Celebrating small successes with out-of-school children in India

July 12, 2017Shukla Bose

The newly released UNESCO report should raise alarm amongst educators and policy makers across the world because it throws up evidence that basic education is given the lowest of priorities not only in developing countries but also across many developed countries that decide on aid. As many as 124 million children and adolescents worldwide are out of school, 17.7 million — or 14 per cent of whom are Indian.

I quit my corporate career about 18 years ago and have been working in the social sector full-time ever since. What I find distressing is that while the demand for good education has increased amongst the poorer sections of the population, however, the country’s commitment to providing quality education to help the poor climb up the economic scale has actually decreased. There is an occasional rumble with new education policies being drafted but it takes too long to finally roll it out into the state education system and much of the damage continues. Many of us educators believe that the Kothari Commission of 1966 was a visionary document of what education in our country should be like, but unfortunately not much of it has actually been implemented even to date. There have been four policies since then and another one is on its way. Each policy says the right things and chalks out a way that would change our scenario but sorely lacks a constructive execution plan. SarvaSikshaAbhiyan (SSA), RTE are great ideas but in a country as vast and layered like ours, these ideas take a long time to be understood, accepted and then executed. And by the time it gets an identity, the grassroots operators have already found loopholes by which to avoid its implementation.

With this as a background any well-intended person will be flummoxed by the most basic question of ‘Where does one start?” I have had a number of young idealistic and highly energetic people meet me for mentoring. I am swayed by their enthusiasm, which is impressive. I am also somewhat amused with their grandiose plans of impacting millions of lives in Year One, and a few more millions in the years thereafter. I wish them well but also remind them that it is not the numbers that will denote success. Success is the depth of impact in the community we work with and not the spread. I have always believed in the multiplier effect that can work if we can create deep impact on just a few.

When we get caught up with numbers we plan differently and many a times we even get too daunted to begin. So, I tell my mentees that it is okay to begin small but do a great job with whatever number we deal with. Wasn’t it Mother Teresa who said, “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.”

Social sector should never get caught with the start-up business trend where numbers determine growth and good investment. In our work world every single life saved is a great success story.

It may sound professional and businesslike to spew about processes and systems that would work on its own. But it is not only the processes but also the people that make the real difference. The human interface is what makes social work very challenging but also invigorating. All I can say is that social field workers will be sometimes physically drained but emotionally alive. In our kind of work there is no concept of “burn out”. In fact it is the burnt out people that come to our work for solace and meaning. In that sense our NGO Parikrma has been a watering hole for many injured souls and we have had no problem with that.

Here too we need people who will have the patience and forbearance and not expect a quick turnaround. We need rigor and grit that keeps you together even when things don’t work your way. We need to keep an eye on the bottom line but also on the horizon. And that is possible when we see small successes and learn to celebrate them. Every day in the lives of our children count and every star stamp we get on our hands is a reason to celebrate.

With each small success well recognized, the numbers pile up and scale automatically happens.

So, whatever UNESCO may report next time we feel that even if we are not in the orbit of world debates, we are doing a great job because our children grow up with us and fly away one day.


Shukla Bose is the Founder of Parikrma Foundation. She is interested in child development, women empowerment, education transformation & impact dynamics. Read more of her recent blogs here.

Photo Credits: Parikrma Foundation

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