In powerless Bihar village, a school by innovation and Skype

In an under-construction school building in Chamanpura village of Bihar's Gopalganj district, children are learning algebra, chemistry, Newton's laws of motion. There's no teacher in the classroom, no blackboard. The teacher is hundreds of miles away, and he is teaching via Skype. In this very unsual school, teachers mark their attendance using a biometric fingerprinter, and students log their attendance in a computer.

The school is even more unusual because Chamanpura has no electricity yet. The computers are powered by two large generators. In an undeveloped corner of a state that has long been synonymous with underdevelopment, is unfolding a story of remarkable enterprise and innovation — in several ways, a microcosm of the turnaround of Bihar itself.

The hero of the story is 36-year-old Chandrakant Singh, who founded Chaitanya Gurukul Public School to "provide world-class, technology-enabled education" to the children of Chamanpura, the village in which he was born, and where he completed primary school by the light of a kerosene lamp.

A merit scholarship took Singh to DAV College in Siwan, and then to a B.Tech from BIT, Sindri, and an M.Tech at IIT, Bombay. Then came a one-year stint at Tata Steel, followed by three years at Bosch in Germany — and finally, his current job as an R&D researcher for General Motors in Bangalore.

For a man of a distinctly academic bent of mind — he got his first patent while in Germany — it took, oddly, an incident of lumpen politics to fire Singh's dream. Three years ago, when Raj Thackeray's MNS was attacking Bihari migrants in Mumbai, Singh decided he needed to do something.

"I was greatly disturbed, and wanted to arrest the migration of students from Bihar, in my small way," he said. The first instinct was to get in touch with the principal of the primary government school in Chamanpura with an offer to fund six students who would pass a scholarship test. But the principal never conducted the test.

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