India faces a significant rural-urban education divide in elementary and secondary school education. School education in rural areas is mostly dependent on government-run and government-aided schools. 67% of the Indian population lives in rural areas. This rural population consists of approximately 20 crore school-going children (1st to 8th Std), and out of them, 15 crores enrolled in rural schools.
With the government’s initiative of school education being free and compulsory for the age group 6 to 14 years, the Gross Enrolment Ratio (GER) at the elementary level at the national level is 96.91% in 2015-16. After this remarkable achievement, the government is now paying more attention to improving the quality of education in rural schools. But there are few factors like inadequate educational infrastructure including lack of digital tools, mediocre computer education, scant electricity supply, absence of teachers, and sanitation that affects providing overall quality education in rural schools.
If we talk on learning outcomes, as per the latest survey from ASER 2018, in rural Government schools only 44% of students from Std V can read Std ll level text and 65% in Private rural schools. Year on year learning outcomes is declining. In 2010 it was 50%. Poor learning outcomes causing less enrolment in secondary school education (9th and 10th std) and gradually than high dropout in higher secondary (11th and 12th std). “We have to work towards both, i.e. improving infrastructure as well as improving learning outcomes,” says Santosh Phad, Founder, Thinksharp Foundation.
Revamping Rural Teaching Tools
A non-profit organization, Thinksharp Foundation envisions to bridge the rural-urban education divide. Currently running a project, “StudyMall”, Thinksharp Foundation started this initiative to improve the quality of education in rural schools by providing access to better educational infrastructure like digital learning tools, library, computer education, financial support, and by creating progressive and a positive learning environment by working with the village community, teachers, government, and other stakeholders.
Choosing the social sector for his passion and love for building something that gives back to the society, Santosh started Thinksharp Foundation in 2011 while he was working in a finance company. He was doing both till December 2017, when he decided to devote all his time for Thinksharp, as it was growing and required complete attention to take it to the next level. “Without my full-time involvement, Thinksharp Foundation would have not become strong enough to work with corporate CSR partners and create strong marketing strategies”, opines Santosh.
Having almost no access to modern education during his schooling, Santosh could see the difference between rural and urban education when he was pursuing his MBA in Mumbai. Most of his classmates had easy access to digital learning tools, various books, sports materials, and access to learn fluent English, all of which he lacked, thus wishing he had the opportunity to access modern educational tools like them. When he went back to his school, he realized that the big difference between urban and rural education was still there, even after 15 years, and something needed to be done to bridge the gap between rural and urban education. “And with this vision, I started my journey towards establishing social enterprise “Thinksharp Foundation™”, which I registered in 2011”, says Santosh.
Being the only organization that works with schools closely, including teachers, villagers, village panchayat, and government to work together and improve the quality of education in schools. Giving a helping hand to these schools, Thinksharp makes sure every stakeholder, especially teachers and villagers, contributes monetary and non-monetary support to the schools. Santosh believes that there no competitors in the social sector, he adds, “In-fact, we closely work with other social organizations to deliver the maximum benefits to rural children”.
Having been greatly benefitted by Social Media, Thinksharp has been easily able to reach out to a wider audience with minimal cost and effort. Social Media has played an important role to build the brand, and today Thinksharp is amongst one of the top social organizations working in rural schools. “When I stared Thinksharp Foundation, it was only social media through which we could reach to potential donors and beneficiaries. Even today, our maximum funding and partnerships are due to our strong presence and reach on social media. Not just in India but it has helped to connect Thinksharp Foundation in other parts of the world and create awareness about our work”, quips Santosh. Thinksharp continues to update their activities on Facebook, Linkedin, Youtube, and Instagram, helping them connect with more supporters, individuals, and corporates.
Making Education Accessible to all
Planning to help another 150 schools across rural Maharashtra to provide quality education, Thinksharp is currently focusing on homeschooling programs due to the COVID19 Pandemic, as all schools are closed and rural children are completely disconnected from learning due to lack of access to digital devices and online learning. Thinksharp Foundation has provided the children with Tablets and Internet Connectivity to start the online learning process and connect the students with their teacher for live sessions. “So far we have provided digital devices with internet connectivity to one school from our existing partner schools. We have already planned the next steps to reach out to more partner schools to provide home school solution” says Santosh.
Thinksharp’s reach has grown from 1 district to 13 districts in Maharashtra in just 4 years. In the last 3 years, Thinksharp has grown from 4 StudyMAll centers to 51 centers across Maharashtra, helping more than 9000 rural children and 250 school teachers. The quality of educational tools they are providing in these centers has improved drastically as well. From providing libraries, Thinksharp is providing access to digital learning tools, computer education, reliable solar power, and various other educational resources under one roof.