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education in IndiaAs India’s population continues to grow, the number of education initiatives from both nonprofits and the government has increased. The approaches to modernizing and unifying education for India’s 1.3 billion people vary, with some focusing on equality and others on upgrading the curriculum. Educate Girls, Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan and The Akanksha Foundation are three programs looking to improve education in India, through different methods.

3 Approaches to Better Education in India

  1. Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan
    Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) is the Indian Government’s flagship program for universalizing elementary education. Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan mandates education for children ages 6 to 14 under the 86th amendment to the Constitution of India. SSA is implemented in coordination with state governments to reach 192 million students, with a particular focus on girls and children with special needs. SSA also has an emphasis on community-specific education, in order to address the particular needs of all communities, especially indigenous communities. India has almost 600 Indigenous communities, most of which are rural. Those who live there speak almost 300 Indigenous dialects, meaning that education policies cannot be one-size-fits-all.SSA looks to open new schools in villages that lack infrastructure, or where existing infrastructure is inadequate. For existing schools, the goal is to strengthen teaching staff and increase access to teaching materials and resources such as computers. Many schools in urban areas have significantly benefited from SSA, seeing improvements in textbooks and consistency with teacher salaries. However, rural villages are not seeing the same benefits. In the Keonjhar district, the school does not have proper classrooms and only three teachers for the almost 90 students it serves. The community has appealed to the government for nine years but has received little assistance.
  2. Educate Girls
    Educate Girls works to increase government accountability for education in India’s rural villages. Educate Girls is a non-profit organization established in 2007 by Indian native Safeena Husain. The organization focuses on mobilizing forces in local communities to advocate for better education opportunities in India. Educate Girls currently operates in 13,000 villages with an overall goal of reaching 16 million children cumulatively by 2024.Educate Girls works to increase education in India by lobbying existing governmental networks to improve education conditions for both boys and girls, as not to duplicate services. Husain feels that by forcing the hand of the government, not only do they reduce the risk of duplicating service, but they also hold the government accountable to its citizens and avoid government dependence on non-profit services. Educate Girls uses a base of community volunteers to identify, enroll and retain girls in school to help improve literacy and numeracy rates.

    The organization aims to change the behavioral and social approach to girls’ education to create an environment where equal opportunities are automatic in India. Volunteers currently go door to door in villages to identify every girl who is not in school. Educate Girls takes pride in their survey’s 100 percent saturation rate by knocking on every door in the village they are targeting. This initiative led to the re-enrollment of 380,000 girls.

    Thanks to Educate Girls’ in-depth research, it has partnered up with the UBS Optimus Foundation and the Children’s Investment Foundation to create the first-ever results-based bond program. Educate Girls was also just named an Audacious Project of 2019. The Audacious Project is an organization funded by numerous donors and housed by TED, which chooses a few organizations each year to showcase for donors and to present at the annual TED conference. Educate Girls was one of eight organizations selected for this year’s Audacious Project.

  3. The Akanksha Foundation
    The Akanksha Foundation has taken education in India out of the hands of the government, creating a network of public-private schools that are built, staffed and managed by the foundation. Although the schools are privately funded, the organization establishes partnerships with the community as a whole in which it operates. Akanksha schools believe that nurturing home environments is equally as crucial to academic success as a positive school experience. Its academic model starts with an initial evaluation of needs and goal setting. Then through constant evaluation, Akanksha schools tailor their standard curriculum to each community’s needs. Akanksha schools also believe in a focus on extracurricular activities to help develop social and emotional intelligence, teaching students to be responsible and compassionate citizens.Akanksha has 21 schools in Pune and Mumbai, reaching 9,300 students. Within those districts, 12th grade passing rates in the Akanksha schools are higher than the government-run high schools. Ninety-two percent of 12th graders from Akanksha passed compared to only 86 percent passed in the public high school. Similarly to the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan government initiative, the results are seen in urban areas, but rural areas are still not receiving comparable resources or attention. India tasks local governments with auditing and enforcing education in their communities, but efforts are often obstructed by cultural opinions about education.

– Carly Campbell
Photo: Flickr

Startup Companies in India
With a booming population and competitive economy, India has made a mark in the global playing field. However, nearly 60 percent of India’s population lives on $3.10 per day and 21 percent (250 million people) live on $2 per day. The uneven spread of wealth leaves many people in poor living conditions. The top 1 percent of Indians own 58 percent of India’s wealth, meaning 16 people own the wealth of 600 million people. Unfortunately, over 70 percent of the population still lives in rural villages and work labor-intensive jobs with minimal profits.

