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Quality doesn’t match scale achieved in education sector, says SD Shibulal


A young boy was walking along a beach upon which thousands of starfish had been washed up during a terrible storm. When he came to each starfish, he would pick it up and throw it back into the ocean so it can survive. A man approached him and said, “Little one, why do this? You can’t save all these starfish.” He looked up and replied, “Well, I made a difference to at least some.”

SD Shibulal, Founder and former CEO of Infosys and a pioneering education philanthropist, draws a lot from this story, and says: “I cannot believe India doesn’t have one lakh people who can help at least one child to go to college. The country has some 250 million children in schools, the size of an entire European nation, at the K-12 level or in higher education. We produce a million engineers every year. But we also have 16 million children who’re not in schools. Granted, we have a system that is extremely complex and large but to surmise everything is wrong with it may not be correct,” he told businessline here.

Gross enrolment ratio

The Sarojini Damodaran Foundation (SDF), named after Shibulal’s parents and of which he and wife Kumari are Trustee and Managing Trustee, respectively, seeks to address iniquities in the sector. The couple was here to attend a meeting of beneficiaries of Vidyadhan, SDF’s pan-India scholarship programme for students from poor families. Along with them was Meera Rajeevan, National Programme Director.

The meeting felicitated leading digital transformation solutions company UST, key partner to Vidyadhan. Since 2016, Vidyadhan has been looking to fuel growth by building partnerships with corporates and individuals.

Gross enrolment ratio (GER) at the primary level has gone up from 17 per cent to 80 per cent since Independence, recalls Shibulal.

“We’ve built up large capacities, maybe at the expense of quality. In some cases, you’ve got to aim scale ahead of quality. Since we’ve improved our numbers, the focus should now be on quality. This is the job of multiple stakeholders, the government, the private sector and social enterprises. Teachers play a very important role as well,” he observed.

Family philanthropic initiatives

There is a need for us to be patient and maintain focus.

“After all, a child joining us at age 15 has to attain the age of 22 before he or she can qualify as an engineer. Another programme of ours called Ankur that started in 2002 takes in children from the age of three to four years. The first child has just graduated,” Shibulal says.

Unlike Vidyadhan, children are put up in hostel and are Ankur’s responsibility.

A third programme is ShikshaLokam launched in 2017. It aims at school leadership development at the K-2 level. All these are run under the umbrella of Shibulal Family Philanthropic Initiatives.

Tens of thousands apply

This year, Vidyadhan received 40,000 applications of which only 1,600 will be selected. Application processing is itself a tough task. Then comes the verification where the applicant gives the test, followed by interviews and home visits.

“We’ve created our own in-house platform to handle all this. It also allows me to pull up the life history of each child. Once in, we monitor the child throughout the seven years. Then comes the mentoring followed by funding. We fund around 70 per cent of the students. The rest are funded by external agencies who also take care of the mentoring part. Going forward, I’m hoping that the 70 per cent that we support comes down to 10 per cent. At that stage, we will probably have one lakh students on an estimated base of 50 lakh applications. That’s why we want to partner with more people or institutions,” Shibulal said.


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