EAA and Infin8 host “Educating India through Dance” Bollywood Event in NYC!

June 19, 2009
infin8 - Dance Class Flyer

infin8 - Dance Class Flyer

On Sunday, June 28th in New York City, Infin8, a South Asian dance company, will partner with Education Access for All to bring you a Bollywood – style dance class that mixes traditional Indian folk dances with hip-hop moves. The goal of this class is to use Infin8’s unique dance style to introduce you to elements of bollywood dance and bhangra through a fun, high-energy, calorie-burning dance routine.

Infin8 has partnered with Education Access for All to raise funds for education projects including school scholarships for rural children and arts education. We hope you can make it or donate to the event!

Date: Sunday June 28, 2009
TIme: 5:30pm – 7pm
Location: Battery Dance Studio, 380 Broadway (@ White St.), 5th Floor

The class is $15 if you reserve your spot in advance by visiting http://www.infin8dance.eventbrite.com, and $20 at the door. If you can’t attend, please consider donating to our mission through the site.

Education Access for All presents at Sankalp forum as finalist!

May 4, 2009

Imagine 100+ regional and international investors, business incubators, policy makers and corporates combined with hundreds of social entrepreneurs from sectors such as rural innovation, agriculture, healthcare, education, clean energy and more…

This was the Sankalp Forum hosted by Intellecap, which brought together social businesses and stakeholders sharing a common conviction that capital should be invested to create multiple bottom-line returns. One highlight of the forum was Vijay Mahajan, CEO of Basix, discussion of the word Sankalp which means “determination” and his story of starting his first social enterprise. Another highlight was the evening panel led by Venkat Krishnan, Founder of GiveIndia and Educational Initiatives, who discussed ”Impact Investing” as a way to transform capitalism and as a new and morally legitimate industry.

Ziqitza Education, which is the for-profit holding company while Education Access for All is our non-profit foundation arm, made the finalist round in the “Education for All” category in the “Emerging Growth” model. Other finalists in our category included Technable Solutions, which offers employment oriented vocational training; BookBox, which has created animated books to support emergent literacy and language skills; Forklift Academy of India, which runs a premier safety training company primarily on material handling equipments; and Joy of Learning, which develops children friendly books and runs activity centers that use play-based learning to teach elementary concepts to students. We were proud to be there in such company to discuss the opportunities and challenges facing the education market, the role of government, and different types of education business models and believe that only with collaboration across sectors, regions and models will we be able to make a dent in changing education here in India.

by Erica Dhawan

A Teacher’s Burden

April 15, 2009

“I spend half of the day collecting money and managing people, whereas I should be focused on teaching” said Jasveen Dhawan, my elder cousin and an 11th and 12th grade English teacher at Hindi Senior Secondary Government school in Sector 31 Chandigarh, India. Jasveen and I recently reunited after 7 years and I got a chance to get her personal view as a teacher in a Punjab Hindi medium government school.

In fact, Jasveen teaches 240 students each day, 4 sections of 60 students. Because there is only 1 clerk and 1 accountant at each government school, her workday consists of 50% teaching and 50% clerical work and management of funds. Each month, Jasveen must collect school fees from 60 of her students (which is 150 Rs per month per student). Sometimes the students don’t pay and she has to pay out of pocket and follow up persistently with these students to get paid back. Jasveen also manages all the school funds for her classes, including buying exam books and stationary from the market and collecting cycle, library, and deposit funds.

“Teachers become much less motivated if we are not focused on our job,” Jasveen said as she outlined her list of daily duties (not including teaching). She then emphasized that school teacher training which mostly consists of lesson plan guidance and new teaching aids was not applicable to the main issues in her classrooms: overcrowded classes and administrative burden.

Although we cannot immediately change the government system, Education Access for All, wants to help teachers like Jasveen manage her time and her classroom. Through Newton Management, our school management service, we want to build a network of schools where teachers can concentrate on their prime responsibility to teach in the classroom and have access to the innovative tools necessary to succeed.

by Erica Dhawan

Check out Crosswords

April 3, 2009

Check out Crosswords, an up market retail bookstore and common hang out spot for Bombay bookworms. I stopped in one Saturday and ended up spending almost half a day checking out the plethora of books, CDs, DVDs, let alone an entire education section.

The resources dedicated to education were massive, from the rows and rows of student guides, exam/college preparation books, and vocational training books to the e-learning section, ranging from online preschool games to exam/college preparation CDs in over 10 different brands and hundreds of subject levels.

My next thought: Where are the Crossword-like bookshops in small towns across India?

