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How Housewives Could Help Shape The Future Of India

31/05/2016 8:18 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:27 AM IST
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Sandipani Muni high school teacher, Vrindavan, Uttar Pradesh, India, Asia

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The Indian middle class is rising. This rise brings with it the comfort of outsourcing household work fairly cheaply. That has left the home-maker with little to do once the kids grow up. The increasing popularity of Ekta Kapoor and daily soap operas in the past 15 years bears testimony to this fact.

Meanwhile, the educational infrastructure has shown itself incapable of providing even basic schooling in a sound manner. While education is free in government schools, the quality of education is often very poor. The major reason for the bad quality is insufficiency of teachers, leading to large class sizes. Indeed, even children attending affluent schools usually complement their learning with tuition and coaching classes.

In the quiet corners of Vadodara, in Gujarat, an NGO has discovered the hidden social potential of housewives, especially in providing education to those who need it most. Pathshala, a brainchild of ex-educator Juin Datta, currently provides school-like education to 130 kids of all age groups. All the children come from families dwelling in footpaths and slums, and most are not enrolled in any school. To succeed, Pathshala relies heavily on its army of volunteers which comprises mostly urban housewives. Volunteers already have experience in teaching and taking care of kids as they have taught their own children previously. In a short span of three years, Pathshala has had a commendable impact, leading to the government supporting the initiative by providing premises, transport and food to the students.

To succeed, Pathshala relies heavily on its army of volunteers which comprises mostly urban housewives.

I'm not surprised that it works! It provides the volunteers with a sense of fulfillment and worthiness, and with an opportunity to contribute tangibly to society. My mother is a volunteer in the organization, and I noticed a clear rise in her self-confidence and self-worth post teaching. She is far from the only one. Talking to other volunteers, I realized that most of them were very serious about the endeavour, and went about their work in a professional manner. It works because the volunteers receive in terms of love and gratitude more than they give. This synergy is what makes the model sustainable.

The important question, though, is -- is this model scalable? If we implement the Pathshala model as it is, there is still scope of doing much more. The majority of the women in cities still do not work. Even in Bangalore, for example, only 25% women work. Even accounting for the fact that most volunteers would likely be over 45 years old, there is still a large number of potential volunteers. One pitfall of the model is that many housewives are ill-equipped to teach at the high-school level. Nonetheless, for primary and lower secondary education, the Pathshala experiment has proven its potential.

It works because the volunteers receive in terms of love and gratitude more than they give. This synergy is what makes the model sustainable.

The important cog, however, in scaling up the solution to its full potential, is technology. There has been a spurt of edu-tech startups in recent times, Khan Academy being the most notable and unique success. By providing free and high-quality courses online, and organizing the content in a relevant manner, Khan Academy has 10 million users worldwide already. It can thus play a big role in creating a virtual community of teachers and students, by providing the platform and the necessary tools to students, teachers and parents.

With the use of analytics, it is possible to provide quality and personalized educational content automatically. A teacher remains indispensable, however, since they can answer questions immediately, and follow up with the students to ascertain timely learning. Artificially intelligent course assistants are already a reality. While they are yet to be deployed on a large scale in education, it's not long before that happens. The bots obviously cannot replace humans, but they can reduce their workload considerably by responding intelligently and correctly to standard queries. This helps teachers handle more students at a time.

[T]he social potential of the urban housewife is yet to be fully unleashed. With efficient organization through technology, it would go a long way in helping educate India...

Here is how it all comes together. The problem with scaling the Pathshala model is not the lack of volunteers, but rather the need for a physical school. This requires considerable investment in terms of time and money. On the other hand, if one were to use the same model online, one could make considerable gains in efficiency. One volunteer could handle up to 100 students as opposed to a handful. With relevant analytics, we can even find the most effective teacher for every student and match accordingly. It would also help recruit volunteers who prefer avoiding the hassle of commuting. For students, not only will they have world-class education at their disposal, they would also have a personal teacher to clarify doubts.

Clearly, the social potential of the urban housewife is yet to be fully unleashed. With efficient organization through technology, it would go a long way in helping educate India, and thus shape India's future rapidly.

This post was first published on Idea Bhandaar.

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