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TEDIndia 2009

Shukla Bose: Teaching one child at a time

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Educating the poor is more than just a numbers game, says Shukla Bose. She tells the story of her groundbreaking Parikrma Humanity Foundation, which brings hope to India's slums by looking past the daunting statistics and focusing on treating each child as an individual.

- Education activist
Shukla Bose is the founder and head of the Parikrma Humanity Foundation, a nonprofit that runs four extraordinary schools for poor children. Full bio

I'm standing in front of you today
00:15
in all humility,
00:19
wanting to share with you
00:21
my journey of the last six years
00:23
in the field of service
00:26
and education.
00:28
And I'm not a trained academic.
00:30
Neither am I a veteran social worker.
00:33
I was 26 years in the corporate world,
00:36
trying to make organizations profitable.
00:39
And then in 2003
00:42
I started Parikrma Humanity Foundation
00:44
from my kitchen table.
00:48
The first thing that we did was walk through the slums.
00:50
You know, by the way, there are two million people
00:54
in Bangalore, who live in 800 slums.
00:57
We couldn't go to all the slums,
01:02
but we tried to cover as much as we could.
01:05
We walked through these slums,
01:07
identified houses where children would never go to school.
01:09
We talked to the parents,
01:14
tried to convince them about sending their children to school.
01:16
We played with the children,
01:20
and came back home really tired,
01:22
exhausted, but with images
01:25
of bright faces, twinkling eyes,
01:28
and went to sleep.
01:31
We were all excited to start,
01:34
but the numbers hit us then:
01:37
200 million children
01:41
between four to 14 that
01:43
should be going to school, but do not;
01:45
100 million children
01:47
who go to school but cannot read;
01:49
125 million who cannot do basic maths.
01:52
We also heard that 250 billion Indian rupees
01:57
was dedicated for government schooling.
02:02
Ninety percent of it was spent on teachers' salary
02:05
and administrators' salary.
02:08
And yet, India has nearly
02:10
the highest teacher absenteeism
02:12
in the world,
02:15
with one out of four teachers
02:17
not going to school at all the entire academic year.
02:19
Those numbers were absolutely mind-boggling,
02:23
overwhelming, and we were constantly asked,
02:27
"When will you start? How many schools will you start?
02:30
How many children will you get?
02:33
How are you going to scale?
02:35
How are you going to replicate?"
02:37
It was very difficult not to get scared, not to get daunted.
02:39
But we dug our heels
02:43
and said, "We're not in the number game.
02:45
We want to take one child at a time
02:48
and take the child right through school,
02:52
sent to college,
02:55
and get them prepared for better living,
02:57
a high value job."
03:01
So, we started Parikrma.
03:04
The first Parikrma school
03:07
started in a slum
03:09
where there were 70,000 people
03:11
living below the poverty line.
03:14
Our first school was
03:17
on a rooftop of a building inside the slums,
03:20
a second story building, the only second story building
03:25
inside the slums.
03:27
And that rooftop did not have
03:29
any ceiling, only half a tin sheet.
03:32
That was our first school. One hundred sixty-five children.
03:36
Indian academic year begins in June.
03:40
So, June it rains, so many a times
03:42
all of us would be huddled under the tin roof,
03:45
waiting for the rain to stop.
03:48
My God! What a bonding exercise that was.
03:50
And all of us
03:55
that were under that roof are still here together today.
03:57
Then came the second school,
04:01
the third school, the fourth school
04:03
and a junior college.
04:06
In six years now,
04:08
we have four schools, one junior college,
04:11
1,100 children
04:14
coming from 28 slums
04:16
and four orphanages.
04:18
(Applause)
04:20
Our dream is very simple:
04:23
to send each of these kids, get them prepared
04:26
to be educated
04:29
but also to live peacefully,
04:32
contented in this conflict-ridden
04:34
chaotic globalized world.
04:37
Now, when you talk global
04:41
you have to talk English.
04:43
And so all our schools
04:45
are English medium schools.
04:47
But they know there is this myth
04:50
that children from the slums
04:52
cannot speak English well.
04:54
No one in their family has spoken English.
04:57
No one in their generation has spoken English.
04:59
But how wrong it is.
05:03
Girl: I like adventurous books, and some of my favorites
05:05
are Alfred Hitchcock and [unclear]
05:08
and Hardy Boys.
05:12
Although they are like
05:14
in different contexts,
05:16
one is magical, the other two are like investigation,
05:18
I like those books because
05:21
they have something special in them.
05:24
The vocabulary used in those books
05:26
and the style of writing.
05:28
I mean like once I pick up one book
05:31
I cannot put it down until I finish the whole book.
05:33
