Countdown to Pragati ’11 : Vibha – Helping fill the void in Indian Education Sector [Part 1]

This is part one of  the two part series of  posts which highlights Vibha’s contribution to Indian education sector and beyond. This series of posts is leading to Pragati ’11 – a two day project wide conference to be organized by Vibha in Pune, India.

The classes were empty. While most of the boys were wandering outside, the girls were nowhere to be seen. Maybe, they didn’t see the point sitting in classrooms waiting for their teachers to show up. While a few teachers were, thankfully, conducting classes; most of them couldn’t be spotted. No wonder, the students scored abysmally in the assessment tests we’d conducted. Apart from academics, the sanitation facilities in the school were in shambles and drinking water quality was questionable. As the day passed, the attendance increased as mid-day meal was about to be served. An hour later, we were back to square one. Disheartening!!

According to a Goldman Sachs report “Dreaming with BRICs (Brazil, Russia, India, and China), India could be one of the world’s most dominant economies by 2050. The sustained economic growth rates over the past few years have demonstrated confidence in the country’s potential. India’s population—having often been considered a liability—is now being redefined as its “demographic dividend.” It’s high time we realize that much of India’s growth depends on its ability to bring substantial improvement to its dismal education sector.

I often find myself criticizing government for failing to create opportunities for poor people, especially in the education sector. The public education leaves a lot to be desired. Teachers are not as motivated to show up regularly, perhaps because they do not feel accountable to government officials. Public school teachers and their unions are sometimes politically divisive and on the other hand, the infrastructure below the average standards of a respectful educative environment. But, to be fair, this is not the case throughout the country. The World Bank supported Sarva Siksha Abhiyaan, District Primary Education Programs, Operation blackboard and various other schemes have been making significant strides towards achieving the Millennium Development Goal of securing primary education for all.

Jeffrey Sachs, in his landmark book “The End of Poverty “, rates investments in human capital development as the key to ending extreme poverty and to enable the poorest of the poor to get their foot on the ladder of development. Human capital here refers to health, nutrition and skills needed for each person to be economically productive.  But then, I think it’s also important to realize that, we can’t and shouldn’t expect all of this investment to be funded by the government. Moreover, challenges regarding scalability of programs, geographic coverage, quality of learning, high repetition and dropout rates continue to plague public schools. This leaves a large void in terms of delivering quality education at grassroots level.

This brings me to alternative models of delivering social impact in education sector.  As Vipin Veetil and Chetan Choudhury write in their paper, “Role of the Private Sector in Promoting Education: How to Capitalize on the Demographic Dividend”:

“India is at a critical stage. If we fail to embark on a process of systemic reforms, the demographic dividend may forever be lost. The poor are leading a silent revolution despite regulatory hurdles and challenges; let us support their efforts by forging vibrant partnerships between government and private enterprises.”

According to a report published by Spark group, in recent years, thousands of schools run by enterprising edupreneurs [entrepreneurs focusing on education] have taken root in urban slums, small towns, factory settlements, and the by-lanes of suburbs that are inhabited by low- and middle-income Indians. Run by young, enterprising, innovative community members, these institutions are committed to delivering quality education despite a myriad of challenges. Edupreneurs have attempted to fill the void in areas where government schools are either missing or ineffective. They have successfully convinced local parents that their children will receive personalized attention and a competitive education. The edupreneurs have kept their promises by attracting talented teachers from within the community, implementing effective teaching methodologies, and extending school hours to ensure that children are able to study without the pressures of child labor and unsupportive family environments. By offering scholarships to deserving students (particularly girls and orphans), these school founders have mobilized community members to support educational causes.

This is where Vibha pitches in. I will cover the details of the organization in my next post.

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