Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Education: Ultimate Empowerment

I came to the USA in 1970. When I landed in New York I knew no one and had just 8 dollars in my pocket- since that was the govt. of India regulation at that time. But I did not see any handicap in this. For I had my education. Education is empowerment.

Mahatma Gandhi: "The spread of literacy is the most effective method to advance freedom."
Yet in India, the literacy divide remains intact or worse than it was in 1970.

“Education in the new India has become a crucial marker of inequality. Among the poorest 20 percent of Indian men, half are illiterate, and barely 2 percent graduate from high school, according to government data. By contrast, among the richest 20 percent of Indian men, nearly half are high school graduates and only 2 percent are illiterate." (Education Push Yields Little for India’s Poor”, New York Times, January 17, 2008). Consider this - About 35 percent of India’s population is illiterate; there are 100 million illiterate children of ages 6-14 years.

In the course of my work we come across many organizations devoted to the cause of literacy and education for the underprivileged and they are all absolutely amazing. The fact is the education- especially at the K-12 level- is a huge challenge as it comes intermingled with issues of hunger, health, and hopelessness.

As the bay area Pratham fundraiser is coming up on Saturday, 26th I am reminded of why I support them. Pratham stands out in three ways.
1) Scale: Existing aid models for education make a huge impact but to change the world you need scale. For education, lacking a viable for-profit business model, a change is needed. Pratham is addressing this issue through partnerships. For example- they are a tripartite partnership between the government, citizens and corporates- plus they partner with other NGOs. People say the government is impossible to work with – and it is true – but they are the ones with infrastructure.
2) Metrics: Its good to have the end goal, mission and vision – but we also have to course correct. For that we need metrics and evaluations. Pratham is a learning organization that continuously monitors itself and the field.
3) Community: No service program can work if it not owned by the community, is for the community and run by the community it serves. Pratham’s many outreach programs, cadre of volunteers as well as paid staff – all have a mission of hope. This is the leadership style as well as the distinguishing strategy.

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