Sunday, 2 December 2012

Wanted: One more RTI

Chapter II, Section 3 (i) states: "Every child of the age of six to fourteen years shall have a right to free and compulsory education in a neighbourhood school till completion of elementary education."
Chakkarpur Village is in the heart of Gurgaon, surrounded by
malls, five-star hotels, and gated condominiums
Reality Check: In the urban village of Chakkarpur, embedded in the heart of the sub-metropolis of Gurgaon, and home to thousands of migrants from Bengal and Bihar, at least 1000 children of school-going age do not attend school. This, despite the existence of a large government school in Chakkarpur. Since most of these children are from Bengal, they are unable to adjust to the school environment, are forced to drop out, and the authority's apathy ensures they stay away.


Chapter II, Section 3 (1) states: "Save as otherwise provided, the State Government shall, in such rural area in the State as may be notified by the Central Government, provide to every household whose adult members volunteer to do unskilled manual work not less than one hundred days of such work in a financial year in accordance with the Scheme made under this Act."
Reality Check: Hundreds of able-bodied workers from the districts of Nagaur, Jalor, and Pali in Rajasthan are forced to migrate to a place called Balotra in the Jodhpur district, seeking employment in the textile industry in the region. The region has several units for mercerization of cotton, a process of treatment of cotton fabric that provides luster and strength to the fabric. As part of this process, workers are required to stand waist-deep in tank-full of a concentrated caustic soda solution, with completely inadequate protective gear, leading to severe and long-lasting damage to their health, particularly their skin. These workers are aware of NREGA, aware of how the funds sanctioned under the scheme are usurped by the Sarpanch and his henchmen in the village.

There stories from the ground are just two examples of the inadequacy of the Government to implement well-intended ideas...even a cursory visit to the other side of India would tell you how miserable this inadequacy is, across the board. Who really ends up benefiting from these schemes is anybody's guess.

The just-announced scheme related to direct cash transfers to rural households - ambitiously targeting to cover the entire country by end-2013 - will end up being one more instance of a good scheme going nowhere. Whoever said that the "Road to Hell is paved with Good Intentions" must have known India very well!

What the country - the 1,000,000,000-plus aam aadmis of India - really needs today is a new RTI: the RIGHT TO IMPLEMENTATION. The Absolute Right that Ensures that whatever the Government Promises to its Citizens, Gets Delivered. Come What May.

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Vocational Training: Whose job is it, anyway?

Raj Kishore Satnami is from the Kendrapada district in coastal Orissa, from where a large number of youngsters migrate to Delhi and Gurgaon to work as plumbers. He too is one of them. He has never been formally trained as a plumber, just picked up the skill on the job, working as an apprentice with a senior plumber. Raj has rarely felt the need for any formal training in his vocation.

In early 2008, when the world was waking up to economic recession in the US, the Government of India had a wake-up call. Somewhere, someone in the corroded corridors of power realized that the Indian economy was ailing from - among other things - a serious Skills crisis. As terms such as "Unemployable" and "Skills Gap" found their way into the national HR lexicon, the expected reaction of the government was the formation of the Prime Minister's National Council of Skills Development, comprising senior cabinet ministers and industry stalwarts. The mandate of the council was "Coordinated Action for Skills Development and the setting up of the National Skills Development Corporation (NSDC)."

In quick time, the NSDC was set up and assumed the role of a facilitator in Skills Development, with active involvement of the private sector. A target was announced - a total of 500 million people (that's over 40% of the current population of India) will have to be "skilled or upskilled" by 2022, of which NSDC would "contribute significantly" to about 30 percent or 150 million people. Set up as a not-for-profit company, the NSDC is a unique PPP initiative in which the government has a 49% stake while the private sector has the remaining 51%. Interestingly, NSDC has been established by the Ministry of Finance and not by the MHRD, even though its raison d'etre is Human Resource Development. More interestingly, NSDC has chosen to provide loans as opposed to grants to its implementing partners - which means that these partners, on whose shoulders lies the onerous task of skilling (yes, SKILL is increasingly being used as a verb!) the 150 million, have to repay the money to NSDC at a future date. Which means that these partners have to not just skill the 150 mn, but do so at a profit.

Therein lies the rub. It doesn't take a genius to understand that the vast majority of the 500 million (by the way, from where did the GoI conjure this number? No one really seems to know!) whose skills have to developed would lie at the base of the pyramid, or close to it. Some would say, even under the pyramid. So how does one go about creating a profitable enterprise out of Skill Development, knowing that most of the "customers" would not have the ability to pay for the services?