The extremely high growth rate of the population leads to a strain on resources. This leads to growing illiteracy and a lack of health care facilities and services. Some expect the total Indian population to reach 1.5 billion by 2026 which means the country will require 20 million new jobs to sustain its people. There is now a desperate need for a better solution to pull people and their families out of poverty.

The Nature of Startup Companies in India

The economy in India continues to compete on a global scale as highly intellectual individuals are progressing with new businesses and startups. In fact, India is the home of 48 million new businesses, which is more than twice the number in the United States at 23 million. The startup companies in India have unlimited access to software and intelligence, making it a competitive playing field. Due to the startups, India has the fastest growing economy and market place in the entire world, taking over China and the United States.

The number of startup companies in India is continuing to grow from 3,100 companies in 2014 to an expected number of 11,500 companies by 2020. The current day and age make India an ideal place of startups as entrepreneurs have access to the internet, educational initiatives and experienced mentors. All of these factors improve the success of startup companies. India has the third-largest startup ecosystem in the world, which was worth over $32 billion in market valuation in 2017. The ever-growing field has drawn in numerous foreign investors leading to a 167 percent growth in 2016 alone.

How Startup Companies Create Jobs

The Indian government has recognized the growing startup companies and has created a plan for ‘New India.’ This involves encouraging employment among the youth. The millennials in India can take advantage of the possible employment ventures as startups create an open atmosphere for innovation. With new information trends every year, these creative companies are creating jobs for people and reducing poverty as people can better support themselves and their families. The startups alone create one billion jobs for millennials. Companies such as Flipkart, Ola and PayTM have an equity of $1 billion, inspiring young entrepreneurs to take risks and start companies. In 2016, India had the most job creation of all countries in the Asia and Pacific Region.

What Now?

Despite the high poverty rates in India, there are new opportunities emerging for people to improve their living conditions. The startup companies in India are extremely successful and allow for families to improve their financial standings. The nature of the startup ecosystem makes it easier for people to start new businesses and become successful. Startup companies in India are changing lives and the same could happen in other countries.

– Haarika Gurivireddygari
Photo: Flickr

Combating Poverty with Renewable EnergyIn the modern era, more than a billion people around the world live without power. Energy poverty is an ongoing problem in nations like Liberia where only about 2 percent of the population has regular access to electricity. The World Bank explains that “poor people are the least likely to have access to power, and they are more likely to remain poor if they stay unconnected.”

With the new global threat of climate change, ending poverty means developing renewable energy that will power the world without harming it. Here are five countries combating poverty with renewable energy.

5 Countries Combating Poverty with Renewable Energy

  1. India plans to generate 160 gigawatts of power using solar panels by 2022. According to the Council on Energy, Environment and Water and the Natural Resources Defense Council India must create an estimated 330,000 jobs to achieve this goal. With this new effort to expand access to renewable energy, East Asia is now responsible for 42 percent of the new renewable energy generated throughout the world.
  2. Rwanda is another nation combating poverty with renewable energy. The country received a Strategic Climate Fund Scaling Up Renewable Energy Program Grant of $21.4 million in 2017 to bring off-grid electricity to villages across the country. Mzee Vedaste Hagiriryayo, 62, is one of the many residents who have already benefited from this initiative. While previously the only energy Hagiriryayo knew was wood and kerosene, he gained access to solar power in June of 2017. He told the New Times, “Police brought the sun to my house and my village; the sun that shines at night.” Other residents say it has allowed children to do their homework at night and entrepreneurs to build grocery stores for the village.
  3. Malawi’s relationship with windmills started in 2002 when William Kamkwamba, famous for the book and Netflix film “The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind,” built his first windmill from scrap materials following a drought that killed his family’s crops for the season. Kamkwamba founded the Moving Windmill Project in 2008 with the motto, “African Solutions to African Problems.” Today the organization has provided solar water pumps to power water taps that save residents the time they had once spent gathering water. Additionally, it has added solar power internet and electricity to local high schools in order to combat poverty with renewable energy.
  4. Brazil has turned to an energy auction system for converting their energy sources over to renewable energy. Contracts are distributed to the lowest bidders with a goal of operation by the end of six years. Brazilian agency Empresa de Pesquisa Energetica (EPE) auctioned off 100.8 GW worth of energy on September 26, 2019. EPE accepted 1,829 solar, wind, hydro and biomass projects to be auctioned off at the lowest prices yet.
  5. Bangladesh is turning to small-scale solar power in order to drastically improve their access to energy. These low-cost home systems are bringing electricity to low-income families who would otherwise be living in the dark. The nation now has the largest off-grid energy program in the world, connecting about 5.2 million households to solar power every year, roughly 12 percent of the population.

