Sixty-four years after independence, it is clear that the public education system has failed to deliver on its promise of universal primary education.
The start of the millennium saw a new movement emerge, with several groups outside the government sector begin to get seriously interested in public education, having come to the realization that one of the major reasons for the uneven development across the country, despite the material gains accrued from liberalization, was a weak education system.But we’re not talking about a few foundations or philosophically charged organizations establishing model schools, or even about large business houses exploiting the demand for schooling among the socio-economic or cultural elite, or even well established philanthropies like the Tata trusts that have for decades attempted to support education in different ways. This new movement represents an entry into the fabric of the system, an effort to understand it inside out, and work with it, from within it.
The financial success of many companies in the post liberalization era led some of them to think seriously of their larger responsibility to the country’s development. The ICICI Foundation for Inclusive Growth began looking seriously at involvement in key sectors such as health and elementary education.
The brainstorming within Wipro also led to the realization that in a sector like education, it would take years for any fundamental change to happen. “We decided then that our engagement would have to be long term,” explains Behar. “We did not want to do this in a funding mode – we wanted to work closely with the sector, more like an equity partner.”
This decision to go beyond the “fund and forget” model of philanthropy and delve into the social sector with more than money is mirrored at other large NGOs such as Naandi, Pratham and ICICI Foundation as well.Clearly, the education of the country’s children – particularly the 8 million who are outside any system of schooling, despite the rise in gross enrolment ratios – is something that demands immediate attention and action. While some corporates, most recently the Bharti Foundation, have decided to set up their own schools to reach disadvantaged children, a smaller but increasingly vocal group believes that the only way forward is to join hands with the government.
This word – accountability – has a special place in school education today. Much of the emphasis in these efforts to transform education in the country has to do with putting into place a mechanism to make government institutions accountable to the communities and individuals they serve.
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