If you read the FAQs on the site, the first question will startle you; in fact, it has the potential to break all the perceived and long-standing notions where qualification is regarded as a birth-right of rich people. But for Ramanujan School of Mathematics and to be eligible to get free coaching from Super 30, you need to be poor!
Yes, we are talking about the wonder that Anand Kumar has created in the famous-for-IAS-and-lot-of-menace-land Bihar. The idea is belief-shaking and the results are faith-proving. It is like living in a dream of fantasy where a Messiah comes to the aid of poor who are want to study but can’t. The concept seems to0 wishful to be true but it has.
India is a land of contrasting establishments–it creates wonders in both senses of the term: good and bad. Super 30, by no means, is a little achievement and during trying times of Kali Age, it has proven that light still lingers on in the hearts of handful few, who rise and take up the challenge to deliver what some only think but no one believe to be achievable.
Mission of Super 30
The main objective of Super 30 is to track the talented bunch of students from economically impoverished sections and hone their skills by providing a conducive environment. Talent knows no boundaries. It is everywhere. All one needs is to spot talent and nurture it to let it blossom. Super 30 has done just that in the last six years and the results have been encouraging. The talented students have been given quality teaching and an open atmosphere to perform to the best of their potential.
The students should not be handicapped by financial constraints of their families. If they have it in them, Super 30 is there to guide them where they belong, but may not reach for want of resources. Super 30’s mission is to help more and more students from economically poor sections reach the IITs.
Having shaped students for six years now, Anand has now realized the importance of ‘catching them young’. He wants to start the talent hunt a bit earlier than Plus Two stage. If talented students are spotted at the school-level, it can work wonders. With this in mind, he wants to set up schools for poor children. The schools would provide the right impetus to the students at the right time through innovative teaching to develop their interest in Mathematics and Science subjects at an early age. It would shape them for different Olympiads and prepare them for other competitions. The thrust would be on developing inquisitiveness, so very important for science and Mathematics education.
We had a telephonic interview with Anand Kumar (it was in Hindi and English translation is provided here):
Q1. Tell us about yourself, your education and how you began?
Right from childhood, I had a dream to become a Mathematician. I’ve lot of interest in Mathematics, which kept increasing coming till I joined college. I had three teachers namely Bal Gangadhar Prasad, D.P. Verma, Mohd. Shahabuddin, and they encouraged me a lot. Some of my concepts about properties of number theory or some problems got published in English journal, and then I was granted admission in Cambridge University for higher education. But because I didn’t have enough money and untimely death of my father I couldn’t go to the Cambridge. Poverty struck our home and the pain of not going to Cambridge was always there. Our condition was so bad that my mother had to prepare Papars and sell by wandering about in the streets. This remained from 1994 to 1997. In 1997, we started Ramanujan School of Mathematics by taking up some children with the saving of our own money and having a rented room of a school. Slowly, that program got popular and many children started coming. Within five years, 500 to 600 children were there. In 2002, a boy came to me and said that he didn’t have enough money for bed and breakfast to continue in our service. This incident touched my heart. I was reminded of my old days. From there, I took 30 children and made boarding and logging free. My mother agreed to prepare food for them and my brother Pramod Kumar was to look after the management. Amit Kumar Singh, Praveen Kumar, and Neeraj Pratap Singh took the responsibility to teach Physics, Chemistry and I started teaching Mathematics. In the first year, 2003, 18 out of 30 students got selected in IIT and other children too got in NIT and other good colleges. In 2004, out of 30, 22 students were selected; in 2005, 26; in 2006-07, 28 children each; and from 2008 to 2010, 30 out of 30 students got selected in IIT. This was a historical achievement for us.
Q2. Were you inspired from Ramanujan?
Right from my school days, I was fond of number theory. Ramanujan was a great exponent of number theory. I used to get excited by reading the biography of Ramanujan. I wanted to become a Mathematician just like him. Today, I am not 0.001% of him, but I am happy that I love Mathematics and I write for some leading Mathematics journals of England even today. So, I named my school after Ramanujan.
Q3. Tell us about your mentor and Guru Mr. Devi Prasad Verma.
He was regarded as a great expert in number theory in Patna University. Now, after his retirement he teaches Mathematics to children all over India. He is a very knowledgeable person; I got inspiration and blessings from him. He was the first person to help me getting my paper published in London.
Q4. You named the group Super 30 not Super 20 or Super 50. Was there a special thought behind it?
The story behind it is that one of our teachers, Amit Kumar Singh, suggested that it should be Super 30. So, the name came up just by fun. We thought about teaching 30 children just for an experiment and we never thought at that time that this institute will earn such big name. For two years, not many people knew us but after the success of our children, people came to know.
Q5. How difficult it was to choose 30 children out of 600/700 for your group of Super 30?
In the beginning, it was very difficult because our institute was not well known to the people. But slowly as it got name and fame, it became easy. This year we are planning to take 60 children.