With one in seven people living without electricity around the world, ending energy poverty could be the key to ending world poverty. The story of renewable energy around the world is one that is not only tackling climate change but also thirst, hunger and the income gap. According to Jordan’s Minister of Planning and International Cooperation, Imad Najib Fakhoury, “Our story is one of resilience and turning challenges into opportunities. With all honesty it was a question of survival, almost of life and death.” With lower costs and larger access, renewable energy is not only the future of environmental solutions but the future of development for countries all around the world.

Maura Byrne
Photo: Flickr

Feminine Product Companies that Give Back For people living in extreme poverty around the world, access to basic needs such as food, water, shelter and medical care is a daily struggle. In addition to this, women face another challenge — access to menstrual products like pads and tampons. In fact, 1 million women worldwide cannot afford sanitary products. This issue, called “period poverty,” is one that many people and organizations are trying to combat. Here are five feminine products that give back to women around the world.

5 Feminine Product Companies that Give Back to Women

  1. Cora – Cora is a company that sells organic tampons whose mission is to fight period poverty. Cora uses a portion of its monthly revenue to provide sustainable period management for women in India. The company also empowers women through employment and education opportunities. According to the company website, “with every Cora purchase, we provide pads and health education to a girl in need. We use the power of business to fight for gender equality and to provide products, education and jobs to girls and women in need in developing nations and right here at home.”
  2. Lunapads – Lunapads is a feminine product company that has been supporting menstrual and reproductive health as well as access to period education in the Global South since 2000 through an organization called Pads4Girls. Pads4Girls educates women about healthy and economically efficient period products, such as the use of washable cloth menstrual pads and underwear that can last for years. Pads4Girls has helped to supply 100,000+ reusable menstrual pads and period underwear to more than 17,000 menstruators in 18 different nations.
  3. Days for Girls – Days for Girls is an international organization whose mission is to address global issues surrounding period poverty and provide education and access to menstrual products to those living in poverty. The organization has been working to achieve this goal by developing global partnerships, cultivating social enterprises, mobilizing volunteers and innovating sustainable solutions that shatter stigmas and limitations for women and girls. To date, the Days for Girls movement has reached 1 million girls and counting.
  4. Bloody Good Period – Bloody Good Period is a period company based in the U.K. Gabby Edlin, the founder of the company, decided to do something about creating a sustainable flow of menstrual products for those who cannot afford them in the U.K. Bloody Good Period also sells merchandise and hosts events that highlight the stigmas around menstrual health and issues surrounding period poverty. The organization supplies 25 asylum seeker drop-in centers based in London and Leeds and supplies food banks and drop-in centers across the U.K. with period supplies.
  5. Sustainable Health Enterprises (SHE) – Sustainable Health Enterprises (SHE) is an organization whose main goal is to help women in Rwanda jumpstart locally owned franchises and businesses to manufacture and create affordable and eco-friendly pads. SHE works with local businesses to produce these pads with local farmers and manufacturing teams and works with these businesses on making pads affordable for those around the country. SHE also trains community health workers on how to provide education to boys and girls about puberty and menstrual hygiene. So far, SHE has allowed 60,101 girls and women living in poverty to have access to pads, and its mission has reached 4.3 million people through advocacy and social media.

Although the issue of period poverty continues to be a constant struggle for women and girls around the world, these were five feminine products that give back to women.

– Natalie Chen
Photo: Flickr

Provide Access to Clean Water
Back in 2011, the creator of AquaSafi, Kevin Cluff, wanted to provide a solution to those 800 million people in the world who do not have access to clean water. He then created water purification systems to place in developing countries to provide people with access to clean water. Cluff and AquaSafi partnered with NGOs in India to bring the systems to the country due to how expensive the systems are. AquaSafi has already provided over 100,000 people with access to clean water and helped communities in other ways too.

