After 72 years of independence, India’s literacy rate stands at 74.04% according to the fifteenth official census in India conducted in 2011. Despite landmark legislations like the Right to Education Act, the illiteracy levels amongst children (and adults) in India are staggeringly low with 60 lakh children still being out of school, and about 92% of the government schools yet to fully implement the RTE Act.
With these dismal literacy rankings, the road to achieving 100% literacy is a long one, paved with numerous hurdles. Given the sheer enormity of the problem, initiatives by the government are simply not enough to tackle this basic crisis of development and progress. Filling in the gaps are the literacy interventions developed by various civil society organizations and social enterprises. The common aim of all these interventions? To make education accessible, inclusive and affordable.
This world literacy day, we bring to you five such initiative and organizations bringing about real grassroots change in the field:
1. Sudiksha Solutions
They say their purpose is “To uplift millions of underprivileged children in India through high-quality, holistic education and to empower women through career development and entrepreneurship. 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.”
Based in Hyderabad, this social enterprise aims to make early education affordable by setting up low cost pre-school centers in low-income urban and peri-urban regions. With a humble vision of one school at a time, the number of schools presently set up and managed by Sudiksha stands at 21. Looking to scale up their existing model through the franchise route, Sudiksha believes that sustainable change is possible, even if it might seem like just a drop in the ocean!
2. Train Platform Schools
“Where school goes to children.”Founded by a school teacher Inderjit Khurana through the formation of the Ruchika Social Service Organization in 1985, this is a school which comes to children. Everyday she took a train to the school she taught in, and was deeply disturbed by the number of children she saw begging and doing odd jobs to make a living at the train stations and platforms. Aware of how deeply vulnerable a lack of education makes them, in addition to their already risk prone existence, this school teacher devised an ingenious method of educating these children. She came up with an interactive teaching plan, integrating entertainment into the curriculum to make the most of children’s short attention spans, with the use of field trips, simple flashcards to teach reading and allowed the children to attend the school whenever they wanted to because she was aware they would not give up their means of livelihood.“…Within a few months the platform school had over 100 students sitting within its chalk-drawn boundaries, all absorbed in the song, dance, drama, music and puppetry that was helping make them literate. The idea was to provide basic literacy to them and not to make academics out of them.”
She passed away in 2010, but her legacy in the form of these schools lives on.
3. Teach for India Fellowship
The Teach for India (TFI) movement was born out of a crisis. A crisis they describe in the following words, “…The education crisis is a complex puzzle with layers of issues from attendance to teaching quality. Underlying all of these complex layers of failing education systems in the country lies a severe lack of leadership.”
Therefore, to fill in these gaps, TFI was born as the brainchild of Shaheen Mistri. With a mission to build a movement of leaders to eliminate educational inequity, the fellowship engages the brightest minds of the country (today they are in 40 countries!) to serve as full time teachers to children from low income communities in some of the nation’s most under-resourced schools. In the long term, the fellowship hopes to imbibe lasting leadership qualities in these young professionals who go on to become true agents of grassroots change.
4. Pratham Foundation
Their journey started with a mission to “eliminate the cycle of poverty by eradicating illiteracy from India.” Aiming to scale up education for as many underprivileged children as possible – making it accessible for all children, it made its humble beginnings in the slums of Mumbai. Today, the direct and partner programs of the foundation makes literacy possible for thousands of children across 21 states of India.
By coupling research methods and a full proof field practice approach, Pratham recognized that the first step to achieving universal primary education is to achieve universal preschool education, and has worked towards this goal through the Balwadi (pre-school) programs. Along with traditional schooling approaches, the foundation also developed vocational learning programs, digital literacy programs and programs for drop-out school children. That the smallest of ripples can bring about the biggest change is perhaps the greatest takeaway from the foundation’s success story.
5. Hole in the wall
The journey of the Hole in the Wall initiative is a heartwarming story of just how much of a difference even a single individual can bring about to the society. Dr. Sugata Mitra, chief scientist at NIIT set in motion this initiative in 1999 by making a “hole in the wall that separated the NIIT premises from the adjoining slum in Kalkaji, New Delhi. Through this hole, a freely accessible computer was put up for use. This computer proved to be an instant hit among the slum dwellers, especially the children. With no prior experience, the children learnt to use the computer on their own.”
The success of this social experiment brought to the forefront that children are capable of teaching themselves when posed with a question, and supplied with basic tools, and that their aptitude to learn is boundless. With this experiment, he highlighted the bureaucracy (and exclusivity) of the current education system, stressing on the need for more free and technologically enhanced ways of teaching children. Over the years, he has expanded this experiment to several holes in the wall across many states in the country (and abroad), and has proven himself correct each time.