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GlobalScholar-EducationWorld Young Achievers Awards 2008

EducationWorld February 09 | Cover Story EducationWorld

Eight young finalists paraded their talent and achievements in magic, rapier fencing, painting, equesterian show jumping, math wizadry and cyber crime detection, at the GS-EW Young Achievers Awards 2008 celebrated in Chennai. Summiya Yasmeen reports

Any doubts that members of a specially constituted jury comprising education professionals, academics and media mavens may have entertained about the capabilities of generation next, were quickly dispelled when young finalists of the pan-India GlobalScholar-EducationWorld Young Achievers Awards 2008 rolled out their 15-minute presentations before a 100-strong audience, at a gala celebration event in Chennai on January 17.

The venue was the chandeliered convention centre of the southern port city’s GRT Grand hotel, where the eight young finalists paraded their talent and achievements in magic, rapier fencing, painting, equestrian dressage and show jumping, math wizardry, cyber crime detection, to a bedazzled audience. After four of the eight finalists were adjudged winners in their categories, all the finalists short-listed from 960 nominations received from across the country, were celebrated and showered with gifts, trophies and cash prizes.

A.V.K. Srikanth (arts and music category), A. Sai Mali (science, maths and technology), V. Nithin (sports) and Vineet Kumar (social work) were adjudged winners of the Global Scholar-EducationWorld Young Achievers Awards 2008. They were awarded Lenovo laptop computers, cheques of Rs.10,000 each and handsome, specially commissioned silver and acrylic trophies. Moreover the four runners up — Shruthi Sulappa, Shyam Srinivasaraghavan, Aly Asker Mirza, and Umesh B.N. — also received cash prizes of Rs.10,000 and trophies.

Instituted by EducationWorld, India’s pioneer and sole education news and analysis magazine with an estimated readership of over 1 million countrywide, and sponsored by GlobalScholar Inc, a US-based education technology company with a global presence, these annual awards acknowledge, reward and celebrate India’s young achievers. EW’s young achievers awards were inaugurated in 2005 and for three consecutive years were presented in conjunction with the Bangalore-based ITES (information technology enabled services) and consultancy major Infosys Technologies Ltd. But following withdrawal of Infosys from sponsorship of these annual awards in 2007 (“not enough bang for the buck”), the Seattle-based GlobalScholar, which has established perhaps the world’s largest hi-tech online learning portal supported by a 125-strong tech support team in Chennai, stepped up to the plate.

“GlobalScholar’s mission is to integrate and align all resources in education — parents, students, tutors, teachers, technology and content — to empower the world to learn. Therefore we whole-heartedly welcomed the opportunity to sponsor these national youth awards. We hope that the outstanding young achievers of 2008 will be an inspiration to all children and youth countrywide. Next year we plan to spread the nominations net wider to attract a larger number of nominations from rural India,” said Kalyan (‘Kal’) Raman, founder chief executive of GlobalScholar, speaking at the January 17 awards function.

A young achiever himself, the 40-something Raman, a graduate of the Guindy College of Engineering, Chennai, traversed a spectacular career from a dirt-poor single parent family in rural Tamil Nadu to the Tata group in Mumbai and further to the US, where he quickly rose to vice presidential positions in several Fortune 500 companies including Walmart and Amazon.com. In 2006 he accepted the offer of American business tycoon and philanthropist Michael Milken, co-founder chairman of the Los Angeles-based Knowledge Universe Learning Group of companies, to engineer the world’s most ambitious online education portal, www.global scholar.com.

Following established precedent, the process of selecting India’s top young achievers began with repeated advertising of the awards in Education-World and a poster/direct mail campaign to schools and colleges across the country. The advertisements/posters invited nominations from young achievers (Indian citizens) aged 12-25 years with outstanding achievements in four categories — science, maths and technology; arts and music; sports; and social work. The 960 high quality nominations received by mail/online were assessed and scrutinised by IL&FS Education and Technology Services — India’s largest school curriculum and content development company — which made a preliminary shortlist of eight achievers in each category. They were then interviewed telephonically by Neena Paul, vice president of IL&FS ETS. 

Following this, two highest rated individuals in each category were invited (all expenses paid) to Chennai for interview by a high-powered jury comprising Kal Raman; Neena Paul; Lina Ashar (founder chairperson of Kangaroo Kids Education Ltd, Mumbai); Mahesh Shetty (founder director of MT Educare, Mumbai); Shuchi Mathur (director, Waterford Institute India, Mumbai) and Dilip Thakore (publisher-editor of EducationWorld). “The achieve-ments of all the finalists were outstanding and we had a hard — indeed contentious — job of choosing the winners,” says Ashar speaking on behalf of the judges panel.