Water Purification Systems

Having access to clean water is arguably the biggest necessity in developing countries. Clean water access is crucial because, without it, people can contract waterborne diseases such as polio, malaria, cholera and diarrhea. Diarrhea alone causes 2.2 of the 3.4 million deaths from waterborne diseases a year because developing countries often do not have access to modern medicine. Unfortunately, having access to clean water is becoming harder when people are polluting more and more of the water supply.

Luckily, AquaSafi has provided a potential solution to this widespread problem. The water purification systems that AquaSafi has created utilize reverse osmosis systems, which is a process that uses pressure to eliminate contaminants from water. Because the systems use only pressure, they require little electricity, water and space to operate.

Clean Water at an Affordable Price

To bring its systems to developing countries, AquaSafi partners with NGOs in those areas. By gaining the investments from organizations like H2O for Humanity, AquaSafi opened up stores in India where people can buy 20 liters of water for 3 cents. This affordable pricing is essential in making this an effective solution, as those living in extreme poverty are frequently living under $1.90 a day.

Other Benefits of AquaSafi

Through opening these stores, communities have benefited in ways that one might not think. Before, up to 4,000 children died every day due to waterborne illnesses. Now, in the communities with AquaSafi, the child death rate has dropped so much that school attendance is up. Additionally, the removal of fluoride from water sources has made cramps and joint pains go away for many people. Lastly, by opening up stores in the communities that most need them, AquaSafi has provided employment opportunities for locals. The organization trains those people on how to operate the system and perform maintenance when necessary.

By providing the solution of its water purification systems, Aquasafi has helped provide access to clean water to hundreds of communities. To lower the price per 20 liters, AquaSafi partnered with NGOs like H2O for Humanity so that those living in extreme poverty can afford it. The stores placed in these communities have also allowed those living in extreme poverty to gain employment opportunities which allow for the money spent on the water to go back into the communities. Overall, these water purification systems can save thousands of lives at an affordable cost as well as benefit the communities financially, which could potentially start to uproot people out of extreme poverty.

– Ian Scott
Photo: Wikipedia Commons

Goonj
Goonj is a non-governmental organization working in various parts of India. It aims to share unused and unrequired materials from urban households with people living in rural areas to fulfill their needs. The organization believes that countries and economies can use urban discard to alleviate poverty and enhance the dignity of the poor.

The organization works across 23 states in India with 250 partner groups. It has offices with 150 full-time people and thousands of volunteers. The organization receives about 80-100 tonnes of material each month and turns it into material that people can productively use in the remote and impoverished areas of the country. In its latest annual report for 2017 to 2018, Goonj highlights that it has been able to reach over 3,600 villages in India and has dealt with more than 4,000 tonnes of material.

Various Initiatives

Goonj has performed various activities in different fields of work from 2017 to 2018. Some of its highlights include sanitation activities where it repurposed basic essentials like clothes and utility items into materials for women to use during menstruation. In addition to this, its initiative, Not just a Piece of Cloth, also aims to break the culture of shame and silence around menstruation. It turns these cloths into biodegradable clothes for women to use. When people from urban areas contribute their cotton bed sheets, curtains and shirts, the organization turns them into cloth pads for women in rural areas. It also holds gatherings for women to talk openly about the issue of menstruation, which many still consider a stigma in Indian society.

In the field of education, Goonj’s initiative School to School works towards using urban school material to address gaps in the rural education systems in India. Goonj was able to share 39,416 school kits to over 2,100 schools and 1,200 educational setups in villages. In addition, children in rural areas learn value for their belongings as they take up various educational and behavioral change activities which reward them these school kits. Not only does this initiative provide the poor with resources for education, but it also teaches them values.

Other areas of work that the organization focuses on are road repairs, disaster relief and health that it can perform with the excess raw materials it receives. Its initiative Cloth for Work works on rural developmental activities while Raahat provides disaster relief. Meanwhile, Green, an in-house brand, creates items from the last bits of materials it receives. These are also extremely successful ventures and have impacted a large population of the country.

Awards and Recognition

Goonj has received various awards for the work it does all over India. In 2012, NASA and the U.S. State Department chose it as a Game-Changing Innovation and in the same year, Forbes magazine listed Anshu Gupta, Goonj’s founder, as one of India’s most powerful rural entrepreneurs. In recognition of its important work, Goonj has received the Japanese Award for Most Innovative Development Project by the Global Development Fund and continues to impact the country to build sustainability and impact the rural population.

