“I’ve learned that I still have a lot to learn.”
Social entrepreneurship in India started beating its wings around 2006, and has really taken off since with immense initiative taken by an ambitious lot intent on doing their bit for the world they inhabit. Extensive and little-explored as the landscape of social enterprises is for the most part, we decided to break it down sector-wise to to find out more about organisations whose commitment to positive social impact had been burning bright and tenaciously making changes in the lives of countless people across the country, with a special focus on those below the poverty line.
When it comes to education, we have had quite a few bones to pick. We have here, though, a list of organisations that have looked into the Pandora’s box that is education in the country, and emerged unfazed, each with their own innovative approach to deal with different aspects of the system. While one helps parents choose the right school and tutorials for children, another empowers women to teach kids in their villages. Even as another pays the ultimate homage to the phenomenon that is storytelling, there is an organisation designing gadgets that make science interactive and fun. This ecosystem of participants involved in teaching and learning formed by these innovators, is a breath of fresh air in a deluge of potential setbacks with regard to education recently.
Here are eight organisations being the change they want to see:
Bharat Calling, which helps connect students from rural areas to prestigious universities, summarises the support they lend to students as assuming ‘the role of an informed parent and guide, [in supporting] students and [promoting] higher learning’.
The organisation was founded by TISS Alumnus Sandeep Mehto, who is himself personally familiar with the challenges that rural students face in attaining a degree; it was when he was pursuing a MA at Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), when he engaged in a project that really resonated with him and the genesis of the project came about.
“When we started our research, we went to explore the rural higher education sector,”he said. “We were faced with the same realities that I have seen in my life, such as a dropout rate of 90% before XII standard in rural India, and different socio-economic prejudices. It cleared the picture in my mind that getting into higher education depends on the social, cultural and economic capital a person gets, and not just how intelligent or eager a person is to learn.”
What They Do:
And thus, Bharat Calling was formed in 2009 by Mehto, with support from TISS, to address the appalling dropout rates and increase awareness amongst rural students about the kinds of opportunities that are available to them by way of higher education.
They conduct a simple orientation, in rural government schools sharing with the students various career options, followed by a camp of 30 days that enables students to apply for admission to higher education institutes of their choice. By providing them with the information they need, the awareness they spread itself has been enough impetus to keep the program going strong. With DBS on board as a partner, there is now a network of 27 schools where these camps take place, conducted by volunteers from several universities.
“The best scenario will be that ten years down the line, Bharat Calling becomes non-existent. I hope the government acts to absorb the initiative and make it a well-rooted system across India, especially rural India,” said Mehto.
“India has the largest number of visually impaired children in the world,” Ajay Dasgupta, co-founder of The Kahani Project says. “We need to secure their fundamental right of listening to stories. Our aim is to make that happen. How can we ensure that every blind child in this country has the same access to stories as every other child does?”
Brainchild of Monika Pathak, Sonia Malani, Sneha Malani and Ajay Dasgupta, The Kahani Project was kicked off in 2012 aiming at bringing stories within the reach of every child, and to to make it as inclusive as possible by addressing places and people that are relatively inaccessible. From there on, they let the power of storytelling take its glorious natural course in shaping and moulding a child during his or her formative stages.
Particularly when it comes to children with special needs, a considerable number of visually-challenged children are denied this right due to a lack of resources.
“While studying architecture, my thesis was on an inclusive school,” Sneha Malani tells Homegrown.
“Having discussed my thesis topic covering disabilities with Ajay, Sonia and Monika, they decided to get an accessibility audit done, and take the first steps to inclusion by giving an opportunity to visually-impaired commerce graduates in the web sales call centre at their office. Through these interactions, the issues of accessibility came to the surface and Kahani came into being.”
What They Do:
With view to bridging this gap, the group started creating a repository of audio stories which are available free of cost, dismissing discrimination against several demographics with one swift click. Recorded using an open source software called Audacity, the stories are later edited and uploaded onto the website as well as on a Soundcloud, later published under the Creative Commons license – making them accessible to anyone who wants to download and listen. With stories in eight languages, including English, the Kahani Project wants to reach out to as many kids from across the country as possible.
