My dream for India and my life vision is that by 2060 every child in India will attain an excellent education. This is what defines me, consumes me and is the purpose of my being. This vision realises an India where there is an equality in access to excellent education to every child; where the teachers are invested in the learning of students and not teaching; where the school leaders are deeply committed to putting their students on a different life path; where the parents community feels empowered to monitor and support school systems; and where the government’s investment in education has the sole intention of better learning outcomes and developing values that prepare students for future generation,
is Madhukar Banuri powerful, hopeful mission statement.
Everything he has done in the last seven years is to make this dream come alive. Madhukar, 29, an engineer from BITS Pilani, left his job at L&T and joined the very first cohort of Fellows at Teach For India (TFI) and continued as a Programme Manager after the Fellowship. He is also an Acumen Fellow from the 2015-2016 cohort. Currently, he heads the education vertical at Pune City Connect (PCC), a collaborative platform dedicated to working with all the stakeholders. PCC resonated with Madhukar’s ideology of collective action being the vehicle of change in any system.The transformative journey
In 2009, while he was working as an engineer trainee at L&T Mumbai, Madhukar saw an ad calling young Indians to come onboard, and he immediately knew this was his calling.
Life took a sharp turn. He went from counting flight air miles, giving sales pitches and calculating margins and profitability to teaching students about aeroplanes, fractions and geometry, and listening to their stories. It was a journey of self-growth as well, with his perception of himself and the world changing.
Adjusting to this change in pace was not easy. While grappling with the consequences of the sudden change, the toughest part was convincing his family about the decision.
But Madhukar also recalls the moments that made his decision worth it.
It is gratifying to see a Supriya confidently speaking two sentences, a Zubair stopping chewing of tobacco after months of persuasion, a Shashank consistently scoring above 90 per cent in all weekly tests, a Shivani returning to her scholarship test preparation three days after her father’s death. It is these stories that mattered to me and my learning in those two years,
With the desire to learn more about the education landscape, he stayed back at TFI. During this time, he worked closely with some of the teachers, student communities, and local government in Pune.
His current role
Post TFI, Madhukar moved onto a firm involved in generating statistics and numbers in the education space, but quickly understood that his work was not adding up to the impact he wanted to create. He moved to Pune to lead the education vertical for PCC (formerly known as Pune Action Task Force)—a collaborative platform amongst diverse stakeholders in the city—and build on a strong foundation of mutual learning.
At PCC, he is responsible for building partnerships with corporates across the city who want to invest time, money and talent for the uplift of the public education system; managing relationships with the government officials across all levels; designing and implementing initiatives with partner NGOs to build capacity of the government education machinery for strengthening K-12 schooling system; and driving collective impact among the stakeholders by deriving a common agenda for quality learning in Pune’s public school system.
His learnings over the last one year have been propelled by his Fellowship with Acumen. “The diversity of the cohort that I was a part of just pushed my leadership to the next level. Leadership in social sector is tough, primarily given the challenges that each of us face with diverse stakeholders every single day,” Madhukar explains.
Is the government doing enough?
On the government’s role, Madhukar says,
The government can definitely do so much more. There is a dire need for a strong political will to ensure all children are in school and learning. I have always observed a strong creative tension between the senior leadership of the State and the entire education machinery. A shift in leadership has always led to a minimal or meagre improvement in the outcomes at the grassroots level. That said, the leadership of the State propelled with a strong systems strategy and a creative team can always turn things around.
He adds that in the ten months in Maharashtra, there has been great learning experiment for many across India. Bureaucrats along with the State Education Ministry have taken serious measures to improve learning quality in schools. “Since a lot of the State education policies are influenced by the Central government, a greater need to create strong national policies that are not influenced by politics, religion or economics is key,” he says.
Challenges in the space
Many organisations in the education sector work in silos. “There are almost four to five organisations in Pune that work on teacher training. One of the low-income private schools that works with three organisations has four programme managers supporting it. Shockingly, there is very little or no collaboration that happens between them. This leads to a lack of uniformity in technical and instructional inputs, varied strategic inputs for school development, and misaligned interventions for teacher development and student achievement,” Madhukar points out.He adds that the immediate challenge is ensuring that all children are in school and having access to quality education, from primary to secondary education up to Class X. “Given that the public schooling system of many Indian states is in abysmal condition, there needs to be a sustained focus in creating rigorous Central and the State-level policies that align to improving learning standards across the country,” Madhukar says.
Speaking on the great divide between private and public schools, he says that both the type of schools should exist to serve children from each group appropriately. Madhukar believes that the government needs to play a crucial role, first as a planner to set the vision for schools at all levels, and secondly as a facilitator, more than a moral police for private schools. There is no denying that private schools have immensely contributed to the increase in literacy rate in India over the last two decades and they need to be equal partners in developing policies.
Are we going to meet that India?
Seven years after I changed my life’s course, I am still defining my role in the quest to reach my life’s vision. I will work towards making it happen in any which way I can.
Madhukar explains how the burden of such a lofty goal gets to be too much at times. “When the road gets rocky, I fall back on my family. My greatest strength and sheer source of energy has been my wife. My father is my hero, I hope I can someday be a fraction of the unconditionally loving man he is,” he adds.
We know Madhukar is aiming for the stars, but it does take dreamers and doers to make miracles happen.