Monday, 26 December 2011

The Misfortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid

Nearly 20% of India's population forms the base of the
socio-economic pyramid, earning less than Rs. 100 per day
By the time Mr. C.K. Prahalad published his most famous and cited work in August 2004, I had spent two years in Pratham, the largest primary education NGO in India. Till then, I had seen the innards of our metros - particularly Delhi and Mumbai - and had seen enough to know that the reverend management Guru had a point, but was not convinced in entirety. The book spoke of the BoP as the 4 billion poor of the world, living on an annual income of less than $1500 (which translated to just over Rs. 5000 per month then). In the Indian context, this Bottom of the Pyramid had a population of 400 million, around 40% of the country's people. But it was clearly visible, even then, that this BoP has several layers, and the bottom-most of these layers (often called the poorest of the poor) did not qualify for any of Prahalad's theorizations.

Thousands of young men migrate to the cities leaving
behind their wives and young children

Now, 7 years later, I have had the chance to peer at the bottom of the barrel in the rural context as well. It is here that the economic divide is at its most stark, and most troubling. Last week, I was in Kalahandi and Bolangir in Orissa, among the poorest districts in the country. The region had gained international infamy in the mid-1980's when the sub-human conditions here had led to several starvation deaths, catching the attention of the bourgeois media. The starvation may not be as rampant now, but the poverty certainly is. Significantly, whatever growth that has happened in the region has largely been an urban phenomenon - property rates in the town of Bolangir have more than doubled in the last ten years, but the conditions in the rest of the district - entirely rural - have worsened. The average household income would not be more than Rs. 10000 per annum, or around $200.

Is there hope for these children?

Numbers, we know, conceal more than they reveal. It is not the 200-odd dollars that these people earn is significant, what is more significant is how they earn it. Since local employment is not an option, and returns on farming are marginal, migrating for work is the only recourse for a livelihood. Hence, in some of the villages that I went to, nearly all the adult males were away to distant cities such as Mumbai and Chennai. Many others go to work at the brick kilns of Andhra Pradesh each year, family in tow, working and living in abysmal conditions, and being paid just about Rs. 200 per week as subsistence wages. Their incentive: in addition to the weekly wage, they are given an advance of Rs. 8 to 10 thousand which proves to be an irresistible bounty for them. They do this year after year, and generation after generation - as they never have a chance to develop their skills to do anything better.

With Mr. Abhimanyu Rana (left) in his office at a village
called Mahaling in the Kalahandi district

If there is a solution to this, it is certainly not within the current political system: the administration at all levels refuses to acknowledge the existence of migration from Orissa. Schemes such as the MGNREGA and IGAY (Indira Gandhi Awas Yojana) may have the potential to bring on an economic upturn, but their shoddy implementation has made the rural populace turn away from them. Commerce and industry too have shied away from investing in this region, as they have several better, more profitable options. If there is some hope, it is in the collective conscience of our society, as evinced by youngsters such as Abhimanyu Rana who runs an organization called Karmi in the Kalahandi district. Karmi is a small organization - too small to even have a website of its own. With the limited resources that Rana has been able to muster, he is doing some commendable work for poverty alleviation and livelihood promotion in the region. Sir Dorabji Tata Trust has been an important supporter for Karmi over the years. But it will take hundreds of Karmis to make any perceptible impact in the fabric of a Kalahandi, and thousands of supporters to champion the cause. Till then, the bottom of the pyramid will only get more and more distanced from the rest of us.             

Sunday, 25 December 2011

A Letter to 'The Stakeholder'


The CEO/Director General/Secretary General/MD
The National/State/Industry Level Skills Development Intervention

Subject: Reminder that you are not ‘The Stakeholder’


Cambridge Dictionary defines the term stakeholder as “a person such as an employee, customer or citizen who is involved with an organization, society, etc. and therefore has responsibilities towards it and an interest in its success.” And, there are other similar definitions.

  As per my understanding from the field there are two types of stakeholders – Suppliers and Recipients. Suppliers can further be subdivided into ‘direct suppliers’ and ‘indirect suppliers’. I know very well that this language won’t be acceptable to development theorists. But this is from the perspective of a practitioner who has worked in this milieu for only three-four years. I might change my thinking/language when I turn old and wise. So please bear with this, till then.
            You are suppliers. Youngsters are receivers.  So what is most important for a skill-development supplier to know? …..
‘Need of the receivers’ – standard answer. I accept. TNA (Training Need Assessment) is a fashion. Everybody does that. At least documents that. Think More…
Try answering these questions -
  1. Are you the only supplier?
If the answer to the above question is ‘NO’, then go ahead –
  1. Who are all the other suppliers out there? – Direct and Indirect.
  2. What does each supplier supply?
  3. What do other suppliers plan to supply in near future?
Remember, there are equally wise people around. You are not ‘The Stakeholder’, but, ‘A Stakeholder’. Find them. Know them. 

Prerit Rana
(Just Another Stakeholder – Skills Development)

Monday, 12 December 2011

The Sound of a School

An article on The Education Challenge published in today's issue of Mint only reiterates what we have known since long, that the quality of education offered at our schools is falling alarmingly. The article cites an year long study conducted by Wipro and Education Initiatives on Indian private schools, looking at scholastic and non-scholastic activities at these schools. Unsurprisingly, the article states that "Both teachers and pupils believe that rote learning is still the backbone of the school system in India." Rote learning, to me, is not learning at all. It is merely memorization.

