Business Standard Corporate Social Responsibility Awards 2016
The idea and name for Pratham
came from UNICEF, says Madhav Chavan, co-founder of the organisation that reaches close to six million students across the country. Chavan, whose association with illiteracy among the under-privileged in the country predates his life at the NGO, says he and Farida Lambay were tasked with the creation of a "societal mission" that would bring together business, civil society and the government to tackle the problem of education by UNICEF. Pratham
was born out of their collective efforts.
Chavan has been working in the field of adult literacy and "Pratham
was in a sense, a mere continuation of my interest," he says. Although there were several educational NGOs at the time, none had attempted to bring about change at the scale that Pratham
It was set up to address the problem of illiteracy. But as the team engaged more closely with the problem of education and its many manifestations, Pratham
saw its scope grow and expand beyond the original mandate. Today, it has a presence in nearly every state and its centres are operational in six other countries, too. It engages with students through direct teaching-learning interventions and through programmes being conducted in association with the government. According to the latest data available (annual report of 2014-15), Pratham
spent close to Rs 132 crore on a plethora of projects in the education sector.
Getting all stakeholders to view the problem of education through its lens has been the biggest battle that Pratham
says it has had to fight. It was clear to the founders early enough that it was not enough to get the children to school. There were gaping holes in the education system that needed to be fixed. "Our motto has been 'every child in school and learning well'. However, we found that the emphasis on part of the governments was on the first part and not on learning," Chavan says. But now "as the government of India has modified the Right to Education rules to include measurement of learning outcomes," he sees it as a major victory.
was also among the first NGOs to focus on providing documented research on the state of the problem in education. It brings out a comprehensive state-of-the-sector report called the Annual Status of Education Report or ASER that is considered to be the authoritative guide to the changes, achievements and problems in the sector. The reports have helped put forward their views and solutions with greater conviction. It has shown that "the reality that more than 50 per cent children in Class V cannot read, or do simple arithmetic can be corrected in just a few weeks," says Chavan.
Getting the government to listen and mould its programmes accordingly has been a big achievement. "You could say that we are seen as major contributors to shifting to a focus on learning outcomes, not only in India but globally," he adds. Of course, a lot more has to be done and unless education becomes a priority for all states, there is always the risk that the country's famed demographic dividend could turn into a demographic disaster, he warns.