Adds Paul: “Although the number of nominations received across the four categories was modest, the quality and range of achievements of the nominees were excellent. It was encouraging to learn how young achievers, despite the constraints of an unsupportive educa-tion system and lethargic government establishment, are driving themselves to attain global standards. I hope next year we will see a substantial increase in the number of entries from women, as also from young social activists working for change in society.”

Winners and finalists of the GlobalScholar-EW Young Achievers Awards 2008 are profiled on the pages following.

Arts & Music

Multi-skilled entertainer

At first sight, with his serious mien and earnest demeanour, he looks a studious scholar. But his looks are deceptive. Actually Chennai-based A.V.K. Srikanth (16), adjudged winner of the GlobalScholar-EW Young Achievers Awards 2008 in the arts and music category, is a multi-skilled entertainer par excellence.

A gifted artist, keyboard player and magician all rolled into one, Srikanth is a class XII student of the highly-rated DAV Boys Senior Secondary School, Gopalapuram, Chennai. He started slapping paint on canvas at age four and playing the keyboard when he was eight. In 2001 he became interested in stage magic after watching a show presented by master magician P.C. Sorcar, and began training under Chennai-based magician T.K. Vadivelu. Before long, he became the school’s child prodigy, winning drawing and painting competitions, performing in music concerts and staging magic shows.

Given every encouragement by his mother Jayashree, a bank clerk and single parent, Srikanth began learning the keyboard under veena vidwan Krishnamurthy in 2001. After his death he trained in Carnatic music under Delhi V. Muthukumar. Moreover at age ten, he began to show promise on the piano and after initial training under piano exponent S. Sadhanandham, he passed the grade II and III examinations of Trinity College of London with flying colours.

“My mother has been a great inspiration and support, and with her guidance I’ve been able to balance all my interests. Though stage performances and competitions can get hectic, it has taught me to manage time effectively and I’ve learnt that hard work, dedication and discipline have their own rewards,” says this young virtuoso who has won four international, 52 national, seven state and 358 city medals and certificates — all enumerated in his curriculum vitae, which is an impressively heavyweight compendium.

Srikanth’s most treasured awards include gold medals in the first, second, third and fifth International Child Art Exhibitions conducted consecutively since 2003 by the Kshitij Art Society, Gurgaon, which received more than 10,000 entries from around the world, and a national award from the Lalit Kala Academy at the 10th Trieniale-India, an international exhibition of contemporary art held in New Delhi in 2001. One of his canvases which secured the first prize among 4,500 entries in the national painting competition jointly organised by Amway Opportunity Federation and All India Confederation of the Blind, has been adopted for a greeting card, and proceeds from the sale are donated for the cause of the blind.

As a musician he has performed on the keyboard in 48 concerts in arts academies, temples and marriage halls. As a magician this young student has wowed young and old alike, including the judges panel of the GS-EW Awards. Coterminously a committed class XII student, Srikanth has set his sights on qualifying as an engineer. “The recognition I’ve received has inspired me to continue to entertain audiences, but I also want a stable professional career,” says this focused young achiever, who richly deserves the accolades he has received.

Blossoming artist

The youngest and only female who made it into the final round of the GlobalScholar-EW Young Achievers Awards 2008, 14-year-old Shruthi Sulappa’s water-colours, oils and acrylic works on canvas have won national and international awards and plaudits. Immersed in a world of colours since she was four years of age, last April (2008) this Bangalore-based artist’s oil-on-canvas titled ‘Milkmaids’ beat 2 million entries from 148 countries around the world, to be included among the Top 10 in the International Environmental Poetry and Art Contest 2008, organised by the Berkeley (USA)-based NGO River of Words.

Two years earlier in 2006, a water-colour bagged her a special award in an international competition organised for children by World of Art, a Slovenia-based magazine. Unsurprisingly, over a dozen mixed media canvases this wonderkid exhibited at the awards ceremony in Chennai, won her golden opinions and great admiration.

“I began drawing and sketching from the age of four. Noticing my talent, my parents encouraged me and I have slowly graduated from water colours to oils and acrylic paints. Fortunately my work has steadily improved which has encouraged me to submit them for independent judgement. I’ve won five international, ten national, 16 state and over 78 city level competitions,” says Shruthi acknowledging the strong support and encour-agement she’s received from her father Sulappa, a state government employee and mother Muddeeramma, a homemaker.

