Ethan Arpi

India’s American Dream

India’s SchoolsIn its latest issue, Business Week published an interesting article on the Ramanujan School of Mathematics, a preparatory academy that trains low-income students in the art of test taking: ?Every April, some 230,000 Indian youths sharpen their pencils and sit for the intensely competitive entrance exam to the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) — the seven prestigious schools that train India’s top-notch engineers and entrepreneurs,? Business Week reports.? ?After the grueling six-hour test, only 5,000 students are offered a place in the IITs. Most come from middle-class backgrounds and prepare for the exams through private coaching. But in the past few years, a small group of desperately poor, talented students have made it into the IITs, thanks to the Ramanujan School of Mathematics.?

The Ramanujan School of Mathematics, which is located in Patna, the capital of Bihar, one of India’s poorest states, accepts 30 low-income students every year, free of charge.? To gain entrance, students must pass an exam that is, arguably, more difficult than the entrance exam for the IITs.? But once they have been admitted, they are almost guaranteed a spot at one of the IITs.? In its first year, 16 of its 30 students passed the IIT exam.? A year later, that total jumped to 22.? This year, Anand Kumar, founder of the school, boldly predicts that all 30 students will pass.How has the school been so successful?? The formula is actually quite simple: intelligent students work excruciatingly hard.? At the school, students are subjected to a rigorous regime of rote learning and test taking, endowing them with the skills and knowledge needed to pass the IIT exam.? Santosh Kumar, who Business Week describes as a typical student at the Ramanujan School, had no shortage of energy when it came to his studies.? ?For seven months, Santosh studied every morning for four hours, then sat down for a three-hour test in math, physics, and chemistry, and after a break studied three more hours. From six to nine in the evening, he attended a class in the same subjects and prepared for the next day’s test until 2 a.m. His work paid off last spring, when he won a coveted seat at the IIT in Kharagpur, near Calcutta.?? Now, he has set his sights on the unimaginable, planning to pursue a doctorate and chemistry.

The success story of Santosh and others like him who attended the Ramanujan School is, without question, inspiring.? But in a country with over 1 billion people, we must keep in mind that this class of 30 is the exception, not the rule.