They are currently conducting storytelling sessions in blind schools in Poona every weekend, and are on the lookout for volunteers to join them in their initiative. Other events they conduct include marathon story recording sessions, called ‘Storythons’ in schools or with corporate houses; ‘Katha Dhara,’ where people come together to create stories together in a couple of hours and ‘Dada Dadi ki Kahaniyaan’, where grandparents gather to relate stories to the kids.
“Besides all of this, we are about to start sessions at remand homes, juvenile homes, old age homes and orphanages and also need volunteers for these sessions,” Sneha tells us. “We have started a small-scale pilot mp3 player project, as a part of which we load stories onto mp3 players for the 6th standard children every week. This way, they can carry their little audio library with them. In the future, we aim to set up audio libraries in blind schools, where the students can download stories onto the players by themselves.”
“We believe that asking question and working towards finding the answers are two main ingredients of science learning. All scientists share these traits - challenge the status quo and experiment (Newton asked why apple fell down and worked towards finding the solution). Experifun intends to inculcate this very culture among children to help shape their scientific bend.”
Started by a group of IIT/IIM teachers and alumni who are passionate about science, Experifun focuses on STEM – science, technology, engineering and mathematics, with view to nurturing the latent Edison Alvas and Newtons in children. Troubled with didacticism in our education where theories and concepts are ‘told’ and ‘explained’ without the children being given the room to verify for themselves, Experifun was founded in 2012 to design and develop curriculum-based affordable, innovative and exploratory gadgets and products that let kids explore science concepts firsthand within the classroom.
What They Do:
Experifun addresses the gaps in communication between curriculum and child by creating a platform where children can interact with real objects in real time. Photosynthesis, example, generally taught on a chalkboard or through an audio-visual medium, can also be taught through an Experifun gadget that lets you attach a leaf to it, that is hands-on & interactive, and equipped to answer the millions of questions that the children will invariably come up with.
Experifun’s science offering for schools inClass is a one-time buy model and includes a suite of innovative products like the one mentioned above, a teacher workshop and a 1-year support and warranty. Available currently to CBSE, ICSE, IGCSE, IB and State Board curriculums, no infrastructure or changes are required by the school, and Experifun even checks back to review their progress periodically.
The products are designed and innovated from scratch in their R&D lab in Bangalore, and designed to work in urban, rural and tribal schools. 70% of the schools that Experifun works with are low income schools, sustaining their focus on affordable learning.
Pearson Affordable Learning Fund (PLAF) invested an undisclosed amount in the Bangalore-based startup last year, giving us hope that the program is going to go far.
“We believe Learning and Leading are inextricably linked and are powerfully symbiotic dimensions of organizational growth. As people achieve greater success, a big challenge lies in ensuring continuous learning even as they grow in their leadership.”
iDiscoveri, founded by Ashish Rajpal, Anustup Nayak, and Ronny Gulati, straddles the founders’ various areas of interest including education, management, cognitive psychology, leadership, cultural exchange and creativity to create tailor-made academic solutions.
“iDiscoveri was conceived as a social enterprise with a mission to renew education in India,”
Ashish says. “We first drew up the blueprint in 2002 when Anustup Nayak (co-founder) and I met as graduate students at Harvard. The name, pronounced ‘I – DISCOVER – I’, stands for our mission to unleash the potential of every human mind.”
What They Do:
In the pursuit of achieving the goal of every child in India having access to quality education, they developed XSEED, a program that targets education for children from ages 3 to 13 years old, that adds quality teaching to the classroom and consequently, student learning. It has, today, reached over 300,000 children and 25,000 teachers in more than 700 schools throughout India and abroad, with schools reporting upto a threefold improvement in academic performance. They also collaborated with Dr American developmental psychologist Howard Gardner in 2012 to shed light on the scope of the theory of Multiple Intelligences, in India.
Find out more about the impact they have created here.
“It blends social networking and e-learning, and transforms traditional classroom learning into collaborative online education,” says V Vaidyanathan, founder and CEO of Classle.
A high level of interaction is needed in the process of teaching and learning, and instead of battling the social media wave, Classle decided to ride it way back in 2009. Vaidhyanathan, who was then working at an IT company, formed Classle initially as a technical platform. The support of a team of engineers and partnerships with colleges, experts and students, has now aided in its transformation into a full-fledged e-learning platform aimed at making goals more realistic, and students more employable.
