By Azim Premji
Two weeks ago, i travelled across northeast Karnataka and spent time in the districts of Gulbarga, Bijapur and Yadgir, including many villages and small towns. Almost all my time was spent in government schools, with children, teachers and other functionaries of the system. I also spent some time with people from a few village communities.
This large area of Karnataka is very disadvantaged. A week spent in such a region can be very disturbing because it reveals the reality of inequality and injustice that millions of our fellow citizens face. But despite glaringly visible problems and challenges, the week was also deeply energising and filled me with hope because of the spirit of the people i met there. My experience is best described by two examples.
I met a girl who was about 16. She was clear that she wanted to join the police service. She opened up about her life. She spoke of an incident when a man harassed her, and how she confronted him directly and stopped him in his tracks. Her boldness and courage would do anyone proud. She comes from an area riven by deep seated gender disparity and discrimination. Her family is deeply disadvantaged and it is obvious that all odds are heavily loaded against her.
However, she is what she is, an individual with courage, conviction and aspirations. She is admirable. A local group of people and an NGO, which mobilises the community to help young girls, has supported her. And she is one among the hundreds who have benefited. The young people i met and the NGO that works with them are a remarkable example of resilience and of battling for justice.
I also met, across all villages and small towns, hundreds of teachers from government schools who are deeply committed and motivated. They spend their own money and come on their own time, often on a public holiday or weekend, to learn something new, so that they can become better teachers.
I can tell you that even in a successful IT company there will be very few takers if you ask people to come on a Sunday, at their own cost, to learn and become better software engineers. But these teachers do this. They recognise from within themselves that as educators, they have a deep responsibility. That, in many ways, the future of our children is in their hands.
This positive experience with government schoolteachers is not limited to Karnataka but true across the country. Our experience has been that 10-20% teachers everywhere are highly motivated. They lead positive change.
It’s true that 10-20% are quite disengaged. However even more importantly, the middle 60% work positively if the right atmosphere and support structure is provided. Also, if young people who are just getting into the profession have the right environment, then they can develop as genuinely committed educators.
To me, all this is reason for great hope. It certainly is positive reason for hope that in the frontline of our public education, in the government school system, there are a significant number of people working for genuine improvement. And this includes not just teachers but also officials at various levels of the system.
Our schools and colleges need to improve on very many counts. We are aware of these challenges. I believe our efforts to improve the system will receive a big fillip if we harness and channelise the abundant positive energy that i alluded to. We can’t always keep blaming and castigating people in our public systems because that is no way for any positive change to happen.
We have to provide support and create the environment for such change to happen, for people to feel empowered and take the initiative. And at the same time we must strongly reaffirm our commitment to the public education system; this is a very fundamental issue.
I think that any good society needs robust public systems, and certainly a good public education system is of utmost importance. This is why when we started our Foundation 15 years ago, we were clear that we will work with state governments to help improve the government schooling system.
Let me end by saying that all my life, i have learnt that ordinary people are capable of doing extraordinary things. For this they need to be trusted, encouraged and empowered. This is not the only thing that needs to be done, but nothing else will work unless we do this.
That is because in a country of our size and our complexity, a few supermen or superwomen can’t change the nation. We should engage and energise the average citizen. This includes the teachers, health workers, mid-level officials, and many more in all kinds of roles and also all of us.
I know that this is possible. I have hope because i have seen this happen. I have had the privilege of seeing often, what i saw with teachers in northeast Karnataka and with the 16-year-old girl who wanted to join the police service. It’s that spirit that will build a good and great India, the India that we have envisioned in our Constitution. And we must all work for that.
Excerpts from a speech delivered by Azim Premji, Chairman, Wipro Ltd at a recent interaction with IAS and IPS officers
DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author’s own.