In order to reach out to the large numbers, NSDC has understandably been selective in choosing its partners. So on its list are some really large corporate players such as Centum Learning (belonging to the Bharti group), NIIT Yuva Jyoti, Future Sharp Skills Ltd. (a Future Group company), and IL&FS Skills Development. Of these, NIIT and Future have committed to training 7 million people each over the next ten years, while IL&FS has a more modest target of 1.95 million. Centum seems to be the big daddy, with a target of 11.57 million. Which means, Centum will be training, on an average, close to a staggering 100,000 people every month, for the next 120 months!

Those of us who've been in the social sector for a while know how deceptive numbers can be in implementing development projects. Working on a large scale is almost always at loggerheads with providing good quality on the ground. I am yet to come across a single example of an organization having managed to deliver quality at a large scale consistently over several years. In fact, the Vocational Training sector today brings to me a huge sense of déjà vu, as I'm reminded of the time when I came into the sector exactly ten years ago. At that time, Primary Education was in the limelight, with Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan pumping in crores of rupees into the sector. And all this money was spent on ensuring enrollment of children in schools - chasing the numbers - with scant regard for quality of education. Today, ten years down, there are more children in government schools, for sure. But the fact that their learning is nowhere near acceptable standards is well chronicled (including in this blog); in fact, because of the surge in numbers, the overall quality of education in government schools has almost certainly dipped in the last decade. I can clearly see this happening in the Vocational Training sector too - by the time we reach 2022, the government would make claims to having skilled the millions, but would these skilled people really be any better than what they were earlier?

We at Edulever have spent the last three years looking at the VT sector with our eyes and ears firmly on the ground. We realize that Vocational Training is by no means a simplistic task - there is no automation here, no assembly line to manufacture finished products. The task of developing the skill of one individual requires a set of complex activities - mobilization, selection, training, counselling, placement, and follow-up. Even if any one of these activities is not done well, the Skill Development model can fall flat. And there are hardly any benchmarks around, not in India at least. The ones that exist are in other countries, with a completely different milieu. Yet, NSDC has been actively courting Germany, Australia, and others to provide examples to emulate. At a recent public function, the NSDC chief proclaimed that Australian experts should be brought in to train plumbers in India. Hallelujah!        

We eagerly await the day when the Australian expert will "skill" Raj Kishore, our plumber from Kendrapada.

Monday, 29 October 2012

The road so far..

The road so far..

