For Vaishnavi Saini and Arti Mishra, students of a state-run polytechnic institute, learning Python, an advanced programming language, was not even on the horizon. They do not have regular access to laptops or desktops, and could not float the idea of signing up for a course that may entail additional expenditure for their families.
But a Ministry of Education project, piloted by the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) that aims to help students from socio-economically disadvantaged communities enroll for courses taught by ed-tech companies, has offered them a glimmer of hope.
“For now, we will make use of the institute’s computer lab,” said Vaishnavi, one of 12.15 lakh students among whom the government plans to distribute free coupons for an array of courses offered by ed-tech companies under the National Education Alliance for Technology (NEAT) initiative.
The NEAT initiative is taking shape at a time the government has announced plans to introduce a policy to regulate the ed-tech sector to prevent instances of “exploitation”.
NEAT chief coordinating officer Buddha Chandrashekhar said that of the total registrations that companies get through the portal, they are expected to offer at least 25 per cent additional seats for students belonging to SC/ST/OBC and EWS communities, with the annual family income cap fixed at Rs 8 lakh.
“Accordingly, a bank of 12.15 lakh free coupons have been created which are now being distributed among beneficiaries,” he said. “AICTE-approved government colleges across the country were asked in December to recommend names.”
“The final list of beneficiaries has been picked using an automated tool with caste, income, gender, age as filters, as around 37 lakh applications were received. Women have been given preference over men,” Chandrashekhar said.
A state-wise break up shows that of the total, 4.12 lakh free coupons are being distributed among students of Uttar Pradesh, followed by 2.23 lakh in Tamil Nadu, 1.38 lakh in Maharashtra, and 1.21 lakh in Andhra Pradesh.
Arti, a student of office management, who comes from UP’s Mirzapur district and belongs to the general (EWS) category, said: “Our college informed us about NEAT on January 2. After that, we applied for three courses of our preferences. On January 6, I was informed that I have been selected. The prospect of learning Python, which was among my preferences, is exciting.”
Sneha P, a second-year engineering student in a Coimbatore college, is also among candidates picked under the scheme. “I have also chosen Python since I am interested in pursuing web development,” Sneha, who did not enroll with any ed-tech platform before, said.
Vaishnavi, 22, who is pursuing a diploma in electrical engineering, said while they have been informed about the selection, the course has not commenced yet. “I eventually aim to crack JEE-Mains and pursue engineering, so it will be great if I manage to complete the Python course as well, something I did not think was possible,” said Vaishnavi, who is from an OBC community.
Vaishnavi comes from Kanpur, UP, where her father is a musician, performing at Ram Kathas, and her mother a homemaker.