SFPI: Creating a virtuous cycle of educational upliftment

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By Education Today

Posted on January 14, 2021


12 min read

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‘Education has the power to transform lives, and that’s why we chose to start our philanthropic journey with education,’ says Mrs. Kumari Shibulal, Founder and Chairperson, The Shibulal Family Philanthropic Initiatives. Excerpts from her interview with Education Today…

  1. Please brief us about the Shibulal Family Philanthropic Initiatives and its various educational initiatives.

The Shibulal Family Philanthropic Initiatives (SFPI) was born out of a sense of responsibility to society, and has been actively supporting those in need through initiatives in education, healthcare and organic farming for the last 20 years. Both Shibu and I believe that we owe much of our achievements to Education we received. Education has the power to transform lives, and that’s why we chose to start our philanthropic journey with education. All our initiatives: Vidyadhan, Ankur, The Samhita Academy, Vidyarakshak, or ShikshaLokam are based on the premise of supporting the underserved communities and providing them with opportunities to build a better future through quality education. In each of the initiatives that we have taken up, we have found that there is an opportunity to collaborate with other nonprofits and with external sponsors. The models differ, but in each one partnering with others has proven to be vital to expanding the reach and impact of the work.

‘Vidyadhan’ provides need-based scholarships to students to pursue higher education. Meritorious students from underserved communities are provided with financial support starting from 11th standard till they complete their graduation in a degree of their choice. We also help them learn life and employment related skills for a smoother ride ahead. 

A new model of the programme named ‘Each One, Teach One’ was launched in 2014, which makes this programme more scalable and self-sustainable covering 10 states in India. This new model brings together interested sponsors and students on an easy-to-use platform with utmost transparency and without administrative hassle. The scholars in the program also commit to ‘pay it forward’, by sponsoring future students in need, once they become self-reliant. It is a matter of great pride to SDF that currently there are 4000 students including  238 doctors, 633 engineers, 250+ students in professional courses (Nursing, Pharma, Agriculture, B.Com., Arts etc.) in the program. Our vision is to increase its impact from 17,000 scholarships in 10 States to 100,000 scholafrships in all States in the next 5-7 years.

A new state Delhi was added to the Vidyadhan program this year. We have received a good response and expect the online tests for Delhi to also commence shortly. 

Armed with the belief that “Every child deserves a chance”, Ankur aims at bridging the gaps, translating into reality the constitutional right to education, and providing equal opportunity to children from the underprivileged sections of society. It envisages ending the vicious circle of deprivation, failure and dropping out, and creating in its stead a virtuous circle of care, attention, encouragement and support through a holistic education aimed at overall development.  

In order to achieve this aim, a novel method has been evolved, where children are taken at a young age. Ankur assumes complete responsibility for their physical and emotional well being as well as their education. The parent-child bond is nurtured through regular visits, however, the future of the child is essentially moulded and secured by Ankur. The children are housed in a campus in comfortable hostels, with house-mothers to look after them. They attend the Samhita Academy, a quality English medium school set up by the Advaith Foundation in the same campus, along with children from upper middle class families. They are provided with the same opportunities and extra-curricular activities that are available to the fee-paying students. As they grow up, they will also be guided to make appropriate choices based on their talents and aspirations. 

The ‘Vidyarakshak’ is scholarship program for the children of martyrs from the Central Armed Police Forces vide BSF, CRPF, CISF, ITBP, SSB & Assam Rifles from across India. For administrative guidence in the execution of the Vidyarakshak scholarship, we solicit the help of the Ministry of Home Affairs towards identifying and verifying the credentials of the students. 

Our ‘ShikshaLokam’ initiative works towards solving the gaps that exist in education-leadership development space and improving the agency of actors in the ecosystem. 

We have partnered with Mantra4Change to work on ‘EduMentum’, a three-year incubation programme that supports early-stage non-profit organizations working on empowering 100 change leaders in the next five years who can lead an educational transformation across India. 

We support the higher education of sports persons from Karnataka with our ‘Vidya Kreeda’ initiative.

 Apart from the education sector, our initiative ‘Akshaya Shree Award’ focuses on rewarding and empowering rural communities by promoting organic farming.  

The Ayur Raksha program focuses on providing medical care to paediatric patients with life threatening conditions. Till date we have supported over 3282 paediatric surgeries.

I am a firm believer of ‘what goes around comes around’. We hope that the beneficiaries of the Shibulal Family Philanthropic Initiatives will help others in future thus creating a virtuous cycle of uplifting each other.  

  1. How, you think, the government could help in promoting quality education among deprived and discriminated sections of the population?

I feel the government has made commendable efforts in promoting quality education for all. For example In order to focus on quality education, the Central rules to the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education (RTE) Act, 2009 have been amended to include references on class-wise, subject-wise learning outcomes. These would serve as a guideline for state and Union Territories to ensure that all children acquire appropriate levels of learning. Also, The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education (Amendment) Act, 2018 has been notified on January 11, 2019. This Act looks into empowering the appropriate government to take a decision as to whether to hold back a child in class 5 or in class 8. The Central Government has launched an integrated scheme for school education called Samagra Shiksha, w.e.f. 2018-19 which subsumes the three erstwhile Centrally Sponsored schemes of school education.

The common objectives of all these schemes has enabled to promote equity through the inclusion of disadvantaged groups.

  1. As an organization working in the education space, what are your thoughts on the current education arena and NEP 2020?

COVID has put us in an unprecedented situation. Technology has ensured that we are able to connect with students and teachers. Now we need to leverage technology to maximize this reach and also devise means to make reforms scalable and more encompassing of the different needs.

