Learnings from a social enterprise

Of what use is it talking about the ‘Bhagavat Gita’ if we cannot even part with our ‘plastic toys’ easily? Of what use is it talking about ‘oneness’ if we cannot take an honest look into our living and working environments and see if the poorest man on the street will feel welcome and comfortable walking into these spaces?

What do you want to become when you grow up? The answers were:Dishwashers,chefs(primarily as it signifies food security,nurses,teachers to a hilarious answer by a kid who wants to become a MCC.

Situated at 20kms from a prosperous city , on the banks of the river Subernrekha is a 4 room school. A Banyan tree,a hand pump and surrounded by water and green fields , the place is quite isolated from the rest of the world.On the first look the place looks so appealing,peaceful and ideal for education.It even prompted me to rent a place and stay for a few days in the serene environment and impart some meaningful education to the kids.Like any other government school in Jharkhand, it too had a kitchen for mid day meal ,few classrooms,toilets,2 teachers and 80 odd students.I was lucky enough to stay at the school until mid day meal and having it with the kids was a revelation.

At the outset it is important to mention that 80% of children in India study in government schools.The government has gone a long way in providing the infrastructure and channelizing the free primary education under RTE.But has it been able to deliver quality education to kids? As a matter of fact, according to the latest ASER report the quality has come down a lot. For an urban kid the daily routine comprises of going to school, with a good choice of food,clean school uniform,comfortable classrooms and plenty of educational facilities with the primary focus on quality education.For our rural counterparts it is mostly the free meal.On a socio economic level,the primary concern for people living in villages is food and shelter.Education does not come on the agenda at all,forget the concept of meaningful education.Working and profiling kids in few schools brought out some shocking figures.The minimum number of siblings each kid had was 4 and the numbers were as high as 8.There were hardly any unmarried girls who were of the age 20.The families could not afford a newspaper and almost all of them were unaware of the government schemes and importance of education.

In an adult literacy orientation session I came across a lady exceptional in her thinking ability. In the gurukul schools run by our enterprise we have had our share of bright kids.Even in sports especially football,girls have made their mark at a tender age. My point is that with our majority studying in Government schools , it is high time government and people like us start playing their part in improving the quality of education.If India has to become a happy place for all this is the time otherwise it will be too late.

I had my reasons of quitting a corporate job for a social enterprise. In the long term I plan to open a football cum learning academy for rural kids.In my 9 months in this sector the belief of doing the same has increased manifold. I will be heading for a MBA next month and am happy to have some exposure to the rural segment. It not only gives a different perspective to what I have done till now but also a path to something I always wanted to do.Village management is a difficult process and requires a lot of expertise to deal with people.I have seen a lot of entrepreneurship opportunities in the rural sector and I guess this is the right time to target this segment both at a personal level and from a corporate’s perspective.Generating livelihood opportunities, good education,safe drinking water,renewable resource utilization and health and sanitation are few areas which have a lot of scope.

From an engineering background,I was expected to do a lot of analysis and number stuff. I have had the opportunity of working with UNICEF and World Bank. I have helped a lot in planning and budgeting an entire project and the experience is priceless.Amidst all this I have found time to interact with teachers,train them a bit and help them in their lesson planning.I have contributed my bit is teaching rural kids and motivating them towards pursuing higher education.

Being a twenty someone you must be busy building your careers,some of you must be working day in and day out.All I have to say is keep your eyes open for there is a good business idea lying in there. Find some time from your busy schedule to bring out a change.There is dearth of professional like you in this field and any intervention by you will make you a change maker.

Progress of education in India and Right to Education

Education has always been accorded an honored place in the Indian society. Education is one of those rights that enable the full realization of a person’s potential and inclusion in society by enabling citizenship and growth. Right from the freedom movement our national leaders had realized education as a powerful instrument of social, economic and political change. Since Independence we have made impressive progress in educating our children and RTE marks the epitome of government initiatives to make education for all possible.

We have come a long way in improving the literacy rates which was a meager 30% during Independence to 75% in 2011 and that too enormous progress in women education. The 2011 census conducted by  the government of India listed the official literacy rate for Jharkhand to be 67.63% (Male 78.5% and women 56.2%)The enrolment ratio which was a staggering 80% has almost reached 100% in 2011.The number of out of school children decreased from 25 million in 2003 to an estimated 8.1 million in 2009.But above these numbers is the fact that RTE has become a fundamental right and education has received the right impetus which it lacked in early post freedom years.