Even if it takes me four and a half hours,
05:36
or three and half hours to finish my book, I do it.
05:38
Boy: I did good research and I got the information
05:41
[on the] world's fastest cars.
05:44
I like Ducati ZZ143,
05:47
because it is the fastest,
05:53
the world's fastest bike,
05:55
and I like Pulsar 220 DTSI
05:57
because it is India's fastest bike. (Laughter)
06:01
Shukla Bose: Well, that girl that you saw,
06:04
her father sells flowers on the roadside.
06:08
And this little boy has been coming to school for five years.
06:11
But isn't it strange that little boys all over the world
06:15
love fast bikes? (Laughter)
06:19
He hasn't seen one, he hasn't ridden one, of course,
06:22
but he has done a lot of research through Google search.
06:25
You know, when we started with our English medium schools
06:30
we also decided to adopt
06:33
the best curriculum possible,
06:35
the ICSE curriculum.
06:37
And again, there were people who laughed at me
06:39
and said, "Don't be crazy
06:42
choosing such a tough curriculum for these students.
06:44
They'll never be able to cope."
06:47
Not only do our children cope very well,
06:49
but they excel in it.
06:52
You should just come across to see
06:54
how well our children do.
06:56
There is also this myth that
06:59
parents from the slums
07:01
are not interested in their children going to school;
07:04
they'd much rather put them to work.
07:07
That's absolute hogwash.
07:09
All parents all over the world
07:11
want their children to lead a better life than themselves,
07:13
but they need to believe that change is possible.
07:17
Video: (Hindi)
07:22
SB: We have 80 percent attendance
07:58
for all our parents-teachers meeting.
08:01
Sometimes it's even 100 percent,
08:03
much more than many privileged schools.
08:05
Fathers have started to attend.
08:08
It's very interesting. When we started our school
08:10
the parents would give thumbprints in the attendance register.
08:13
Now they have started writing their signature.
08:18
The children have taught them.
08:22
It's amazing how much children can teach.
08:24
We have, a few months ago,
08:28
actually late last year,
08:31
we had a few mothers who came to us and said,
08:33
"You know, we want to learn how to read and write.
08:35
Can you teach us?" So, we started an afterschool
08:39
for our parents, for our mothers.
08:42
We had 25 mothers who came regularly
08:44
after school to study.
08:46
We want to continue with this program
08:49
and extend it to all our other schools.
08:51
Ninety-eight percent of our fathers are alcoholics.
08:55
So, you can imagine how traumatized
08:58
and how dysfunctional the houses are where our children come from.
09:00
We have to send the fathers to de-addiction labs
09:04
and when they come back,
09:09
most times sober, we have to find a job for them
09:11
so that they don't regress.
09:15
We have about three fathers who have been trained to cook.
09:17
We have taught them nutrition, hygiene.
09:21
We have helped them set up the kitchen
09:26
and now they are supplying food to all our children.
09:28
They do a very good job because
09:31
their children are eating their food,
09:34
but most importantly this is the first time
09:36
they have got respect,
09:38
and they feel that they are doing something worthwhile.
09:40
More than 90 percent of our non-teaching staff
09:44
are all parents and extended families.
09:47
We've started many programs
09:51
just to make sure that the child comes to school.
09:53
Vocational skill program for the older siblings
09:57
so the younger ones are not stopped from coming to school.
10:00
There is also this myth that children from the slums
10:04
cannot integrate with mainstream.
10:07
Take a look at this little girl
10:11
who was one of the 28 children
10:13
from all privileged schools,
10:16
best schools in the country
10:18
that was selected for the Duke University
10:20
talent identification program
10:23
and was sent to IIM Ahmedabad.
10:25
Video: Girl: Duke IIMA Camp. Whenever we see that IIMA,
10:28
it was such a pride for us to go to that camp.
10:31
Everybody was very friendly,
10:34
especially I got a lot of friends.
10:37
And I felt that my English has improved a lot
10:40
going there and chatting with friends.
10:42
There they met children who are
10:45
with a different standard and
10:49
a different mindset, a totally different society.
10:53
I mingled with almost everyone.
10:56
They were very friendly.
10:59
I had very good friends there,
11:01
who are from Delhi, who are from Mumbai.
11:03
Even now we are in touch through Facebook.
11:07
After this Ahmedabad trip
11:11
I've been like a totally different
11:15
mingling with people and all of those.
11:18
Before that I feel like I wasn't like this.
11:20
I don't even mingle, or start speaking with someone so quickly.
11:23
My accent with English improved a lot.
11:27
And I learned football, volleyball,
11:32
Frisbee, lots of games.
11:35
And I wouldn't want to go to Bangalore. Let me stay here.
11:37
Such beautiful food,
11:40
