On November 3rd, Pratham D.C. – the local chapter of the internationally renowned educational foundation, Pratham – held its first-ever fundraising gala in Vienna, VA. The event was a rousing success, attended by leaders of the region’s IndianAmerican community, whose combined generosity raised a healthy sum to educate disadvantaged children in India.
As the event’s principal sponsor the Murthy Law Firm played an important role in its success. Sheela Murthy, founder and president of the Murthy Law Firm, served as Master of Ceremonies and chief fundraiser for the evening. In a stirring appeal, Murthy spoke of her enthusiasm for Pratham’s work, sharing a very personal story about her commitment to philanthropy. “My father grew up poor,” Murthy told the audience. But despite his eventual success, he never forgot where he came from. “He always told us that only the accidents of birth separated us from the poor.” Her father constantly reminded her: “Sheela, you have a responsibility to help the less fortunate!”
Pratham is one of the largest educational NGOs in the world, and reaches 2.6 million Indian children each year. It works in 32 cities and countless rural villages throughout India. It neither builds schools nor runs them, but works as a catalyst for change, part of a public-private partnership to improve the quality of instruction in government schools.
The evening’s keynote speaker addressed this theme in detail. Dr. Shanta Devarajan, Chief Economist for the World Bank, discussed the urgent need to improve the quality of education in India. He hailed India’s recent progress toward the goal of universal education access, but stressed that increased enrollment is not sufficient by itself. The focus needs to be on what actually happens in the classroom, he said: on the quality of learning, on the extent to which children make meaningful progress learning to read and mastering basic math skills.
This is where Pratham comes in. Each year, Pratham volunteers fan out across India to test the math and reading achievement of more than 700,000 students. The results are issued in Pratham’s Annual Status of Education Report (ASER), which is now recognized as an invaluable tool in the struggle to improve India’s schools. According to Dr. Devarajan, ASER is invaluable precisely because it provides a reliable and objective measure of student educational achievement, one that actually is – and is perceived to be – above politics. Without getting tangled in politics, ASER gives critical feedback to parents, teachers, lawmakers, and other stakeholders who want to change the education system for the better.
Pratham’s work is not only changing lives in India, but across the developing world. Its success has drawn international attention and acclaim. Pratham’s initiative and success have inspired USAID, according to Natasha DeMarcken, who directs USAID’s Office of Education. DeMarcken told the audience that Pratham’s programs have become a template for educational improvement and civic involvement in 38 countries. This work is having a global impact, DeMarcken said, showing that it’s both necessary and possible to have – as Pratham’s motto urges – “every child in school and learning well.”
The Murthy Law Firm and MurthyNAYAK Foundation are proud to contribute to Pratham’s efforts. For more information, please visit Pratham’s website at www.prathamusa.org.
Copyright © 2012, SHEELA MURTHY. All Rights Reserved