A class IX student of the state board affiliated Mary Immaculate School, Bangalore, Shruthi is inspired by nature and often uses her talent with the brush to educate students and the community about the importance of environment preservation. Some of her canvases reflect the dangers of environmental degradation, global warming and pollution, while capturing the vibrant colours of nature. “Nature is a great inspiration, and through my paintings I want to help conserve mother Earth’s bounty for future generations,” says Shruthi, who has held two solo exhibitions in Bangalore.

Recently conferred the Bala Chitra Ratna Award by Wonder Art Village, a Hyderabad-based cultural organisation, Shruthi harbours ambitions of studying engineering at one of the country’s seven IITs, while continuing to paint. Speaking to the judges panel of the GS-EW Awards, she explained: “Pain-ting is a very satisfying and creative pursuit. Though many people have advised me to market my works, I can’t put a price on them. They are invaluable to me. The happiness and insights my paintings bring into people’s lives is my best reward.”

Go girl!

Science, Maths & Technology

Numbers cruncher

A mathematics genius who has excelled in several state, national and international math olympiads, A. Sai Mali was adjudged winner of the GlobalScholar-EducationWorld Young Achievers Awards 2008 in the science, maths and technology category. A class XII student of the CBSE-affiliated DAV Boys Senior Secondary School, Gopalapuram, Chennai, Sai Mali took to numbers and equations at a young age. But his extraordinary affinity for the exact science that is mathematics was discovered only after he participated in the maths olympiad of 2005, under the guidance of his mentor Sadagopan Rajesh.

In 2007 after clearing the regional maths olympiad examination, Sai Mali qualified as one of 800 students countrywide eligible to write the Indian National Mathematics Olympiad (INMO), conducted by the National Board of Higher Mathematics in 2008. In INMO 2008 he was ranked 20 and was included in the batch of 30 students invited to attend the month long International Maths Olympiad Training Camp (IMOTC) in Mumbai in May 2008, which is held annually to select and train students for the prestigious International Mathematical Olympiad (IMO).  Though he wasn’t among the six to qualify for IMO in his first (junior) attempt, Sai Mali is determined to try again and is currently training to qualify for IMOTC 2009 (senior category).

“This time the training for IMOTC will be more exacting and I have to clear four selection exams, but I’m hopeful of crossing this milestone. Unlike school maths, there is no pre-set formula or theory to solve maths olympiad problems which require unconventional, strategic thinking and great sharpness of mind. Hence, I have to work harder at it,” says Sai Mali who credits his “limited successes” to the encouragement and support he receives from his school principal and teachers, and his parents — Rajalakshmi, an income tax inspector and Ananthanarayanan, a Central government employee.

A rich haul of two international, four national, five state and city level awards — including a silver medal in the Singapore Mathematical Olympiad, 2007 — are testimony to his maths prowess. Among the other awards and accolades this class XII student has garnered thus far: National Talent Search Exam scholarship of Rs.6,000 per year, the Tata school topper medal in the first and second round of the 9th and 10th National Science Olympiad, and Ramanujan Medal 2007 of the Srinivasa Ramanujan Academy of Math Talent, Chennai.

Endowed with social conscience, Sai Mali believes that he has to use his talent and expertise to help the less gifted. “Research should not be an ivory tower exercise with no tangible connection with the everyday life of people,” says this young mathematician who greatly impressed the judges’ panel with his determination and social commitment . 

Dreamer scientist

An academic topper whose 95.3 percent average in the class X ICSE board exam (2007) placed him in the top 1 percentile of students countrywide, Shyam Srinivasaraghavan, currently a class XII student of the highly-rated Bishop Cotton Boys’ School, Bangalore, is a proponent and practitioner of extra-curricular education. In January last year, the detailed design of a model outer space settlement of a team he was a member of, was adjudged the second best in the Asian Regional Space Settlement Design Competition 2008, sponsored by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, USA.

“Within the team my portfolio was to design robots with capability to capture asteroids — the only source of water in outer space. Designing a human settlement in space is very different from designing one on earth. I researched intensively on the internet and worked many hours after school to discover materials and equipment capable of functioning in the yet undiscovered realm of outer space,” says Shyam, who in 2007 had the distinction of scoring a centum (100 percent) in the class X computer science exam of the ICSE board, and was also awarded the top score in an international science and math assessment test conducted by the University of New South Wales, Australia.