I am an ordinary 23 year old with extraordinary ambitions
Well, I am not that actually. I am an ordinary 24 years old (just about to reach there!) with ordinary dreams, or so I believe. I had thought of penning this down on the 1st of November as that’s when I turn exactly a month old at Edulever but as an afterthought, I decided to do it right away. I never really had a flair for writing/blogging. This is going to be my first-ever blog entry! Having forayed into the world of ‘Content Writing’, I am all set to embrace this world! As a student, ‘Humanities’ was the obvious choice for me without a shadow of doubt since ‘Mathematics’ and ‘Science’ were the two subjects I dreaded and loathed the most! It’s a different story that the more I ran from them, the more they ran after me, be it in the form of statistics, quantitative research or even some bit of calculations in Economics! That was also the time when ‘Humanities’ started to regain its lost pride and respect as people started treating it more ‘humanely’ rather than just a stream reserved for the underachievers or the black sheep in the family! So, sending your kids to study ‘Humanities’ was no longer considered infradig.
11th came in as a breath of fresh air! I was now in my comfort zone insulated from any pressures of studying subjects I never liked! I could muster up all the pride and confidence to say I topped my class (yes, it was a class of 15 students!). Like any other kid my age, I was confused about what to opt for in graduation. I knew what I did not want but I did not know what I want! Sociology it was. Having never studied sociology in school, it was an entirely different subject for me. It was the most preferred choice in my group so I went for it. 3 years down the line, I was a fresh graduate. This time, I was self-sure. I wanted to study societies, people, attitudes, behaviours but most of all, I wanted to ‘do something for the society’. I liked to be pro-active. So if I see a rickshaw wallah being beaten up, I would instantly jump to his rescue. I would get irked and immerse myself in deep thoughts as I could not fathom how men could be comfortably seated on a seat reserved for ladies or how people could not willfully, without any provocation offer a seat to an elderly. I saw myself as a savior in such situations and a torchbearer of justice, marching my way to glory in protests and rebelling whenever the need arose even if that meant just jumping on the bandwagon! I had to channelize my energies and passion in the right direction. Social work led me towards it.
Pursuing a Masters in Social Work also gave me the privilege of getting to understand and answer intriguing and deep questions. Please sample some. ‘Oh beta, aap social work kar rahe hain? hum bhi toh karte hain. hafte mein ek baar jaate hain aur garib bachchon ko padhake aate hain’, ‘Achha social work karne ke liye degree ki zaroorat hai kya?’. It would be worthwhile also to mention our politician turned (pseudo) social worker!
Post graduation was a mixed bag of fun and learning- a total roller coaster ride. I attribute all my learning to my fieldwork experiences that gave me a taste of what it takes to be a ‘social worker’. I landed myself a job with Pratham where I worked for a year. I developed curriculum for Government Primary School children and went around participating and conducting trainings. The ground realities shook me hard when I visited government primary schools, so many of them in shambles. I was here to witness today what I had only read about in magazines and newspapers till yesterday - the plight of these schools and the fate of children studying in these schools. Small kids languishing in classrooms, sweeping toilets when they should be studying, preparing chai for ‘Sirji and Madamji’ while the teachers bask in the glory of the winter sun. The disgruntled teachers also deserve a mention here. I did not want to tar everyone with the same brush but every second school that I visited painted a grim picture of ignorance and apathy. My individual experiences, I knew, were just the tip of the iceberg. I felt helpless as I stood there and watched the beaming faces, twinkling eyes of the kids, each one of them a powerhouse of talent and energies, waiting to be harnessed. So blissfully ignorant they were of their realities!
What can I do to improve their situation? This was the question that kept spinning in my mind.
I was an empowered 21st century individual, yet so disempowered from within. Writing rhymes and stories for the children and even more, observing a class in action singing along the same rhymes so very cheerfully and delightedly and listening to the same stories so intently made me appreciate my work. But I longed for more. I had to expand my horizon. I had to try.
I wanted more contentment and less monotony. I was seeking change and there I saw it, in Edulever. I was determined to work in the education sector and as I was looking out for options for more than 2 months, I browsed the internet for information on organizations working in the field of education. Nowhere did I seem to come across Edulever. Then one fine morning, while I had logged into my profile on Facebook, I just stumbled upon the profile of a junior from Delhi School of Social Work. That’s where Edulever featured. The name said it all. I looked up Edulever’s website and wondered ‘how could I miss this one?!’
‘We make classrooms happier’. This was my instant connection with Edulever.
Without an iota of exaggeration, I can say that I am slowly but surely inching towards my goal of helping create happy learning environments. It is the emphasis on quality and passionate commitment that has profoundly influenced me. I am indeed privileged to be a part of this wonderful team.
I will find my feet very soon, I can say!

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Ode to a Guru

By early 1997, I had spent just under two years in the corporate sector, but these were enough to kindle in me several questions about whether this was really the ladder I wished to climb. A personal situation back home (in Patna) also catalyzed the existential questions, which were by now churning furiously in my 26-year old being. It was in these times that a friend recommended Stephen Covey's 7 Habits of Highly Effective People to me. Though I'd always been fond of reading, and had a decent collection of books by them, the self-help kinds did not find a place in my library. So I took up 7 Habits reluctantly to begin with, but within a few pages, was marveling at the resonance I found with what I was going through.

The book helped me enormously during that fragile phase of life. I read and re-read the book, reflected upon it for hours, discussed the ideas contained in it with a few friends. This was a phase of intense introspection for me. Covey's book helped me tide over this phase - and bring some clarity into my soul. For the next few years, I kept going back to the book - often referring to it as my personal Bible. The beauty of the book was not just in what it contained, but in the way it had been written. The amazing simplicity with which Covey manages to convey such blockbuster ideas as "the Circle of Concern vs. Circle of Influence" is seldom found in management books.

Though written in the pre-internet era (first published in 1989), the ideas in the book are as relevant today (perhaps more) as they were then. Over the years, I've referred the book to a large number of people, particularly to youngsters in their early 20's who are so often unsure of how to wade through the maze of life. Following Covey's advice can certainly help them make sense of it all, as it did for me.

Stephen Covey, RIP. 

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Dark Horse Rising: Talha's Success Story

What image springs in your mind when you hear the word “success”? It is more likely than not that the picture will be that of a person who has achieved something huge in life. Perhaps, he or she is a popular actor; a businessman in a suit; a young doctor; a sportsperson holding a trophy high in the air. We’re accustomed to seeing success in such large-scale terms that our imagination will brook no lesser a vision.