At the Anjuman-e-Islamia School in South Mumbai
Over the last ten years, I've had the opportunity to visit scores of schools across the country. These have mostly been government schools, but some private and NGO schools as well. Each time, visiting a school when classes are in progress is a fascinating experience. With these visits, I've come to an interesting observation - you can figure out the quality of education in a school with your eyes closed. Literally. All you need to do is to stand for some time at a central location in the school campus, close to where the classrooms are. And listen carefully.

In nearly all schools, if you position yourself near the primary classes, you can hear the sound of children chanting and reciting. It could either be the alphabet (A for Apple, B for Ball.... or अ से अनार, आ से आम...) or it could be numbers (thir-teen, four-teen, fif-teen...recited in a mechanical, sing-song way) or the multiplication tables (Two 1's are 2, two 2's are 4....). The teacher goes first, the children repeat in unison. Sometimes, the teacher would make one of the children as the the sound would be of one child going "L-for-Law-in!"...and all the children bellowing the same as they look at the picture of a ferocious lion in their textbooks. This goes for minutes on end, session after session, day after day. What else can the poor teacher do when she has to manage 50 to 60 children, of the kind when even four of them can be handful?

The Cotton Hill Girls High School in Trivandrum, Kerala, is the
largest all-girls school in Asia, with an enrollment of over 5000 
The rote learning continues in the older classes. The standard way of teaching is for the teacher to read out a lesson from the text book, while the children are expected to follow the text. Predictably, the children lose interest into the first paragraph, and in learning for a lifetime. Discipline in many such schools is equated with the silence of children - and is enforced with strictness. If you go and listen to these older classes, the sound would usually be of the teacher reading from a text book, and his occasional admonition to the children to "Keep Quiet!" or "Be Silent!"

An ABL session at a classroom at the Bodhshala
in Jaipur, Rajasthan. Bodh is a leading Education NGO. 

I've also been to schools that vigorously practice Activity Based Learning (ABL) right from pre-primary years, and the results are starkly different. ABL as an approach presumes children to be active learners rather than passive ones, where each child is actively engaged in a learning activity with the teacher as a guide and facilitator. The sound in these schools is distinctly different - it is a vibrant, steady buzz of children conferring among themselves as they go about performing activities assigned to them. This sound is positive and enthusiastic, with a rhythm but not a monotonous one. When you hear this sound in a school, you can be sure that the children here are actually learning.

Unfortunately, ABL is being properly implemented in only a few schools across the country. Tamil Nadu was the first state to adopt it in all its schools around five years back, and since then, most other states have followed suit. However, its implementation is inherently difficult - inadequate infrastructure is of course an impediment, but the biggest challenge is to get the teachers to adopt a mindset of being Facilitators, rather than just Teachers. More about this in a later post...     


Friday, 25 November 2011

Have Wings, Will Fly

During our mobilization campaign for first batch of ACE at Saharanpur, I met a girl. Seeing our banner she approached us with doubts on our claims.

Employment assistance after three months course…..?

Is it possible to cover Spoken English, Basic Computers, Personality Development and Sales Marketing in three months…?

How will you teach tenth pass to speak in English…?




Many similar questions were asked over three visits on three different days…..She was satisfied….Her parents were satisfied.

ACE got its first student…
Anamika Sharma
Roll no . SRE-2011-102-8

“Bhaiya  ek admission to ho gaya”…Abid  smiled

With the bad news of  Sachin Tendulkar, falling once again short of his much talked about 100th century, we the team at ACE (Agrasar Center for Employability) Saharanpur have something to cheer about.

The same girl, Roll No SRE_2011_102_8 who is just 10th pass got placed as Project Executive in an Event Management Company.

Question marks are converted into smiles….

Thanks team for the brilliant effort and commitment.
Have Wings, Will Fly

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

A period of content-ment!

During the last few months at Edulever, the focus has been on developing specialized learning content for our clients. As the Edulever website would tell you, the three main themes to our work are Training of Teachers, Curriculum, and Assessment & Evaluation. While the last of these has been largely an ongoing activity since we began two years ago, work related to training and curriculum (or content development) has come in phases.

Since May this year, we've done three projects related to content development. Each of these has stretched us to step outside our comfort zone (hence expanding this zone for us!), has been a great learning experience, and has been immensely satisfying. The first one was for International Youth Foundation (IYF), a US based agency that asked us to develop modules related to Oral Hygiene for underprivileged youth in India. We were linked to a Portuguese organization called Mundo A Sorrir (literally, a Smiling World) who provided us with the technical support for this project. The challenge was to convert these technical inputs into simple, actionable, and of course interesting topics and activities that young Indian learners could relate to. Shruti and her team had to wade through reams of content on oral health - a topic completely alien to all of us at Edulever - in order to accomplish the project. Since the topics covered included "diseases of the mouth", some of the content had pretty grotesque images to look at (search for "mouth diseases" on Google images, and you'll get the drift). Though only five modules had to be done, the project took nearly two months to complete, and the end results were quite satisfying. This is what Julia Freed, the Program Manager at IYF had to say in her closing email to us: "It has been a pleasure working with you on this project, and I would recommend Edulever to any colleagues looking for this type of skill set – you have done a fabulous job." Thank you, Julia!

