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In Conversation With E.S. Ramamurty

Nirmala Garimella

E.S.Ramamurthy runs an NGO, called 'Sikshana', based in Karnataka.  He worked in the public and private sector in India and was the CEO of BHEL for a number of years.  He is now doing exceptional work with the Karnataka state government school system to improve and enhance the quality of public school education.. His philosophy is reflected in his signature email that has a quote from Martin Luther King Jr:  “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter”. When he talks about Sikshana, the passion and commitment is unmistakable and it is difficult not be inspired by his talk although he admits that what he would want best from the listener is whether he or she  can resonate with his cause sufficiently to make the difference.

Sikshana has won appreciation from the President of India, Dr Abdul Kalam Azad and has the accreditation and approval from Credibility Alliance. Sikshana also shares a partnership with GIVE foundation, Asha for Education and AID, USA.

Mr. Ramamurthy has been touring the US sharing his thoughts on the work of Sikshana and had returned from a trip at Cleveland where he delivered a talk to the Association for India’s development. Lokvani talked to him about his work and the progress that Sikshana has brought to the public school system.

What is Sikshana and how did you get started on this?

Sikhana is an effort at a breakthrough in the public education system. We are not building new schools or offering other alternatives to education. The performance of the public school system is India is dismal at most and Sikshana acts as a facilitator to improve the quality of education at a grassroots level in partnership with the state government.

How did Sikshana take root? After I sought voluntary retirement from BHEL, a group of friends and I wanted to explore the school system in Karnataka as we saw that education is a great tool for social change. After doing some research and studying the performance in these schools we wanted to apply some methods learnt through working in an industry to see what works and what doesn’t. The questions we asked were what factors were responsible for this quality of education? Why do 50% of children drop out after 5th grade? Why do they fail in the 7th standard and why do so many never reach High School? Most of the parents of these children are masons, carpenters and maids etc. So they see the school as a day care facility and do not have any idea if these kids are getting aquality education.

That is how Sikshana started. The Government has a scheme which allows NGO’s to adopt schools and we started with 5 schools and now have 28 schools under our wing. Our aim is to make sure that every child can read and write, compute, calculate and learn the basics at a certain level so he or she can never be exploited.

How do you approach the schools and the children to better their performance?
A school voluntarily comes forward to participate in the program and we help and guide them to find its own solutions to problems. The headmaster and the teachers strive to work as a team along with the parents and the community to achieve the goals where motivation of the teacher and the child towards excellence becomes the focus of all plans and activities. We ask the headmaster and teachers as to what will help to motivate a child to learn. They come up with a list that they think will help and we guide them to accomplish some of these requirements. The children too start getting involved when they know that somebody is showing interest in them.

So what are the resources you provide?
We help by suppling books/ note books, teaching aids etc. We motivate kids to excel through prizes and scholarships. Some schools have more students than teachers and we institute additional teachers to help balance the ratio. We build additional classrooms, sometimes enhance the surroundings so kids will be motivated and make sure there is adequate supply of power, water and sanitation. We have also installed PC’s in some schools and we train the teachers in multimedia content. Sometimes we offer field trips to the students and at one instance they made a trip to New Delhi which was very successful.

How is Sikhana unique from other educational efforts?
We work from within the system to enhance learning levels. Our focus is on keeping the child and the teacher motivated by providing them resources and using the money wisely for implementing innovative ideas

What evaluation and assessment methods do you adopt to know whether the methods are successful?
A model developed by Azim Premji Foundation is being used for quantitative assessment of schools. This has since been adopted by the Government too as a part of their program of Quality Assurance Test and  is conducted by an independent agency  The schools show different levels of improvement on account of unique social/ local conditions.

What have been some of Sikshana major achievements?
We have grown to 28 schools/ 8500 kids in four years. We have also noticed that more kids are joining school. Some have even come back to the school from other private schools and we have 100% pass rate in the 7th std public exams. Teachers are showing greater motivation and other schools are inspired to do the same. Most important, case studies have shown a marked improvement in grades, motivation and involvement of the student in these schools.
Where do you see Sikshana going in the future?
 Funds are always the critical need so we are looking for adequate funding from individuals and corporations so we can sustain the existing schools. We are hoping to study the feasibility of franchising this concept in other interested States. We would  also like to strengthen our volunteer base. This will help us work closer toward our mission of having a greateer impact in the schools.

  For more information about Sikshana or for any further details please contact  "ES Ramamurthy" at esrmurthy@yahoo.com
Or visit http//www.sikshana.org

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