Sunday, 18 September 2016

"There is much to celebrate": An afternoon with Mr. Avinash Kumar

Have you ever stepped out of a meeting/session with a feeling of being liberated and thanking the stars and the people who helped you be in that place at that moment?!
That was exactly what transpired in my head when I came out from a meeting with Mr. Avinash Kumar, a software engineer turned educationist, currently heading the WIPRO Fellowship Program at WATIS. How and why?! Let’s find out!
There are usually two kinds of responses from people when they find out that I am a software engineer turned ‘person working in education sector with an NGO’. 
The responses being:
(a) “BUT WHY?!” (b) “Such a NOBLE THING! The country needs more youngsters like you”. While there’s absolutely nothing wrong with either of the responses, it is definitely overwhelming and not to mention confusing, when one is seen as a saviour, especially that of a wicked problem such as the state of education in our country.
So here comes a person who starts off the talk by saying that what we are all doing is honest work that might not be astoundingly successful (I could feel a brick being lifted off my chest at that point). He then goes on to talk about what is and can be perceived as success in an education intervention and how we are generally harsh on ourselves about such things.
He flips my thoughts on how probably nothing worthwhile has happened so far (exceptions being RTE, Rishi Valley and other widely known endeavours) by mentioning that the enrolment rate in schools was just ~12% in 1947, whereas now, it is almost 100%! It makes me realise that I and quite a few of us weren’t really appreciating the stupendous work that happened! The numbers written above indicate a cultural shift that took place and it isn’t a small thing by any measure! He goes on to talk about the status of gender disparity then and now. About how people who couldn’t think of sending their girls outside the four walls are now sending them to schools, and the way civil society played a major role in these phenomenal transformations.
We go onto speak about what Education means to each one of us and the tricky topic of expansion in this sector. He mentions how the experimentation at Hoshangabad (popular as HSPT), started in 1972 by Eklavya was the seed for Science Curriculum in NCF in the year of 2005. In the same breath, he tells us the story of David Horsburgh, a British-born educationist who first came to India in 1943 while serving with the Royal Air Force. This man eventually founded ‘Neel Bagh’, a school in Madanapalle district of Andhra Pradesh in 1972 and lived there till his death in 1984. During his years spent at this school, he trained far less than 100 people. Would you term it successful?

Probably no. But what if we tell you that out of those whom he trained were Malathi, Amrutha Mahapatra, Rohit Dhankar and many more who went on to contribute to education by setting up schools such as Digantar, Sumavanam, Vikasana and more importantly in helping state and central governments in programs such as Sarva Shiksha Abhiyaan.
By mentioning how the direct impact of this school was probably not scalable and yet its long term impact is something that was mammoth, (Mr. Avinash Kumar) gave us food for thought about what exactly we are aiming at when we talk about scaling and expansion in this sector. Made me think of how even a number such as ten or five or even 1 school is meaningful, important and unignorable!
Before signing off, Mr. Avinash Kumar mentions how there’s a tipping point for visible change to happen and if we haven’t reached that tipping point yet, it doesn’t mean that there was no work done. Something to keep in mind and also something that leaves us free to experiment within reasonable limits, right?
By the end of this interaction, I felt visibly light- so light that I could feel a spring in my feet. It gave voice to my thoughts on how what I and many others are doing is not just about changing the current poor state, but also, and probably more about continuing the good work that has gone in so far.
It turned out to be one of those very rare interactions that showed me the possibility of how some simple observations when presented in the right way helps one look at things with a fresh lens even when he/she isn't ready for it. Something that I should be conscious of while working with my set of teachers.
P.S. Elisha, if you are reading this, please know that as soon as I stepped out, you were amongst the first who I thought led me to him. Thank you!

The blog piece has been written by Ms. Veda Veeravalli, who works as the School Transformation lead at Mantra4Change.

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