Biplab Das spent his early childhood in rural India and has personally experienced the difficulties of a rural student. He realized that the quality of early education makes a lot of difference in the growth of a child. Appropriate pedagogy and techniques along with a nurturing learning environment can create a lasting impact on rural children. With this philosophy in mind Biplab Das and Saurabh Kumar, both from MBA 1999 batch of IIM Bangalore, formed Kishalay Foundation in 2013 to work towards improving learning outcomes in remote rural schools. We caught up with Biplab to understand his fascinating journey –
Inspiration: Rangabelia Experiment in Sundarban
During school days I was inspired by the work of rural transformation – the Rangabelia experiment in Sundarban, West Bengal by our teacher Padmashree Tushar Kanjilal. We realized that early quality grassroots education in rural areas that constituted 70% of the population is required to change the socio-economic status of people. ASER findings and other primary education stats also motivated us towards this.
Saurabh Kumar, my batchmate from IIMB is the Founder CEO of a technology consulting company in USA and looks after fund raising activities. Soumitra Dandapat looks after CSR activities and is passionate about sports. Soumitra looks into early education pedagogy and sports activities. Jhilam Nandi has been working in the IT sector for more than 18 years in business development and marketing. He has a passion in traveling and photography. He looks after all the digital marketing strategy, corporate communications, branding, PR, and coordinate CSR activities for the organization.
Rural Primary Education is Apalling
We have some appalling statistics on rural primary education in India. The Annual Status on Education Report suggests that 35% of children in grade 1 cannot recognize numbers 1 – 9 and almost 50% of children in grade 5 cannot read a grade 2 level text. Moreover, there is a huge problem of dropout rates (nearly 40%). Primary education problem is a serious one and the more we delay, the more we are pushing millions of children into the workforce without having a basic educational foundation. This will have serious implications on India’s prospect as a developed nation in the coming decades.
Setting up Core Learning Hubs in Remote Locations
We are trying to create an effective early education ecosystem in remote rural India. Given India’s complex social, economic and political structure, we have taken the approach of setting up core Learning hubs in remote locations and having continuous engagement with surrounding primary schools with our intervention programs, thereby bringing in sustainable change in the quality of early education delivery.
We are focusing on creating larger impact by focusing on enhancing existing early education delivery provided by Govt. We pitch into the gaps exist in early education delivery in remote rural India. We plan to set up regional learning hubs in each rural zone to work with schools in the areas of pedagogy, sports, computers on Cluster Schools model (Bray, 1987).
- Current Focus – Sundarbans, Next immediate plan in West Midnapur district.
- Creation of learning hubs (Kishalay EduKids) in key islands of Sundarbans – quality early education to students till age of 5 and from ages 6 to 12 through direct enrolment.
- Interventions in primary schools within 5 km of the periphery of these learning hubs for greater impact and creating an effective early education eco-system.
- Sports Interventions
- EduToys based Interventions
- IT interventions
- YepMe Best primary teacher award to create teaching leadership in rural areas.
- Minimal nutrition support, twice/thrice in a month local fruits, eggs given to kids in all learning centres.
- Plantation program in primary schools
- Nutrition Garden in primary schools to mitigate nutrition issues.
- Education and Minimal livelihood support for students and families of vulnerable kids to minimize school dropouts.
- Parental engagement, effective engagement of mothers for better parenting in early years. Literacy program for illiterate mothers.
Top 3 challenges you faced
- Initially, there was resistance. So, we tried to gain trust and apply change management ideas. My childhood in a rural background also helped.
- Most of the children are from families of farmers and daily wage labourers. We also have a good percentage of children from the minority community. First-generation learners have huge challenges of not having a better home environment for early education. We have workshops for mothers on better handwriting and nutrition to mitigate this.
- Our play-based learning pedagogy was directly in conflict with rural thinking of rote learning, we had to take many sessions with parents to explain this and once parents saw improvement in kids they were convinced and our students inflow also increased.
We are dedicated to holistic education, and to the improvement of learning outcomes for kids. Though we are laying emphasis on English, teaching and learning are closely linked to the rural environment. We want to help change the thoughts of rural folks, empower them, provide the tools to believe in themselves, and create intellectual capital. We want them to take pride in their work, culture, and identity irrespective of where they choose to work and the choices they make.
Right now, we are working on creating a template for rural early education transformation in the Sunderbans. With more support, we can replicate this model in other parts of Bengal.
Top 2-3 learnings / insights
- Rural early education problem is a solvable problem if Non-profits and Governments work together.
- It is more of rural mindset issue, nothing to do with the merits of rural kids and change is possible with empathy-based solutions rather than solely technology-based ones.
- Pedagogy is the single most important factor for bringing sustainable change in rural education.
Any “Aha” moments
- Some kids were rejected by Govt. primary schools and parents brought them to Kishalay. When we were able to transform those kids with our pedagogical interventions, it was a happy moment for us.
- When our rural women teachers getting better with training in better pedagogies, better languages teaching and they take those learnings in nearby communities, it was a happy moment for us.
- When we were able to transform many malnourished kids with some minimal nutrition interventions providing local fruits and supplements, it was really a proud moment for us.
In this context, we have covered some interesting ventures making impact – Sportz Village is making impact through sports education, TOMS shoes in the area of footwear and restoration of eyesight through innovative business models, and Gram Oorja in the area of renewable energy solutions for remote communities.
The Kishalay Team: http://kishalayfoundation.org/team/