If Einstein had to write his famous equation in the context of the changes in Bihar it would translate into:
EDUCATION = MATH * COMMUNICATION * CURIOSITY (and probably have a 3rd C as another element for ‘Confidence’!!)
Gyanshala’s  innovative pedagogy and Chaitanya Gurukul’ s integration of technology and web content into education are building a strong case for innovation in getting effective education to the most remote and poor corners of India – by focusing on whats essential.
Dr. Pankaj Jain, Founder of Gyanshala describes it as the class room that must be within a socially walkable distance for a 6 year old girl. Anything further – and the really poor child, without support to reach a school, will never reach the school. And the focus of the curriculum? Maths, Communication and lots of curiosity enabling tools that push the limits of the child’s capability.
Both the models illustrate that ideas can grow within the constraints that are existing. Pankaj shared the 3 critical boundaries he was working within:
- Operate at a COST that it can really run at the scale needed (millions of children without any access to effective education)
- Provide FAR BETTER education than ‘normal’. To negate the handicap of the poverty and in access for so many years
- Acknowledge the fact that the organization will only be able to afford moderately qualified human resources at best and must build talent and capacity from there
So how can this be done?
I met Chandrakant Singh, Researcher at General Motors by day and passionate change maker for Bihar by night. His email ID is a huge giveaway for where his heart lies (firstname.lastname@example.org !!). Cannot get more straight to the point.
With a deep understanding of technology and artificial intelligence (two patents to his name!) that he applies at General Motors, Chandrakant wanted to change his village in Bihar from being a remote corner of the world to being the hub of education. So a few generators power the school premises (no grid power yet), teachers download content from the internet, classrooms are equipped with projectors, laptops, datacards and all curriculum is supplemented with videos, web content and the latest in examples from across the world.
This is a school in Gopalgunj District, Bihar, 10km from the North east corridor. 500 students have joined the first year of operations and in the last 9 months are already dreaming of being engineers, astronauts and scientists. Chandrakant highlights the focus of the curriculum. Maths, Communication and a lot of curiosity encouraged through the use of global examples. Teachers are mostly graduates from local areas, trained by Chandrakant and enabled by a group of highly acclaimed academicians from the IITs.
With a Team placed in Gopalgunj, Chandrakant runs this entire operation remotely from Bangalore – in his own words he said “In the two hours it takes me to work and back, asking a bunch of detailed questions to my team, managing it all through a Rs. 1500 Mobile phone from Bangalore.” Technology enables a lot, at low cost!
The school wants to be completely self sustainable – even within its remote setting. Its now building a solar energy solution for power combined with a Husk biogas based power plant for its entire campus. Coming up next an engineering college and a resident research and development cell that will focus on breakthroughs in education methodologies.
Similarily Gyanshala’s focus on their teaching methodology has been the key for success. Designed for very very poor children who do not even access the Government schools, this programme is in partnership with the Sarva Siksha Abhiyan – but is an innovative experiment to go further. The location of the classrooms is most unlikely for a school – but each class is very close to where communities live. Each day is broken into 3 worksheets. Teachers are enabled with tools, workbooks and an academic design team. This allows even a moderately able teacher to use the worksheets and ensure children learn, practice and grow.
6 years old’s I met during my visit demonstrated how well they knew their tables and how easy addition and subtraction was for them. Confidence is high, even though the economic conditions are extremely poor.
I am hoping that more Gyanshala’s will yield more enlightened engineers like Chandrakants who will build more Chaitanya Gurukuls. Driving India into the next decade with an educated, confident pool of youngsters. 
Lets Change Bihar!
Note: These meetings and interactions were done as a part of the India Development Marketplace 2011 outreach process, in an attempt to seek and identify Social Enterprises that are creating high Social impact and also demonstrating a movement towards financial self sustainability. More details on the competition available at www.dm-india.com