education@BoP.in

April 24, 2010 at 11:49 pm 5 comments


The dissipated columns of glazed swanky residential apartments stand menacingly, overlooking a sea of squalid slums and shanty hovels. The elite upmarket school is bustling with the chatter of chubby pupils in spotless uniforms smartly creased by the tender hands of semi-clad children of the neighbourhood huts. The fancy headlight of the Lands Cruiser throws a blinding illumination on the footpath dweller as he scuttles his face away to a more benign direction! The stunning contradiction that is called India is mind numbing while the peaceful resignation and acceptance of the status quo could be very revolting, even nauseating, to the uninitiated on the reality of this nation.  

The vast mass of people who form, what has now come to be called as, the “bottom of the pyramid” or BoP in short, has been the subject of many scholarly studies. Theories propounded and postulates assumed on the nature and the cause of their poverty and definitive roadmaps proposed chartering which, their plight could be improved. The most magnificent of these scholars is Prof. C.K. Prahalad, who, instead of adopting a top-down approach of doling out largesse from outside, saw them as people quite proficient in shaping their own economic and social emancipation, given the right environment.  He argued that a more realistic method to improve their lot would be to increase their capacity to consume which in turn would enhance their ability to produce and thus contribute to generate additional income. He suggested, for example, that by making available world class hygiene products to the people at BoP, there would be lesser chances of people falling sick, freeing more hours and days to do productive work which would have a direct positive bearing on their incomes. Professor could thus convince many multinationals that there is a fortune to be made by serving this “bottom of the Pyramid” class which compelled them to package their products and services to the specific needs of this huge market. One rupee shampoos, fifty paise iodised salts, two rupee toothpastes, ten rupee mobile recharge and many umpteen products hit the stores in small sachets that re-defined the concept of rural marketing in the country. This “consumption led production led income generation” model of poverty alleviation has been the most singular and game altering contribution of our times that the generations to come would marvel at the foresight of Prof. Prahalad who passed away early last week. The world is truly indebted to this great genius whose hypotheses are based on sound business pragmatism and driven by compassion to the under-privileged.

While a consumption-led economic regeneration model would trigger great productive energies, it by itself will not be sufficient to permanently pull the people out from their impoverishments.  For, to consolidate the gains and ensure that people do not lapse back to poverty, there has to be a massive effort towards providing quality education, a task that, we as a nation can afford to ignore only at our own peril.  The enactment of basic education as a fundamental right is a recognition of the urgency of this task and many unique, novel and even seemingly bizarre strategies need to be adopted to bring to fructify this mission.

 Of the many initiatives that were tried out previously to bring the child to school and thus improve enrolment and retention, nothing has been as successful and revolutionary as the legendry noon-meal scheme.  Pioneered in the state of Tamil Nadu, it instantaneously led to a massive jump in school attendance and a rapid decline in drop-out rates. While more children in the classroom was a direct consequence of this program, with a meal a day, complete with dal and curry and an occasional egg, the nutritional status of the students showed marked improvement, a  huge spinoff of the program.  If one were to travel through the hinterlands of Tamil Nadu in the morning hours, he will not fail to see the sights of children marching to schools, not necessarily with a school bag but definitely, with a dented meal plate and a steel tumbler to accompany it.

But just as ridiculous as offering rituals in a temple where there is no deity, bringing children to schools where there are no quality teachers is making the entire state run education system, a public mockery.  And the one challenge that prevents primary education striking roots in the country is the near non- existent of trained and committed teachers, a yawning gap that requires out-of-the-box thinking and unconventional solutions to bridge. Given the numbers required, the traditional method of incremental training of teachers is just not enough. Do we have an alternate model to emulate?

 Some of the techniques deployed by few gurus in instructing their oriental teachings is worthy of closer examination and may offer a solution to the problem. The popularizing of Yoga by Ramdevji among the masses in a short period of time and preparing thousands of trainers in the art through a variety of techniques, including the use of mass media, is a definitive model that can provide valuable insights on transforming an idea into a mass mission.  If the intricate skills of yoga can thus be imparted en masse, there isn’t a reason why potential primary schools teachers cannot be trained in basic school education through the adoption of this method. But for this to happen, we need to go beyond the cliché argument of secular viz religious education and lavishly imbibe the spirit of these programs that ensure wide acceptance.

In short, we need to look for solutions closer at home than transplant an alien remedy that could prove worse than the disease.

Yours

Narayanan

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Entry filed under: National.

Pearls and the pebbles The Mosquito syndrome

5 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Balakrishnan  |  April 25, 2010 at 3:38 pm

    Let me thank you for invoking Prof Prahlad whose untimely demise has rendered us all poorer. I regard him as of the same mettle and genre as Peter Drucker who passed away a few years back.

    The focus on Bottom of Pyramid is apt for India. In fact it was tailor made for all the third world countries. The inherent strength of the ‘BoP’ can be brought out by empowering them. The return on investment would be much larger in case of those on the lower strata of society.

    I always firmly believed that the country’s economy could gain immensely by enhancing the purchasing power of the poorest of the poor.

    I fail to understand why the corporate giants fail to comprehend this basic truth.

    Focus on basic sanitation, health, roads and shelter and the country could surge ahead rapidly by leaps and bounds.

    Reply
  • 2. umesh jairam  |  April 25, 2010 at 7:45 pm

    My tributes to Prof Prahlad. Yes one can agree to the thought-process of Prof Prahlad.

    I have seen the students of TN going in Govt Buses without paying any ticket charges. So the initiative by the Govt is worth mentioning. But there other States where the students and Govt come to clash-point level for petty reasons.

    Everything is possible in anythere, the the instinct should be there.

    Reply
    • 3. chapter18  |  April 25, 2010 at 8:16 pm

      Thanks Balu & Umesh for the comments. The purpose was to highlight our indigenous intelligence in solving mammoth problems and there are many tried and tested homegrown models that are just waiting to be explored.

      Reply
  • 4. faizan  |  April 26, 2010 at 11:54 am

    My tribute to Prof. Prahalad.
    The corporates have readily accepted his profound theories and also to an extent implemented it.

    But the problem that persists in the education system is a part of the problem that our governing system is facing. The corruption in the system has reached to the core. From a peon to an IAS officer to a politician the corruption cycle persists. And surpringly the mentality of an average indian too is affected by this corruption that persists the Indian society today.

    So implementation of this idea ie BoP – the down up approach has happend to an extent but can’t be implemented to the core unless and until the corrupted system is changed and hence improved, which is a very tough task.

    Reply
  • 5. Dona  |  April 26, 2010 at 12:01 pm

    I like the analysis of media’s role in furthuring positive social transformation – an area that should inspire extensive research.

    Reply

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