Grateful for the whole-hearted support of his father V.S. Srinivasaraghavan, president (marketing) of Jaypee Cements and mother Vatsala, Shyam believes that school and college managements need to create enabling environments for hands-on learning of science and technology. “Science is best learned hands-on through discovery, rather than textbooks. The national interest demands that education institutions create suitable environments for ideas and innovation to blossom and transform into reality. We need new thinking and new solutions to resolve the multiplying problems of the country. I intend to qualify as an engineer to explore and develop alternative energy sources, and promote an automation technology firm which will build robots and products to help improve the lives of ordinary people. Through rigorous study of science and technology, it is possible to innovate great solutions,” he says.

Undoubtedly, the best of this outstanding young achiever is yet to come.

Sports & Games

Epee exponent

A class X student of Bhavan’s Rajaji Vidyashram in Chennai, V. Nithin (15) was adjudged winner in the sports category. The only son of mother Padmaja, a banker and father Visveswaran, an advocate, Nithin developed a precocious interest in sports and games and started learning combat karate at age four. By the time he was ten he had earned the coveted black belt in karate. Impressed by his speed and agility, D. Nagappan, the state secretary of the Fencing Association of India, invited him to try epee (rapier) fencing. Nithin took to fencing like a duck to water and in the past five years has participated in three international, nine national, 17 Tamil Nadu state and 17 Chennai championships, winning 18 national, 40 state, 22 district and 12 local medals and awards.

After winning the district level title in August 2005, he won his first sub-junior state title a year later, and his first national gold medal in Guwahati in 2006. In December 2007 at the National Seniors Fencing Championship organised by the Fencing Association, of India, this then 14-year-old fencer bagged a silver in the epee individual event. He has donned India colours in the World Cadet and Junior Fencing Championship held in Turkey (2007), Asian School Games Championship, Singapore (2008) and the Asian Cadet and Junior Fencing Championship, Kazakhstan (2007), attaining the sixth position in Singapore.

According to Nithin, despite practice facilities not being on a par with those in Italy, Russia and Hungary, whose fencers dominate the Olympics and other world championships, India’s fencing coaches are excellent. His trainers Shankar Jayagopal in Chennai and the Manipur-based Hemjit Meeti are outstanding, and to them he attributes his speed and stamina.

“The gap between the world’s best fencers and India’s top 50 isn’t as wide as it is popularly believed and practice facilities in India, particularly in the Sports Authority of India campuses in Patiala and Bangalore have improved considerably. It’s not unrealistic to believe that Indian fencers can rise to international levels,” says this remarkably fit and mature athlete, who is determined to bring back India’s first fencing medal from the London Olympics 2012. En garde!

Equines’ champion

Quite obviously Aly Asker Mirza (18), a class XI student of the highly-enabling Bangalore International School (BIS, estb. 1969), believes that the outside of horse is best for inside of man. A member of the nuclear family of Bangalore-based veterinarian Dr. Hansyn Mirza, his wife Indira and brother Fouad, young Aly is fortunate that his passion for equines and horse-riding is fully supported by the management of BIS and the Equestrian Centre for Excellence, a not-for-profit riding school promoted by Jitu Virwani, chairman of the Embassy Group, a clutch of companies engaged in real estate and construction in the garden city.

“The Mirzas have been breeding and training horses for over six generations, and my father Hansyn was a national-level showjumper who represented India. I grew up on a stud farm outside Bangalore and first sat astride a horse at the age of six months. Growing up, I formed a deep and abiding relationship with the noblest and closest-to-man species — the horse. I’m dedicated to equestrian sports currently, and will eventually qualify as a veterinarian, specialising in horse care and maintenance,” says young Aly, already a well-known name in the esoteric world of equestrian sports having competed in five international, eight national, 18 state and 16 other meets.

And ever since this young rider began showcasing his talent at age 14, the mantelpiece in the Mirza household has become increasingly crowded with medals and trophies. After winning his very first bronze medal in the Junior National Equestrian Championship (JNEC) 2005, Aly was adjudged the best junior rider in JNEC 2006. Next year in JNEC 2007, while competing with much older riders, young Aly went one better and won a silver medal for his performance in the show jumping dressage and cross country events.

This achievement brought him to the notice of the Delhi-based Equestrian Federation of India (EFI) which included him in a team sent to participate in the German Friendship International Equestrian Championship 2007, where he was ranked eighth in the show jumping event. And last year Aly was sent by EFI to a young riders meet in Hunter Valley (Australia), where he was ranked second in the dressage event.