Notwithstanding our achievements in education we must not forget that we have still a long way to go and achieve our goals working under the frameworks of RTE.Over 80% of our population studies in government school and so makes the right implementation of RTE in government schools all the more important. The percentage of children studying in Government schools in Jharkhand is a little over 80%.Today the government is spending a meager 3% of the total resources on education.India currently has the highest number of illiterates than any other nation in the world. Only 15% of the Indian students make it to high school of which 7% make it to graduation. By the age of 10 there is almost 40% drop out in schools. In a recent survey almost 40000 teachers have not been trained. A Jagran report dated 16th Nov. 2011 presents a dismal performance of 93% of candidates failing to clear the test for primary teachers in Jharkhand.

RTE’s policy on safeguarding the education rights of minorities is worth mentioning in the context of Jharkhand where a good number of children come from the tribal background.RTE has also beautifully laid down the framework on teacher pupil ratio, teacher-classroom ratio, facilities to be provided in schools and many other parameters which provide a bench mark for government schools. The latest ASER report lays down the Right to Education indicators for Jharkhand. The result  shows some encouraging figures like over 87.5 % schools follow proper teacher to pupil ratio norms,82% of these have proper school buildings and in 76.4% schools the mid-day meal was served on the day of the visit. But there are few concerning figures which states that almost 50% of schools do not meet classroom to teacher norms,61% do not have separate toilet for girls and 49% schools do not have library facility.

This post is not an attempt to criticize the government and neither is it to speak against RTE.In fact I am sure that most people don’t know that primary education now is a fundamental right. I want to discuss few parameters under RTI and debate on the outcome of the same. But before we delve into the details of RTE it is of utmost importance to understand the history behind RTE.Shockingly it took 21 years for the act to be passed since its inception in 1988.The government’s half hearted attempts and consequent failures necessitated the Supreme court’s intervention to make education compulsory for every student up to the age of 14.This judgment then obliged the government to come up with RTE.

RTE guarantees free primary education for children from the age of 6-14.It also focuses on making schools available at every places at a convenient distance for children to come. One of the best provisions is that it takes care of the underprivileged children. Any child will admitted to a class as per his age and in case of lack of prerequisite knowledge the child will be given special care.It sets clear norms on teacher student ratio, infrastructural needs of a school and the role of the SMC’s.The act  talks of wholesome growth where every child is taught to identify with the society and there is no provision for tests or detaining students.

But the big question is that does this act guarantee quality education? The very base , the teachers are not well equipped to deliver quality. Not only is there lack of teachers but also thousands of these are untrained. There is no clear curriculum stated and there is no provision for growth measuring of the child. The  act clearly lacks a monitoring mechanism for the proper functioning of the government schools. I am only talking of the meaningful education aspect of RTE and a clear study of it brings out flaws in many other aspects too. I feel a conspiracy here where the government is just trying to make things look good on paper.

I have a particular liking for a restaurant in Kolkata. I am a very ordinary person and I go to ordinary places and it is here at a ordinary hotel I converse in English with the waiters and also the guard.A driver who can put in bits and pieces of English earns more than his English illiterate counterpart. Education opens up doors for livelihood and it is through livelihood that the economic conditions of the poor will improve. We have a big challenge in our hands and for that the government has to be more realistic in its approach. Enrolling 100% children has been at least achieved on paper but there is a daunting task of retaining them which is only possible by showing them a path and motivating them to a better future but above all taking responsibility that through the education the child earns a living in future.

Realization of a greater purpose in life

Reading the newspaper on Republic day I was anguished to see 2 pages dedicated just to coaching institute advertisement of 2 big names in IIT Jee coaching.It made me ponder on the grooming we are being  given at home and school.We live in a country where 25% of people are below the poverty line, 26% are illiterate,we are a hungry country ranking 67th out of 80 on Global Hunger Index.The whole Rushdie fiasco raises one big question,”Do we understand our faith and if there is faith can mere line deter our believe in it.If yes, we are somewhere wrong in defining our premises of faith.”

We since our childhood have been taught to live in a comfort zone in a cocoon oblivious to our surroundings.Stuffed belly,sleek mobile,cushioned shoes and comfortable attire has become the benchmark of prosperity.How can you be happy when millions of your brothers sleep hungry? Does our education make us blind ? Is compassion a word meant only for moral lessons?We are an emotional lot who enjoy reality shows but seeing someone sleeping in the open on a cold night never triggers that emotion.

“I love my job” is the new corporate mantra behind which we hide our frustration.Working in the Social sector I can say that I love my job and I am satisfied as well.But there is an important difference,I do not do it for satisfaction,I realize it as a duty.Our Social responsibility is not in having 1000 odd on Shitbook but in understanding to give back to the society in whatever small way possible.