During our Rajasthan trip we recognized that very few schools were lucky to have these types of resources, let alone at the local bookstores. As we focus on both school management and e-learning we are thinking innovatively about how to distribute these products to small towns. While the channels are easy to find in urban areas, we are exploring and open to new ideas on how to distribute quality educational resources to small towns and rural areas.

Imagine when a 10th grader wants to buy extra study material on his biology paper. What if he could walk to his local grocery shop that he regularly visits to buy rice, soap and potatoes for his mother every other day and pick up a biology CD?

by Erica Dhawan

Children Know Best

March 31, 2009

Rajasthan shuts for Holi, the Hindu celebration of colors, so I headed to Beawar to spend time with Yash and the Mangal family, our partners for our first school, Mangal Newton. During Holi, most of the children who stay at the hostel go home; however, two of the scholarship students at Mangal Newton, Rishab (from Chandighar) and Nikhil (from Jammu) are too far from home so they were welcomes into the Mangal family’s home for these auspicious days. In the midst of throwing colors and eating traditional dhal bhati, I asked each of them to give me 3 ideas for how we can improve Mangal Newton. I described our vision to bring the best to this school for them and Rishab quickly responded, with “Yash sir is not only trying to make this the best school in India but the best school in the world!”

Within 20 minutes, Rishab also had his frist idea: English coaching classes so that everyone can be a good public speaker and be an MC of one of Mangal Newton’s many public shows. 15 minutes later, “Maam, I have another idea…..”. In Hindi, he described how his science teacher is teaching a topic, like how iron turns to a magnet, it is hard to understand so we should give teacher iron so she can show the kids how it works. I am thinking – this is it! This is not an educator, not an academic, not a school management company speaking, this Rishab, in 6th grade saying that he wants and needs to see and do things. We must respond to this need and there are may organizations like Agastaya Foundation who are thinking specifically about how to create interactive science curriculum. Education Access for All looks forward to working with such organizations to bring such innovation into schools and also working with them to digitize such curriculum so it can spread across India at scale.

Schools at Scale

March 11, 2009

Editor’s note: Yash Mangal is the Director of Mangal Newton School and will be leading Newton Management Company as we expand to new geographies and areas. He will also be regularly contributing to this blog.

Last week, I joined Deepti and Erica for a few days to visit schools in small towns across Rajasthan. As a Director of a school myself, it was an eye-opening and humbling experience. We started Mangal Newton because when we were kids, there were not any good options for schools in Beawar. To be honest, I thought we were pioneers in bringing such innovative learning to such a small town; however, it was interesting to see so many families with a similar vision as our own doing the same for their towns. In fact, we saw the only university level chemistry lab to be installed in a school in Rajasthan in a small town called Jhunjunu.

At the same time, it was often concerning to see families and individuals invest unlimited time and money into just ONE school which will likely be able to serve about 2000 children a year at the most. The investment they are making could easily be shared with other schools in the area such that the innovation can reach children at scale. Newton Management Company aspires to leverage the fact that many families in these small towns are motivated by having a school in their name; but at the same time, aspires to achieve scale by partnering with a number of schools in a community. We look forward to learning from the other education innovators in small towns and partnering with them to achieve our vision.

By Yash Mangal

A Parent’s Vision

March 7, 2009

Editor’s note: New contributor Erica Dhawan joined our team in February 2009. Previously, she worked at Lehman Brothers and helped build a young professionals network for Acumen Fund. Erica has been traveling with me and will be writing about our experiences as well.

Meet Gordham, a longtime waiter at the well-known LMB restaurant in Jaipur, Rajasthan. His wife and two young children live in his hometown Kalilpura Papra, a rural village 6 hours away from Jaipur. Every 15 days, Gordham goes back to his hometown and spends 5 days with his family and makes sure the plants are watered on his farm. Kalilpura Papra is a village of 450 people and his 2 children currently go to a nearby Hindi medium private school where he pays 240 Rs per month per child. Gordham has decided to send his 2 children to an English medium school next year which is 20 kilometers from his village. The fees are 600 Rs per month per child, which more than doubles the education fees and does not include transportation. Gordham, who spoke Marwari and Hindi, wanted his children to be the first generation in his family to receive an English education. When Deepti asked Gordham if he had a computer, he said he did not and mentioned that the electricity stopped every 8 hours in the village. His family does own a TV, but no VCR.

Deepti then asked Gordham that if he did have a computer, would he be willing to buy an e-learning CD for his children to learn on the computer. Although Gordham didn’t have a computer he quickly responded that he would spend up to 1000 Rs per month on each of his children for their education. We exchanged contact information with Gordham and hope to visit his village.

