Murthy Law Firm founder and president, Sheela Murthy, was master of ceremonies at an April 24th, dinner honoring Dr. Madhav Chavan, founder and CEO of India’s renowned educational nonprofit, Pratham. The event was held at Bombay Tandoor in Vienna, Virginia, and hosted by Pratham’s Washington D.C. chapter. The Murthy Law Firm was a proud sponsor of the gathering, which brought together a Who’s Who of the region’s IndianAmerican business elite – people who recognize the importance of Dr. Chavan’s mission: “Every child in school and learning well.”
Ms. Murthy introduced Dr. Chavan, praising his work as an educator and social entrepreneur, work that has touched the lives of millions of poor children in India – and in several other countries that have adopted his methods, including Pakistan, Kenya, Tanzania, and Ghana. Dr. Chavan is a philanthropist, a visionary and a leader, Murthy said – an internationally recognized innovator who received the 2012 WISE Education Award – an honor widely considered to be the equivalent of a Nobel Prize for education – and with characteristic generosity, donated the $500,000 prize money back to Pratham.
Dr. Chavan recounted his journey back to India from the United States, where he earned a Ph.D. in chemistry and taught at the University of Houston. When he returned to India in the 1980s, he saw it through different eyes, and found it impossible to ignore the glaring problems of illiteracy and educational inequality. Dr. Chavan said he felt a strong responsibility to help the least fortunate, not simply to resume his teaching career among the privileged few. He said this sense of social obligation was something he learned from his parents, trade unionists and freedom fighters that were deeply involved in India’s struggle for liberation.
Where is Pratham today? Dr. Chavan said his organization has continued to focus on building literacy skills for younger children – helping them learn to read so they can read to learn. To do this, Pratham has trained an army of volunteer teachers; in exchange for their assistance, Pratham helps them to find jobs. To address the needs of young adults, Pratham has established public-private partnerships that provide vocational training in several growth industries, like hospitality, banking, and construction.
Pratham also helps government policymakers and NGOs to diagnose problems in the Indian educational system. Each year, through its Annual Status of Education Report (ASER), Pratham provides an unbiased statistical snapshot of Indian educational achievement, down to the local level. Using ASER’s objective and apolitical metrics, solutions can be carefully tailored to the true dimensions of the problems facing students, teachers, schools, and the educational agencies that serve them.
The numbers can be deceiving at times, Dr. Chavan cautioned. You need to focus on the relevant statistics to truly understand the situation. We can no longer mark educational progress by showing that X million children are in school for Y years, he said. It’s far more important to evaluate learning outcomes, measuring the extent to which children are acquiring the skills they need to be successful adults: workers, citizens, and parents of the next generation. He noted that the U.N.’s new Millennium Development Goals are now focused – as they should be – on educational outcomes.
Dr. Chavan inspired the audience with a message of hope, showing how much can be achieved through the power of volunteerism when it is well organized and carefully channeled. He gave food for thought to an audience that is deeply interested in making a difference in the lives of India’s poor children.
The MurthyNAYAK Foundation is honored to be among Pratham’s longtime supporters. For more information on this important work, visit www.pratham.org.
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