– Isha Akshita Mahajan
Photo: Flickr

EdTech in India
Education Technology, also known as EdTech, is a current driving force for major improvements to education in India. The information and communication technology placed in school systems throughout the country helps bring outside knowledge to classrooms that would have been previously inaccessible. Edtech has recently dropped in pricing, making the equipment and technology easily accessible in less developed areas and easier to implement in impoverished schools.

Four Key Facts About India’s Educational System

  1. India has one of the largest populations of school-age children, with an estimated 270 million children between the ages of 5 to 17.
  2. The country has four main levels for education: pre-primary from ages 3 to 6, primary from ages 6 to 10, secondary from ages 11 to 17 and tertiary from ages 18 to 22.
  3. Children must attend school from ages 6 to 13.
  4. School systems have seen a major increase in student enrollment in recent years, with a 15.37 percent increase of total gross enrollment in secondary education between 2009 and 2016.

While enrollment has increased, education in India is still behind with teaching methods and test scores. Many students test poorly in math and reading skills and teaching quality decreases in rural areas. In 2015, the mean achievement scores for math at a national level for rural areas was 247, while the urban score was 256. Urban areas also scored 19 points higher in English, with a mean score of 263. With less access to teachers and educational materials, the rural school systems face more deficits than urban areas.

Education technology is a relatively new concept for foreign countries, but the benefits to technology-infused classrooms are well known. Below are three benefits of increasing EdTech usage in Indian school systems.

Three Benefits of Increasing EdTech Usage in Indian Schools

  1. EdTech Bridges the Gap Between Rural and Urban Education: EdTech incorporates text, audio and video to teach and elaborate on classroom subjects. This technology fills in knowledge gaps when teachers are absent or less educated with certain materials. The language in these materials is also more streamlined, making topics easier to understand for a multitude of students. Video lessons make classes more consistent in all schools, eliminating the variation of teaching materials around the country. These programs also make student data more accessible to teachers, with some methods collecting and compiling data on student progress for teachers to be able to track progress and note areas that need improvement.
  2. EdTech Programs Emphasize Specialized and Individual Learning Plans: Education in India has previously been less effective at aiding students individually; through the implementation of EdTech, schools are better able to cater to students’ needs and adapt specific programs to better suit individual learning styles. Mindspark, an Indian based company that delves into education through videos, games and questions, is working to pique students’ interest in non-traditional ways. The software takes the basic values of comprehension for each student and adapts lesson plans to better fit their needs. The company recently worked with over 600 students in Delhi, citing increases in understanding of math and Hindi.
  3. EdTech Forms a Collaborative Space for Education: As more teachers begin to incorporate the newer technologies into the classroom, lesson plans will become more consistent in each region. Teachers will also be able to share effective teaching strategies using newer technology to benefit classrooms with less access to EdTech. This technology also makes information about students’ success more accessible to parents. Automated messaging to parents regarding progress can increase test scores for students overall.

While Edtech is benefitting education in India, foreign investments heavily fund the current ventures. Further development into education technology would require extensive partnership with the government, but some are taking steps to bring more technology into Indian classrooms. Prices for tablets and computers have decreased in recent years, making these educational programs more accessible to the multitudes. Many state-run schools have some access to these newer programs, and India is making more strides towards providing EdTech for students in all regions.

– Kristen Bastin
Photo: Flickr

Five Microsoft Initiatives Improving Education in India
With 372,601 people under the age of 14, India’s school-age population demonstrates a massive market for scholastic innovations. The country has been working to build the level of technology-infused education throughout the eight years of compulsory education. Only 3.8 percent of India’s GDP is currently being used for education, so outside companies also work to contribute to the educational system.

Microsoft initiatives have influenced STEM education throughout the country. Microsoft has partnered with many schools and government programs to improve education in India. Five Microsoft initiatives improving education in India include Project Shiksha, Project Shaskam, Showcase Schools, Microsoft Academia Accelerator and Microsoft Innovative Educator.

Project Shiksha

Project Shiksha was founded in 2003 to target classrooms lacking technology to aid education. Teachers participate in a six-day intensive program to build computer skills for classrooms and administrative duties. Incorporating technology into Indian classrooms helps to build a more effective learning environment and engage a wider range of students.

As of 2018, Project Shiksha has impacted more than 430,000 students in India. The program has trained 9,246 teachers throughout the country to better incorporate technology into the daily curriculum. Additionally, in the Karnataka region, Project Shiksha has impacted eight districts, 992 schools, 5658 teachers and 3,13,748 students since the project began. In that region alone, the program has instilled three different IT centers to improve computer education and technology literacy.

