Hi everyone, Spiffy here, your one and only interplanetary journalist reporting from Planet Earth. I’m thrilled to be in Gujarat, India talking to entrepreneur, Kavita Shah. Kavita is the founder of Neev Shikshan Santha (Neev Education Foundation) and is working to make the world a better place for children and teachers. Are you ready to be enlightened?
Spiffy: Hi Kavita, it’s great to be with you today! Can you tell me what challenge you’re addressing?
Kavita: Thanks for having me, Spiffy! Well, when we learn a language, especially English, we learn that “A is for apple, B for ball, C is for cat,” and so on. Why can’t our minds come up with anything other than an apple for “A”? The concepts we learn in school remain so deeply ingrained in our brains that we can seldom think beyond them. The education system does not encourage the development of inquisitiveness in young students. The 2019 ASER survey found that, in India, only 37.4% of kids below the age of six can recognize letters, and only 25.6% can do addition. The lack of age-appropriate skills in the early years is alarming as this can impact the entire education supply chain in India. This is an extremely alarming issue which we at Neev Shikshan Santha (Neev Education Foundation) are aiming to resolve.
Spiffy: This is an interesting problem you’ve identified, Kavita. What motivated you to tackle it?
Kavita: My first experience with teaching began when I tutored a young girl. She was labeled a “hyper” kid who refused to take school seriously. But I found that she was very curious and didn’t have anyone to answer her questions. That’s when I realized that working with and educating children is something I enjoyed, was good at, and wanted to do. For a child, the journey starts in the initial years when s/he learns to acquire the ability to make meaning in the process of listening, speaking, reading, and writing. I was doing independent consultancy in 2016-17 and conducted workshops with a group of teachers. I had carefully designed the content, the flow, and activities and I felt deep satisfaction and an immense sense of fulfillment in carrying out that work.
Spiffy: How are you working at creating a more equitable world—especially for today’s and tomorrow’s children?
Kavita: Well, Spiffy, we are in alignment with India’s New Education Policy 2020 and are working towards the realization of SDG 4—Quality Education. We have been operational since March 2019 and initially started with 10 teachers and classrooms in four schools impacting 350 students. In one year of work, there were remarkable changes in teachers’ practices in day-to-day activity in the classroom. Our fellowship has now reached 30 school teachers from nine schools, impacting 1200 students. We are also creating contextualized modules that focus on numeracy and everyday English, which will be launched in June 2021.
Spiffy: Can you talk to me about a recent milestone that you’ve achieved?
Kavita: Through the Early Literacy and Numeracy Program, we work with under-resourced schools. We support the school teams by co-creating play-based Teaching Learning Material and providing library and classroom resources. We have created 8,500+ workbooks and 200+ videos during the pandemic, enabling children to engage at home in their contexts and relevance.
Founder, Kavita Shah, with school children at one of the project schools. (Image courtesy of Kavita Shah)
Spiffy: I am always curious to learn about failure! Have you ever experienced failure? What did do?
Kavita: We were selected for the second round of grants for N/Core—The/Nudge Centre for Social Innovation. We submitted a strong proposal and appeared for an interview, but found out that we didn't receive a grant because of our impact model. So, we re-evaluated ourselves and came up with new strategies. We continue to apply for grants from various platforms and are prepared for failure and rejections—either of which will help us improve and thrive. We have learned that although we may not reach millions of children, even if we reach a few thousand, we will ensure they receive a quality education. Focus on the outputs and the outcomes will follow.
Spiffy: I’m curious if you've learned anything unexpected recently?
Kavita: One of the curriculum development experts helped me realize that mathematics has its own language. All the Indian housemakers are brilliant mathematicians. Shakti—The Empathy Project is our knowledge partner and provides resources and mentors. We continuously look to learn from other organizations in the field of foundational literacy and numeracy so we can improve our approach. We have studied the methodologies and practices of various organizations and seek help from organizations working in the education domain.
Spiffy: Mentors are amazing, aren’t they? Before we sign off, is there anything else you would like to tell our audience?
Kavita: Yes, Spiffy, I just wanted to let anyone who is interested know about the Unnati Fellowship. It is a full-time experience-based fellowship program targeting capacity development for teachers working in low-income private schools in India. Core components of the fellowship include pedagogy, knowledge, mindset and belief, classroom practices, communication and instructional routine, and lesson planning.
Spiffy: Thanks for that info, Kavita! And thanks so much for taking the time to share about your passion and work with Neev Shikshan Sanstha! It’s been an absolute honor talking to you today.
Kavita Shah is the founder of Neev Shikshan Sanstha (Neev Education Foundation), based in Gujarat, India. As a kid, she resented the lack of application-based teaching: nothing there made her want to learn. She decided she wanted to help change that for today’s children. Kavita believes that there is more to learning than books and curriculum, and she looks at learning as a journey where one explores, creates, struggles and experiences. (Nominated by Shakti—The Empathy Project)
© 2020 Ladderworks LLC. Edited by Jill Landis Jha. Spiffy’s illustration by Shreyas Navare. Follow Spiffy’s stories of founders building a more equitable world at www.ladderworks.co/blogs/spiffys-blog