On an unremarkable day in 1990 in Barheta village of Bihar’s Darbhanga district, Nirmal Prakash, an 11-year-old boy, asks his father for Rs 2. Prakash wants to buy an application form for admission to Jawahar Navodaya Vidyalaya, one of the 560 residential schools funded and run by the Central government in rural areas of as many districts of India. What Nirmal gets from his poor, farmer father with four children is an angry rebuke.
JNV at Theog, near Shimla
But as luck would have it, there’s a Good Samaritan in Barheta. Sanjeev Dev, a teacher in a local school, is confident that Prakash is a bright kid, and not just buys him the application form, but also helps him prepare for the admission test for JNVs, which admit selected students into the 6th standard and then provide them free boarding, lodging and education through the 12th standard. True to Dev’s instincts, Prakash does exceedingly well, right from the admission test through his schooling in JNV-Darbhanga, and beyond.
In 1998, he cracks the Joint Entrance Exam of the IITs (IIT-JEE) in his first attempt; he later goes on to become the Country Manager (India) of Muehlbauer, a German RFID and biometric solutions provider with operations in over a dozen countries.
JNVs at a glance
Number of operating JNVs: 560
Additional number of JNVs sanctioned: 16
Total number of pupils: About 2 lakh
Total number of school staff: 1,600 (excluding administrative staff of about 400)
States/UTs where JNVs are located: 34 (all except Tamil Nadu)
Number of regional offices across India: 8
Average area of land on which a JNV is located: 30 acres
Number of pupils in a full-capacity JNV: 560
What is not charged: Boarding, education, food, uniforms and many items of everyday use.*
Facilities: Sports, computer labs with internet, excursions, ‘migration scheme’, fine arts, music and dance training, etc.
Medium of instruction: English (from class 9)
Annual spend per school: Rs 1.5 crore
Total spend allocated for 2008-09: Rs 904 crore
*About four years ago, JNVs began charging Rs 200 a month from general category male students, i.e., excluding all pupils from reserved categories and girls. The funds collected are ploughed back into academic and non-academic activities
In May 2008, Prakash, 29, is visiting his home state of Bihar as Joint Managing Director of Smarftech, a Nashik-headquartered technology provider and a member of a consortium that has recently won a Rs 280-crore contract to provide smart cards to the beneficiaries of National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme in the state. “JNV made me what I am today,” Nirmal tells this writer from Patna.
Thousands of miles away from Patna, in New Jersey (US), there is an equally grateful alumnus of JNV: Arjun Singh, who hails from Amarpur village in Meerut district of Uttar Pradesh. “I was 6th of the 7 siblings. My father earned no more than Rs 800 a month in daily wages, ferrying grain and people on his mule-cart. At JNV, we got everything free—from shoe polish to books and stationery,” recalls Singh, 29, whose seven years at JNV Meerut launched him into a life and career that he’d never imagined. Having done his B.E. (Mechanical Engineering) and Master of Management Studies from BITS-Pilani, he currently works as Vice President, GTS (Global Transaction Services) Technology, Citibank, in Jersey City.
The JNV impact
The examples of Nirmal Prakash and Arjun Singh are just two of the thousands of incredible tales of socio-economic mobility that JNVs have scripted in Indian villages. Underinvestment in education and maladministration have made sure that most of the 75 crore people who reside in villages never receive modern, quality education and, hence, a chance to become a member of the educated society that enjoys the bountiful fruits of the modern, urban economy.
For schools located in India’s rural hinterland and serving children from largely-disadvantaged backgrounds, JNVs seem to be doing very well, even surpassing their more privileged urban counterparts.
Since 2005, in terms of performance (pass percentage) in the 10th standard exam conducted by the Central Board of Secondary Education, JNV students have been beating their counterparts not just in other government schools (including Kendriya Vidyalayas) but also the private schools (See JNVs: The underdogs). “In the 12th standard CBSE exams too, JNVs have been beating government schools (except Kendriya Vidyalayas) as well as private institutions,” says M.S. Khanna, Joint Commissioner, Navodaya Vidyalaya Samiti (NVS), the Central government agency that manages the JNVs.
The ratios of first divisions (60 per cent marks or more) achieved by JNV pupils in exams for 10th and 12th standards have been above 77 and 72 per cent, respectively. A survey conducted in 2007 found the ‘annual income of father’ of 74 per cent of the JNV pupils to be less than Rs 48,000, highlighting the economically disadvantaged backgrounds of the children attending these schools.