Project Shaskam

Project Shaskam helps fund professional development classes to train faculty in technological skills for the classroom. The program helps educators to digitize classrooms and bring more technology-based learning lessons to students. This can drastically improve the level of education in India. Less than one in five teachers in India are qualified to teach, as demonstrated through the dwindling numbers of teachers passing evaluation tests in Maharashtra. In 2015, only one percent of teachers tested passed the end of year evaluation tests. Project Shaskam ensures teachers in public education sectors are sufficiently trained to educate students in India.

Since 2011, Project Shaskam has trained more than 4,228 teachers in more than 148 Indian universities. The educators that participated in the program have since trained 1,126 other teachers in these skills. Teachers are trained to use multiple Microsoft programs, including Microsoft Office, Microsoft OneNote Class Notebook, Sway and other programs. The institutes involved in Project Shaskam include SRM University, Geetanjali Girls College, NIMS University, Shaheed Sukhdev College of Business Studies, Jai Narain Vyas University and Integral University. As of 2018, the program impacted 931 teachers at 25 universities.

Showcase Schools

Showcase Schools focuses on building and maintaining leadership skills throughout globally recognized schools to enable educators to create a more effective learning environment in Indian classrooms. The program emphasizes one to one learning techniques. This helps teachers build more personal relationships with students in the classroom and push students to be more successful. Showcase School leaders work together to create a collaborative space to explore teaching ideas and methods to heighten the usage of technology in Indian schools.

More than 126 schools are currently working under the Showcase Schools initiative to impact more than 4,000 students. The Microsoft Showcase School Leaders Forum, hosted in 2016 through a partnership with The Aga Khan Academy, featured multiple Showcase School leaders who shared new ideas for innovative education platforms using technology. One example of the program’s impact on education in India is the two-day INFINITUS Fest held at Delhi Public School in Ghaziabad. The event, in collaboration with Microsoft India, also impacted 17 other schools.

Microsoft Academia Accelerator

The Academia Accelerator program began in 2014 to create a long-lasting relationship between Microsoft and programs benefitting education in India. The program helps facilitate developments in Indian schools and universities to ensure the programs continue to modernize. Furthermore, Academia Accelerator works to improve student understanding of newer technology and ensures that computer-based skills are retained throughout classes.

Academia Accelerator has partnered with 18 different schools throughout India to improve education systems. Microsoft sponsors Code.Fun.Co, an annual event featuring a 20-hour hackathon for the students at partnered universities. This event allows students to address real-world issues through technology and coding programs. The program also hosts AXLE, a Microsoft Academia Accelerator showcase in India, to discuss the impact of AI and technology in learning. This showcase includes keynote speakers, the Code.Fun.Co competition and innovative new technology designs. These activities help inspire students to dive further into STEM education in India and tackle large-scale issues in the community.

Microsoft Innovative Educator

Of the five Microsoft initiatives improving education in India, Microsoft Innovative Educator program seeks out educators who are going above and beyond using technology to reach students in new and exciting ways. The program works as an advocate for technology-infused schools, bringing in outside sources to merge the traditional educational system with more modern technology to strengthen the level of material in schools.

Innovative Educator reached 443 teachers in 2018 to create an educational group that encourages technology use in Indian classrooms. At the 2019 Education Exchange (E2) conference in Paris, India’s representative group was the largest to date with 10 Microsoft Innovative Educator (MIE) Experts, six school leaders and three MIE Fellows. Six of the Indian educators and fellows also participated on winning teams at the conference, showing their unique approaches to adding technology into the classroom.

Five Microsoft initiatives improving education in India are Project Shiksha, Project Shaskam, Showcase Schools, Microsoft Academia Accelerator and Microsoft Innovative Educator. These programs reinforce technology-based education and improve the level of materials in classrooms throughout the country.

– Kristen Bastin
Photo: Flickr

sustainable farmingHunger and food insecurity are major issues in India; the nation is home to 15 percent of the world’s undernourished people. The United Nations’ FAO estimates that every single day, more than 195 million people in India suffer from hunger.