And yet, success doesn’t always have to be so grandiose. The dictionary defines the word as “the favourable ending of an aim”. Success can, therefore, mean opening a jar of pickle after a struggle with the stubborn lid for ten minutes just as it can denote winning a 200 metre race. But the success stories we remember, no matter how localised and small-scale they are, will always be the ones that inspire us and make us feel.

Such is the story of Talha, a twenty-five year old student pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Commerce from J. V. Jain College, Saharanpur. In 2009, tragedy befell his family of fourteen. One of his brothers, who was studying in Haryana, eloped with a Hindu girl. The retaliation from the girl’s family was vicious and violent; Talha and his family were jailed, and the male members beaten by the police. This unfortunate incident left such a horrifying impression on the twenty-two year old’s mind that he withdrew into a shell, unable to socialise with ease.

When Talha saw Agrasar’s ad on his college walls, he decided he could do with a training in basic IT. Still an introvert, he was a mystery to his teachers and classmates. “He wouldn’t answer any of my questions or face me,” remembers Shailly, who interviewed him on the day he applied. “He looked as if he was lost in his own world.” In spite of their many attempts at making an intervention, Talha remained shut off from everybody around him.

It would take three more weeks after the first day of the IT course for anybody even heard Talha’s voice. Kiran, the course facilitator, was helping her students when a voice called out, “Ma’am!”  She wondered who it belonged too, and when she did find out, it was the last person she’d have expected it to be. Talha was facing her, hand raised for his query.

Speaking up in the classroom isn’t a feat for most of us, but for this young man, it was a giant leap. After two years of refusing to reach out, he was making an effort. What had happened? Talha had finally realised that he was a person separate from the misfortunes of his past, that others were willing to see him as who he was. The revelation caused him to start living, not just exist; he took the initiative to let his voice be heard.

Since that day, Talha has been gradually unfolding, gathering the self-confidence that had been completely lacking. These days, he talks, laughs, listens to spiritual music and watches cricket with his buddies. When asked what he wants to do with his life, he says, “My goal is to have a decent job someday, and with that, I’ll make my mother proud and keep her happy.”

Talha’s success will not make it to newspaper headlines. However, it will be treasured by those who know him and respect him for his strength, and hopefully, by you.

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

The Lemonade Maker: Shagufta's Success Story

The ability to persist against all odds is a trait that we often take for granted. For those who don’t, success is guaranteed, no matter in what form, shape or speed it comes. One such person is Shagufta, who recently completed her course in Basic IT from Agrasar Center for Employability in Saharanpur, the vocational training center started by the Edulever team.

For Shagufta, the future used to be an indeterminate entity. She had no firm ambition. What she possessed in huge quantities, however, was the will to rise from failure. This virtue was exhibited in two particular incidents in her life.

The first example takes us to her high school years. Shagufta passed her matriculation examination in the third division, a score that wouldn’t have helped her a lot in any future endeavour. Instead of letting that shake her, she dived into her secondary education, this time with more confidence, diligence and confidence. Her energetic efforts paid off; she went on to score 73.1% in two subjects in the higher secondary examination, as well as continued to produce impressive results in her BA from Munna Lal College. What’s more, Shagufta was teaching at AGF School, Saharanpur, for two years before completing her graduation in 2007.

The second example carries us forward to life post-marriage. Shagufta married Mr Nafees Khan in 2008 then joined the family business as a receptionist. Due to irreconcilable differences, she and her husband moved out in 2010 to start life anew. Nafees opened a shoe shop, but as business started to suffer, Shagufta decided she could help out. But this time, she opted to sharpen her knowledge of computer functions and basic IT.

There is a popular saying which goes: when life gives you lemon, make lemonade. This is the choice Shagufta made more than once in twenty-five years. She did not let poor examination scores sway her optimistic outlook towards life; she did not let herself be fettered to the homebound role of the traditional Indian life. Instead, she based her judgments on pragmatism and the ability to always take the initiative.

Her positivity has helped her become the strong woman she is. Now, she doesn’t have to depend on family for her job, or sit at home while her spouse brings home the money. She has received a variety of job offers, and finally chosen to work at MTS, the mobile operator giant. She will soon be joining her office when her husband returns from his business trip.

Monday, 11 June 2012

Realizing the Engineer's Dream...

