15 Sep 2021 18:23 IST

Bringing change is a marathon effort: SD Shibulal

Speaking to the graduating cohort of EduMentum, Infosys co-founder addresses core issues in the education sector

As non-profits, you are part of a larger ecosystem of changemakers. The best way to learn is to be fearless when faced with failure and to ask your peers to constantly challenge you. While you’ve committed to transforming the way children of India learn, run the marathon and stay for the long haul. This is the advice that SD Shibulal, co-founder and former CEO of Infosys had to offer, while speaking at the fourth graduation ceremony of EduMentum, an incubator for early-stage non-profits in the education sector, and a Shibulal Family philanthropic initiative.

Shibulal encouraged early-stage non-profit organisations to build their decision-making capabilities and opt for more challenging paths. He emphasised the importance of community as a driver of motivation. He emphasised the importance of each stakeholder in the system, arguing that their combined efforts will be required to shape education moving forward. “All the players — leaders, teachers, parents, and the larger community have to work together to facilitate the education process for children. Together, they have to reimagine classrooms, take charge, and address the core issues of access while promising to evolve in this ever-changing landscape,” he said.

Access to quality education

eSpire 2021, a two-day virtual conference, of which the graduation ceremony was a part of, also witnessed a host of speakers discussing a variety of challenges and opportunities in the primary education sector ranging from issues plaguing rural education to the struggles of social entrepreneurs during Covid-19. Many of the speakers emphasised the importance of NGOs working towards improving the quality of education in some of the most remote geographies of the country.

Dr Santhosh Mathew, Former Additional Chief Secretary of Bihar; Country Lead, Social and Public Finance Policy, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation; brought an unique perspective to the table. Speaking to Chetan Kapoor, COO, Tech Mahindra Foundation, Mathew, said, “There is a need for sarkaar (government), bazaar (private sector), and samaaj (social sector) to create space for ordinary individuals to do extraordinary things.” The benefits of these three sectors collaborating in the education sector was clear to him. “Quality education empowers people to deal with failure and success with equanimity, to be productive citizens in economic and social situations in a sustainable fashion.”

Mathew also reiterated that it is vital that technology not be viewed as a panacea but merely an extremely useful tool. “Covid-19 has made it abundantly clear that technology cannot be a substitute for the student-teacher relationship. Technology must be leveraged as an aid to normalise the distribution of talent and enable students to lead socially, economically, and ecologically productive lives.”

Continuity in education

During a discussion on ‘safeguarding the sector’s gains in a pandemic era’, Prof Vikas Maniar of Azim Premji University highlighted that the biggest concern for the sector today is ensuring equity in education. “Quality education is a means to improving living standards. The access to education has improved in the last 20 years. However, we need to be grounded to the core idea about how education can improve the quality of life for the children.”

Pradeep Nair of Ford Foundation added that crises like the pandemic can expose the need to serve children better. However, the problem is that the sector is extremely under-resourced and many organisations struggle. “Concern seldom translates into resources for these organisations who are in the system and were not prepared to face this pandemic. We have to admit that change is not possible without NGOs on the ground, and their resource-crunch must be addressed,” said Nair.

Vaishali Samanta of LetzDream Foundation encouraged civil society organisations in the education sector, and said: “Be open about the path you (NGOs) choose. Experiment, innovate, be present, and include the most disadvantaged in your vision. Persevere without the fear to pivot.”