The second project took the challenge to a higher level. This time, the mandate was to develop Life Skills and Hospitality lesson plans - something we've done plenty of in these two years. But this time, we were supposed to do it for a group of hearing impaired learners for the Noida Deaf Society. We were exposed to the heartwarming world of those who have been spared the excesses of noise - and got to understand their near-perfect communication using sign language. However, the challenge was to develop these modules in a way where the learners could not only understand and absorb the concepts and skills, but also reflect upon them in order to internalize them. The challenge was made more daunting by the fact that a large number of words and phrases that we tend to take for granted in our language, do not exist in the thought-context of those who cannot hear the spoken sound. Layers and shades of meaning do not exist for them. They also tend to take words literally, so "hate" can only mean extreme despise and loathing, and not just a dislike, as in "I hate being alone at home on a Saturday evening". In the content development process, we were hugely helped by Ruma Roka, the founder of NDS, and one of the most passionate and enthusiastic individuals we've known. The project, sponsored by American India Foundation, is now in the final stages, and we do hope that the spirited youth we met at NDS can gain from this.

The third project, which began in June and is still continuing, is for a telecom major - and we are expected to  create byte-sized content on topics related to Life Skills and Financial Literacy. I can't talk much about this here as we have a non-disclosure agreement, but suffice to say that the Edulever office sometimes resembles a "tweet factory" these days!  


Thursday, 17 November 2011

Silent Sufferings of Keyword Optimization

Have you ever noticed the advertisement links that appear while you read and write emails on Gmail?

Do your eyes ever stray around to the pictures and commercials on the right side while viewing photos on FaceBook?

Did you trash the matrimonial and dating messages on your Rediff and Hotmail Inbox today?

You are lucky if you haven't!
You have been spared from a few embarrassing moments.
You don't believe me? Read on ....

The other day, I uploaded few pictures on FB, the popular social networking website. The album was titled "Moo/Shoo .... Missing you guys!" in fond remembrance of India visit of my Brother/Sister-in-Law. Lo and Behold! A beautiful girl appeared flaunting her smooth limbs selling permanent Hair Removal Solutions along with hot Lingerie displays and finally a link to Gurgaon Singles Club .... all appearing on the right side of the page. Good Heavens!

Then, I remember exchanging a series of mails over Gmail with a plain acquaintance updating him with latest news from my end like my mother's sad demise 7 years back. Amidst the strictly formal sentences of the mails, I could read hilarious Ad link prompts on the right such as "Love Aaj Kal songs", "An answer to your lonely heart?", "Love poems and Romantic lines free download". I became jittery feeling a hot flush come over my forehead and it compelled me to re-read the string of mails just to make sure my language was not too mushy hinting at an unintended intimacy between the lines. Jeez!

And this last one walks away with the cake .... My father was visiting me a few days back and asked me to check his mailbox after misplacing his spectacles. I logged in to witness at least 4-5 mails with ridiculous subject lines .... "Hi shivendra98, waiting for your dream date?" .... "Dear shivendra98, find your soulmate today!" and the last one had me hit the roof with my trademarked hysterical laughter ...."Hi shivendra98! Want to make it LONG and STRONG?" and I teased Baba relentlessly about it!

Imagine an elderly senior citizen like him who has always been respectfully addressed as Dasgupta ji, aged 72 years, a widower for the last 7 years after losing his wife in a tragic road accident getting such trash mails with a completely bizarre identity shivendra98.

I am really curious about the functioning of Web Marketing Services. The success criteria of any Advert or Promotion lies in reaching to the correct Market Segment at the most appropriate time. I mean, why is it so difficult to avoid sending a Matrimonial Ad to a 72 year old person when he fills up his birthday as mandatory info while registering on the website? Why have the Google crawlers been blindly programmed to prompt senseless Ad Links just on the basis of a few words getting repeated during a conversation? Needless to mention the discomfort one faces when irrelevant mails clog his Inbox. Does anyone monitor the effectiveness of such Marketing methods?

No wonder why Marshall McLuhan, the noted Canadian educator, scholar and philosopher describes Advertising as -

Advertising is an environmental striptease for a world of abundance.

Monday, 7 November 2011

Training of Trainers

Time and again, Edulever has provided me with wonderful opportunities to be a part of ToT (Training of Trainers) Workshops meant for quite diverse groups. Mainly, these were conducted on behalf of International Funding Agencies for their Program Implementing Partner NGOs, for NGOs working towards Employability and Women Empowerment and for Hospitality Trainers on Staff Capacity Building. 