I would like to talk about a matter that has been pestering me for quite a few years now and I know there are lots of others out there who care about this too, but have not been speaking for some reason or the other. I have been thinking about this issue since the time I was a part of this system and passed out from a private engineering college, I put pen to paper today as an article in a news daily acts as the feather on the heap. I have been seeing few articles doing rounds across media since the past few days, which highlights the various statistics proving how fresh engineers passing out today are incapable of solving certain types of mathematical problems or lacking certain personality traits of employability.

I feel sad to see any such derogatory remarks being made by big corporate honchos and have always been advocating the need for enlightening engineering students about the world that awaits them outside college gates. The problem lies in the void that has been created between the industry and academia. Worse is the fact that this void is getting bigger by the day!

It is easy for corporate to declare fresh pass-outs unemployable, but they have to realize that in doing this they are actually mocking themselves, for having been the haven for numerous fresh engineers and may be harming the overall intent of the education system in India. I am not exaggerating but the fact that such remarks mar the students in many ways. They were least informed or trained on the traits that are expected from them at the end of the course, most of which cannot be developed overnight! Ultimately the students are benchmarked on a scale that is absolutely new to them and they seldom know the highest value against which they are ranked.

Companies have been recruiting fresh engineers and have taken them through their self designed pragmatic training programs that sharpen certain skills needed by the companies for operational staff. This is the time when few actually care about their career progression and just go with the flow into joining a majority of the crowd that thinks “Google knows everything that I don’t know” and “I can google it all”. There has been enough discussion around their business model when Mr. Bhagat had responded to Mr. Murthy’s comment about the quality of engineers passing out from the country’s premier engineering college. In these training programs, the fresh recruits un-learn a huge chunk of what they learnt at college and adapt to the new environment that is very demanding and competitive. It’s a well known fact that those ‘few’ who are not so quick to have adapted to the new environment or picked up skills, for the sole reason of being from a totally different branch of engineering or not being able to cope up with the speed at which new things are thrown at them, are asked to leave the organization with immediate effect. We all have witnessed corporate who claim to be amongst top 5 IT companies in India, subjecting their college recruits to surprise tests at local computer institutes and their test results being used as basis to cut down on the number of college recruits. I am sure all of us never get to know the numbers of such not-so-fortunate engineers who for once made everybody proud and are later faced by distress. Their numbers are never made public but are not incalculable. Do colleges take this fact into account while organizing campus placement drives?

The point to ponder here is that as a community, the industry and academia, have we ever thought about the potential solution to this fundamental problem that keeps popping up and worsening year on year. Both sections are equally responsible in shaping the quality of engineers that pass out every year.

I firmly believe that every engineer can be the next Steve Jobs of Apple Inc. and Sam Walton of Wal-Mart provided they are given ample thinking space and guidance at the decision points during the course of their study and while looking out for internships and jobs  and follow their dreams rather than settling for compromises! Conceptual innovators are not Martians, but have a distinct flair of using their art to express ideas and emotions and usually do not lead their life pursuing a single objective. I believe innovation is a fine blend of technology and art and the education system on the whole should promote such cross-pollination of ideas across subjects and fields of study. The country’s engineers can be made into passionate technology evangelists and innovators of disruptive technologies, when they get to live in a culture that fosters innovation!

The thoughts and views expressed in the above post are not meant to target any individual, college, university or company. I have tried to be touch upon a common problem that is faced by thousands of engineering students. Please feel free to send me your feedback and comments. This post is also available on my blog.
T:@samratkishor , F:/samratkishor, L:/samratkishor

Samrat is an engineer and a friend of Edulever. He has a strong belief and interest in Social Media. The views expressed in this post are his own, and do not necessarily reflect the viewpoint of Edulever.

Monday, 7 May 2012

Satyamev Jayate....Jai ho!

Last year summer, Edulever conducted a feasibility study for a vocational training program in the mofussil town of Saharanpur in western U.P. As a part of this, we conducted a survey covering 1000 households situated in lower-middle income areas of the town. The target was to interact with youth in the 15 - 25 age group, but we decided to extend our mandate and look at the education status among 6 - 14 year olds as well. It was in this second category of children that we found something seriously amiss.

The slide from the final presentation on the survey
in which we highlighted the gender skew
Of the 550 children for whom information was collected, the ratio of boys to girls was 65-to-35. Even in the older age group, there were only 78 females for every 100 males (for a pool of 1687 respondents). These were randomly selected households, though a majority happened to be orthodox Hindu families. We could not probe further into the reason for the gender skew - it is likely that in a survey such as this, homes may not have encouraged girls to talk to us. However, we were left with the distinctly uncomfortable feeling that the sinister hand of female foeticide may have had a role to play.

