Published: 09th November 2017
Zoning in: Binayak Acharya is providing high-quality, early childhood education support to rural areas of Odisha through ThinkZone
Changing the definition of pre-schools and empowering women at the same time in the state of Odisha is ThinkZone
What did a preschool look like 30 years ago? Did it look as fancy as the ones we see today? Nope! An ever-smiling lady in the neighbourhood would let the toddlers gather in her spare room with peg puzzles, a few broken toys of her grown-up 'kids' (now settled abroad) and torn posters of Mickey Mouse, Bugs Bunny or Felix the Cat. Be it a Sunday or Monday, at least four to five toddlers would always throng her place to fine-tune their motor skills or turn a little social.
Accolades: TatvaGyan’s model was chosen as a ‘high potential social enterprise’ by Villgro and Intellecap in 2014. Villgro also acknowledged TatvaGyan as the best Odisha-based social enterprise in 2015
But, all that's not enough anymore. In cities, the blessed lot has access to swanky classrooms. Even before parents learn to address the challenges of infancy and get accustomed to the quirks of their little one, they become part of a playgroup. Over the years, researchers have claimed that the early education system would supplement the child's learning at home. In such a scenario, what's in store for the deprived ones in rural India? If they’re lucky, they get soya chunks, eggs and khichdi as part of their Midday Meals with very little focus on quality education. In a bid to change this sad reality, a 28-year-old man from Odisha, Binayak Acharya, has been leaving no stone unturned to provide underprivileged children the education they deserve, since 2015.
All are welcome: One of the ThinkZones in Odisha
As Binayak puts it, he has designed a 'poor man’s preschool' for underprivileged children in the remote villages of this coastal state. Taking the help of technology, he is trying to transform the pre-primary and primary education scene in his native land with a 'school-in-a-box' approach. Not just that, being a believer of the holistic development model, his social enterprise TatvaGyan puts the women from the community to task. “With limited education and lack of proper skills, the women are largely restricted to farm and domestic activities. At TatvaGyan, we choose to offer high quality and affordable early childhood classes to poor kids through a chain of women-managed learning centres called ThinkZone,” states Acharya.
Current status: 45 women entrepreneurs have been engaged at 45 centres across Ganjam and Cuttack districts of Odisha, catering to 1,500 students
With the help of his field managers and a team of volunteers, Acharya identifies women in the Ganjam and Cuttack district of Odisha, who have the potential to be trained as teachers. “We conduct interviews with women who are willing to become entrepreneurs and want a life beyond their kitchens. On being selected, we provide them with learning aids and help them turn their own house or rented space into an attractive learning space for kids. Neither do we use luxe decor or expensive furniture; we make it look bright and beautiful only with the help of simple art on the walls, posters and charts,” adds Acharya.
In our country, schemes like Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan have put the focus on infrastructure and not on quality education. Through this initiative, I want to impart quality education to kids in rural India
Binayak Acharya, Founder of ThinkZone
What’s interesting about the franchise is its tablet that is pre-loaded with an offline learning software. “The application has scripted lesson plans for the teacher. For the preschool programme, the learning module aims at enhancing the fine motor, communication and social skills of the child. At the primary level, we only focus on basic arithmetic and English,” he explains. But how are these different from the primary schools in the villages? “Don't mistake us for the type of school that just teaches every subject, but ignores the basic foundation of education. These are informal learning centres, where we emphasise on basic Maths and English. These are the key subjects and children often don't have a sound understanding of the basics,” says Acharya.
Future plan: TatvaGyan wants to make its presence felt in 220 villages of Odisha, reaching out to 8,000 students by 2018
As claimed by Acharya, the ThinkZone can address the problem of dropouts in the government schools. “Most of the children in villages drop out of schools as they have weak understanding of the subjects. A kid, who doesn't know basic addition and subtraction, because no one at his home is literate, is expected to do algebra in the classroom. So, by the time this kid reaches class V, he gets bored as he understands nothing and drops out. We are trying to address this issue and thus making the foundation strong,” he explains.
In the zone: Inside one of the ThinkZones
Acharya developed the teaching materials, pedagogy and technological set-ups for ThinkZone with his friends and teammates, including Sambit Ray, an NIT alumnus and Divyashree, an IIM alumnus. An alumnus of XIMB, Bhubaneswar, Acharya always wanted to be a social entrepreneur. “During my stints with several organisations in the rural development sector, I realised it wasn't always black and white. I derived impetus from my heartfelt conversations with the community members at the grass-roots level,” he shares.