Pic 1 - Executive Training Workshop for a leading 5-star Hotel on Staff Learning and Development
Pic 2 - ToT for Vocational Training Faculty of various implementing NGOs for an Youth Employability Program 
by an International Foundation 
Pic 3 - ToT for Life Skills Trainers of various NGOs working on a Youth Empowerment Program

Although the trainer groups were diverse, surprisingly, the key training challenges while conducting the sessions were quite similar in flavour. The trainers (especially the senior members) found a part of their belief and understanding unclear on :
  1. Program Objectives - As we know that there are multiple stakeholders to any program - the funding body, the promoters, the transaction bodies, the beneficiary etc. Now, all the stakeholders have a common unified objective to begin with .... but as the work progresses, we see slight digression or a different prioritization in the perception of objectives by each stakeholder. More often than not, this disillusions a few of the faculty members. And, these clarifications are often sought during the ToT sessions.
  2. Program Implementation - The most frequent doubts relate to logistics and infrastructure but I have also come across a few community related issues. Such challenges deepen when any fresh component of learning gets introduced.
  3. Program Evaluation and Learner Assessment - Most of the assessments and evaluations sought and appreciated by funding groups and promoters are objective in nature with a lot of numerical data. This skews the motivation levels of many trainers and implementation bodies who face many intangible and subjective issues during program implementation. 
  4. Facilitation and Learner Management Skills of Self - A lot of times, all the above accumulate into self-doubt by the program facilitators. It becomes imperative to re-kindle their self-belief through such ToT sessions. 
Then how do we address these issues?

Well, there are no short-cuts. The only way to address these challenges is through an honest Training Report and a solid on-site process follow-up. Edulever emphasizes on both of these and detailed Action Plan is chalked out based on the ToTs, snapshots of which are as below:

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Postcards from the hinterland...

I love my job!

Especially on days when it takes me to some far-away, less-traveled destination. Over the past year-and-a-half, thanks to a project on evaluating the work of NGOs working on migrant workers, I've had the chance to visit several such locations across the country. Each visit has given me the chance to look at our land closely, to see nature at its most pristine. Here's a glimpse of some of these visits...

This stretch of desert land comes to your left on the road from Jodhpur to Barmer in western Rajasthan. It's not the whole desert - just a small slice of it - as if nature decided to give you a sneak preview of the real thing that starts beyond Barmer. Needless to say, this came as a huge surprise as the rest of the land around is barren, but not really a desert.
Sunrise near a hamlet called Devli in Mirzapur district, U.P. The Arthik Anusandhan Kendra runs a training centre at Devli, which springs at you in the middle of nowhere. I'd spent a night here, and was greeted the next morning with some beautiful scenery around me.
Kotda block in Udaipur district in southern Rajasthan. I was lucky to be here during the monsoons, and the  verdant beauty around me was simply breathtaking. Kotda is a predominantly tribal land, and the tribal community, I was told, actually encourages couples who are engaged to live-in for sometime before they're formally married! 
Rairakhol in western Orissa has a small railway station, one of those that usually zip past us as we travel on the Rajdhani. I'd actually taken a train from here to Bhubaneswar, and the sunset was just beautiful!
This was taken at Faizabad district in central U.P. Their father, a construction worker, is in Ghaziabad, and the mother works the fields.
Chaita village in Samastipur district of central Bihar. I'd written about this village in an earlier post...hope you've read that as well!

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Parenthood and Facilitation

Before joining Edulever, blogging used to be my favourite pastime. I was reading through my own blog yesterday and hit upon this piece below. This had been posted on 5th May 2009 - almost two and a half years back - but the invaluable learning I made as a parent, continues to guide me in all my learning facilitation activities even today ........

K~ here refers to my daughter and Mumma is me, of course!

K~ manages to do addition and subtraction related to numbers 0-10, with the help of her fingers, that is.

Today, I decided to find out whether she understands the application of these very basic math concepts in her real life. In simpler words, what ADDITION and SUBTRACTION really meant! After explaining what is to be done on the activity sheet, this is what I gave her to do this morning, the results of which led to a lot of teaching introspection by me ... I had definitely gone wrong!

Mumma :: "So, K~. If you add this square to the left window, how will it look?"
K~ :: "Mumma, how do I use my fingers?"
Mumma :: "Addition does not mean that you keep using your fingers all the time. It means logically counting two things together. Do cheezon ko milaana ..... "
K~ :: "Matlab, mujhe iss window ke saath iss chotu square ko milaana hai?" (Refer to picture 2 - "Add")
Mumma :: "Haan."
K~ was finally able to do it. The subtraction was difficult initially (in fact she got the first one wrong - refer to picture 1 - "Subtract").



The above exercise set me thinking ...... my girl was doing subtraction and addition error-free, but only on her fingers, just the way I taught her. Pity! I never went around explaining her why do we do it? How will she use it use it in her real life? I immediately went to the garden, plucked a flower from a plant with 4 flowers and asked her "K~, what is 4-1=?" and pat came the reply - "3". Opened the pack of 10 biscuits, made her eat 4, asked for the balance, and there was my baby, replying with complete understanding. I wish I could express the excitement in her eyes through words.

Starting now, I have decided that before I begin with any teaching, I will first make her understand the application of it in our lives. I continued ......

Mumma :: "K~, why do we write alphabets?"
K~ :: "Ummmm....."
Mumma :: "So that we can write things like books, letters which help us to tell others what we are thinking. So that you can know about interesting places without visiting them. So that we can make babies learn when they grow up...."
K~ :: "And also because we can read poems ..... hai na?"
Mumma :: "Right."

We discussed at length about the real reason behind learning things together like colours, stories, puzzles etc. We in India take pride in being the best brains in the world. We make our children write at age 3 when the rest of the world does not allow kids to hold the pencil before age 5. We are done with Differential and Integral Calculus in Std.XII, whereas it should be a Masters subject. We force our children to take up Maths, Biology or Commerce even if her heart is in Fine Arts. Thousands of Civil Engineers pass out each year from premier Engineering colleges and not one perfect highway in our country! Hundreds of MBAs are churned out by the best B-schools walking away with a jaw-dropping moolah, so many of them not knowing how to manage their own lives! Several civil servants, the self-proclaimed Creme-De-la-Creme of the society, supposedly work for their country without making an iota of difference to the life of even one citizen of the country, leave aside the nation at large. It is because our fundamentals of education are RIGHT ..... but INCOMPLETE.