Q6. You take 30 very-very poor children. How their parents support your idea since very poor people in India are not too keen to send their children for higher education?
It was a difficult task but now in Bihar and for that matter in India the trend is changing. In the olden days, the rich landlords used to exploit the poor and make them do the work and the thinking of the poor was also such that they visualized their children to become the driver or the peon of the rich persons. Keeping that view in mind, they did more and more service to the rich. But now the poor have become more aware about their rights and self-esteem. Nowadays, poor sell their fields and pledge their houses for loans to help their children study high. Students do come to us after 10th class but I agree with you that children become dropouts after 5th or 6th class and start working with their parents, so we have a dream to start a school wherein we would be able to take children from 6th class.
Q7. Suppose in a given year 31-32 or 33 equally brilliant students are there, then how do you adjust with extra two or three students?
We take 30 poorest children but we don’t stop extra children coming to classes.
Q8. Children other than Super 30 group study in your institute. How many of them get selected in IIT?
We teach them 10+1 and for 10+2. We teach them not for selection but to increase their interest. So we do not have their track record that how many of them selected in IIT.
Q9. Do you inspire children in Super 30 for research and try to win Nobel Prize also?
We make two characters Bhollu and Ricky. It is a cartoon picture made with the help of multimedia projector. Ricky is a rich boy while Bhollu is a poor boy. We show how Bhollu leads his life by eating corn and using a bicycle and Ricky has a bike and eats pizza/burger. And when a sum comes up Ricky solves them in one way and go away. And Bhollu solves it in 4-5 different ways and generalize the problem. We inspire children to be creative every time.
Q10. Tell us about Super 60?
Mr. Harpal Singh, an NRI from Punjab is supporting this idea. He is from Chandigarh but now settled in America. From this year onwards, we are going to start.
Q11. Have you visited any foreign country?
I have been to America at least four times for mathematical conferences.
Q12. Who bear the expenses for this?
Every time some sponsors do it for us.
Q13. What primary requirement must be there for an individual to start a project like yours?
A strong will (Junoon/passion) must be there. There is a lot of work to do every moment like teaching students, attending your family, getting loans and bicycles etc; making arrangements for their lodging and many more. So it becomes very busy schedule. But if you have strong will power to accomplish the task then you can do it.
Q14. Do you get any help from central, state or district administration?
No, never any help. Bihar Govt. has offered to give help but we want to show that we can do it on our own. If you have will power, you can do without donation. Mr. harpal Singh offered donation many times but we requested him for help not money.
Q15. Anad Kumar Ji, you have a handsome number of IIT pass-outs (212) do they offer any help to you?
Yes, in vacations they do come and guide and encourage students. 4- 5% students are there who tend to forget us and get lost in glamor world. They even don’t care for their parents.
Q16. Bihar is considered as poor backward State nowadays, though it has a rich historical background like Nalanda University which remained the center of higher education for years. Do you think that if some organization helps you to renovate the historical background of Bihar, you will do it too?
Yes, it will be a matter of good fortune for us. Up to some extent, we are already doing this.
Q17. What are your future plans?
We want to have a school with a campus in 100/150 acres where we can take kids at younger stage and teach them up to 12th standard; also to try to make them creative and win Nobel Prize.
Q18. What you want your own child to be?
I’ve a three month old son; I want to give him freedom to whatever he wants to become. He should be good at it. He should be creative. He should not copy anyone but he should do something new. I want to see people saying wow to him.
Q19. You won’t force him to study Mathematics?
Q20. Do you get approaches from politicians and industrialists to get their children admitted to Super 30? How you deal with them?
Yes, we get pressurized also but we beg their pardon with folded hands.
Q21. Do you get threats from other institutions?
Yes, not only threats but two or three times I’ve been attacked also. One day, one of our staff members was stabbed so now we have to keep ourselves under security cover which is also not very easy. Coaching mafia now tries to attack in different way by opening different coaching centers with similar names like Super 30.
Q22. If any IIT pass-out student from Super 30 wants to open another Super 30 in his own State then what will be your advice?
We’ll surly help as much as possible. Already governments of Punjab, Assam, Chattisgarh and Tamilnadu have shown interests to start such projects. We will surly help with teaching training program and other related guidance.
Q23. Why don’t you start different units of Super 30 in different States?
It is not possible because to find devoted teachers is very difficult. But if somebody starts on his own, then we are there to help him.
Q24. How was it to meet Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam?
It was very nice. He praised us and encouraged us a lot. It was also very nice to meet Dr. Manmohan Singh. He is a very good person; he told us that whenever he visits Patna, he will surely visit us. He is very simple and humble person.
Q25. Do you get support from your family?
Yes, I get all support from my family members.
Q26. What do you want from the government?
We want the Govt. to give 3 chances in IIT entrance examination instead of two because many poor students don’t even know what IIT really is.
Q27. How do you afford the fees for IITs for the poor selected students?
United Bank of India helps us in providing loans to the students at almost 0% interest rate.