The nation seriously lags behind other major nations like Brazil and China when it comes to crop yield for cereal and rice, which are India’s two key crops. India’s slow and inefficient agricultural sector is the result of limited access to modern technology, inefficient systems for transporting goods and urbanization. And on top of that, 63 percent of agricultural land is dependent on rainfall, so years with low rain devastate crop production. Despite all of this, farmers in India have started movements to utilize more sustainable farming methods and practices that work to make the agricultural system more efficient in order to increase outputs and improves people’s lives.

Sustainable Farming Methods

Sustainable farming practices are used to improve agricultural output and efficiency, which means that more food is produced, less resources are used and more profits are made by farmers. Examples of sustainable farming methods include using a biodegradable mulch film instead of one made from Polyethylene. While Polyethylene films require intense labor to remove, and can affect soil quality and crop growth if done improperly, biodegradable films are naturally absorbed by microorganisms in the soil, and help maintain the quality of soil while reducing costs of labor. Farmers will also use fungicides and insecticides on their seeds in order to improve the health of their crops and enhance their productivity. In addition, due to the fact that agriculture relies so heavily on rainfall, effective sustainable water management is crucial for a successful harvest.

Along with how crops are grown, how they are stored and distributed is a crucial aspect of agriculture. An estimated up to 67 million tons of food are wasted every year in India. Perishable goods end up often rotting as a result of a lack of modern technology, pests, or weather. Sustainable initiatives like using more efficient insulation and special tarpaulins that keep fruits and vegetables at proper temperatures during transportation work to reduce the number of perishables that rot. Reducing the amount of food that rots means that there is more food available to eat, which combats food insecurity and ensure that more food items are available without even increasing crop yield. And of course, combining these efforts with initiatives to produce food more sustainably and efficiently does even more to fight food insecurity.

The Natural Farming Movement

India’s Natural Farming movement plays a massive role in promoting sustainable farming practices that improve health, create jobs, cut labor costs and improve peoples’ overall quality of life. The use of pesticides has devastated farmers across India which has led to the loss of crops, debt, illness and even death. In 2000, villagers from the village of Punukula, Andrha Pradesh, launched a grassroots movement against the use of pesticides, focusing on non-pesticide management techniques that employ natural alternatives like chili pepper and planting trap crops like castor.

Within a year of the start of the movement, farmers saw pesticide-related health issues vanish, expenses drop, and profits increase. In addition, new jobs were created as a result of the need to create repellents from natural products. Villagers reported that the movement improved their quality of life — improving their financial situations, their health and their overall happiness. More villagers began to reject the use of pesticides, and the village declared itself as pesticide-free in 2004.

Zero Budget Natural Farming

A similar natural farming movement is Zero Budget Natural Farming, which began as a grassroots effort led by people in the state of Karnataka. Zero Budget entails that farmers do not spend money on inputs for their crops and that they would rather use resources from nature to grow and tend to their crops instead of chemicals, thus Zero Budget Natural Farming. Using natural products instead of taking out loans to spend on chemicals allows for farmers to save money, which improves their financial stability and allows them to focus more on tending to their crops.

A key aspect of Zero Budget Natural Farming is the use of the fermented microbial culture Jeevamrutha (a mixture of water, cow urine, cow dung, flour, soil, and brown sugar) on soil. Jeevanmrutha acts as a catalyst in promoting earthworm and microorganism activity within the soil, while also providing the soil with additional nutrients. Using natural products instead of taking out loans to spend on chemicals allows for farmers to save money, providing them with more financial stability and thus improving their quality of life.

The Zero Budget Natural Farming movement actually runs training camps that receive support by the state government. These camps last five days, with eight hours of classes per day. Attendance ranges from 300 to 5000 farmers, and topics covered include philosophy, ecology, successful farming practices, and of course, Zero Budget Natural Farming methods.

A Promising Future

The people of India suffer enormously from hunger and food insecurity. India’s weak and inefficient agricultural and food storage and distribution systems, coupled with devastating years of low rain often leads Indian farmers into bad health, hunger, and poverty. However, farmers in India have started a movement towards a more efficient, sustainable, and eco-friendly farming techniques that fight against poverty and hunger. Using these sustainable techniques means that farmers have fewer costs upfront, ensuring that they are able to make higher profits and worry less about having to take loans or to pay off debts. Sustainable farming in India reduces poverty, fights hunger, and changes lives.