Education is the average Indian family’s second largest expense after food. By meeting Gordham, we saw a parent’s willingness to invest in his children with the best resources available to him. We also observed how the lack of access to basic electricity and technology infrastructure may affect many children and families in Gordham’s hometown. Our conversation with Gordham continued to confirm that we can view parents as partners in identifying innovative ways to bring high quality education to small towns and rural areas.

by Erica Dhawan

Unsticking schools

March 7, 2009

Darpan Sharma doesn’t share the appearance of polish and sophistication of many of the principals we met in Pilani; nor does he have fancy advanced degrees which principals are eager to share. But he has a vision and love for his students; he wants to get beyond India’s rote system and bring more innovation to his students but he is stuck, so stuck that he even tried bribing a government teacher for the government e-learning product. He was denied so instead, he bought one off CDs in the market, which he admits are of poor quality, and has his senior science students stay after school to gather around his one computer to watch the animation.

This is what we are trying to unstick; schools with limited funds and more so, limited exposure are unaware and unable to leverage much of the innovation that is happening in education; no one is approaching them, and much of what is available is of poor quality or too expensive.

He is doing what he can and has even created 3D materials for maths and science, making cones out of construction paper and copying rupee note on his own to stretch his children’s imagination.

We are eager to learn from Mr. Sharma as we work with him to achieve his vision!

One Village at a Time

March 5, 2009

Visit Pilani, Rajasthan and you feel the potential of India. 70 years ago, Pilani was a remote village in the desert of Rajasthan. Today it is thriving town – often reminding me of Stanford’s campus – serving as an education center for Rajasthan.

Thank you, GD Birla. His commitment and vision for Pilani is something both other wealthy families with roots in small villages and organizations should be looking to emulate. He invested in building a world class scientific institution in his hometown, BITS Pilani, and has supported this villages transformation. Streets are wide, lined by flowers and fields and full of students, scientists, and doctors on their bikes. Gandhi’s statue is prominent and while the town carries a sense of scientific advancement, at the same time, in holds Indian values and tradition at its heart.

After observing a Bharatnatyam class (pictures to come) at Birla Balika Vidyapeeth, an all girls schools in Pilani, I asked if any of them wanted to come to New York. Unlike in most other classrooms where I ask the same question, only one hand when shooting up. Another girl explained, “We all want to come to New York to see the city but not to work or live because we want to improve our country first.” I only wish I heard that in more of the classrooms we visited and hope that as we work with schools and communities, this sense of service and giving back can be one of the things we emphasize.

It was equally exciting to see a positive response to our eTutor product in such booming educational center and I am hopeful we can build some partnerships that we will learn significantly from.

And now off to Hanumaghar and Ganganagar, a small towns on the Pakistan border where I am sure our learning will continue….

I want to be Ayushi!!

March 5, 2009

Blogging has been a harder task than expected and my excuses are endless but now that we have started our “Rajasthan Roadshow” – a two week trip in an attempt to understand the challenges facing schools in small towns (population 250K – 500K) and define the market for e-Tutor — it feels as though we must share what we are understanding and experiencing across schools in Rajasthan.

“I don’t care about becoming Mukesh Ambani, I want to be Ayusha”, clamored a young ten year girl, named Ayushi at Bhartiya Public School. She had a determination in her pose and in her eyes as she addressed our team and her own principal and director. She explained her frustration: “I don’t have the freedom to create my own path” and advised us that in addition to working with schools, we should be focused on parents.

Another student, Puja, in the 12th standard, wanted to become a dancer but only after receiving her IIT degree and recommended that the school create a career counseling program. She explained, “In Delhi, my cousins know what options are available – they know they can be journalists, artists, or DJs but in Sikar we don’t know whats out there…we just keep hearing about being doctors or engineers…”

Our team was impressed to see such fearlessness in the students at Bhartiya Public School in Sikar, a small town on the eastern edge of Rajasthan with a population of about 200,000. Education Access of All’s goal is to work with such schools and communities to bring the innovation in education that exists in urban areas across India and globally to support their students. As some of you already know, currently we have two initiatives: Newton Management Company, which works with local schools to bring best practices such as career counseling to their schools and e-Tutor, an interactive software based on CBSE curriculum that bring individualized and interactive learning to students. We are continuing to refine our strategy as we meet with schools as well as leaders in the education space. We are early in our growth and look forward to developing the best options to help fulfill the aspiration and the schools in towns like Sikar.