EDITED EXCERPTS FROM AN INTERVIEW
What inspired you to put your money into education? Is philanthropic intervention now an absolute necessity for education to succeed in India?
Philanthropy has been an integral part of the Indian mainstream in the form of schools and colleges, but these initiatives were limited largely to bigger cities. Now, we have more resources and the net needs to be widened, focussing especially on rural India. Here, at Bharti, we identified education as one of the most important tools for social and economic development in India.
In 2000, we set up the Bharti Foundation with an aim to help underprivileged children and youth fulfil their potential. These youngsters, especially in rural areas, deserve an equal opportunity to be a part of mainstream economic reforms and enjoy its benefits. This is important for inclusive growth and for leveraging India’s demographic dividend and supporting its future economic growth. Education and skills-training are keys to this and there is immense scope for intervention in this area. We are happy that our philanthropic initiatives are making a small yet meaningful contribution to society.
What projects do you support? Could you share a few examples of how the Bharti Foundation has benefited the people?
The foundation implements and supports education programmes in the fields of primary, secondary and higher education. In 2006, we launched our flagship programme, the Satya Bharti School Programme, to provide free quality education to underprivileged children, with a special focus on the girl child in the deepest rural pockets of the country.
The schools provide free uniform, books, mid-day meals to the children, have separate toilets for boys and girls, and employ local youth as teachers. English- based education is also imparted and computer-aided learning techniques are used. Currently, 254 Satya Bharti Schools (187 Primary, 62 Elementary and five Sr Secondary Schools) are operational across six states, reaching out to more than 39,000 underprivileged children and employing 1,500 teachers. Of these, while 48 percent students are girls, 76 percent students belong to the marginalised sections of society.
In addition, the Satya Bharti Senior Secondary Schools plan to impart vocational training to students in order to make them employable. We have partnered with premier educational institutions like IIT Delhi to set up the Bharti School of Telecommunication Technology and Management, IIT Delhi. Currently, over 200 students are supported through various facilities of the Bharti School to pursue courses in associated fields. We have also set up the Bharti Centre for Communication, Bombay, in partnership with IIT Bombay. There is also the Bharti Institute of Public Policy in the Mohali campus of ISB.
What is so unique about your initiatives in the field of education and how does it set you apart from the rest?
The Sayta Bharti School programme is one of the largest end-to-end education initiatives by any corporate group in the country. We don’t just write a cheque; we plan, implement and monitor it to ensure that the intended recipients get the maximum benefit.
Should India’s education model be different from the current one? Do you think quality of education is our biggest challenge today?
The challenge is not the quality of education in India but its availability at the bottom of the pyramid. Government initiatives have delivered good results but we need to do more, particularly in primary education for the poor. This is where philanthropic interventions and Public Private Partnerships (PPP) will be important.
Why has education become the epicentre for future growth and our demographic dividend? How can it bridge the gulf between the rich and the poor? What do you see happening 10 years from now?
Things will certainly only get better. The government has shown its intent with the Right to Education Bill and the new Companies Bill will spur more participation from the private sector in this area. Also, availability of affordable technologies and delivery platforms like broadband should help bridge the digital divide between urban and rural areas and allow quality education to be delivered seamlessly.
Do you believe more professionals need to take up the cause for primary education of children?
Certainly. All help in this area is very welcome.
Despite being a robust democracy, has India failed to give equal education/skill development enough importance?
Education has got a lot of importance in our country and the government is doing its bit through initiatives like the Sarv Shiksha Abhiyan. What’s needed is better delivery and monitoring to strengthen the government’s efforts. Again, we reiterate, PPP is a robust model to pursue to take quality education across India.