Achieving universal education in the rural areas of the state seems to be a pipe dream with a recent report suggesting at least 50% student dropouts in primary education. In fact, the number is over 40% in case of students under the age of 12. Binayaka Acharya of Think Zone has come up with a unique ‘School in a box’ solution to overcome this worrying situation. In a tête-à-tête with Chaitali Shome of Orissa Post, he threw light on his novel initiative and future plans.
Brief us about yourself.
I am Binayak Acharya from Cuttack. Being an XIMB alumnus, I used to work with World Bank and VC Fund Unit in Bangalore. However, I realised that my home state of Odisha is lacking in terms of quality education. Hence, I thought of a solution where I can track the diverse challenges in multiple districts of the state and ways of resolving them.
What is Think Zone all about?
Think Zone is creating a scalable model of technology and community interventions that can be adapted in the local context. Our work is unique because we are developing a tech-based pedagogy for first generations learners and for improving the skills of facilitators who come from a limited education background. We now want to take our work to the next level by streamlining systems and processes and making the existing technology platform more accessible and robust.
Can you throw light on your attempts to educate poor students?
For children born into poverty, quality early education interventions hold the promise of overcoming social disadvantages and helping break the cycle of poverty between generations. India is going through a serious learning crisis due to lack of proper education support early-on with no attention to improve learning levels, leading to massive school drop-outs. Quality education is seen as an opportunity to work and a lack of it creates an acute deficiency in workforce, especially women workforce leading to massive gender inequality. This is a vicious cycle that needs to be broken quickly. Our initiative is a step in this regard.
Describe the working model of Think Zone.
I have always been fascinated by various community-based models wherein underserved areas have come to the forefront through innovative local level approaches. So we have introduced education with tablets which would enable children to see and learn. Our social enterprise focuses on building a financially sustainable model which incorporates the mission of providing quality education in villages and making learning at a very early level valuable and enjoyable where interested village women are managing the school while teaching students. Currently, Think Zone caters to 2,300+ students through 100+ teachers across3 districts. Focussing on quality over quantity, we have developed and tested our solution and implementation repeatedly across regions and student groups to track outcomes.
Does your initiative empower village women?
We train women as entrepreneurs and educators in their communities to develop, run, market and manage Think Zone centres. Women in local communities are not only well-versed with the developmental needs of children, but also qualified. However, due to lack of dignified livelihood opportunities, many of them retire to household chores and livestock management.
Where do you see Think Zone in the coming years?
We are here to empower both children and women through our ‘School in a box’ programme. We hope to cover at least 70% of Odisha by the next two years.