January 2016 | Cynthia Rodrigues

Equity and excellence

Linking the Tata Trusts' initiatives in the education sector to improving the overall quality of life of the community has worked to the advantage of beneficiaries

The Tata Trusts approaches education through two ways: backing state-level initiatives in regions with challenging social development indicators and by supporting innovation through partnerships with NGOs.

Students make digital story presentations as part of the Trusts’ Integrated Approach to Technology in Education

Through the state initiatives, Tata Trusts endeavours to address the needs of the people of that region in order to achieve an improvement in the quality of life, and not just to address health or education or livelihood in silos.

The lack of significant and contextually appropriate early childhood literature, particularly in regional and tribal languages, convinced the Trusts of the need to develop such literature. Parag, an initiative of the Trust, is working with writers and illustrators to create literature, in multiple languages, that is better suited to the local context and milieu.

Tara Sabavala, associate director, Tata Trusts, says, “Children must have avenues to practise their understanding of a language. Stories provide that link between what a child learns in the classroom, and what the child can apply, in a manner that makes the learning fun and enjoyable. A child should not only read textbooks.”

Technology in education is another focus area. The Tata Trusts recognises the potential of technology in education and the need to go beyond making children digitally literate to using technology as a tool to enhance learning of concepts and subjects.

Ms Sabavala says, “Web-based technology allows the use of 3D, games and other devices that hold the interest of children and make them engage with the content. We are seeing these technology spaces more as learning labs than just computer classrooms.”

One of the biggest initiatives that it is about to launch is CLIx, Connected Learning Initiative. This initiative has been jointly designed and conceived by the Tata Trusts, the Tata Institute of Social Sciences and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and will offer modules in local languages and English for subjects such as mathematics, science and English for students of grades 8, 9 and 11 in government schools in Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Mizoram and Telangana.

The Trusts has signed on a number of subject experts to provide the content for the initiative, while MIT will bring in the technology that will help improve learning levels.  The material will be made available in the form of open source material which will be freely available for anyone to access. It will also be made available to government schools in the four states that have signed on in the initial phase.

The Tata Trusts recently announced its collaborative venture with US-based non-profit Khan Academy to provide free online education through one of the biggest open-access online platforms.

Another key element of the Tata Trusts’ focus on education is teacher training. Recognising that the quality of education is directly proportional to the quality of the teacher, the Tata Trusts is keen to address the issue of training teachers as also of the training curriculum. It has set up a core committee comprising well-known educationists to put forward a strategy on how teacher education should be addressed.

Teachers learn to make and use flashcards to ensure effective learning

The Tata Trusts is also committed to tribal education, a crucial element in the cause of the uplift of tribals. Tribal education suffers on account of language issues. Tribal children are enrolled either in ashramshalas (local residential schools) or government schools, where their education is hindered as the medium of instruction is different from their mother tongue.

The Tata Trusts is working to encourage multilingual education and ensure the availability of multilingual teachers to help tribal children transition from the home language to the state language. Currently, the Trusts is working on a pilot in Maharashtra and Odisha. It is also committed to addressing the issue of child protection to ensure that children are not subjected to abuse.

Within the area of madrasa education, the Trusts works with Vikramshila and Azad India Foundation (AIF), besides Nalanda. AIF conducts remedial classes to bring the learning level of madrasa children in Bihar up to the levels expected in formal schools. Vikramshila, working in West Bengal, seeks to integrate the deeni (religious) and dunyavi (secular) elements of madrasa education, another programme designed by Tata Trusts.

Dr Amina Charania, senior programme officer with the Trusts, who has trained the madrasa maulvis on the pedagogy of this programme, says, “The aim is to connect science, maths and social sciences with knowledge about Islam. The activities include children mapping India and Arabia on the world map, studying the geometric shapes prevalent in Islamic architecture and research on Muslim scientists, etc.”

The Trusts works with Samaritan Help Mission in Tikiapada slum in Howrah; SAHER in Mumbai slums; Azad Siksha Kendra in Jaunpur, Uttar Pradesh; and Digital Empowerment Foundation in Nagaon, in Assam, on using Integrated Approach to Technology in Education in madrasas.

The Trusts also seeks to build alliances with government bodies, such as the Ministry of Minority Affairs and state education boards, to influence policy and legislation towards modernising education processes in non-mainstream institutions that touch a large number of children.

This article is part of the cover story about the Tata Trusts featured in the January 2016 issue of Tata Review:
Philanthropy fine-tuned
The Tata Trusts has — through integration, use of technology, advocacy, partnerships and more — set course for a renewal aimed at deepening the impact of its numerous charity endeavours
Read the complete articles, and more, in Tata Review
'The Tata Trusts will have to keep renewing itself'
Ratan Tata, Chairman, Tata Trusts, talks about the trusts' evolving philanthropic approach, future growth and priority issues facing India
A flavoured solution
A unique public-private partnership involving the Tata Trusts has ensured that thousands of tribal schoolchildren enjoy wholesome meals
Food way forward
Tackling malnutrition in India is a pressing need, and one of the focus areas for the Tata Trusts
Net gains are cooking
The clean cooking and internet awareness programmes that the Tata Trusts runs with its partners in Gujarat are a reflection of the organisation's intent and impact
In search of that creative edge
Innovation in technology and solutions is crucial in the Tata Trusts quest to enhance the reach and execution of its programmes
Schooled for uplift
A spread of education centres in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Jharkhand are enjoying a renaissance thanks to a project undertaken with the support of the Tata Trusts
Harvesting hopes, reaping rewards
A Tata Trusts initiative in the interiors of Maharashtra is providing succour to thousands of poor farmers, who have been encouraged to shift away from the traditional and grow more profitable crops
Rural riches
The rural livelihoods and communities portfolio of the Tata Trusts targets poverty reduction through a host of measures
Building the future, brick by brick
Backing from the Tata Trusts has enabled thousands of migrant workers, especially in Gujarat, to secure better working conditions, find financial security and transform their lives
An urban variant of a rural malaise
The Tata Trusts trained its spotlight on urban poverty and livelihoods as an issue that required focused intervention at a time when most philanthropic agencies were focusing on rural poverty
Going against the flow
Water is considered an elixir in the high ranges of Uttarakhand, and the help rendered by the Tata Trusts and its partners in delivering it has changed lives and fortunes
Mission maximum
The Tata Water Mission has been calibrated to make the most of the social development capabilities residing in the Tata Trusts
Rhythm reloaded
A project in Kutch in Gujarat is, with a push from the Tata Trusts, working to revitalise the folk music tradition of the region by creating new opportunities for musicians practicing the craft
A canvas widened
The media, arts and culture theme of the Tata Trusts concentrates attention of conserving India's civilizational heritage and those who embody it