In my field trips to villages I meet a lot of people both adults and children.I find it hard to motivate adults to read.I am also perplexed by the state of affairs in government schools.But the best part is meeting amazing people.The society in villages is very conservative and a woman going from house to house to gather people to read raises eyebrows.Against all constraints there are women who take the pain.Equally contrasting is the attitude of government schools teachers who in spite of being decently paid are always in the lookout for other earning opportunities.The mid-day meal system has taken the focus away from education because most of the energy of the principal and teachers goes in delivering the meal.Government’s latest recommendation to have boundary walls around the schools is another example where the whole energy is put in satisfying the government norms rather than education.The latest report on Primary schools status has been published this month and the findings are quite distressing.

For a generation crazy about brands Ashunta Lakra would be hard name to recognize because this is a generation which cannot name their Vice-President but can definitely spell the name of a dog of a superstar.Ashunta is the Indian women hockey Captain who hails from a village of Jharkhand.She learnt her hockey in Ranchi and the state capital can boast of two Indian Captains.I would like you to read the story of Ashunta who started playing hockey with bent bamboo sticks.This is the reality of our times, especially of the disparity not only in sports but in many other fields.Our education will be meaningless if we turn a blind eye to things.

Preparing for the IIM interviews I got the answer to the question,”Where do you see yourself 10 years from now.?”

What do you suggest ?

Hi guys some insights would be helpful

We did a survey of 35 village schools and found that the level of education is not up to the mark.We did this survey by conducting basic exams in English,Hindi and Mathematics.Each of the papers were of 25 marks each and the pass marks was decided to be 7.5.

At present I have the following data

  • Location(Some are urban and some are semi urban)
  • Gender
  • Marks in each subject from standard 1-5
  • Help required in each subjects.

The data will help me make a lot of comparisons and detailed study,I will be doing that in 3-4 days time.

Actually the level of students is so poor that we are a planning the same remedial package for students of all the classes.We will be placing our teacher at each of these schools who much like a tutor would be providing training on the subjects thrice a week for 2 hours.Some of the students have excelled in the exam and we will be giving them the training for free and for the rest we will charge a nominal fee of Rs. 15 per month.The main thing is that we don’t want to make this coaching monotonous as in class and want to suggest innovative methinds for training.We already have some insights.

What i wanted from you is suggest anything no matter how outrageous it may be.A 100 ideas from your side will eventually give something feasible.

I will be planning a tentative business model for the same as I have to plan and a budget.Our sponsor for this project is World Bank and they are very influenced by the idea and the effort.I feel that the greatest pleasures in life comes from selfless endeavor.So kindly suggest methods and ways to make the first hand education meaningful to the needy.


A Dream come true and last few days of 2011

Life is all about living the moment in the best way possible.Last Sunday was a random day when few friends turned up at 7 a.m.Woke up,put on my shoes and rode for 16 hours.Sometimes all the dust, perspiration,smoke,cold is necessary to get out of our mundane lives.Some hazy memories of a day,was it me ,was it them,was it the day I don’t know but I feel happy much like most of the days of this year.
Early Morning on a mountain top

“Education is what remains after one has forgotten what one has learnt at school—Einstien

I had always wanted to contribute to the society but as often is the case,something or the other turned up.So one morning I just woke up and walked in to a NGO.The two rounds of interview was inspiring because for the first time I did not think of the pros and cons of my answer and just spoke what I wanted to do.When at the end of the day I got selected I thanked God for bestowing the opportunity to work at KGVK

I have started with the Education department but plan to contribute in all the departments possible.Luckily there was a one week orientation going on for the teachers who teach in villages.I was asked to work on their communication and vocabulary.In my five days of presentations and demonstrations I was happy that at the end the whole 40 teacher class was motivated.I firmly believe that teachers are the ones who can change the sad picture of our education in villages.A common complaint was that there was building and resources but lack of quality education.Going through some papers I came to know about the absent ism of  teachers.I thought that bechmarking and quality would come automatically if they realized the purpose.The mere satisfaction of changing lives is enough flare for a revolution.Though these are early days for me I plan to stay here till May and you will definitely here more from me.
In 2011 I carried happiness in my bag:Football studs,Into the Wild(Book),Pink Floyd(i-pod), but the happiest times were evening football,tea with friends and bike rides with college mates.

But the conclusion of all this was that happiness is a matter of choice and I chose to be happy.