Arhan Sarma utilizes technology to support education in India

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Photo courtesy of Arhan Sarma ('22)

Arhan Sarma (’22) plays games with school children from the Sonkheda Village in 2019. He said he made many Meaningful connections with the children he worked with.

Sophia Bassi, Staff Writer

After visiting the only school in Janata Vashat village in India, Arhan Sarma (’22) realized the importance of education and how essential it is for all children. This has led to his pursuit of providing children in India with technology, supporting their learning in a tech-reliant world.

Sarma said that, without an education, families in India tend to be stuck in a poverty cycle, continuing the same jobs in their village. Yet, with a quality education, they are able to lift themselves out of poverty and are more likely to succeed in society.

“People don’t really grow out of poverty the way that they should be doing without education,” he said. “With an education though, they can go to a different high school, and then they can raise their kids or their families in a different city.”

His trip to Janata Vashat village was the start of Sarma’s partnership with Pratham, one of India’s largest non-governmental organizations. The charity works to improve the quality of education in the country.

Sarma later spent the summer of 2019 in Sonkheda village, spending one month learning about technology integration in Pratham’s program. Through developing connections with the schoolchildren during that month, he said he not only gained empathy, but was also more motivated to help.

Infographic by Sophia Bassi

“At some point, you develop a little bit of a connection with the people you’re working with,” he said. “You see how different their lives are from yours. You realise what struggles they go through. Of course you gain a little bit of empathy, but at some level you also understand what they’re going through.”

When spending time with the children, he also said he noticed their motivation to learn.

“When I go to these villages, I see a lot of fire in them and they’re hungry for knowledge,” he said. “I want to give them as much technology as possible,” Sarma said.

Six months ago, Sarma decided to start a fundraising drive to buy tablets for Indian villages, which he hoped to be able to hand out in-person. He created a fundraising page to raise money, which Pratham sent out on email blasts; Sarma also asked people he knew to donate.

Sarma said as the world’s technology usage grows, it is important that children should be able to know how to use it.

“In a more technology-reliant world, having basic skills is important to function,” he said. “Using great technology and having those skills will attract jobs and will incentivize village children to leave their villages and go to these jobs.”

Arhan Sarma (’22) launched a fundraising drive to purchase tablets for Indian villages and is also hoping to teach kids programming remotely. Read more about his work here. (Photo courtesy of Arhan Sarma (’22))

However, as Pratham is also an employer in India, the money raised has been reappropriated to make sure people do not lose jobs, especially considering the pandemic’s impact. 

In addition, Sarma plans to work with Raspberry Pi, a U.K.-based charity that works to teach computing worldwide. Through fundraising, he plans to provide Indian children with computers so that he can teach them how to program with Raspberry Pi remotely. 

“If I can’t be in India, what else can I do while I’m home?,” he said. “That’s what I’m thinking about constantly. This partnership through Raspberry Pi, which is the ability to teach programming thousands of miles away, is something that in the next six months or a year, even after COVID, is critically important.”

For Sarma, his overall long term goal is to supply students with more technology for their learning. He said to some extent, technology can serve by itself as education when it needs to. 

“India is very rural,” he said. “There are places that it’s quite hard to get a full classroom and it’s too expensive,” he said. “While that’s unfortunate, at a much cheaper rate, you can offer a Wi-Fi router and tablets, and you can offer some semblance of an education to kids.”