Classle connects teachers and students from institutions across the world, to create a platform where most of the educational content is common, and uploaded onto a cloud. Each user can log in with their personal ID and the curriculum is based on undergraduate subjects in engineering, pure sciences and management, made available to students through newspaper clippings and AV. An online library, quizzes and workshops are interactive elements that draw the students into their material, and Classle believes that gaming is a powerfool tool in addressing a student’s emotional needs.
“The site is designed in a manner that attracts several students from tier two and tier three cities, especially those with a socioeconomic divide,” adds Vaidyanathan. “The idea is to facilitate campus collaboration from anywhere and anytime, thereby connecting everyone.”
“One student, one teacher, one school at a time – we’re starting the movement for sustainable change that will impact lives and communities across India, for the better.”
Sudiksha Knowledge Solutions was founded in 2010 by Mr Naveen Kumar and Ms Nimisha Mittal, who shared a vision to provide affordable education for those living below the poverty line. When they began establishing primary schools though, they realised that the problems the children faced started even before first grade – and thus, they turned to ‘a child’s first school’, and began work at the pre-school level to make sure their crucial first memories would be of education and joy, to avoid dropping out by the age of 12 – which is the fate of most children in the country.
“We identify educated women in the community and train them to run preschools,”said Naveen Kumar, chief executive officer of Sudiksha Knowledge Solutions. “This way, we are also encouraging entrepreneurship among the women in the community.”
What They Do:
The kind of self-sustainable model that they are trying to promote is one of the most foolproof ways to ensure that education reaches more children in the country, and Sudiksha primarily works with rural and urban students who come from families earning between 10, 000 to 15, 000 a month.
The core team members of EduRaft, Thirukumaran Nagarajan, Aarthi Ramasubramanian, and Sharathbabu Loganathan, came together to address an issue in the education sector in India few have paid as much attention to in the past – finding the right school for parents is quite a monstrous task, and this start-up is here to alleviate the stress.
“Choosing the right kind of education for a child is still an ordeal. Lack of awareness among parents, less visibility of schools/extra-curricular classes and lack of financial prowess or online presence of an institute have led to the situation where parents are crowding only specific schools and classes, oblivious of other good places where a child can be admitted. We are trying to bridge this gap by providing information about schools and institutes that do not regularly feature in the news for oversubscribed applications,”said Ramasubramanian.
What They Do:
Any information parents might need about K12 education and allied services such as tuition classes and extra-curricular activities is now available at their fingertips thanks to Eduraft, that provides information, tools and resources based on the analysis of the data and information they have collected. As of now, they have over 20, 000 schools listed for clients to choose from, with a prime focus on the four metros, namely Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore and Chennai.
“An initiative like this is huge though it seems like a drop in the ocean,” commented Sandhya Rao, editor of independent, children’s publishing house Tulika. “More children can become readers if they have access to books in a sunny environment.”
Over the course of Umesh Malhotra’s one-year stint in the United States as an Infosys employee, his whole family would frequent the local public library, drawn especially to the children’s section, which was stocked with books and activities for kids that the couple’s then five-year-old son would really enjoy. After moving back to India, they searched for a similar space in Bangalore but to no avail.
“Exposure to, and the inclination to appreciate, creativity, arts and literature are more essential attributes now than ever before in the turbulent world we live in.” said Mumbai-based Abhishek Chandan, head of a British Council Library initiative.
What They Do:
Named for the part of the brain that controls learning and memory, Malhotra drew up his own plans for ‘Hippocampus’, a children’s library that would vie for the city kid’s flighty attention. 2003 witnessed the opening of shutters for the first branch in Koramangala, a suburb of Bangalore, which was pitched as ‘an experience centre’ rather than just a library. With good reason too, as besides their admirable collection of books, they have a roster chock-full of workshops, weekend events and activities conducted in the backdrop of beanbag chairs; there’s also a multimedia section for film screenings and a backyard to let off steam.
Today, Hippocampus has helped schools run and maintain libraries, trained teachers on how to get students involved in library activities and the organisation is currently establishing low-cost, community-focused education centres with a unique curriculum, in different places across the country.