India/December 18, 2022/By: DARLINGTON JOSE HECTOR/Source: https://www.moneycontrol.com/
The most viable way to make the system function efficiently is to empower educational leaders at all levels – SD Shibulal
S.D. Shibulal, co-founder of Infosys, who also served as its chief executive officer from 2011-14, is today powering a philanthropic movement along with his wife Kumari Shibulal, with greater focus on education. Besides education, the Shibulal Family Philanthropic Initiatives (SFPI), is also working in healthcare, organic farming as well as ‘Sangamam’, a new venture focused on reviving art and culture.
In an interview, S.D. Shibulal and his wife spoke about the need to create better educational leadership in the country, and how empowering educational leaders is more feasible and scalable than improving individual schools as that would result in a greater multiplier effect. Excerpts:
Our journey in the social sector started in 1999 when we sponsored the education of two children from Kerala. The Shibulal Family Philanthropic Initiatives started with education as a sector, based on the simple belief that the founders, my wife and I, achieved what we did because of it. Over time, we expanded to other causes in education as we felt poor access to quality education is prevalent across various parts of society, especially underprivileged children.
By providing better access to education to numerous lives, we believe we are giving individuals a chance to level the playing field and take charge of their future. All our programs – Vidyadhan, Vidyarakshak, Ankur, The Samhita Academy and ShikshaLokam – have been formed with this premise.
What are the areas that you think India needs to concentrate on for its next stage of development as far as education is concerned? What are some of SFPI’s initiatives in addressing some of those concerns?
Education reforms have always been complicated as the sector is extremely complex with multiple variables, especially in a country with the diversity and the scale of India. Indian states are geographically and linguistically diverse with their own distinct policies. The most viable way to make the system function efficiently is to empower educational leaders at all levels like principals, cluster resource persons, block education officers and mentors. If we can equip them with the tools to respond to local requirements, the overall strength and adaptability will increase.
Educational leadership is the ecosystem’s backbone, perhaps the most important, given their roles and responsibilities. Also, empowering educational leaders is more feasible and scalable, with greater multiplier effect than improving individual schools. Empowering these individuals would improve the education system significantly as they are best equipped to make interventions. Using technology and the latest pedagogical tools, ShikshaLokam has brought educational leaders onto a common platform.
Why are you a big advocate of better leadership in the education system?
Most of these things come down to leadership. Leadership will drive change. Managers maintain status quo and leaders drive change. So that is why we are focused on K12 education, especially in the public sector. The missing link is leadership. For instance, there was a drop in enrolment rates in Punjab. So, along with the Punjab government we organised 25,000 parent-teacher meetings in a short period. Eventually the enrolment ratio went up by 5 percent.
Leadership involves leaders in schools like headmasters, co-ordinators, BDOs and DEOs from the government sector, people from the societal sector, community leaders and parents. When it comes to higher education, it’s about affordability, and when it comes to K12, it’s about leadership.
NCERT has launched a programme called Vidya Amrut. They are looking at a million micro improvements in schools in 3-4 months in pedagogy. That’s being done on the Diksha platform. The software they are using is the open source by our own ShikshaLokam, which is their national partner. This is a good example of driving change through leadership.
The pandemic had exposed some of the frailties in our education and healthcare sectors to a large extent.
India is a land of contradictions. While India has been showing an enviable growth trajectory in recent years, the growth of our healthcare sector has been dismal. Total expenditure on health as a percentage of GDP was at a meagre 2 percent which is far behind the US at 17 percent and China at 5.5 percent.
Start-ups are no exception. Sectors like e-commerce or mobile payments are attracting strong interest among entrepreneurs and investors. On the other hand, sectors like healthcare, clean-tech and education have lagged.
Healthcare in India needs solutions that have a 50X impact on the population across accessibility, affordability and prevention. While the rural population faces problems on all three fronts, the urban poor need more affordable solutions. In India, non-communicable diseases (diabetes, stroke, cancer and respiratory ailments) account for more than 60 percent of deaths. Our physician-to-population ratio is a mere 1 per 1,000.
The distribution of doctors is so skewed that four states- Maharashtra, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and undivided Andhra Pradesh – have 46 percent of the doctors. We lag on the infrastructure front as well with 0.7 hospital beds per 1,000. The difference between rural and urban India for the same metric is lower by a factor of 10.
Similar issues plague education too, isn’t it?
This contradiction exists in education, too. On one hand, we produce one million engineers per year and on the other hand we have a 15 million children who are out of school.
Our Gross Enrolment Ratio (GER) at primary level is approximately 85 percent which falls to 26 percent for higher education. GER in higher education will go up to 50 percent by 2030, if I’m right, which is an audacious goal. We are a 75-year-old democracy and many of the comparisons that we do are with countries which have been around for many, many years more.
We are a complex country and also very diverse. In education, we are undergoing a huge amount of transformation. In primary education, we have a huge drop-out challenge between primary education and higher education. In primary education we have achieved quantity but not quality where we need to improve. In higher education we need to improve quantity and quality. Most of these things are outlined in the NEP which is a fine document. It’s a journey and we are on the right track.
Can you give us a sense of Vidyadhan and the results it’s delivering in education?
Kumari Shibulal: We started in Kerala, after three years we expanded to other states and now we are in 14 states. The students for this programme (college education of those belonging to economically challenged backgrounds) are chosen after a strict evaluation. We look at their income certificates, marks, conduct a written test and then a personal interview. This is followed by a home visit. Only then a decision is taken.
The money goes directly to the child’s account. We are now asking other people like us to sponsor one child. There are people who sponsor up to 100 children and some companies sponsor children through their CSR activities. Over 27,000 scholarships have been given as of last year and in 4-5 years’ time we aspire to complete 1 lakh scholarships. About 65 percent of the students that we support are girls in this programme. But due to societal pressures, many don’t do jobs but we are trying to correct that through dialogue.
Shibulal: Vidyadhan is a scholarship programme. We also run a programme called Ankur which is a residential scholarship for K12. We started that in 2004 with two children. The first child graduated from college this year, 18 years later, and joined HSBC for a salary for Rs 4.4 lakh.
Edtech has seen significant growth in recent times. There have been questions raised on the quality of education provided by some of these firms. What’s your view on the mushrooming of online courses and certifications?
Edtech firms cannot replace anything but can only augment. If someone says it’s a replacement, then I’ll have my doubts. Online education has got its own place; there are advantages. The point is, all of these have to add up.
Teaching is a contact sport and so is learning too. Physical presence is important. Our schools are not meant to teach just subjects but also values. We need to have a classroom environment at least part of the time.