Agency Reflection: Diksha Srishyla

About 1 million children are out of school in India. This is a lot lesser than the 2001 figure of 32 million, which indicates substantial progress. However, now the problem is with quality of education and sustenance of these government policies and schools that were established to enroll more children. There are several infrastructural shortcomings in the governmental education system of India; teachers forging their degrees or not showing up to class regularly, no chairs/desks in classrooms, not enough reading/writing material for students and ultimately, lack of motivation on part of the students to go to school due to these issues. Ultimately, there is no monitoring or ‘quality control’ system to ensure the upkeep of this infrastructure.

The problem is compounded by the country’s huge population and multifaceted development profile, bringing with it demands for improvement in various public sectors that requires the government to allocate budget on a number of other issues than education alone. There are also bureaucratic shortcomings in the Indian government, or governmental institutions set up to tackle the educational infrastructure problem; money allocated for the betterment of such crucial infrastructure is often embezzled due to corruption or not used appropriately for the allocated purpose.

I started volunteering for Vibha Minnesota in February 2015. Vibha is a social venture catalyst that originated in India, spread to the US as masses of Indians immigrated to the US over the decade and now has several chapters established across the country. Vibha works according to a ‘seed, scale and grow’ model. This entails seeking out already-established grassroots-level NGO’s that work with the target population (underprivileged children, girls, families), monitoring their mission and direction, selecting certain ones to fund and then continuously monitoring them to ensure they use the allocated funds appropriately.

Vibha’s approach has been very successful and has impacted the lives of 300,000 children since 1991. Here is a figure to demonstrate the ‘seed, scale, grow’ model from the report of one project that Vibha sponsored along with other donors.

There are numerous NGO’s in India that focus on a range of issues like teaching girls to code, teaching art to street kids and providing mental rehabilitation to disabled children. There are also corporates and social venture catalysts that work to fund and keep these efforts going. However, it is not an easy task to get 1.4 million children to go to school and keep them there; the numbers are still overwhelming.
So what more needs to be done to sustain these efforts, and who should do it? In my view, when the government is unable to keep up with the demand for services, non-governmental groups and individuals must take the brunt of action; it is after all, an issue within our society that we are seeking to improve. This responsibility hence lies with grassroots NGO’s, corporate social responsibility groups and venture catalysts like Vibha. Here are a few specific ways I think further action could be taken:

Outside of India:
● More NRI’s like myself must get involved with fundraising efforts in their countries through organizations like Vibha; funds raised outside of India in countries of higher currency value get converted to a larger amount than funds raised in Indian currency, helping fund more children at a time
● Several students in the US study abroad to gain service or professional experience. Universities could set up study abroad programs focused on teaching and education in India, which would be similar to a ‘Teach for America’ experience, just in India. This would help bring some dedicated, qualified people to teach in Indian government schools.
Within India:
● Well established, private schools could partner with a government school in their vicinity to provide training/workshops for teachers, donate school resources like desks and notebooks, and could even have a ‘buddy’ program that pairs students from the private school with those in the governmental school, and instil peer education on a weekly basis
● Those who employ servants with children must encourage them to attend school, and possibly support them financially

Many countries in the world have underprivileged children that need to be educated. Each country’s governmental and societal scenario entails solving the problem in a different way. By volunteering for Vibha, this is what I have learned and feel about how the problem in India must be tackled.

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