Education should never be the preserve of a select few, certainly not when children from poor economic backgrounds have consistently displayed amazing potential despite facing innumerable hindrances. The West Bengal government has initiated a scheme wherein it will help train students from less advantaged families. As per the programme, the government will support the education of 1,000 brilliant students for different careers like engineering, civil services and medicine. FIITJEE, an institute that provides coaching for entrance examinations, will be partnering with the state government&’s department of youth services in order to make the initiative successful.

As part of the initiative, FIITJEE has pledged to train 175 students this year for examinations like the JEE Advanced and JEE Main. Amongst them, 50 students will get admission to the institute&’s classroom coaching programme while 125 will be offered coaching through distance learning and correspondence courses. The selection of students will be merit-based and the target group will comprise those from families with an annual income of less than Rs 1.2 lakh. The government has already earmarked Rs 3.01 crore for the scheme and FIITJEE will implement the programme in phases by admitting students on a regular basis.

The institute boasts programmes like Fortunate-40 and Super 30, which are aimed at showcasing the brilliance of students from poor backgrounds. West Bengal, the cultural capital of India, is a state filled with numerous wonders and the institute is looking to tap into this immense pool of potential. But there are several challenges to overcome — a fact that can be gauged by a look at the statistics. With a burgeoning population, which is estimated at more than 91 million, Bengal is the fourth most populous state in India where the economy is primarily dependent on agriculture and medium scale industries. Districts like Cooch Behar, Jalpaiguri, Malda, North Dinajpur and South Dinajpur are some of the least economically developed in the country. Then there is the Sunderbans area, which is one of the poorest regions of Asia.

Though Bengal has an enviable legacy in different areas like industry and education, the overall industrial and economic conditions have been dismal for the last couple of decades. As per Planning Commission data, as a result of the Tendulkar Committee&’s estimates, nearly 20 per cent of the state&’s population is still below the poverty line. Statistics further reveal that the urban poverty rate is 15 per cent — one per cent higher than the national average. On the other hand, the rural poverty rate is higher than the urban poverty rate by eight percentage points. However, in comparison with the overall national average, it is still low.

West Bengal&’s statistics continue to remain poor as its per capita annual income in 2013-14 was Rs 69,000, much lower than the national average of Rs 74,000. As far as the infant mortality rate is concerned, it has diminished by four percentage points only, from 35 per 1,000 in 2008 to 31 per 1000 in 2013. Deficiencies in infrastructure, coupled with a scarcity of good educational institutions and hospitals, are the primary reasons to blame for zones of high poverty in the state. The ever increasing unemployment rate in Bengal is also because of slow economic growth.

Taking a look at the state&’s standing in terms of education points to the pioneering role it played in the development of India&’s modern education system, some of its leading institutes of higher education include the Indian Institute of Management in Joka (the first IIM), the Indian Institute of Technology in Kharagpur (the first IIT), Bengal Engineering and Science University (the second oldest engineering institute in India), Jadavpur University (first in the country to start chemical engineering and several other inter-disciplinary programmes), Presidency College,

Indian Institute of Science Education and Research, National Institute of Technology in Durgapur, Indian Statistical Institute and Visva-Bharati University, among others.

Education in the state is provided by both the public and private sector but despite good schools and a literary ambience prevailing in the region, a lot of children without the means don’t study or drop out of schools altogether in order to earn a living.

The new initiative for poor children is aimed at creating gems for the country as experience shows that students from economically backward families are usually more hard working but aren’t able to achieve laurels because of financial constraints. The West Bengal government and FIITJEE are aiming to change the scenario.