I enjoyed it. It was so beautiful.
11:42
I enjoyed eating food like
11:45
[unclear] would come and ask me,
11:47
"Yes ma'am, what you want?" It was so good to hear!
11:52
(Laughter)
11:54
(Applause)
11:56
SB: This girl was working as a maid
12:00
before she came to school.
12:02
And today she wants to be a neurologist.
12:04
Our children are doing brilliantly in sports.
12:08
They are really excelling.
12:12
There is an inter-school athletic competition
12:14
that is held every year
12:17
in Bangalore, where 5,000 children participate
12:20
from 140 best schools in the city.
12:24
We've got the best school award for three years successively.
12:27
And our children are coming back home
12:34
with bags full of medals, with lots of admirers and friends.
12:36
Last year there were a couple of kids
12:40
from elite schools that came
12:44
to ask for admissions in our school.
12:46
We also have our very own dream team.
12:48
Why is this happening? Why this confidence?
12:53
Is it the exposure? We have professors
12:55
from MIT, Berkeley, Stanford,
12:59
Indian Institute of Science
13:02
who come and teach our children lots of scientific formulas,
13:04
experiments, much beyond the classroom.
13:08
Art, music are considered
13:11
therapy and mediums of expression.
13:14
We also believe that
13:18
it's the content that is more important.
13:21
It is not the infrastructure,
13:25
not the toilets, not the libraries,
13:29
but it is what actually happens in this school
13:32
that is more important.
13:35
Creating an environment of learning,
13:37
of inquiry, of exploration
13:40
is what is true education.
13:43
When we started Parikrma
13:45
we had no idea which direction we were taking.
13:47
We didn't hire McKinsey to do a business plan.
13:50
But we know for sure that
13:53
what we want to do today is
13:56
take one child at a time,
14:00
not get bogged with numbers,
14:02
and actually see the child complete
14:04
the circle of life,
14:08
and unleash his total potential.
14:10
We do not believe in scale
14:14
because we believe in quality,
14:18
and scale and numbers will automatically happen.
14:20
We have corporates that have stood behind us,
14:24
and we are able to, now, open more schools.
14:27
But we began with the idea
14:30
of one child at a time.
14:32
This is five-year-old Parusharam.
14:34
He was begging
14:37
by a bus stop a few years ago,
14:39
got picked up and is now in an orphanage,
14:41
has been coming to school for the last four and a half months.
14:44
He's in kindergarten.
14:48
He has learned how to speak English.
14:50
We have a model by which kids can speak English
14:52
and understand English
14:55
in three month's time.
14:57
He can tell you stories in English
14:59
of the thirsty crow, of the crocodile
15:02
and of the giraffe.
15:04
And if you ask him what he likes to do
15:06
he will say, "I like sleeping.
15:08
I like eating. I like playing."
15:10
And if you ask him what he wants to do,
15:13
he will say, "I want to horsing."
15:15
Now, "horsing" is going for a horse ride.
15:17
So, Parusharam comes to my office every day.
15:20
He comes for a tummy rub,
15:23
because he believes that will give me luck. (Laughter)
15:26
When I started Parikrma
15:28
I began with a great deal of arrogance
15:31
of transforming the world.
15:35
But today I have been transformed.
15:37
I have been changed with my children.
15:40
I've learned so much from them:
15:42
love, compassion, imagination
15:45
and such creativity.
15:48
Parusharam is Parikrma
15:51
with a simple beginning but a long way to go.
15:55
I promise you, Parusharam
15:58
will speak in the TED conference a few years from now.
16:00
Thank you.
16:04
(Applause)
16:06

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About the speaker:

Shukla Bose - Education activist
Shukla Bose is the founder and head of the Parikrma Humanity Foundation, a nonprofit that runs four extraordinary schools for poor children.

Why you should listen

The word "Parikrma" implies a full revolution, a complete path around -- and Shukla Bose's Parikrma Humanity Foundation offers literally that to kids in poor urban areas around Bangalore. Parikrma's four Schools of Hope teach the full, standard Indian curriculum to children who might not otherwise see the inside of a classroom, with impressive results. Equally important, the schools build an "end-to-end" environment that supports learning -- offering lunch every day, health-care and family support. Beyond these schools, Parikrma has inaugurated several afterschool programs and has plans for setting up a central teacher-training hub.

Bose left behind a corporate career in 1992 to found Parikrma with a small group of friends. The nonprofit holds itself to formal business goals and strict accountability, and has developed some clever fundraising and marketing campaigns. As Bose puts it, the goal of Parikrma is to help build a better India by tapping its greatest strength: the vitality and potential of its people.

More profile about the speaker
Shukla Bose | Speaker | TED.com