Dr. Madhav Chavan has designed a low-cost, replicable way of bringing pre-primary and primary education to poor children living in the urban and semirural slums of India. His method for universalizing primary education has been adopted throughout the country.
Weaknesses in teaching-learning processes at school and lack of assistance from poorly educated or nearly illiterate parents contribute to poor learning. Changing the classroom processes may seem simply a matter of training the teachers but experience shows this is not so. Even trained and enthusiastic teachers gradually succumb to the apathetic surroundings and the bureaucratic system. There is a general demoralization leading to a lack of hope, discouraging any good work. One input that is clearly missing is community participation and support of the teacher.
Access to formal education and the present quality of learning achievement are staggering problems for developing countries like India. A number of citizen sector organizations are working to solve these problems for children from poorer backgrounds. Such programs are often sponsored by multinational funding organizations that rent or build classroom space, hire certified teachers, purchase supplies, and build central administrative offices in each city where they operate. While this provides an excellent learning-teaching environment, the high initial investments, nearing $75 per pupil a year, are quite costly. Reaching tens of thousands of children in this way would be prohibitively expensive for most community-based organizations in developing countries.
A cost-effective model to address the access and quality of educational facilities is needed. The long-term provision of infrastructure for formal schools is the responsibility of the government, at least in terms of providing funds to construct and maintain schools and teachers' salaries. However, if such infrastructure is not immediately available, other efforts should be made to ensure that children learn well and join mainstream education as they grow up.
Each balwadi costs an average of only $7.50 per child a year, allowing the organization to expand the program rapidly. Pratham has replicated the balwadi model to provide a bridge program for older children who have dropped out of school and a remedial learning to children in Grades 3 and 4 so that each child achieves basic literacy in a few months. Here, young women teachers from the community are placed as teachers' assistants in municipal-school classrooms to help such children. Last year, Pratham launched a computer-assisted learning program that costs only $4 per student a year because corporations donate the computers and municipal schools provide space and utilities. On average, all these programs cost roughly $10 a year per pupil. Additionally, the requirement that each neighborhood find a rent-free place for preschools has ensured community involvement and support. Conducting classes in public venues has increased awareness and acceptance among parents.
Another key to Madhav's capital-light structure has been his strategy to develop committed and loyal teachers from a previously untapped source. The organization has decided to recruit people from outside the workforce, mostly unmarried young women with a fair amount of education who traditionally do not work outside the home. In order to attract and retain the young teachers, Pratham ensures that balwadi teachers work only part-time and remain in their local communities. This has also highlighted the importance and social impact of the program, thereby increasing the job's social stature and actively enhancing the organization's brand name. Pratham has recruited and trained more than 6,000 teachers and 250 supervisors to ensure consistent delivery of quality instruction. As a result, turnover is low. Most Pratham teachers have worked for their balwadi since its inception. Job vacancies are never even listed, since departing teachers find and train replacements before leaving.
Ensuring quality in teaching has been another important strategy for Madhav. By maintaining strict performance standards and providing systematic training, Pratham has turned people without teaching experience into effective instructors. In fact, training is the only overhead in which Pratham invests a lot of money. It maintains 24 teams to provide teacher training and in-class evaluations.
Since Madhav is a keen believer in entrepreneurship, one of his key strategies has been to foster entrepreneurship among teachers. A balwadi teacher is expected to view her class almost like a start-up venture, since she is likely to have started it and developed its activities herself. She can charge children a certain amount based on income levels of their parents and must pay for the teaching kits from these fees. In addition, administration is highly decentralizedbalwadi in Mumbai are divided into 50 autonomous mahila mandals ("women's groups"), each registered as separate citizen organizations. Budgets, training, and oversight processes for all programs are determined centrally, but all other details are left to each teacher and ward. Pratham's ultimate vision is for these women's groups to become completely self-sufficient, linked to headquarters only for training and oversight. Already, several balwadi now finance themselves through a combination of tuition fees and contributions from local charities. The decentralized approach has shown other organizations how to channel the creativity and energy of thousands of people from the community and avoid bureaucratic inertia. It has also built a strong sense of community and empowerment among Pratham's staffa key to inspire loyalty.
Madhav has used corporate partnerships to create a group of believers committed to his idea. Instead of limiting donors to an arm's-length role, Pratham invites companies to become part of the organization, creating a powerful sense of ownership among both donors and staff members. This policy encourages personal initiative on the part of people connected with Pratham, ranging from the young balwadi teacher who asks a friend to help start another balwadi, to the corporate chief executive who asks another CEO to help start a Pratham program in the city. Key corporate employees with a strong commitment to Pratham have created successful partnerships by leading their companies' involvement. Several corporate partners, including ICICI Bank and Hindustan Petroleum, have provided office space and equipment and have even lent employees at full salary to serve on Pratham's executive group. Other corporations have given more modest financial support or in-kind contributions like computers and employee volunteers.
The ultimate test of Pratham's strategy is its impact on educational outcomes. Here the evidence is overwhelming. A recent study found that Pratham's balwadi students are far more likely to go to primary school than children who have not gone to preschool. More than 40 percent of the children in Pratham's bridge course (trageted at school dropouts) program are now in school. Tests show that they are doing better in language, arts, and mathematics than their classmates. In the remedial program, tests show that the number of children with no literacy or numeracy skills dropped by half and that the proportion of older children achieving basic educational competencies doubled.
Pratham has now helped start educational programs in 12 other Indian cities and regions, with an additional 13 planned in the next 6 to 12 months. The organization serves 35,000 children outside Mumbaia number expected to grow to 70,000 by the next school year. Pratham plans to establish programs in the 300 largest Indian cities by 2005 and to have nationwide primary education by 2010. McKinsey consultants have supported Pratham both by providing strategic advice on growth and governance, and by helping to design the balwadi health program.
Madhav and his ideas have also been an inspiration and principal mover behind the India Education Initiative (IEI) that has undertaken the mission of universalizing primary education in India. In attempts to activate and encourage increased productivity in areas of government responsible for education, the initiative suggests creating partnerships between government, businesses, donors, and the voluntary sector. From here, the IEI will work to develop and expand education in each city around the country.
In 1987 he returned to India and started teaching physical chemistry at the University of Mumbai. In 1988 Madhav got involved in an indefinite teachers' strike and wrote a letter to the prime minister of India on the teachers' demands. The letter got forwarded to Mr. Anil Bordia, the education secretary of the Ministry of Education, who called him to discuss the issues. The meeting was a turning point in Madhav's life.
Madhav's political past, his social experience, his exposure to the United States, and his innate entrepreneurial expertise helped him form some radical ideas about education. In 1989, with encouragement from Mr. Bordia, he started implementing some of these ideas while working for a mass adult literacy coalition with the National Literacy Mission. By the end of 1992, Madhav realized that the government initiative in organizing a community coalition had not worked out properly and that the National Literacy Mission was a failure. But by then he had managed to get about 100 people to listen to his ideas, so in 1993, when UNICEF spawned an idea to ensure universal primary education, they asked Madhav to be a part of the discussions. After many meetings, it was clear everyone agreed on the goal, but no one knew how to reach it.
Madhav's interest in education drove him to take the challenge. Founding Pratham in Mumbai in 1994, Madhav and eight other local activists followed a goal to ensure that every Mumbai child between 3 and 10 years of age went to school. Their initiative has the support of UNICEF, the Mumbai municipal corporation, and several local industrialists. In 2000, Pratham was one of three innovative organizations short-listed for the World Bank's Global Development Network award. Madhav lives and works in the city of Mumbai.