Yesterday, while watching the first episode of Aamir Khan's TV debut on Satyamev Jayate, I let out a silent applause for highlighting the stark social issue of female foeticide. The episode was wisely crafted - it managed to strike just the right balance between the emotional and rational halves within us. Aamir clearly deserves the accolades - it would have been so much easier for him to come up with a pure entertainment show to capture as many eyeballs. After the slew of inane "reality" shows, I had approached SJ with some cynicism and watched it only because of Aamir - who I respect for having mainstreamed the ills of our education system in Taare Zameen Par and 3 Idiots. With SJ, the showman has proved once again that he has the vision and the outlook that many of his contemporaries lack.

It would be interesting to see which other concerns the show highlights in its forthcoming episodes. And there are so many serious issues that merit a similar highlight...rampant alcoholism among men in the rural areas often leading to domestic violence, children being ruthlessly punished (kicked, made to starve, beating followed by chilly powder poured down their throat...only some of the examples that came out of a research conducted by Plan International), neglect of the elderly, apathy for the disabled, cruelty towards animals...issues that we as a society have collectively and conveniently chosen to overlook...

It may be too early to celebrate, but Satyamev Jayate might just prove to be the turning point in lifting the veil of stupor around us...



Saturday, 24 March 2012

From Unemployed to Self-Employed: Abid Hasan's Success Story

Patni is a small village located fourteen kilometers away from Saharanpur city in Uttar Pradesh. It’s a curious place that comes to life after six p.m., then falls into a collective slumber as soon as the clock strikes ten. These four hours are when the villagers return from work and mingle. These four hours are also when Abid, a young man, opens his mobile repairs shop with his friend, Sunil. Every evening, Sunil and Abid attend to their customers. While Sunil takes care of repairwork, Abid helps with downloading songs, uploading files, and a variety of functions such as scanning and storing files in memory cards.

Like his friends and acquaintances, Abid leaves for work at eight in the morning and signs out at five. He works as an office helper in the Agrasar center at Saharanpur. The journey from his house to the office is a long one that takes an hour.

It’s easy to see what a disciplined and enterprising young man Abid is. Yet his outlook on life was starkly different a year ago. Born in 1992 and adopted by an uncle, Abid Hasan grew up in Patni. Having failed to pass the matriculation examination, he moved to Dehradun in 2010 to take up a course in Diesel Engine Mechanics from an employability academy. Assured that he’d be getting a placement at Tata Motors, Abid spent nine months at the centre. Whatever amount of funding that had been invested in this dream went to waste as Abid not only did not get the promised job, he didn’t bother to search for more opportunities.

The months following his stint at this Academy saw Abid languishing in unemployment. One of his brothers-in-law, who is a contractor, got him to train more in the electrical and mechanical field, but Abid was not to be persuaded out of his apathy. He finally returned to Patni in March, 2011, and then joined Agrasar in September.

At Agrasar, Abid took up the Workplace English, IT and Retail courses. By the end of the training, he had grasped enough knowledge; he could even understand and read English. As a form of probationary period, he was hired as the office helper. Although enthusiastic and sincere, Abid’s career had a shaky beginning. There were a few errands he refused to undertake, for instance, going to the bank. With the passage of time, however, his confidence grew, and the day finally came when he no longer waited for a job opportunity; he created one for himself.

As somebody well aware of the goings-on of the villagers of Patni, Abid saw a market for mobile repairs and assistance. There are approximately 3000 mobile users in the area he lives in, and not many shops where they can go to in time of need. Abid discussed his idea with Sunil, another Agrasar graduate, and currently employed at Micromax, Saharanpur. Sunil jumped on the train, and on March 11th, 2012, their shop was finally opened. And, much to everybody’s delight, it was a hit with the villagers.

There are many kinds of victories that can be achieved in life, but few of them are as rewarding as helping a human being transform. Such is the victory that the Agrasar team has found in Abid. Not too long ago, this twenty-two year old student who designed the banner for his shop all on his own used to claim that his mission was to buy a better, swankier mobile phone; now, if you ask him about his goals, his answer will be entirely different. Abid dreams of earning and saving more money, and he hopes to marry in the near future and start a family. He’s also appearing for the HSLC exam this year.

As for going to the bank, it’s all in a day’s work for Abid.

Agrasar, an NGO, has been founded by the Edulever team. Agrasar Center for Employability (ACE) is its flagship venture that started in Saharanpur in September 2011.