K~, this is for you ........... Today, I want you to know that I do not expect you to become anything great in life. You do not have to do BIG things in life, but do SMALL things in a BIG way! I set you free from any of the parental ambitions or aspirations. I will not entertain anybody who will come enquiring about your marks in the final examination followed by an unsolicited remark - whether good or bad, with you overhearing us from behind the doors. I refuse to DECIDE for what is best for you and your future. The very fact that I gave birth to you makes you special. You do not have to prove worthy of it.

Go my precious ..... follow your heart, chase your dreams! Discover your true passion. I am here to shield you from the rest of the society!!

Sunday, 23 October 2011

Saraswati still resides in Chaita...

A brick road runs through the center of the village. It had rained heavily the previous evening; we are greeted with the warm smell of fresh earth and cowdung. Chaitasangma is one of numerous villages that dot the landscape of north Bihar, situated around 100 kms to the north of the capital city of Patna. I am there as part of a recce for a forthcoming project for Edulever.

The people aren't sure what we are doing here. They look at us with a mixture of suspicion and anticipation. The people are largely the women and the children - the men of Chaita are in far-off Delhi and Punjab, some working as construction labor, others as rickshaw-pullers. The women lament that their children have no option but to grow up without their fathers - who are here only for the festival season. Since Chhath, the largest festival of Bihar, is round the corner, the menfolk's arrival is eagerly awaited in Chaita.

It's not 10 am as yet, so the children are not in school. Not yet. Some of them are in uniform, and would presently leave for school. They crowd around us as we move through the village, till an elder comes and shoos them away. It's time for school...get going...he shouts at them.

A villager approaches me seeking help for his son, who had appeared for the State Level National Merit-cum-Means Scholarship examination in 2009. Of the 125 children in all of Samastipur district who had cleared this exam, his son - Aman - was one. He had been promised a monthly sum of Rs. 400 by the state so that Aman could pursue higher education. He was asked to open a bank account and provide the details at the Block Education Office, which he duly did. Two years have passed, there's no sign of the money yet. Not sure what to say, I tell him of the Right to Information Act, asking him to file an application at the block office.

It's time to go to the school. The "Upgraded Middle School" of Chaitasangma, with classes from Grades 1 to 8, has 630 children enrolled in it, all from the village. The school is a single-storey structure, built along three sides, with a small courtyard in the center. A total of six rooms, a corridor running along them, the Indian flag painted on the columns.

Apparently, the state has sanctioned the construction of more rooms to accommodate the children, but the village has not been able to find the land for this construction. Because of the lack of space, all children of Class 1 are seated in the corridor, a sight not uncommon in government schools in India. Children of classes 2, 3, and 4 have a room for themselves, but those in Classes 5 and 6 share a room, as do those in Classes 7 and 8.

I decide to spend some time observing the classroom proceedings, starting with the senior-most group. The teacher is a young man in his early thirties, and the session in progress has to do with the mathematics of stocks and shares. I'm slightly surprised at the complexity of the topic, but then remind myself that these are eighth graders. The students are all attentive, and it's obvious that their grasp of the topic is not just a cursory one.

The classroom which has Grades 5 and 6 is bursting at its seams. There are about 60 students in this room, with those of Class 5 seated on the left and those of Class 6 on the right. The girls are in front, boys at the back. The teacher is not in the class - she is being interviewed by one of our team members as part of the project preliminaries. Despite the absence of the teacher, and the large numbers, the class is surprisingly disciplined. I find that the students are engaged in self-study, reading the textbook of their choice. I decide to ask them a few questions, and they seem responsive to the idea. I start with a 2-digit multiplication (32 x 7), and am given the answer within seconds. A few more questions - on science as well as English - are received with the same fervor: the answers are quick to come in most cases. The few minutes of my interaction with the group are enough to ascertain that there are a number of bright sparks in this class. I end the session by asking them as to what they wish to be when they grow up, and again the enthusiastic answers - teacher, doctor, engineer... A shy little girl sitting in front of me wants to be a doctor, and when I ask her if she will be willing to go to a city such as Patna to study to become a doctor, she takes her time to respond, "अगर डॉक्टर बनना है तो जाना ही पड़ेगा!" (If I have to become a doctor, I will have to go...). Will her parents allow her to go? This time she is not so sure...

Soon, it's time for the mid-day meal. One of the rooms has been converted into the kitchen, where the meal (Khichdi - a watery mixture of rice and lentils) is ready to be served to the children. The corridors are converted into a dining hall, the children are on the floor with their steel plates (which they bring from home) in front of them, and the serving begins. The younger children eat first. The whole process takes about an hour.

I find some time to talk to the teachers. There are six of them, plus the Head Master (HM). All of them are contractual staff; they had been inducted as para-teachers in 2003-04 as part of a mass recruitment drive by the government of Bihar to overcome the paucity of teachers in schools. To my utter surprise, I'm told that the teachers have not been paid their salaries for the last six months (since April 2011), and yet they're continuing to fulfill their duties with dedication. These teachers of Chaita are true heroes - most others would have given up long ago.