There is a paradigm shift that we are witnessing in the education sector in India over the last few months. Schools and teachers have been forced to adapt to e-learning, moving beyond the traditional way of teaching. Teachers have embraced this new trend, hoping to return to the classrooms soon.

The National Education Policy 2020 (NEP 2020), outlines the vision for India’s new education system. It is a major directional document, which needs proper implementation to be effective. There is a need to understand the recommendations and make preparations to implement it effectively. 

This Policy proposes the revision and revamping of all aspects of the education structure, including its regulation and governance. The new system reflects the aspirational goals of 21st century education for India. It is also in line with Sustainable Development Goals 4, while building upon India’s traditions and value systems. 

NEP gives a special focus on the National Research Foundation because innovation is important for a country to progress. Not only will it give importance to students’ practical knowledge instead of just pushing them towards rote learning but also will help the students to develop scientific temper from a young age.

The NEP also aims to make it easier to set up new quality higher educational institutes which will be at par with global standards as it will make it easier for foreign colleges to set up their campuses here. This will give the students an opportunity to get international exposure. 

  1. With online learning becoming the new normal, what transformations are you planning to bring into your working strategy?

The Vidyadhan summer training was conducted entirely online this year unlike the previous years. The student participation was pro-active and the online platform enabled us to widen the sphere of interactions that the students could gain from. A wider spectrum of people from diverse fields could interact with the students. It also enabled continuation of training/guidance beyond a fixed timeframe.

Another online initiative this year has been – “V-Charcha”. In V-Charcha, sponsors get together with the students they have sponsored alongwith the Vidyadhan team for an online/virtual interaction. It has proved to be a valuable new mentoring opportunity for the students and has helped the bond between the sponsors and the students. 

  1. Could you throw some light on your association with international organizations and how these collaborations helped to spruce up the educational charity work in the country?

This year on 14th February, we collaborated with Ms. Peggy Dulany, Founder and Chair – Synergos. Ms. Dulany is known for co-founding the Synergos Global Philanthropists Circle with her father, the late David Rockefeller. We plan to jointly commission a comprehensive report on ‘How India Gives’, which aims to bring insights and provide concrete data on philanthropy in India. Our country has always had a rich culture of charitable giving but still we rank at 82nd place among 128 countries as per the World Giving Index, 2019. This is because philanthropic efforts in India are largely unorganised and informal. We hope this comprehensive report will create a richer understanding of how India gives so that more individuals are encouraged to give back to the society.

  1. What Challenges are you facing at these times and how you are planning to overcome them?

COVID-19 threw up unprecedented challenges for us as it did for everyone else. However, we have turned these challenges into opportunities.  For instance, COVID has removed most of the fear and misgivings parents and teachers had in leveraging technology for education. Previously, we had a residential training programme for all the new entrees. However, owing to the pandemic this year, we were compelled to conduct it online, which we did, leveraging technology.

Our children attended the classes regularly and the feedback we received was sometimes better than the previous years’ score! One of the areas we focus on training is building life skills. Our corporate sponsors like UST Global and Flex India actively participated in this training and also conducted technical webinars that were open to all Vidyadhan students.  However, there were around 20% students whom we could not reach through online coaching due to lack of infrastructure. We are in the process of figuring out a solution for the same.

Similarly, this year the entire selection process including tests and interviews will be done online. We are also mindful of the fact that some of the really needy students may not be able to attend online tests due to infrastructure issues and have decided to reach out to them over the phone. We have also increased the number of students who will be covered under the online coaching program for competitive exams like NEET/ JEE since not everybody has the same access to quality education during the lockdown.

As more and more classes shift online, the sections of society that do not have access to smartphones, laptops and networks are severely disadvantaged. This digital divide may create more challenges for the underserved if we do not collectively address this right away.

One of the things we did was to reach out to those most impacted by lockdown by providing them with grocery kits with the help of Vidyadhan partners and volunteers. We provided 11000 kits across the states we were in; many of our sponsors partnered with us in the distribution of the kits and identifying beneficiaries.

Through our initiative – ShikshaLokam, we have been engaging with various state governments in co-designing COVID response for public schools in ensuring continuity of learning, despite school closure. 

Schools were making a shift from the conventional chalk-talk teaching model to digital learning and adapting to the new normal. Moreover, teachers and School Leaders had to unlearn and learn a lot during this pandemic. As an Education Leadership platform, ShikshaLokam has supported and co-designed multiple capacity building and digital process orchestration programs across states. 

Some examples of each are as follows: 

– Digital Process Orchestration:

ShikshaLokam has been working with the state of Punjab’s Department of Education towards driving systemic reforms. To support learning at home, parents were engaged in regular Virtual Parent Teachers Meetings. Early this September, more than 25 lakh parents were reached using phone or video calls. Teachers made an effort to understand their challenges and shared productive learning practices at home. Using ShikshaLokam’s application (Darpan), the department could get real-time visibility into the challenges of parents and could offer systemic response, e.g. coherence in learning resources being disseminated through multiple channels like TV, Radio and learning apps was worked towards.

– Capacity Building:

A self-learning program for over 180,000 teachers called the Comprehensive Learning Enhancement Programme (CLEP) was launched in Andhra Pradesh leveraging ShikshaLokam platform. Similarly, a virtual capacity building program for education leaders (CRPs, HMs) was implemented in Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh.

Thus, ShikshaLokam has continuously been enabling educational leaders to lead improvements, and shape their own professional development journey amidst the ongoing crisis.