A nation’s growth is a direct reflection of its education system. And in the abysmal Indian education system, there are many loopholes such as lack of qualified teachers, more focus on enrolment and less on outcomes, and no continuous curriculum upgradation. The Annual Status of Education Report 2015 (ASER) has displayed year after year that there is little to cheer about the country’s performance. In 2014, while we did achieve near-universal enrolment with 96.7 per cent children registered in schools, the results remain worrisome. Focusing on English comprehension skills, in 2014, only 25 per cent could read simple English sentences, a number that has remained unchanged since 2009. In basic arithmetic too, the problem persists. In 2012, 26.3 per cent of Class 3 children could do a two-digit subtraction and in 2014, the number has shown a negligible increase – it stands at 25.3 per cent. There is much that needs to be done. As Rukmini Banerjee, Director of ASER Centre, reflecting on the results, said, “The report can be seen as a glass half full than half-empty. Stagnation has happened and we hope the upward mobility will start soon.”
Given this stagnation in the public education system, many private players have entered the market with a hope to tip the system, in small and big ways.
But what India needs is to find a unicorn in the education system
not an entity with a $1 billion valuation, but one that has managed to impact a billion learners, one that can set an example for the nation to be inspired
as pointed by Shobini Mukherjee, Executive Director of J-PAL at the Sankalp Forum 2016’s session ‘Finding the unicorn in education’.
She further adds,
As a first step, the focus needs to shift entirely from enrolment to learning; to what’s happening in the classrooms. What this also means is instead of just using test scores to determine impact, cognitive and non-cognitive skills should also be taken into account.
To be able to do that, it’s critical for the entire ecosystem to come together and not play a demand-and-supply game, which is currently the case. One needs to find scalable and cost-effective models that can be adapted across multiple contexts.
According to Dave Richards, Co-Founder and Partner of Unitus Seed Fund and Capria Accelerator says,
The biggest existing unicorn is the public education system. If entrepreneurs think of how they can add a $1 billion valuation here, it’s possible to create large-scale impact.
This brings us to the question of there already existing entities that impact the education system anywhere across the globe, directly or indirectly? Thankfully, yes! Here are three entities, from whom ed-entrepreneurs can take a good cue –
Khan Academy – Founded by MIT graduate and a former hedge fund analyst Salman Khan, Khan Academy is a non-profit, online learning platform that provides free education to anyone in the world 24×7. It provides a mix of exercises, instructional videos, and teacher tools covering subjects such as basic Math, Physics, Biology, Economics, Art History and Computer Science. So far, Khan Academy has delivered over 580 million lessons in 36 languages and learners are completing 4 million exercise problems a day! While 70 per cent of the students are from the US, the rest are from India, Mexico, Brazil and similar countries. Recently, Khan Academy entered India, to provide content in multiple Indian languages and is aiming to reach 8 million users in India alone. The TATA Trusts are backing the initiative.
Design for Change – An initiative by Kiran Bir Sethi, Founder of Ahmedabad-based Riverside School, DFC unleashes the “I CAN” superpower in children, globally. By introducing the concept of design thinking, the year-long immersive curriculum empowers children to express and execute their own ideas for a better world. For instance, a shining example is the Zilla Parishad Primary School, Pune, where students were deeply disturbed by the rising cases of female foeticide and took out rallies to spread awareness on the importance of girl child. The local gram panchayat was so impressed by the students’ efforts that they announced a donations of Rs 100 every month to every family with a girl child till the girl turns 18. DFC has a collection of over 10,000 stories of change by children from 35 countries and 30, 000+ schools, wherein the curriculum has been introduced.
The Akshaya Patra Foundation – A Bengaluru-based non-profit, Akshaya Patra provides free mid-day meals to children studying in government and government-aided schools across India in a partnership with the Indian government’s Mid-Day Meal Scheme (MDMS). Every day, it is fuelling the dreams of 1.5 million children across close to 11, 000 schools in 24 locations and 10 states through its technology-intensive centralised kitchens. While the organisation isn’t directly linked to education, what it has achieved is giving students a strong reason to come to school for a meal and stay back to get education. Their internal assessments show that the enrolment and attendance rates have increased, and child labour and gender disparity have decreased. The organisation aims to reach 5 million children by 2020. Another thing that sets it apart is Akshaya Patra’s centralised kitchen’s blueprint is freely available to anyone in the world who wants to replicate the model to eradicate hunger.
Khan Academy, Design for Change and The Akshaya Patra Foundation are clear examples of how impact can be achieved on scale by leveraging the existing ecosystem and collaborating for the benefit of all stakeholders involved.
How Akshaya Patra’s technology is ensuring 1.5 million children in India are well-fed and stay in school