Sitare Foundation

Interview: Shilpa Singhal & Amit Singhal, Founders, Sitare Foundation

March 31, 2022

Sitare Foundation (est. 2016) is a not-for-profit organization that believes in empowering talented underprivileged children through education. The Foundation, which has already impacted 550 students, has set itself a bold goal to ‘Transform fifty thousand lives through education by 2050.” Founders Shilpa Singhal, a physicist and computer scientist with degrees from the State University of New York and Cornell University and Amit Singhal, who led Google search team for over fifteen years, talk to Dipta Joshi of EducationWorld about the Foundation’s first cohort  passing senior secondary school (class XII) this year. Five students from Sitare’s first batch (2016) have gained multiple admission to undergrad courses in prestigious US Universities.

Q) Why have you chosen Education as a medium to give back to society?

S.S: We started our journey in 2016 and the last six years have made us realise that students are change agents and education is the key to navigating that change for a better and sustained future. Good education transforms the lives of the individual,  their families and even their communities for whom they become role models.

We currently have 404 students enrolled in our programme and have been able to positively impact the lives of over 550 students since 2016. We aim to transform the future of as many as 50,000 students by 2050.

Q) I believe the 2016 batch passing the senior secondary school (class XII) this year, have performed extremely well.

S.S: Yes, in 2016 we picked and offered financial assistance to 49 children from humble backgrounds to enter middle-school students (grade VI and VII) and gain quality education for seven years. Five of them have secured multiple admissions to study computer science in the August ’22 semester from some of the United States’ top universities: University of Maryland – College Park, Virginia Tech, University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill, University of Minnesota – Twin Cities, Ohio State University, University of California – Santa Barbara, University of California – Santa Cruz, University of California – Davis, Case Western Reserve University and Arizona State University. We are expecting several more admissions to happen over the next few days.

Q) How does the Foundation identify candidates?

A.S: Our objective is to identify bright students who have the potential to become world-class professionals but are unable to do so due to financial constraints. So the first criterion is that our students come from families with income less than Rs. 25,000 a month. The students also need to be in the top percentile or above in a general aptitude (mental, mathematical, and language ability) test that we conduct during our entrance process and clear the interview round conducted before selection.

Q) Till what stage does the Foundation remain involved?  

S.S: Everything is under the foundation’s supervision, from conducting aptitude testing, conducting interviews to enrolling students in collaborating schools. Besides academics, the foundation also trains the students with essential social and interpersonal skills to help them in their personal and professional life along the way. This includes social, emotional, language skills and problem-solving skills, all of which are critical towards becoming world-class professionals. The foundation provided the students with essential digital tools for continuing their study, including laptops and tablets, during the pandemic to ensure a streamlined educational experience. All of the above, including tuition and counselling, are provided by the foundation at no cost to the students, from grade VI to grade XII. However, the Foundation will continue to support the students through their University studies too.

Q) Tell us about the Foundation’s various partnerships with educational  

A.S: Underprivileged students from grades V and VI appear in an entrance exam that will get them admitted to grade VI in great private CBSE schools, our partner schools, in their respective city.  These aptitude tests have been prepared by Education Initiatives (ei-india.com), India’s premier education and assessment company. Currently the Sitare Foundation students are enrolled in six private schools in cities like Ajmer, Jaipur, Jodhpur, Indore, and Bhopal. These institutions and our team (in-house academic staff as well as private tutors) work on educating our children, providing them with good quality education and building their capabilities to enable them to compete and gain admission into renowned colleges and institutions which would otherwise be a privilege reserved for the wealthy.

Q) How did the pandemic impact the Foundation’s work?

A.S: While the pandemic has disrupted the education of all children, the disruption has disproportionately impacted the poor students. To provide an opportunity to students who may have missed out on our programme the past two years due to the pandemic, we have introduced a special five-year programme this year wherein we select students stepping into grade VIII this year. Once we learn from this year’s experiment in a five-year program, we will likely make it a permanent offering from the Foundation.

Q) What are your hopes for the future of Sitare Foundation?

S.S:  We have been overwhelmed with the response to our work. This year alone, the foundation received over 65,000 applications. Unfortunately, only a small percentage of them can be admitted to the programmes. With the response Sitare Foundation is getting, we feel assured about meeting or beating our goal to transform 50,000 lives through education by 2050.

Currently, we do not have partnerships with foreign universities and are thus supporting our students seeking admissions abroad. However, we do have some long-term plans with regards to the higher education sector across India and abroad. We are still working on it and will discuss it in the future. 

However, we are confident that after completing our programmes, our students will shine like Sitare (Hindi for stars), thus inspiring millions in their communities.

Also read: Deconstructing disdain for for-profit education

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