Use design thinking, innovation to break shackles of learning outcomes
NewsX was recently joined by Vineet Nayar, founder and chairman of Sampark Foundation, and former CEO of HCL Technologies, for an exclusive conversation as part of its special series NewsX India A-List, wherein he spoke about his foundation and education system in India.
Talking about the Sampark Foundation, Nayar said, “It is a very interesting story. I was, as you are aware, CEO and Vice-Chairman of HCL Technologies and I had just written a book called ‘Employees First, Customer Second’, which sold very well, and New York Times had just done an article on the book. So, I was feeling very good, my head was about ten times larger than what you see today. I made a mistake by walking up to my mother, who was a school teacher and told her, “Look, how proud you should be of your son and aren’t you lucky that this son was born to you”. She, being a school teacher, took out a copy, tore it in half and wrote one word on it, put it in a used envelope, sealed it and said, “When you are flying internationally, read it on the flight.”
“I was going to New York that night and I opened the envelope on the flight, which had one word written on it. The word was ‘Enough’. So, I landed in New York, called up my mother and asked her, “What does this word ‘enough’ mean?” She said, “If you don’t understand it, you will understand it on your way back”, and I did. There comes a time in life when you have achieved the financial security you need, you have achieved the level of recognition for your professional work, which you need. That’s the time you need to say- ‘Enough’ and quit those two goals and dedicate yourself to try and bring about a change in the country so that you can give back. Because, the reason for your success, I very strongly believe, is because your family and the country as a family made you successful. You are not successful because of yourself. Therefore, one-third of your life you should dedicate yourself to making sure that, those people who made you successful are better off than they were without you and that is how the Sampark Foundation really began.”
Speaking about the goal of the foundation, Vineet Nayar said, “Since my mother was a teacher and my wife, Anukhma is also a special education teacher, we started the Sampark Foundation and we had committed a large sum of funds from our family to invest in the field of education. When we saw the field of education, we realized that there are about 15 crore children in our government system. Almost 50% of them in Grade 5, cannot read Grade 2 texts or solve basic mathematical problems. So, the learning outcome in our schooling system was very large and what was also alarming, was that 37% of the children enrolled in government schools were getting out of schools by Grade 5. Therefore, they were going to the labour pool. So, me, my wife and my mother decided that we are going to spend all our might, all our design thinking, creative thinking, all our resources to try and see if we can help the government in solving this problem to a certain extent. That is the reason we chose education. The second decision we had to take was: do we want to do it small or do we do it at a large scale. Because India is a very large country and therefore, it was very important for us to attempt a change at a very large scale. There were some very good experiments happening at small scales, so we decided to experiment at a large scale. So today, we have 1 crore children in our program in 84,000 schools in 6 states. The learning outcome improvement is about 34% year on year. All this is possible because we used design thinking and innovation to try and break the shackles of learning outcomes”.
When asked about the biggest challenges or problems in the Indian education system and how Sampark Foundation is working towards overcoming these problems, Nayar said, “I think the biggest problem in education has to do with poor learning outcome, the fact that especially in rural areas, the resources, the quality of teaching and teachers is poor and therefore, neither the teacher is interested nor the child is interested. Therefore, the learning outcome continues to go down. The amount of resources required to bring about a change is very, very large. In addition to this problem, we suddenly, because of Covid had a massive setback. When the children are sitting at home, then when they get detached from education even for one year, they lose interest in education. Once they lose interest in education then even those children who were self-driven would not be able to come back. So, Sampark Foundation used design thinking extensively, to find out how we can make education exciting. We were inspired by Bollywood and especially with Vidya Balan’s voice in Munnabhai M.B.B.S., when she says, ‘Good morning Mumbai’. So, we said, how can we bring the song and dance of Bollywood and equivalent voice of Vidya Balan into the classroom, using a rechargeable audio device and teach Math and English with song, dance, fun and suddenly ignite the classroom and make learning exciting or fun based. Can we surround that innovation with other teaching and learning innovation? Therefore, suddenly going to school is all about fun. So, we did that, we rolled it out to 1 crore children and it was very successful and then came Covid. Now, when Covid came it became very important for us to do two things. First, to be in touch with the teachers to make sure that the teacher is interested in education. So, we launched an app called ‘Sampark Smartshala’, where there are almost 20 lakh views on a monthly basis. Second, we encouraged the teachers to use loudspeakers in the villages, in marriage halls, mandirs, mosques and use ‘Sampark Tv’ and the audio device to keep on teaching the children, while they are sitting at home so that the interest in learning continues. So, our focus in the Sampark Foundation is to drive cutting edge design thinking, to try and solve the unsolvable problem in a very frugal way. All interaction in the Sampark Foundation, costs less than 1$ per child.”