The teacher who has become an icon


Anand Kumar’s Super 30, a coaching institute in Patna which prepares 30 poor kids for the Indian Institute of Technology entrance exam free of cost, has achieved iconic stature because of its success rate.

A Ganesh Nadar met Anand Kumar, the fiery and idealistic teacher-founder as we continue our series on Extraordinary Indians.

They are a troika of very young, simple and humble teachers led by a fiery and idealistic Anand Kumar. I could have mistaken Kumar for the neighbourhood shopkeeper, he was unshaven and dressed simply.

But behind that deceptive exterior lay an extraordinary man who has become an icon for helping underprivileged students from the villages of Bihar clear the prestigious entrance exam to the Indian Institutes of Technology.

Anand Kumar runs Super 30, a small IIT coaching school in Patna. This year too, all 30 of its students cleared the IIT entrance test, the dream of many young Indians.

Kumar met me in his ordinary home where I learnt how he brought hope into the lives of many poor children, making them believe everyday that in merit and hard work lie life’s endless opportunities.

Like many Indians, Kumar had had his own youthful dreams of escaping from poverty by doing well in his studies. He had finished a BA Honours in Maths and was accepted for a post graduate degree by Cambridge University in the United Kingdom.

Just then fate struck and his father Rajendra Prasad, a clerk in the postal department, passed away.

Cambridge became a distant dream never to be fulfilled for Anand Kumar. Well meaning relatives and friends tried to get him his father’s job but he did not like the idea as he wanted to become a mathematician. He sacrificed the security of a government job to live his dream.

He was only 21, his younger brother Pranab was 19 and studying at the Banaras Hindu University in Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh. “Mother made papad and I sold it door to door. We used to call it ‘Anand Papad’,” he says.

Times were hard. Everyday Anand carried two bags on a cycle and returned home after selling them. To save money, the family gave up the telephone connection, stopped the milk and daily newspaper.

The Swami Vivekananda Sewashram in Patna let out a room to him for Rs 500. Here he started a maths tution centre in 1995. Initially there were just two students, his fee was Rs 500 for each student annually. He would teach and then go to sell the papad. Slowly his reputation as a good teacher drew more students. Three years later, he stopped being a papad salesman, the telephone connection was restored along with the milk and newspaper.

In 2001 his fee was Rs 1,500 per year. He now charges Rs 4,000 per student per year. There are over 300 students at his tuition centre which is named after mathematics genius Srinivasa Ramanujan. The money earned from here is used for providing free coaching and stay to Super 30 students.

The thought behind setting up Super 30 came to Kumar in 2001 when a poor student told him he could not afford the Rs 1,500 annual fee.

Anand Kumar then started the Super 30 institute to coach the poorest students and prepare them for the IIT-JEE. His only criteria was that they had to be bright and talented.

News about Super 30 spread through word of mouth primarily by the 300 students who were already taking coaching from Anand Kumar. For his Super 30 initiative, Kumar received more than 800 applications. The application fee was Rs 10.

An entrance test was conducted and 100 students were short-listed. The economic background of these students was checked and the poorest among them were selected.

The students of Super 30 receive coaching for a whole year. They get free food cooked in Anand Kumar’s home and are housed in rooms spread over the city. The two girls in the last group stayed in a girl’s hostel.

The students are taught four days a week from 4 pm to 8.30 pm. The rest of the time, they study or hold group discussions amongst themselves. Tests are conducted everyday.

The other two teachers at the institute are Praveen Kumar and Amit Kumar. Super 30’s first batch appeared for the IIT-JEE entrance test in 2003. 18 of the 30 cleared the exam. In 2004, 22 were successful; in 2005, 26; in 2006, 28; in 2008, 2009 and 2010 — all 30 students made it.

Now Anand Kumar wants to start a school from Class VI onwards. He also wants to coach students for the Maths and Physics Olympiad. “I want one of my students to win the Nobel Prize,” he declares with all humility.

Many people have come forward to help Kumar financially but he has humbly refused. “We have refused all help so far. I will take it when I start building the school,” says Anand Kumar, who has two well armed but polite guards.

Ask him about the armed guards and he says, “I was threatened by a criminal who was in jail at that time. He wanted me to stop Super 30.”

When Kumar refused, he was attacked at his doorstep and one of his aides was stabbed. A bomb was thrown at his home and there were gun shots, but he managed to escape unhurt. After the incident, the police provided him with security.

To get a sense of the impact of Super 30 on the lives of its young students, I met some of them and came back truly inspired by what Anand Kumar has achieved.

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