Home CATEGORIES Education and Skill Training We Don’t Give Fish But Teach People How to Fish: Radha Goenka,...

We Don’t Give Fish But Teach People How to Fish: Radha Goenka, Director, RPG Foundation

Right to Education has certainly increased the number of school enrolments in India, in return improving the literacy rate in the last decade. However, it has done little to reduce unemployment rates. Unemployability of the youth, and technology development has made it necessary to implement skill development programs. However, there is a need to improve the quality of education by updating the curriculum, infrastructure and knowledge of teachers.
Working towards the cause is RPG Foundation through its initiative Pehlay Akshar. Here are the excerpts of the interview with Ms. Radha Goenka, Director, RPG Foundation.
What is your opinion on the recent changes made in the CSR mandate?
Overall, the changes in the mandate are good. Governance practises like mandatory impact assessments for contributions larger than 5 crores, will ensure real transformations are taking place. Depositing unspent money in an escrow account is also a good addition – in a country like India, there is no dearth of causes that can be supported. If a company is unable to identify a worthy cause the government is helping them reimburse the money in appropriate ways.
How do you think CSR has impacted in transforming the education system of India?
At an ideological level, the education policy of India is very progressive. But the system lacks funding and has implementation gaps. CSR has helped the education system through the funding of NGO’s that support the education system.
Corporate Social Responsibility right now, unfortunately, for most companies means providing funding to the social sector and being compliant to the law. The real value addition that companies can bring, would be if they could bring corporate practices to the social sector. For education, in particular, it would be helpful to work with the government to address the implementation issues. It would also help to have government support great education programs initiated by companies and help scale up such initiatives.
What inspired you to work in the CSR or social sector?
Giving back was something that I always believed in. All through my life, I would seek opportunities to give back as and when I could. I was a volunteer at Akanksha when I was 15. Even when I studied at the University of Pennsylvania I was involved with the Kite and Key Mentoring Society and mentored kids in a West Philadelphia public school. When I came back from the US back in 2008, CSR was a relatively new concept in the West and my husband Anant inspired me to introduce it to RPG. I instantly connected with the idea and decided to introduce it to RPG.
Please tell us a bit about the Pehlay Akshar initiative by RPG Foundation.
We initiated the Pehlay Akshar program in 2008. As part of the program, we implement a “functional’’ English program in 67 schools (BMC and Zila Parishad schools) across 11 locations in the country. The program has two verticals – Pehlay Akshar Schooling and the Pehlay Askhar Training. The schooling vertical is a 6-year program that focuses on building the reading, listening and comprehension skills i.e. overall English communication skills of children, thus making them more ready for the 21st-century workplace. We have created our own in-house curriculum that incorporates international learning philosophies and made them relevant to our audience.
The Teacher Training vertical is an extension to our in-school functional English program. Its objective is to build the teachers capability and help them to create a safe learning environment in their classroom. We use a Self Help Group (SHG) model (wherein teachers meet in small groups of 6) on a weekly basis, and to create a habitual mindset change in our teachers by using the three Pehlay Akshar pillars of appreciation, motivation and engagement. We use an app (developed in-house) to help teachers access content and learning resources offline, cross-learning and encourage continual learning.
Can you share some stories with us that you came across during the implementation of the project?
Siddhi Kadam, a child who has been part of the Pehlay Akshar program in Worli for over four years shared her experience wherein she surprised her mother’s colleagues by speaking to them in English; defying their expectations that she would only be conversant in Hindi. This gave her a tremendous boost of confidence and encouraged her to keep learning. Siddhi is now in the 8th grade and continues her journey of learning.
A teacher in a government school in Halol shared that, as a result of the teacher training program, he and his colleagues have started identifying weaker kids in school and devising innovative ways of encouraging them- one of the ways they do so is by devising a buddy system to encourage and befriend these kids. In an environment where children are reprimanded for non-performance, this is a heartening example of how the program helps create a shift in behavioural patterns and the way teachers approach teaching.
What is your impact measurement procedure? How do you strive to improve on the execution?
We conduct yearly baseline and endline evaluations to assess the effectiveness of the schooling program and actively incorporate the learnings in the program. Feedback is a critical component of our strategy as it helps us make our curriculum and teaching methods relevant and helps us deliver a consistent high quality program across so many geographies. We currently evaluate only 10% of our population and use volunteers to conduct our evaluations. In the future, we do hope to increase our sample size and get an external agency to conduct the assessment.
As part of the training program, we assess quality through continuous one on one feedback from the government officials and teachers. We recently commissioned Sattva to conduct an evaluation of the effectiveness of our training program. Owing to the success of the program and the Sattva report we have managed to get mandatory training permissions for our teacher training program in Halol, Gujarat and are working on doing the same in other locations.
Right to education is a fundamental right according to the Indian Constitution. How is RPG foundation working towards ensuring this?
At the Foundation, our single point focus is to drive employment. Everything we do is centred around driving employment. We firmly believe in empowering people to become independent. As the famous adage goes, we don’t give fish but teach people how to fish to ensure they can feed themselves.
Pehlay Akshar our education program – teaches teachers how to teach better and teaches children ‘functional’ English, i.e. English to be employed in an English speaking job.
Under our Women Empowerment program, we train women to become bedside assistants in the health care sector and also train women to become drivers and help them get employed with companies like Ola and Uber.
Even under our Heritage program where we take on heritage sites that need restoration, we focus on driving employment in the surrounding communities either through the site or independent of it.
Thus, we truly believe and embody the human right to education. We try our best to propagate it through everything we do.
Lack of appropriate skills is one of the major hurdles in providing quality education to children. Government initiatives like Nishtha are trying to bridge that gap. How can India Inc partner with the government to accelerate this process?
A teacher is the centre of the learning process and is the most important component. I am glad that the government understands this and is investing in the teacher, with teacher training initiatives like Nishtha.
Overall India Inc does a good job with developing and retaining talent. The skills that corporate India uses with its own employees can be replicated with some adjustments to make it relevant to the schooling system. That is what we are trying to do with our Training program.
What is your personal involvement like in the project?
Pehlay Akshar is very close to my heart. I started it with a one-person team and one school in Worli 11 years ago. I am personally involved in every aspect of the program. We have now grown it into a large team with 50+ people and 2000+ schools. I now look at all the Foundation programs but am still closely involved with Pehlay Akshar too.
What is your vision for the children of our country?
Our vision at the foundation is to ensure that all children have access to a good quality holistic education. An education that not only equips them with skills that makes them employable in the workplace but also sparks a joy of learning that keeps them seeking opportunities for growth all through their lives.

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The CSR Journal Team