22 Extraordinary Education Innovators

Education World
Publication Date: 
Thursday, 9 April 2015

In scattered urban and rural habitats across the country, committed educationists in private education and voluntary organisations are ideating pedagogy and process innovations which could revive India’s moribund education system, and enable the nation to reap its much-trumpeted demographic dividend Summiya Yasmeen

The reality that contemporary India’s early childhood, primary, secondary and higher education institutions are completely unprepared to meet the rigours and challenges of the 21st century seems to be apparent to all right-thinking citizens, except politicians in Parliament and the state legislative assemblies.

The authoritative Annual Status of Education Report 2014 published in January, indicates that over 50 percent of class V children in government rural primaries can’t read class II texts or do simple subtraction and division sums. Three years ago, 15-year-olds from India finished an embarrassing second last among student contingents who wrote PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) after which India withdrew from PISA. A Young Citizen National Survey 2015 reveals shocking ignorance and regressive mind-sets of class IX students and first year undergraduates countrywide. A 2013 report of the Delhi-based NGO Aspiring Minds says that only 47 percent of Indian graduates are employable in professionally-managed corporates. Yet despite the lamentable condition of Indian education, in the Union Budget 2015-16 the Central government has reduced its outlay for education, in the fanciful hope that state governments will fill the breach.

But wait, all is not lost. In scattered urban and rural habitats across the country, committed educationists in private education and the voluntary (NGO) sectors are ideating novel pedagogy and process innovations which if replicated en masse, could revive India’s moribund education system and enable it to reap its much-trumpeted demographic dividend.

“India has a long tradition of education innovation. In the 1920s, Gijubhai Badheka did pioneering but forgotten work in early childhood education. Likewise, Mahatma Gandhi suggested a buniyadi talim (basic education) syllabus/curriculum, and seer-visionaries Sri Aurobindo and J. Krishnamurti devised holistic, nature-friendly school education systems which are being practised to this day. This spirit of innovation in education has persisted though the Indian eco-system doesn’t encourage it.

More recently, innovations such as the activity-based learning lamentamodel in Tamil Nadu have been institutionalised at the policy level and scaled up. If the decline in Indian education — especially public education — is to be stemmed, it’s important for government and society to encourage, recognise and reward education innovators,” says Dr. Vijaya Sherry Chand, professor of the Ravi J. Matthai Centre for Educational Innovation (RJMCEI) at IIM-Ahmedabad.

Established in the heart of India’s premier B-school in 1992 to suggest ways and means to encourage institution building in higher education, during the past decade RJMCEI has expanded the ambit of its purview to include primary and secondary education. In pursuit of this objective, two years ago in partnership with the state governments of Maharashtra and Gujarat, RJMCEI promoted a Educational Innovations Bank (EIB) to classify and document innovations designed and implemented by elementary school teachers working in government schools in its two partner states. “With the support of the state governments, about 12,000 innovations of government primary teachers have been validated, and 100 each from Gujarat and Maharashtra have been identified for scaling up. We hope this project will inspire more classroom and pedagogy innovations to improve learning outcomes in primary-secondary education,” says Chand, an alumnus of IIM-Ahmedabad and Gujarat University, who adds that the project received the HP Sustainability & Social Innovation Award, 2012.

Dr. Tamo Chattopadhyay, former professor of education innovation and entrepreneurship at the University of Notre Dame, USA and currently a Kolkata-based education consultant, concurs. “India desperately needs innovation at all levels in education to improve learning standards and assessment systems, and in teacher training and advancement. The Central and state governments, society and parent communities need to alter their change-averse mind-sets and actively support education innovators,” says Chattopadhyay.

In the pages following, EducationWorld profiles 22 innovators who are re-arranging the goal posts of Indian education. However, please note the list is illustrative, not exhaustive. Readers deeply interested in education innovation should also read our cover story ‘Big bang initiatives slowly revolutionising Indian education’ (EW October 2014, education world archives).

School choice champion

Dr. Parth Shah is president of the Delhi-based Centre for Civil Society (CCS, estb. 1999), the country’s top think tank for propagating liberal ideas and causes. An alumnus of Auburn University (USA) and former professor of economics at Michigan University, Shah has championed the cause of ‘unrecognised’ budget private schools sited in urban slums and villages which offer children from poor households an alternative to poor-quality government primary-secondary education.

In 2007, CCS launched a first-of-its-kind School Choice Campaign (SCC) to provide government-funded school vouchers which enable children from socio-economically disadvantaged households to access private schools of their choice.

Factors which led to launch of the School Choice Campaign.

For several decades, Kerala has been celebrated as the most literate state of the Indian Union. When I researched this phenomenon, I discovered 60 percent of children in Kerala are in privately managed schools. The much admired education system of this allegedly communist state is hugely dependent on private education providers. The majority of schools in the state are government-aided, providing parents a choice between government and aided private schools. School choice is the secret of success of the Kerala education model.

CCS’ school vouchers programme.

If government schools don’t perform, parents should have the option to enrol their children in better-performing private schools through government-funded vouchers. To demonstrate the efficacy of vouchers, CCS successfully initiated two pilot projects in East Delhi funding 800 students.

The basic idea of the voucher model — that public money should fund children rather than schools — has been incorporated into the Right to Education Act, 2009. The 25 percent reservation for underprivileged children in private schools, with the government reimbursing the latter the cost of educating them, is in effect the voucher programme. If implemented efficiently countrywide, it could become the world’s largest school vouchers programme.

Budget private schools.

CCS’ current priority is our campaign to save India’s estimated 300,000 ‘unrecognised’ budget private schools established by education entrepreneurs. Across the country, several budget schools are being closed down by state governments for failing to meet the infrastructure/teacher-pupil norms specified by the RTE Act. The closure of these schools will deprive thousands of parents of school choice.

Read the complete article on Education World website.