The education component in the individual grants programme enables institutions and ordinary students as well as talented scholars to pursue the path of learning
The aptly named Sunshine School for Differently Abled Children started small, with just six children, back in 2006. By early 2020, the Navi Mumbai-based institution had grown to accommodate 107 students in the 3-to-24 age bracket. Then came an unforeseen challenge and Sunshine School needed a friend, any friend, to help it see the light.
When the Covid pandemic struck, this school for children with special needs had to shut its gates and take its integrated education programme and therapy sessions online. Unfortunately, that led to a third of students dropping out. About 70 kids did enrol online, but the lockdown’s economic impact meant that as many as 30 of them could no longer afford to pay the fees.
“Even with a pay cut to our staff of therapists and teachers, we barely had enough funds to continue for three-four months. We would have had to close down,” says founder-principal Paramita Mazumdar. The thought of abandoning the differently-abled children at a time when they needed the school the most was unbearable. The school reached out to the Tata Trusts’ individual grants programme (IGP) for emergency assistance.
“The Trusts came as a godsend,” says Ms Mazumdar. “Their support ensured the survival of the school. The Trusts assured us that our students would continue to get the nurturing they so badly needed.” Coming in the nick of time, the IGP funds safeguarded the education of 70 students.
The education component in IGP supports a wide array of beneficiaries who cannot afford the cost of education, from individual students who dream of higher studies to teachers learning how to engage with special-needs children, from professionals looking to upskill themselves to youngsters aspiring for a learning experience in the best universities. Two factors decide the 4,000+ recipients of IGP’s education grants — merit and means.
The grant to Sunshine School was an outcome of IGP’s recast focus over the past few years on the education of special-needs children. This is part of an effort by the Trusts to explore ways of catering to the requirements of children with diverse forms of learning disability. One of these has been to support the training of teachers and caregivers — though a pilot programme — of differently-abled children.
“We were consciously looking at underserved areas where the Trusts could step in,” says Rukshana Savaksha, who heads IGP’s education portfolio. “The Trusts have always been mindful of staying relevant to the need of the hour and that’s why we strive to incorporate different models of support within our overall theme strategy, while considering diverse education needs.”
Having graduated from medical school as a dentist, Chennai doctor Rahul Raghavendra was keen on doing a master’s with specialisation in oral and maxillofacial surgery. Unable to afford the high fees in Chennai, he took up a seat at the Bangalore Institute of Dental Sciences. The total fees of more than 2.5 million for the three-year course were still too high, and his father had to mortgage the family land to secure a bank loan.
That was when Dr Raghavendra learned about the Tata Trusts’ individual grants programme and he applied for a scholarship. The application was processed, Dr Raghavendra appeared for an online interview with a subject expert, and soon a scholarship of 0.8 million was approved for a period of three years.
“I used to worry about finishing my studies and earning enough money to repay our loan but the scholarship has given us huge emotional comfort and our family land will soon be released from mortgage,” says the young doctor, who has just completed his postgraduation and is set to begin his career as a medical professional. “My family and I will always be grateful to Tata Trusts for helping us at a crucial time in our lives.”
IGP’s education component has an annual budget of around 360 million, about half of which goes towards scholarships for deserving students, including for higher studies in India and overseas.
The programme receives more than 8,000 applications from around the country every year. The challenging part is making sure the brightest and most deserving students benefit from aid, and IGP has been continuously refining its selection and administration processes to ensure this.
IGP handles disbursals under a number of heads. The largest part of its funding goes towards scholarships, primarily for bachelor’s and master’s courses, with aspirants applying under 19 disciplines, including medicine, healthcare and neuroscience.
Apart from scholarships based on merit, IGP covers applications directly from individuals living in Mumbai and its suburbs under a scheme called ‘means grant-direct’. Based on need (defined with respect to annual income), this scheme offers partial assistance to students from standard VIII up to graduation. The focus here is on families with lower incomes and fields of study where students find it difficult to obtain education loans.
Grants to organisations such as Sunshine School are in a category called ‘means grant-indirect’. Children orphaned by farmer suicides, children of commercial sex workers, street children and tribal children are supported under this scheme, and they are identified through select NGOs in Maharashtra who work with marginalised communities. The Trusts directly pay a substantial part of the fees and the costs of textbooks, uniforms and travel of these kids.
We were consciously looking at underserved areas where the Trusts could step in.”— Rukshana Savaksha, head, education portfolio, IGP,
IGP’s engagement with special-needs children started with a request from the Mumbai-based Santosh Institute for Mentally Challenged Children and has now expanded into an initiative that supports 12 special schools in Mumbai and Pune.
The two ‘means grant’ schemes support students up to their graduation. Last year, even after a sharp decrease in the number of applications due to the pandemic, IGP supported 140 students directly and 485 students through the indirect programme, disbursing a total of 20 million for their education and other needs.
Additionally, IGP backs mid-career professionals with enhancement grants that help them enhance their skills through training programmes, workshops and observerships. Aviators requiring funding to obtain commercial pilot licences are another set of beneficiaries. Meanwhile, the programme’s spectrum scheme covers the needs of sportspersons, musicians and theatre artists, as also the training of teachers to manage children with learning disabilities.
IGP has evolved down the years to expand and amplify the support it extends in education. One factor has remained a constant, though — the needs and aspirations of the individual continue to remain the focus of the education programme.