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Edulever's Footprints

The Edulever journey began in August 2009, and since then, we have completed 28 projects with 16 clients across the country. We still qualify as a start-up, still look at ourselves as fledglings in the vast field of education and training. However, we also look back at this journey with a huge sense of accomplishment, as our footprints are now spread across the length and breadth of the country - as this interactive map will tell you.

We are now poised to expand these footprints further, with two new projects about to get underway. The first of these is to do with helping youth improve their employability skills - something on which we now have significant experience - and the other will see us travel across the country over the next few months to train teachers from over a hundred government schools. We are excited at these opportunities, anxious to do more, eager to see our small contributions get reflected in real change on the ground...  


Thursday, 23 February 2012

He who rejects change is the architect of decay

Never thought leaving first job would be as joyful as getting it. 20 months of donkey work, 4 bosses including one female and 3 posting took me to understand that this is not my cup of tea. Tracing back to my IRMA days, I find myself as an aimless fellow lost in the world of highly competent people. I participated in the campus placement without any plans in mind and 2009 being recession year, there were not many options as well to think upon.

Finally I got through an interview, with a job in hand and decent salary to keep my head high in eyes of near and dear ones who expect heights from me. These 20 months I have been thinking the turns life took without even giving me the hint of where it is taking me.

Certainly things didn’t go my way. Mom always used to say, “God is a better planner than all of us”. Taking her words of wisdom, I always accepted every change. Often I was reminded by close friends that I am compromising with my likings, and that I am not trying hard to achieve my likings. (..These friends always make you feel extra special and achiever).

God has been kind in these 28 years.

2003 was the major turn.
A place which I hated the most in first few days of my stay there, for it was the place I was forced in. I wanted my chance to prove my capabilty of passing medical entrance. But parents denied. Ironically, here I meet with most lively people probably the best in the world. An unpredictable but innocent room partner, gang of cool dudes, caring sister, crispy Aaloo paratha and old profs. A place where people just 365 days older or sometimes at par with you in age will treat you as his/her own son/daughter, a place where you will be treated as parents by your juniors, a place where you will not be allowed to spend your money when seniors are with you. The only way you greet people is, “Sir/Ma’am”. Either you are referred to or you have to refer. The place is undoubtedly Pantnagar. For the first time in life I felt my presence and importance of existence in this world.

They say parents are next to God……………………….Eq 1
Mom says, “God is better planner than all of us”….Eq 2
Eq1+Eq2, Parents are God and they are better planner for us.

I am happy today that I was denied my chance to become a doctor.
“Change always comes bearing gifts”- ~Price Pritchett

Next year I found my interest and starting dreaming myself as researcher. I started rigorous preparation for research scholarship in horticulture and this continued for 30 months. Profs were sure, friends were sure and I was sure of success. But again there was a “turn” completely unseen, unnoticed and dream shattering. Dad wanted his son to be MBA and earn quick money. I respected his feelings. For a smile on his face, I can pay anything.


Friends say it needs smart and good preparation for decent MBA College for which you need atleast six months if your brain is of premium quality. My being average brain would take 2 years if not more to prepare. The only time left for me was 30 days of semester break during which I could have prepared for MBA. Data Interpretation, Logical reasoning, English comprehension was altogether different from Seed rate, varieties, species, scientific names and chromosome number of crops. Two books of Rs 630/-, borrowed material of Career Launcher (CL) from room partner, guidance of friends and silent tears in toilet was all with which I aimed at cracking MBA exams.

Those 30 days, I have to study horticulture also, for it was my liking and 3.5 years of preparation which would go waste if I do not revise. I decided to study 18 hours a day, 15 hours for MBA preparation and 3 hours for horticulture. This was too much of asking from an ass like me. But I did it without fail.

Result of SNAP was out, which I did not gave. Many of us got good ranks and were sure of getting seats. I was doubtful of my success in MBA exams, hence went back to my horticulture thing. Ritesh (aka Harry Potter, Raute) was anxious enough for next result to come was of his dream institute, IRMA. I hardly had any clue of what this college is all about. One good after noon, he came hopping searching for me, barking like a dog. And the good news of my selection in IRMA was out. I enjoyed 2 years of learning and fun at IRMA.

I am happy today that I was denied my chance to become a research scholar.

Thursday, 2 February 2012

The diagnosis is there...can we have the prescription please?

