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Tuesday, November 11, 2008

India Inc steps in to ignite young minds

India is the land of the Vedas, Upanishads, the country which gave the world the number zero and the oldest language Sanskrit. We also gave the world treatises on Hindu law and how society should be governed (Manu Smriti) and ofcourse sex (Kamasutra). But in the 21st century, all these great achievements pale in the face of an ugly reality - that there are children who still don't know how to read and write and are just not prepared to face the ruthless and hyper-competitive future in store for them.

This is a cruel fact in a country, where the IITs and IIMs are considered temples of excellence. This was confirmed in a Time magazine survey this month, which ranked IITs and IIMs, as being on the the list of Top 100 educational institutes in the world. A list that includes schools like Harvard, Cambridge and many other ivy league schools.

Private education in India is comparable to the best in the world and now the emphasis is not so much on rote learning but on making the classrooms more interactive, on public speaking, general knowledge personality development. The internet and cable TV have become the world to millions of urban Indians.

But how proud can India be with almost 34% of Indians being illterate? In India, around 50 million children between the ages of 6-14 are out of school. Only half this number manages to get to Std 5 and only a mere 7% get all the way to college. Here are some more numbers - the National Literacy Mission says that the national literacy rate has gone up from 18% in 1951 to 65% in 2001. But are these government schools doing their best to awaken curious, young minds?

There seems to be a big disappointment in store, when kids finally show up in some of the rural schools, as they lack infrastructure and/or teachers who are not paid or motivated enough to teach. That is where India Inc has stepped in - with the likes of Bharti Foundation and Wipro setting up schools. The Bharti School which is part of Bharti's social arm is the promoter's way of giving back to society.

The Mittal brothers have not forgotten their youth and Ladowal, a village just 12 kms away from Ludhiana city is proof of that. Education was not available to everyone here but now the youth of this village will get that - thanks to Bharti Enterprises.

As Chairman, Bharti Enterprises, Sunil Mittal told CNBC-TV18, "Our vision is ready to support the underprivileged children and youth of our country, so that they can achieve their mission in life. We picked up education as our core theme because we believe that if we could contribute in our own way through the Satya Bharti programme, I believe we would be contributing to supporting the underprivileged and children and youth of the country."

Vice Chairman, Bharti Enterprises, Rakesh Mittal explains, "The family and the associates have committed a corpus of Rs 200 crore to Bharti Foundation and the interest income of that will fund these schools - in capital expenditure, in building up the structure and meeting the running expense in perpetuity."

Bharti's school has spread practical knowledge among the kids of Ladowal and they are actually hopeful of a brighter future. Bharti Foundation has plans to start 200 schools with 100 schools in the villages of Ludhiana and the balance in other northern regions of the country. The Satya Bharti school starts from pre-primary to the primary level and follows the state curriculum but the Bharti Foundation takes care of infrastructure, study material and mid-day meals while land has been leased for the local panchayat. The school's fees are nominal and in some cases, is even waived. But the small amount makes the villagers value the education provided even more.

Doing something similar is the Azim Premji Foundation, which is hoping to use technology to transfer knowledge to the underprivileged children. This Foundation is run entirely on the contributions made by Azim Premji personally. CEO of the Azim Premji Fondation, Dileep Ranjekar explains, "What we are trying to contribute to is how do we create solutions for a systemic change? And what it really means is raising the level of a lake by 1 or 2 inches than filling a glass up to its brim."

The Foundation has designed CDs in various languages that plays on a child's basic inquisitiveness, and these CDs take the place of traditional text books and entice children to study. The Foundation has introduced programmes like the Learning Guarantee Programme, Child-friendly School Programme and Education Management Programme, which shifts the onus onto the families, society and the government to create an enabling environment.

The Azim Premji Foundation has been able to reach 27,52,000 children through their 16,600 schools. Apart from the government, the Foundation partners with Unicef, Microsoft and the MS Swaminathan Foundation.

Though contributions mostly come from Premji's pockets, Wipro's 'Applying Thought' and 'Wipro Cares' programmes also are involved. 'Applying Thought' provides intensive training to teachers and principals, so that they can in turn ignite young minds.

With corporate India doing what the government of India has abysmally failed to do - let us doff our hats to these corporates with a conscience.

Written for moneycontrol.com

1 comment:

alok said...

"With corporate India doing what the government of India has abysmally failed to do...." says it all. A very gud an informative post indeed.
keep posting!