Despite Indian horses being built for speed rather than show jumping and dressage, Aly believes that a small but growing pool of Indian riders are poised to overcome this geographical disad-vantage through sheer talent and sensitivity to equines. Right now he is aiming for a gold in the Asian Games 2014, for which together with his father he is readying Scott — an Indian thoroughbred — to withstand the rigours of show jumping and dressage.

Thunder in your hooves! 

Social Work

White hat hacker

While hosannas are being sung to India’s fast-track IT (information technology), ITES (IT enabled services) and e-governance revolution, which have transformed this country’s hitherto laggard economy into the great brown hope of the 21st century, not enough attention is being paid to the dark side of the celebrated IT boom. At this very moment thousands of hackers — e-spies, thieves and geeks around the world — are hard at work on desktops and laptops attempting to break into and/or steal India’s cyber assets — government security systems, corporate data, bank accounts etc.

And while official guardians of the national interest are sleeping on their watch, in the relatively small administrative capital of the state of Jharkhand (pop. 27 million), Vineet Kumar (19), a second year IT and infrastructure management student at the extension centre of the Gangtok-based Sikkim Manipal Engineering University in Ranchi, is very exercised about the looming national security threat to India’s cyber assets. “During the Kargil conflict with Pakistan there was a massive attack on India’s cyber infrastructure. At that time I was a student of the Army School, Ranchi and I started an anti-hacking group to research ways and means to save our country’s cyber assets. Since then our Ranchi-based National Anti-Hacking Group (NAG) has grown into a nationwide open source community of 11,000 members,” says Vineet.

According to this young IT whiz, certified by the US-based software major Microsoft Inc as systems engineer, the growing global community of hackers can be categorised into black (destroyers), white (protectors) and grey (combination) hat hackers. “It’s important to help white hat hackers all over the world to protect the growing IT-enabled networks and assets from the evil genius of black and grey hat hackers,” warns Vineet.

To this end, Vineet and NAG members conduct free of charge cyber security awareness programmes in schools, colleges, defence and law enforcement agencies and also provide security solutions to individuals, parents and students with the objective of “achieving peaceful cyber co-existence”. He has conducted workshops for officers of the Jharkhand state police and College of Military Engineering, Pune.

For his many accomplishments and novel mission, numerous awards and accolades have been heaped upon this can-do young achiever. Among the four international and five national awards conferred upon him are the United Nations Youth Assembly Acheivement Award, 2008; nominations for the Global Youth Award, 2008 and Young Global Leader Award, 2009 (results awaited). National Awards include the National IT Excellence Award, 2008 of IT People Ltd and Rediff.com Young Achiever Award, 2007.

“Currently there is a huge shortage worldwide of white hat hackers. Therefore after I graduate in 2010, I intend making a career of my anti-hacking crusade,” says Vineet, rewarded by GlobalScholar-EW Awards 2008 for his social and ethical sensitivity.

Can-do environmentalist

A one-man eco army, belur-based B.N. Umesh stunned the judges’ panel of the GS-EW Young Achievers Awards 2008, with the certified disclosure that he has planted more than 10,000 saplings in rural Karnataka. A first year D.Ed (diploma in education) student of the Sri Pushpagiri Teachers Training Institute, Belur (Karnataka), Umesh’s rural greening achievement won him Rs.75,000 by way of spontaneous cash awards from the judges.

Born in Belur into a family of daily wage earners for whom life is an everyday struggle, during the past seven years Umesh has re-afforested roadsides, hillocks, farms, schools and colleges in the Hassan-Belur districts of northern Karnataka single-handedly, without help from any government or NGO. This moved three of the judges — Kal Raman, Lina Ashar and Mahesh Shetty — sufficiently for each of them to write out personal cheques of Rs.25,000 to spur him on. And what floored them further was the revelation that he worked before and after school hours as a “coolie and newspaper delivery boy”, using the money he earned to buy plant saplings.

Umesh also recounted in Kannada, his conversion to the cause after he met Salumarada Thimmakka, the 73-year-old rural environmen-talist who has received national and international acclaim for planting and tending 284 banyan trees on the four-kilometre Magadi-Mysore highway. Walking down the path of his mentor, Umesh has set himself a target of planting 10,000,000 trees in rural Karnataka over the next decade. “I intend to teach in a local primary school to arouse eco consciousness in my village, and enlist students to help in achieving my goal,” he says with quiet determination.

With Hemalatha Raghupathi & Dilip Thakore in Chennai

Also read: Scientists bag Infosys-Educationworld Young Achievers Awards 2006

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