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Evolving Education In India: Lessons Of Leadership

Changing the status quo needs significant interventions to strengthen a host of issues - teacher quality, education policy, budget, curricula, textbooks, infrastructure and much more.

Aaragatta lies tucked away in the Naxal affected area of Sukma, Chhattisgarh. Karnam Geeta's father was trying to bring peace to this region when local militia kidnapped and murdered him. Geeta’s life was in freefall for a few years until she met Ashish Srivastava who is bringing children like Geeta back to the formal education system. By doing so, he is also bringing them the childhood they ought to have. A little over a decade ago, Ashish was leading a very different team: one comprising software engineers. Ashish’s journey - from corporate management to education - is far from an anomaly. Archana Iyer was building brands for FMCG giants; today she’s codifying pedagogical practices and learning from the world’s strongest classrooms. She recently shared her findings with the OECD Education 2030 working group. Vedika Agarwal, an economics major, now runs after-school community centres that offer holistic education to children from urban slums.   

In today’s India, where you are born continues to dictate where you go. Disrupting this “prophecy” can be extremely complex. The absence of appropriate role-models, inadequate social capital and, in many cases, even basic rights can pose significant barriers to progress. For India’s children, it’s an unfair race. High-income families have a massive head start, while the rest are frustratingly stuck behind the start line.  The data, in many ways, speaks for itself. Over 76% of India’s 320 million children drop out before they graduate 12th grade. Only 27% of our 3rd graders can read a Grade 2 text, while less than half of our 8th graders can correctly solve a 3-digit by 1-digit numerical division problem.  

Teaching as Leadership  

Changing the status quo needs significant interventions to strengthen a host of issues - teacher quality, education policy, budget, curricula, textbooks, infrastructure and much more. Choosing between those interventions would be guesswork. And hence the focus should be on building the leadership that is needed to fuel systemic change at every level of the sector. It’s important to provide a platform for India’s brightest college graduates and promising young professionals to teach children from socially and economically disadvantaged backgrounds. In turn these individuals, in the face of abject poverty, can work to transform the lives of their students and along the way, transform themselves.  

As part of a large ecosystem that is working towards addressing education inequity, we have seen that change closely- our over 3000 Alumni, have worked in the education sector, with NGOs, starting schools, strengthening policy, serving in classrooms and holding leadership positions across corporate & NGO entities. Yet, for them to continue bringing about change, there’s little support from the ecosystem. This led to the evolution of incubation platforms like InnovatED, that are enabling various early-stage education enterprises to prototype and scale game-changing ideas. Another initiative, Alumni Leadership incubator (ALI), has paved the way for Alumni to secure high-impact roles with partner organizations, including State Govt. bodies.   

These are people like Swetha, who co-founded Key Education Foundation (KEF). KEF works with schools, teachers and parents to ensure quality early childhood education for children from low-income communities. Sethuraman, Co-Founder at Jungroo Learning, is using artificial intelligence to reimagine student assessments. Arun, as a Consultant to the Education Department, Govt. of Tamil Nadu, has helped strengthen its Management Information System (EMIS), and processes for teacher transfers, promotions across the State.  

Core grants  

Building organizations that aim to impact India at scale invariably demands an investment in people. It also necessitates funding that is the core, flexible and not linked to a particular project. Such funding allows the team to undertake a wide range of activities from identifying the right Fellowship candidates to conducting periodic impact evaluations. Organizations like Omidyar Network India have been a strong advocate of core grants to help non-profits experiment with new initiatives, grow non-linearly and build a sustainable organization.   

Through initiatives like InnovatED and ALI, various determined and committed individuals  Alumni have directly reached out to 42,000 under-served children and indirectly, 1.8 crore students, their teachers, and parents. These numbers are undoubtedly a step forward, yet they are dwarfed by the millions who are yet to be reached. India’s penultimate rank in the Programme for International Student Assessment 2009 (PISA) and second position on the World inequality database 2016 are stark reminders of the magnitude and complexity of India’s growing educational crisis. But there is hope. It’s in the form of leaders who are willing to rise up to this challenge; leaders who will do what it takes and for as long as it may require. Through platforms that immerse the youth in our ground realities, India is likely to find the leadership that it desperately needs. 

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house


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