Think Big, says Shankar Maruwada


This is an excerpt of an article published on the knowledge hub website on March 1st, 2021. 

CEO and Co-founder of the EkStep Foundation, Shankar Maruwada, explains how they’re leveraging technology, big data and mobile platforms to drive forward education at scale in India.

Infosys Chairman and Co-founder, Nandan Nilekani, and Rohini Nilekani, are the other two Co-founders of the EkStep Foundation.  Both Nandan and Rohini are signatories of The Giving Pledge — a commitment made by billionaires to giving the majority of their wealth to philanthropy.

Infosys is one of the world’s largest IT firms and Nandan Nilekani’s involvement places the EkStep Foundation in a strong position to leverage technology in pursuit of education — the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal 4 (SDG4).

The EkStep Foundation was set up in 2015. The idea was to think big: they aimed for a big goal to reach 200 million children in India and improve their access to learning opportunities and help them achieve improved learning outcomes.

At EkStep, they have a sense of urgency and believe that social good can be done at the scale of the entire population. Time is of the essence since every single year there are 20 million children in India who enter and exit the education system. Therefore, every year wasted is tremendously costly.  In addition to speed and scale, the third key consideration is ensuing their work is sustainable.

Organisationally speaking, the EkStep Foundation is relatively small and only has approximately 40 members of staff — considering they’re reaching more than 200 million children, this is quite a good ratio.

Shankar sheds light on the technology and methods they’re embracing to improve education for millions of children. One of the challenges is ensuring their approach is compatible with the sheer scale and diversity of India, with 25+ formal administrative languages and hundreds of dialects. 

The technology should also help the existing ecosystem of actors since at EkStep they’re not interested in becoming yet another player in this field but, rather, they wish to facilities and improve the capacity of what’s already in place. The technology should fit in with the existing constraints and habits of the chidden, the schools and the education systems in place.

At EkStep, they thought long and hard about the possible ways in which they could help and ultimately ended up focusing on the humble textbooks that are delivered to millions of households annually.

 In India, a billion textbooks are printed and distributed to children across the country entirely for free every year. A child may lack many things but a textbook is unlikely to be one of them.

 Instead of thinking of the textbook as an outdated technology, they looked at imbedding QR codes so that when you access these QR codes you get content that’s relevant to the chapter and book you’re studying from.  It’s a gateway to content that is interactive, trusted and relevant to the learner.  It is a simple but effective approach....for more, click here