Madhav Chavan on Universal Education in India: An Inside Look at Pratham

Rahim Kanani talks to Dr.Madhav Chavan, Co-Founder, President and CEO of Pratham and a 2011 recipient of the Skoll Award for Social Entrepreneurship.
“Madhav Chavan is transforming India’s approach to children’s literacy and education,” said Sally Osberg, President and CEO of the Skoll Foundation. “Chavan’s unwavering insistence on universal education, and his work to engage community volunteers in the quest for literacy, has already reached more than 34 million children, offering a proven model for the entire world.”

Rahim Kanani: What makes the education sector in developing countries different from other sectors?

Madhav Chavan: I once heard someone say that no one dies of poor education or no education. By the time you realize that you have been robbed of your right and the opportunity to build a good life, it is too late in some ways. This is not so in case of health issues or water issues or livelihood issues which can be life-threatening or their effect is immediately visible to adults. In a way, education and environment are similar in that the time it takes to realize the effect of poor practice, the effect of a deteriorating environment is felt by all. Unfortunately, in education, a section of the society that gets good education does not directly feel the impact of poor or no education of a large segment of the society. These are some of the reasons why education does not become an electorally important issue. Unless there is an enlightened leader who wants major change without public pressure to do so, education does not get priority.

Rahim Kanani: Separate from more capital and manpower, or other tangible assets, what are some intangible assets you need in order to be successful on the ground?

Madhav Chavan: Social capital, the trust people place in you and your own ability to trust people is probably the greatest intangible asset. It is also important to look at one’s own actions critically and reflect so that work can be improved. There is often a tendency to glorify the leader and worse for leaders to promote themselves. I find that while they benefit in the short term, invariably they are harmful to the organization in the medium and long term.

Rahim Kanani: As Pratham continues to expand, paint for a moment a portrait of the organization’s position–as you wish it would be–five years down the road.

Madhav Chavan: Pratham’s strongest point so far is its ability to mobilize people. Our capacity to deliver high quality educational services is limited by the abilities of the very people who provide energy on a large scale. Five years from now, Pratham should be recognized not only for its ability to mobilize people, but also for its ability to build capacities to deliver a high quality of education-related services.

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