How Sharath Jeevan Is Making a Difference to Kids In India

By Shlomo Maital   

                 Jeevan        Sharath Jeevan

     “Ninety-five percent of kids in India have access to free government schools within a half-mile of where they live,” says Sharath Jeevan, “a distance of 800 meters. The problem is that many of these schools offer poor-quality education. The average Indian fifth grader reads like a second grader in Britain or the U.S. Two-thirds of them can’t read a paragraph or do simple fractions.”

     I’ve found that a key differentiator between innovators and those who just have ideas is that the former, innovators, act, while the latter, ideators, just gripe. 

     Jeevan, originally from India, got a superb education abroad, then worked with a top consultancy and now with eBay in London.  Each time he visited Mumbai, his home town, he became upset.  Free public education is great. But it has to educate.  So here is what he did. *

     Schools and Teachers Innovating for Results will be officially introduced on Monday in Delhi.  Backed by funding from the British Department for International Development and a number of British charities, STIR has spent the past 15 months researching the most successful “micro-innovations” — small, inexpensive, easy-to-implement changes — in classrooms across India.  “We visited 300 schools and conducted 600 face-to-face meetings, speaking to over 3,000 teachers,” Jeevan said in an interview at the STIR office in London. “Indian teachers are used to thinking of themselves as instruments of a ministry or of government policy,” Mr. Jeevan said. “It was the first time many of them had been asked about anything.”

   “Through innovation, we wanted to get teachers to think of themselves more seriously — as professionals,” he said. “The idea is to create a platform to collect the best of these micro-innovations, test them to see if they work, and then take them to scale. There are 1.3 million schools in India, so scale is a huge problem.”

    Some of the ideas, recounted in STIR materials, will sound familiar to parents in wealthier countries.

   * At Majeediya Madarsa-e-Jadeed, a school catering to a predominantly Muslim community in Seelampur, Iram Mumshad, a teacher, noticed that parents, many of whom worked as day laborers, seemed unaware of how to support their children’s education. To engage parents, the school started incorporating their feedback on children’s behavior at home into school reports, building relationships between teachers and parents, and underlining the importance of parental support.

 *  At Babul Uloom, a public school in one of the poorest neighborhoods in East Delhi, Sajid Hasan realized that his students started school with fewer learning skills than students from wealthier parts of the city — a gap that seemed to increase with each passing month. So Mr. Hasan, a member of the Teach for India program that puts young, highly motivated teachers in some of the country’s toughest schools, decided to give his students extra time to catch up by extending the school day for two hours.

   “India normally has one of the shortest school days in the world,” Mr. Jeevan said. Most schools finish by 1 p.m. The two extra hours, he said, “gives the children more time to learn and also more structure in their lives. It also helps the teachers to focus on the students’ current level to help get them to where they need to be.”      

    *  Students at the S.R. Capital School in Shahadra struggled with the poetry included in the curriculum, yet they all seemed well versed in the latest Bollywood hits. So Bindu Bhatia, their teacher, fit the words of the texts studied in class to the tune of popular songs, then encouraged the students to perform the poems, making classes more fun and giving students added confidence in approaching potentially daunting material.

   STIR is designed to allow innovative teachers to feel like they are part of a network. “Small changes in practice can make a big difference in the classroom,” Mr. Jeevan said. “But what matters more in the long term is the change in how teachers think of themselves.”

   I think STIR can easily be adapted to every country in the world.  Let’s stimulate innovation at the ground floor, at the level of the classroom teacher.  Who can do it better than they?

 *   “In India, Making Small Changes on a Large Scale”  By D. D. GUTTENPLAN,  Global New York Times,  March 3, 2013.