school days that it was his love for playing football that drew him to school every day and how things started to change in his favour as a result of it.

“TAP was born out of my experience teaching in a school for two years. We found out that kids did not know why they are coming to school,” says Anand. However, in the beginning, Anand found it extremely hard to handle upper primary-level students as most of them disliked coming to school. But it did not take long for him to attract them to the school.

“Things started to turn in my favour when I introduced football in classroom because my kids found a purpose for coming to school,” he recollects. TAP volunteers focus their energy on evaluating the less-privileged student communities.

He decided to walkout of his comfort zone and the security of a fulltime job, as he realised that marks scored in schools and colleges did not count much when it comes to building a path to a successful career. Anand and a group of like-minded professionals were convinced that young students need to be given a chance to learn what they love to do.

“Kids from low-income communities lack the network of support and opportunities they need to succeed in school and life. This causes them to remain stuck in the cycle of poverty forever,” Anand adds.

According to the 28-year-old, TAP operates by placing high-skilled individuals in under-resourced schools where students pick skills from one of the four verticals they are offered. “We bring highly-skilled people from various walks to teach children about visual arts, performing arts, cognitive skills and sports. We use project-based learning as a framework for this,” he explains.

Moreover, what TAP team facilitates is a choice-based learning system where students are given options such as coding, electronics, singing, dancing and even Frisbee as part of training. This system has two models – the Explore Model and the Depth Model. In the Explore Model, TAP allows students of fifth grade to discover where their talents lie. Over a period of 10 classes, students are continuously assessed to find out their strengths and weaknesses.

At the end of the first year of TAP training, students are introduced to the Depth Model to enhance theirskills in one of the verticals of their choice. TAP supports the students to continue with the same vertical until they finish ninth grade.

“In government schools, they are never really given the opportunity to explore themselves. And with TAP, I wanted to make sure that kids are the centre of everything that we do. Irrespective of where they come from, they should get a chance to learn what they really want to learn,” he says.

Within just two years of its launch, TAP managed to reach 1,100 students in 11 schools in Pune through 83 facilitators. The team plans to reach 1800 students in Pune by the end of the current academic year and to 10 lakhs students across the country within next five to 10 years. In his effort to inculcate skills in students, Anand is backed by Prashant Kumar, an alumni of IIM Kozhikode, and Monica Peswani, a former employee of Infosys and Young India Fellow. If you think it is a cause worth supporting, you can reach him at [email protected] or over phone: +91 99719 59188 (Anand) or +91 99911 88231 (Monica).