Nicholas Bykov
Photo: Flickr

 

health policyKerala, a state within India, is renowned for its effective policies in education, literacy, and healthcare. Kerala has the second-lowest rate of poverty in India, and that figure has been steadily declining since 1994. Health policies that provide affordable and accessible healthcare to the state’s low-income populations have been critical in its success defeating poverty, but relatively high levels of inequality and emerging health challenges, including an aging population and lifestyle diseases like diabetes, remain policy challenges for Kerala moving forward.

Kerala’s Current Health Needs

One of Kerala’s most pressing healthcare challenges is caring for its rapidly aging population. Kerala’s population over the age of 60 is expected to double by 2050, and as a larger proportion of people are retired, the state needs a healthcare infrastructure designed to support the health needs of the elderly.

A trustee of an NGO focused on healthcare for the underprivileged in Kerala, who wished to remain anonymous, pointed out changing lifestyles as the cause of some of Kerala’s growing health issues. Non-communicable diseases are on the rise; cancer and diabetes have become the two largest causes of death in the state.

While infectious diseases remain under control compared to other parts of India, re-emergence of certain diseases have led to rather high morbidity in some areas. Additionally, despite significant efforts on the part of the state to place healthcare in the hands of local authorities, and what the NGO trustee says is the highest ratio of doctors to the public in rural areas of any state in India, rural parts of Kerala still do not receive the same quality of care as do urban areas. Likewise, although Kerala has the lowest infant mortality and maternal mortality rates of any Indian state, the government still aims to reduce these rates further.

Policy Solutions

Because healthcare in India is managed at the state level, Kerala’s state government is responsible for formulating its own comprehensive healthcare policy. The state has a history and culture of providing health services to the public; as early as 1879, vaccinations were made mandatory for specific subsets of the population. Since India’s independence in 1947, Kerala has worked to expand easy, community-based access to primary care, prevention services, and specialized treatments.

Kerala’s decentralized healthcare model is a key component of its success in providing affordable and accessible care. After a statewide movement towards expensive private healthcare in the 1980s due to a lack of resources in the public health sector, in 1996, Kerala’s state government decentralized public healthcare through the People’s Campaign for Decentralized Planning. Decentralization shifted approximately 40 percent of state healthcare funding to local governments, prioritizing creating community-based services that are accessible to all regardless of income or caste, as a private-dominated system was consistently barring the poor from accessing care across Kerala.

Looking to the Future

Another key element of Kerala’s healthcare successes has been its willingness to generate policies anticipating future healthcare needs. As the state’s population ages rapidly, policy is already being generated to combat this coming issue. Senior care facilities are already being constructed across the state, existing facilities are being made more equipped for geriatric care, and the Pain and Palliative Care Policy of 2008 has increased the amount of home-based care at the local level.

Likewise, to combat the re-emergence of infectious diseases like diarrhea, typhoid, and Dengue fever, Kerala has invested in information-gathering at the household level in order to observe the spread of such illnesses. As diabetes, cancer, and cardiovascular disease came to account for more than half of all deaths in Kerala, the National Programme for Prevention of CVD, Diabetes, Cancer and Stroke (NPCDCS) was introduced in Pathanamthitta district in 2010 and has since been expanded statewide.

This year, Kerala’s government passed a policy for comprehensive healthcare reform. This new policy seeks to reshape the state’s health services to better account for an aging population, re-emerging infectious diseases and non-communicable lifestyle diseases like diabetes and cardiovascular disease, and to expand mental healthcare. It will increase public spending on healthcare more than eightfold in order to further lower the price of public health services as well as providing treatment guidelines to ensure a more even quality of treatment across the state. This comes at the same time as the state is expanding its public health insurance coverage.

Impact on Poverty

Despite the government’s continued efforts to decrease the cost of healthcare and the fact that privatized healthcare services are still largely inaccessible to the poor, Kerala has accomplished several significant victories in providing affordable and accessible healthcare. According to the NGO trustee, no one needs to travel more than 10 kilometers to a primary health centre (PHC), and medicines are provided for free at PHCs across Kerala. Decentralization of healthcare has cut costs significantly, and the state’s new health policy seeks to encourage subsidized public healthcare even further while increasing insurance coverage.

Certainly, Kerala’s innovative health policy is a critical component of its low and steadily decreasing poverty rate. However, underprivileged individuals–including the poor, those in rural areas, women, and the elderly–continue to receive lower quality care and less of it. That is why NGOs and nonprofits like the trustee’s organization must continue to exist, and why the government continues its fight for constant improvement of Kerala’s health policy.

Macklyn Hutchison
Photo: Flickr