That little boy in Grade 4 of the MCD school gave me a desolate, forlorn look...a look of desperation and helplessness. In front of him, on his desk, was a notebook. On it was his vain attempt to write a simple sentence in Hindi.

Just a few minutes back, as I had walked into this classroom at the school in Nand Nagri in North Shahdara, Delhi, the children had greeted me with their singsong Good Morninnnnng, Sir! I had walked to the back of the class, and had asked this little boy whether he knew how to write. Yes, he had said confidently. Okay, I said, smiling at him. Can you write down this simple sentence? I opened a fresh page on his notebook in front of him, and dictated, "राम आम खाता  था", ensuring the words were all of the same easy vowel sound in Hindi (the long aa). He took his pencil, and started to write. Managed to write the first letter र. Added the aa sound to make it रा. Then stopped. Fumbled...thought...gave up. Looked at me with those helpless little eyes. And said something that laid open to me everything that was wrong with our education system. He said, सर, सामने बोर्ड पर लिखा होता है तो देख कर लिख लेते हैं! (Sir, I can write it down if it is written on the board in front of me).

This was 2004. Or maybe 2005. I was still in Pratham, doing my Education 101 as I valiantly tried to manage a mass primary education program that had close to 30,000 children attending remedial or bridge courses each day. One of my favorite activities was to walk into an MCD school (Pratham used to run its remedial education program "Balsakhi" in close to 300 Municipal Corporation of Delhi schools at that time), and observe the classroom activities. The writing test I administered on the child was a part of an initial random assessment that we conducted to develop a remedial program (called "Reading to Learn - R2L", as a follow up to the "Learning to Read - L2R" program) for 3rd and 4th graders. During the visits to these schools, it had become amply clear that we as a nation were staring at a huge human resource deficit, thanks to an inherently faulty education system. This, after all, was Delhi, the capital - the MCD is among the most well resourced municipalities in the country. What would be the state of affairs in the thousands of primary schools that dot our vast rural landscape?

An MCD "school" in Mustafabad in north-east Delhi. A 2004 picture. 

Six years down the line, it appears as if this deficit is finally getting into the popular conscience of our people. In the last two months, three large-scale surveys - the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), Annual Status of Education Report (ASER), and the NCERT educational survey - have all established the learning deficit that the country faces today. A quick google search reveals that the media has gone to town talking about these reports. So the middle class in India finally knows that if their children are under-performing at their chosen English Medium schools, they are still better off than the millions of other children of the country.

All these surveys are merely diagnostic in nature. They tell us what the problem is. However, none of them really suggests what the prescription is - how do we address this quality deficit. And for a reason - this is one prescription that is nearly impossible to write. How do you redress an education system that has close to a million and a half schools? Or ten million classrooms. 10,000,000 classrooms...imagine that...which are supposed to deliver to nearly 400 million children every day. How do you build the systems and processes to ensure that what goes inside these ten million classrooms adheres to quality norms and parameters... knowing that the classroom process is almost entirely fueled by human effort and capacity?

Can any management expert take a shot at solving this gargantuan problem? Do we see a hand going up...?

Thursday, 12 January 2012

Stages of Learning

The other day, I was reading a very interesting concept on learning here, when its broad spectrum application struck me. This was about the various stages of learning as -  

Unconscious Incompetence
The individual does not understand or know how to do something and does not necessarily recognize the deficit. They may deny the usefulness of the skill. The individual must recognise their own incompetence, and the value of the new skill, before moving on to the next stage.The length of time an individual spends in this stage depends on the strength of the stimulus to learn.
Conscious Incompetence
Though the individual does not understand or know how to do something, he or she does recognize the deficit, as well as the value of a new skill in addressing the deficit. The making of mistakes can be integral to the learning process at this stage.
Conscious Competence 
The individual understands or knows how to do something. However, demonstrating the skill or knowledge requires concentration. It may be broken down into steps, and there is heavy conscious involvement in executing the new skill.
Unconscious Competence 
The individual has had so much practice with a skill that it has become "second nature" and can be performed easily. As a result, the skill can be performed while executing another task. The individual may be able to teach it to others, depending upon how and when it was learned.

These stages can be applied to almost all forms of learning that happen here at Edulever - be it learning a new language or acquiring a new skill - vocation, management or behavior and suddenly, it all started looking very simple giving us a fresh perspective while designing learning courses and conducting training.

And, we came up with a list of  a few simple learning facilitation techniques in accordance with each stage:

And, not to forget the last stage of learning which must be avoided by one and all - learners, practitioners and experts across the board; it is Complacency. Caveat!