There is no denying that every morning gets better with good, strong coffee. No matter, we need to go to work, read a book, or draw a landscape, coffee even turns doing nothing into pure bliss. Yes, it is indeed strange that we compare coffee in morning to education for our girls, but this is what education is to the Pinkishe team. It is a pathway to human development, a means of empowering young girls with knowledge, skills, and self-reliance. A cup of coffee and we get our day on a rolling boil. A bite of fundamental education for spirited, free girls and we get our entire world changed.
Unfortunately, even today, most of the girls in rural areas are deprived of their basic rights to education. Even though the government has made it mandatory for everyone to attend free schooling until the age of 14, most families in rural or semi-urban communities still hold negative attitude towards educating their daughters. In such a world, amongst people with such mindset, Manish Agrawal is trying to break stereotypes by running a school in a municipal town of Gautam Budha Nagar district. Where daughters are still confined to four walls, because majority of poor people prefer to educate their sons, he is taking responsibility to empower young girls so that they can benefit the status of their families and of the entire nation.
Manish is certainly not a celebrity, but for the kind of work he has done and is doing to promote better education, especially for girls in rural areas, we were happy to ask him to share his views about Indian education system.
Q You belong to corporate world at core, what inspired you to establish Takshashila Gurukulam in a rather semi-urban town? Despite being a co-ed school, how Takshashila meets the lack of quality primary education for the poor or neglected girls in the rural landscape?
So, while I was working for McKinsey as Consultant, I realised that I must do something for the people who don’t enjoy opulent lives, or who live and work in villages. This thought then gave birth to a small school with three rooms, for children in the rural district, in 2010. Initially the idea was to offer inexpensive education to all the children, but later we realised that parents, who had both sons and daughters, would seize the opportunity to send their sons to school first. We understood that by the time they would start to send their daughters to school, the resources would get exhausted and the girls would always remain within the deprived group of people.
So, we practiced a different strategy. We offered them that when they will admit their sons to school, we would give their daughters free education. Thence, the girls are given free education whilst the boys are charged a marginal fee, which ensures the ratio of almost 50-50 at our school.
Q What do you think ails the Indian education system, specifically for girls? In your opinion, what is the most fundamental problem with education system that holds women of India backwards?
In India, the status of the girl child has been a subject of much discussion, controversy and debate. There are some overwhelming cultural and economic reasons why girls are not receiving the same educational attention as the boys. Especially in villages, girls are fed with this ridiculous thought that their brothers are more important. They are trained to take care of the family and do household chores, whereas boys are presented as the protectors of women. In developed countries like the US or anywhere else in the world, food is cooked by men too; both take up turns to clean their homes. No differentiation is made on the basis of gender. This needs to change in India too, because this is the fundamental reason that the women in our country remain backward. I think the biggest push in encouraging education for girls in rural areas must be given by women themselves. Though government’s Beti Bachao Abhiyaan is a good scheme that could end such weird norms.
Q Today there is an urgency, as we now clearly see that complete development cannot be achieved unless gender equality is taken seriously. Do you think making gender education compulsory will help us empower girls and women?
Despite the improvements in literacy, there continues to be a large gap between the literacy levels of men and women in India, so yes, gender education should be made compulsory by the government. Though, I would also like to take a step ahead and would make education compulsory for every child irrespective of their gender; male, female or third gender. Education is essential for our existence and for making the world beautiful. I believe when everybody is educated, they have the power to think and decide. Everyone should get equal opportunities. But yes, in present times, girls in rural communities should be given more opportunities so that they are not left behind. They have been raised ignorant about their rights. By educating them, we can create leaders who in return will civilize the world.
Q What is your view of the status of our female school principals and teachers, who sometimes are not as much connected to the real world themselves? How do you think we can encourage them to contribute or participate more in changing the existing mind-sets and creating new fresher role definitions for women in India?
In my opinion, female teachers and principals must take the lead at schools, clearly because they understand girl children better. In comparison to their male counterparts, they are more aligned with girl’s needs. I agree that most female teachers in rural areas are not well equipped with the real world out there, but they have the capability of standing up on their own and they can play large role in creating better dynamics between the girl students and themselves. Female teachers should go out into the field, talk to the girls’ parents, and instil confidence in them. They should create community enlargement programmes through which they should try and educate the entire community than just girl students at school, to create an environment of curiosity and interactivity.
Q Will you prefer to encourage virtual classroom teaching and learning environment at large? How do you think girls can embrace internet and technology within education system and benefit from it?
Yes certainly, I will. See, internet is only around 25 years old and virtual classroom technology is fresh too. It is like when electricity was invented, the inventors assumed that only a few thousand people will benefit from it. Today, only less than 1 billion people across the globe do not have access to electricity according to new data from World Energy Outlook 2018. Same will happen to internet. It is at experimental stages and I am sure that after say, 50 years from now, internet will experience a sea change. The best about internet is that it is almost free. Anyone, from anywhere in the world can access anything. It is available to everyone evenly. So, the girls can benefit from internet technology by exploring and learning about it themselves. Nobody needs to teach them internet. They can learn it by themselves.
Q What is your ahead-of-the-curve vision and philosophy of education in a system where everything is about rote memorization that leads to cramming? How do you think we can make education more innovative and a life-long learning experience for adolescent girls?
I think the biggest challenge in our present education system is that it was introduced to us more than hundred years in 1835 and we still are following the same philosophy of cramming content, giving exams, and scoring high grades. Today in the internet-of-things era, we must realize that education is not just a means of finding a job but should be a methodology of development. There is a dire need for revolutionary changes in India’s education system. Not just the syllabus, but also the attitude towards education needs to be changed. To make education more fun and innovative, teachers can, for example, adopt flip methodology to encourage active participation from girls. Teachers can encourage role play or peer teaching, through which girls can explore creativity and critical thinking.