The driving force behind all of this is the HM, Mr. Naresh Pandey, a resident of the village. He is in his fifties, is quiet and unassuming, and the only time I can see a sparkle in his eyes is when he talks about the children in his school. He knows these are bright young minds, truly feels for them, but the sparkle dissolves into frustration when we talk about their future. He laments the fact that the community has not been able to provide land for the expansion of the school, and that the powers-that-be that run the education system in Bihar seem to have forgotten who they are really working for. Mr. Pandey is a gifted teacher himself, and teaches the children whenever he has a chance.

One of the walls of the school has been adorned by a large portrait of Saraswati - the Goddess of Learning. Saraswati Puja - a day dedicated to her when prayers are offered by everyone in the community - is celebrated with fervor in this part of India each year in February. The countenance of the Goddess on the wall seems to suggest that she herself is dismayed at what she sees around her, while trying to ensure that the little minds continue to get from the school what they come here for, each day.        

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Migrant Workers and the Civil Society

"The Poor are the spiritual reserve of the world."

I've just spent two illuminating days at an international conference on Migration at Ahmedabad. Titled "Migration Practice - Pushing Borders", the conference had civil society representatives working in the field of migration from China, USA, Germany, and India. It was organized jointly by Transatlantic Forum on Migration & Integration and Aajeevika Bureau.
That Migration for the sake of furthering livelihood is a global phenomena is well known; yet getting to know about the issue from an international perspective -- and how different nations are dealing with it -- was enriching, to say the least. Over the two days, I learnt about the challenges the European Union faces in its free-border policy, of how there's talk of Schengen Visa rules being rolled back. I got a glimpse of the massive rural to urban migration happening in China over the last decade and a half, and of the desperation of Central Americans to get into USA. We were shown an excellent short film on the plight of these central Americans, and the quote that you see at the top of this blog is from this film. 

We also heard some heart-tugging stories of migrants in India: how children as young as ten are smuggled from Rajasthan into Gujarat for cultivation of BT Cottonseed, how poor farmers from the drought prone districts of western Orissa trek to north Andhra each year to work in the brick kilns in harsh, exploitative conditions, and how sex workers from parts of Karnataka have been traditionally migrating to Mumbai and Kolkata for decades on end. Stories that leave you perturbed, humbled, and helpless...

A typical dwelling of a migrant worker at the destination. This
picture was taken in Allahabad, in Feb 2011.
Though migration for work is perhaps as old as civilization itself, its emergence as a theme in the development sector is a relatively new occurrence. Across the globe, the civil society is playing an important role in molding public policy to improve the plight of migrants. In India, thanks to the efforts of organizations such as Aajeevika Bureau, this issue is taking some rudimentary steps towards the limelight, though there's a long way ahead. For me, an important takeaway from the two days in Ahmedabad was the universality of the response to migrants - the middle class is largely indifferent, the unscrupulous view it as an opportunity, and the State chooses to either restrict it or show some tokenism. Amidst all this, the response of the civil society seems to be the most measured and reasonable one. For this very reason, the NGOs working in this field have a huge responsibility on their hands -- perhaps more than they can imagine. Their stance and approach, and the models they create, can potentially decide the fate of millions of migrant workers in the country.    

Thursday, 13 October 2011

El álbum de ACE

In April this year, Edulever partnered with ITC Ltd. in Saharanpur to conduct a feasibility study for a setting up a vocational training center. The three-month study by the Edulever team involved a household survey of over 1000 households in Saharanpur, focused group discussions, and interviews with prospective employers in and around Saharanpur.

Based on the recommendations of the survey, we launched the Agrasar Center for Employability in Saharanpur in September, after a fortnight of intensive mobilization. The center is being implemented by the Agrasar team (Agrasar is an offspring of Edulever), with support from Quest Alliance and ITC. The center completed a month yesterday (on Oct 12)...and we thought this was the right time to share our journey on this blog...  

Feasibility Study-Market Scan (May 2011)

 Focused Group Discussion with Youth of Saharanpur

 Focused Group Discussion with Parents of Saharanpur

 The center in Saharanpur (before the inauguration)

 Mobilisation for the First Batch

 Inauguration - September 9, 2011

 And then there was light...

 Courseware developed by Edulever launched by the ITC TEAM

 Classroom Sessions in progress


Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Saleem-“The Remote Cover Seller”

Having nothing much serious to do on the holiday, makes me think. Recollect memories from the past-good, bad and ugly….and feel the feeling. Some silent smiles and some tears of remembrance of old days. Some incidence never leave you and frequently keep daunting.

Over the time, I developed a bad habit of sharing painful moments. Another bad habit which I posses (this one being transferred with gene), is pondering and disturbing myself for heart touching moments. I know writing here won’t help the cause, but certainly I feel relaxed after sharing with you all. (I don’t know how many would, read this-think upon- reflect.)

Here goes yet another scene, which awakes me in the midnight and compels to pen it down. Pen it down, for people to think, not only think-feel it, not only feel it-act upon it.

I am missing name of the only protagonist- sign of ageing, you see.
Will that reduce the impact? I fear.

Okey- let us name the kid, the protagonist to make it easier. We will call him Saleem. The name has nothing to do with Salman Rushdie’s Saleem Sinai of Midnight’s Children.

