From solving business problems to fixing real ones.

Our friends at Agastya International Foundation recently caught up with our chairman, Ashok Kamath.

Read on to see what it takes to ensure every child is in school AND LEARNING WELL.

via Agastya International Foundation 

For over thirteen years, Akshara Foundation has been promoting library, reading, English and Math skills in children across the state. With the objective of delivering quality education to each and every child, Akshara has made huge strides in Karnataka’s education scenario.

As Chairman of the organization since 2008, Ashok Kamath has played a significant role in this effort, and we had the wonderful opportunity to meet him. An alumnus from IIT-Bombay, Ashok chose to leave behind his successful corporate career and enter the social development sector.


On asking him about what propelled him into this line of work, he tells us, “Every child should get a decent education. That’s the toughest problem for me in the world. For those of us who’ve worked in industry, such as Ramji and me, we have been trained to solve problems. In the end, I decided to use this skill and move on from solving business problems to fixing real ones.”

Ashok is a firm believer in the power of education, and gives us an insight into the problems facing the children of this country. “We have a huge social problem in the country concerning our children. It is to do with their health, and their education, among many other things. When I graduated, my first salary was 600 rupees. We counted ourselves to be lucky to get a job with a salary like that. And when I reflect back on the reason why I did well, I can say with no doubt in my mind that it was because of my education.”

Ashok believes that education is a sure way to get millions of children out of the poverty trap. He believes that education gives one the best foundation and skills to excel at whatever one chooses to do.

So, where does this problem begin? “It starts with us. We have seen the problems riddling our schools- poor learning outcomes and shabby infrastructure- for ages now. This is the outcome of our first fundamental failure- not holding ourselves accountable! It is also a problem of citizen’s apathy. We completely bypass the system, and sit on the outside and lament that the quality is poor. What organizations like Agastya and Akshara are doing is to beef up the supply side of the system”.

He says that even if one has the intention to make a difference, there are bound to be many obstacles along the way. “But just like Darwinian adaptation, one finds the way through these difficulties.”
“However, the problem concerning the education of our young minds is one of the highest importance. ASER data says that 45% of children in our country cannot read. What sort of jobs will these children get, if and when they finish school? Hammer, chisel, stone- 16th Century tools to survive in the 21st century.” Ashok is deeply concerned about the lack of urgency, both in society and the bureaucracy, with respect to this issue.

Ashok now places the onus of solving this problem on the current generation. “My generation had to take what they got. There were no choices. But this is the first generation in India with the luxury of choice! If you don’t exercise it well, then you have no one but yourselves to blame. Urgency, accountability, and awareness. Those are the key three things you need to solve the problem.”

Ashok emphasized that the key to any solution rests in the recognition of the problem. “It begins with each one of us. If we don’t get that straight, there is no way to go forward. But, if we get that done then, solving these problems can gain traction. After all, it’s not rocket science!”

And on that encouraging note, we sign off.

Thank you Ashok for your inspiring and thought-provoking words. We wish you and the Akshara Foundation the very best on this journey to empower and educate!

Akshara Foundation participates in the Workshop on Innovations in School Education

Kanchan Bannerjee, Managing Trustee, Akshara Foundation, was invited to chair two sessions at a Workshop on Innovations in School Education organized jointly by Administrative Training Institute (ATI), Mysore, ANS State Institute of Rural Development (SIRD) and Azim Premji University, Bangalore, on the 28th of November, 2012.

This is part of a series of workshops on innovations in governance the three institutions plan to conduct in collaboration, the objective being to examine selected cases of innovative practice that display a potential for enhancing the quality and effectiveness of public services.
The one-day event focused on school education, an area of government involvement from the point of policy making and public service provisioning, an area that can be substantially improved.

As a concept note on the workshop says, “School education is of vital significance for the social progress and economic transformation of Karnataka and the nation.…..In recent years the government has worked in partnership with several organizations to improve school education. Some of these efforts are innovative and they provide examples which could potentially be implemented elsewhere. If such initiatives are generally deemed to be useful and effective and if these innovations are widely adopted and institutionalized within the government system then these could have a significantly positive ground level impact.”

The workshop was a forum for the discussion of some noteworthy innovative initiatives in school education, bringing together government leaders and functionaries, educators, academics and education sector practitioners along with key professionals who have been associated with and/or have closely studied the innovation.

Kanchan Bannerjee chaired two sessions on Innovations in Teaching-Learning Materials and Activity Based Learning.  Three insights were presented in the sessions.

  • One on Teaching Science through Mobile Laboratories, Rural Science Centres and Young Instructors – The Experience of Agastya Foundation
  • another on The Nali-Kali Programme – Innovation and Best Practices in Shorapur; and 
  • the third on Teaching-Learning Materials – best when developed by teachers themselves, The Example of Teacher-Developed Films.

The speakers, as workshop guidelines mandated, presented on: the nature of the innovation; its impact on education and whether that impact can be assessed; the challenges and the process of learning and adaptation as implementation progressed; the support or opposition it encountered from government, school managements, community; and whether the innovation can be more widely replicated.