I’ll skip the name of city in this one, for we have tendency to associate geography and demography with behavioral issues. Often these associations end up with false attributions which further degrade moral values and bring us closer to being an animal.

Forget it- considering we are busy individuals, with less time to read, why others are disturbed in sleep at mid of night, I’ll try to keep it short.

Coming straight to the point- Saleem is a kid of not more than 12 years of age. He sells plastic remote covers. Remote that controls television. Remote cover that protects remote- from the naughty kids in every home and angry adults, who throw every household things in anger. Never thought our anger would earn bread for someone. I do not know the background, why he used to do the pity job in the school hours. This means he is not going to school like many others of his age group, whom we call child labour.

While we were enjoying famous chaat at a famous spot, a voice just as pleasant as that of a humming bird wanted our attention. The voice of god- the voice reminds me of a famous hindi song which sings, “Bacche mann k sacche”- Kids are pure at heart. You have to be a devil to ignore the voice.

The voice belongs to Saleem. Saleem- “The Remote Cover Seller”.

Many of us, the frequent visitors of this famous spot were familiar with Saleem and Saleem also knew them all. Saleem was too naïve to understand that no one would buy “Remote cover” on daily basis. Whenever he see my friends in the market, he will try to make a deal. Abhishek was huge admirer of this kid.

Abhishek used to talk with Saleem politely-sign of civilized man, and say, “Beta kal hi to liya tha”.

Saleem would pester, “ Bhaiya ek aur le lo…please le lo bhaiya…le lo na bhaiya please….please bhaiya”.

We have often seen small kids selling things which are useless to us. But some of us who carry slightly softer heart would purchase these useless things, just to make the kid happy. Abhishek belongs to the same caste of people- with softer heart.

In the midst of all this, Abhishek told me that he had already purchased two from him. I asked why two?

“ le lo na bhaiya please…teen din se ek bhi nahi bika”

He told me- "Brother, once I purchased it and this kid approached me next time also selling me the same remote cover. Second time when he approached me, I offered him ten rupees. But he refused to take the money unless remote cover is purchased".

I was surprised that even in this poor state of life; Saleem has moral values intact. Is’nt this amazing? The respect for this kid multiplied in my heart. There is something for us to learn from this kid.

“Bhaiya pppplease bhaiya”- he kept humming in the background.

Abhishek challenged us to test the self respect of Saleem. Last time kid sold Abhishek his first remote cover was two months back. We offered Saleem, ten rupees again but not purchasing remote cover.

But this time, he hesitantly accepted. Abhishek was shocked. How can Saleem change in just two months? The hero Saleem- became ordinary to me with the acceptance of ten rupee note.

In between tasty chaat and useless talks, we missed one line from the humming bird.

“Bhaiya teen din se ek bhi nahi bika”

OMG-He was unable to sell even a single piece in last three, which broke him down. Who is responsible for this?

Do we have an answer, certainly NO.

Self respect shattered, kid brought up with the moral values passed on to him from parents- for he has no teacher. But the ugly life has taught him how to survive in the world. Forget about values when there is no food in the stomach.

We can offer him food, I said.

Saleem has somebody back home who is waiting for his return with the money.
Ask yourself, What would you do, when someone back home is waiting for you?
Often I see status on facebook regarding, “Delhi vendors and beggars, on traffic signals”, people hate them.

But the question remains unanswered, Who is responsible for this?

Saleem is unfortunate to have born in a poor family. We have not done anything remarkable to get birth in a well to do family. It is by chance.

Many of us will forget this after reading, we are used to it. And also we sadly do not have "Like button" which shows a "sign of thumbs up", here on blogs unlike FB. We press the "like button" and our moral responsiblity ends there.

Please share your views...who knows when our thoughts become our action..

Next time when you meet some Saleem, Atleast do not hate him.

Monday, 10 October 2011

Unveiling the new Edulever website...

When Training Fails ....

What comes to our minds when we talk of Training?

A Trainer talking and reading out Training Manuals to a bunch of employees after their duty hours. Or, do we think about periodic email reminders from Human Resource Development about not being able to achieve the Training Man days and Man hours. Perhaps, a few of us might even have awakened memories of a connoisseur-of-sorts who seems to be enlightened about a lot of things and tells us how-to-do, when-to-do etc. And then, many of us attending Training ourselves might view it as a relaxation get-away from the hurly burly of core operations.

Whatever it might be, Training definitely seems to be a divorce from core operations. Training seems to be a mandate to be achieved in hours and days which have got nothing to do with the real results or profits. It is more often than not conducted tucked away in classrooms away from the action field. And, when the session is over, the participants go back refreshed and carry on with the same way of doing things with nobody to track their actions and services.

Now, that is when Training fails …..

It fails when it is not made continuous, when the service and operational gaps revealed during the sessions find no follow-up. It fails when the TNA (Training Need Analysis) is left at the behest of incompetent Survey Agencies disoriented in the program objective. When the TLMs (Training Learning Materials) are made by academicians adorning arm-chairs in air-conditioned offices who perfect the definitions and scripts but not the content within. Training fails, miserably, when no inputs are taken and output measured from the actual implementing hands on the ground.

I have made much invaluable learning by working primarily in core hospitality operations before even trying my hand at Training and I wish to document it here.

Clearly, Training is a continuous process with four stages which we are all aware of -

  1. Training Needs Analysis (TNA)

  2. Creation of Training Learning Materials (TLM)

  3. Training and Follow-up

  4. Audits and Assessments

Conducting Training Needs Analysis (TNA)
Who is our learner? What are his needs? Where will he apply this learning?
All aspects must be given due importance before we go ahead with any kind of material creation. Training fails when we do not interview the learners through samples to learn about their motivation and knowledge levels, when we do not profile the beneficiaries like Guests, Head of Departments and Co-workers, we do not align the Training to the Organizational Career-path of employees nor the future plans of the hotels in terms of added new services and products and when we do not consider the Guest Feedback and Performance Appraisal findings.

Creating Training Learning Material (TLM)
Does our TLM address the learning needs? Is our TLM made for classrooms or on-site application?
The TLMs created thus must be customized as per every hotel’s existing infrastructure and unique features. Training fails when TLMs are based on broad bookish concepts rather than Standard Operating Procedures and when they are made only for classroom sessions rather than on-site practice.

Training and Follow-up
Is our Training Style effective for the learner group? Is our Training able to convey the content of the TLMs?
Training fails when the Training style does not truly complement the TLMs, when it is only theoretical instead of practical and most importantly, when no service and production gaps are identified in the course of the process.

Training follow-up must ideally comprise of clear-cut Action-plans to better production and services, Training groups identified to ensure the Action-Out and Follow-up Meetings for status update.

Audits and Assessments
Is the learning from the Training resulting into better services and production? How do we measure improvements or decline post-training?
Training fails when on-site service delivery and production standards are not monitored, when learners are left without being counseled for their lack of will upon being detected for not complying with the training learning and when paucity of resources is not identified and addressed if that is the finding for non-delivery of services.
In a broader sense, Training also fails when there is non-participation from all corners across all levels within the organization and one or two individuals are made solely responsible for Training especially if they are a far cry from the day-to-day operations.

Strange though that this article is being read on a website which imparts Training and must publish only “When Training Succeeds ….”, but for the authenticity of our efforts in alignment with the client business objectives, we must ponder more on

When Training Fails ……

हिंदी और अंग्रेजी - प्रतियोगी या पूरक?

पिछले हफ्ते मैं अपने ससुराल गयी थी और वहाँ बिस्तर के सिरहाने मुझे पुराने मासिक पत्रिकाओं का एक ढेर रखा हुआ मिला.....

यद्यपि मुझे हिंदी भाषा का गहन प्रयोग किये हुए लगभग १५ साल हो गए हैं, परन्तु हाई स्कूल में पढ़ते हुए मातृभाषा में चिंतन-मनन-लेखन का शौक मुझे भली-भाँती स्मरण है! मैं खुद को न रोक पाते हुए इन पत्रिकाओं को पढने में जुट गयी कि तभी मैंने एक नहीं अपितु कई लेख पढ़े जो कि पाश्चात्य-संस्कृति और अंग्रेजी बोल-चाल को हिंदी भाषा के घटते हुए प्रयोग का कारण मानती है. ज्ञातव्य रहे कि यह अंग्रेजी-हिंदी का आपस में दोषा-रोपण कोई आज कि बात नहीं है बल्कि इस खेल की उम्र भारत के स्वाधीनता की जितनी ही है.

मैं जितनी बार ऐसे लेख पढ़ती हूँ, उतने बार आश्चर्य करती हूँ कि हम अंग्रेजी और हिंदी भाषाओं को एक दूसरे का प्रतिद्वंदी मानते हुए दोषारोपण भला क्यूँ करते हैं? अगर दोनों तरफ के महानुभाव और विद्वान् अपने तर्क-वितर्क को दर-किनार कर इन भाषाओं को एक दूसरे के पूरक बनाने की ओर मार्गदर्शन करें तो जाने कितने जरूरतमंदों कि सहायता हो जाए!

किसी भी भाषा का अभिप्राय क्या केवल किसी देश के इतिहास को दर्शाने के लिए होता है? या कि भाषा इतिहास से उठकर वर्तमान और भविष्य कि बागडोर संभालते हुए समाज में संचार, रोजगार और मनोरंजन के प्रखर मापदंड के नए आयाम तय कर सकती है?

Edulever में हमने दोनों भाषाओं को एक दूसरे से अलग करके नहीं अपितु एक साथ रखकर युवा समाज में शिक्षा का स्तर और रोजगार के अवसर को सुधारने कि ओर कुछ ठोस सार्थक प्रयत्न किये हैं.

इसमें प्रमुख हैं:
1. तकनीकी और प्रोद्यौगिक कार्य-कौशल को मातृभाषा में सिखाना
2. उपर्लिखित कार्य-कौशल से जुड़े अंग्रेजी बोल-चाल के न्यूनतम दरकार को पूरा करना
इन प्रयासों की कुछ झांकियां इस प्रकार है.
कोर्स प्रेजेंटेशन हाइजीन एंड सैनिटेशन विषय पर जो कि फास्ट-फ़ूड कोर्स के अंतर्गत है:

यह प्रोफेशनल ड्राइविंग कोर्स के अंतर्गत अंग्रेजी भाषा के मौखिक प्रयोग के लिए युवाओं को दिए जाने वाला एक लेसन हैंड-आउट है: