Royal education focus

His majesty Druk Gyalpo (King) Jigme Khesar Namgyal Wangchuk, the fifth monarch of Bhutan (pop. 6 million) — the stamp size Himalayan kingdom sandwiched between India’s eastern border and China — recently celebrated his 27th birthday by announcing wide ranging education reforms.

"I have great pride to inherit from the fourth Druk Gyalpo the valuable legacy of Indo-Bhutan friendship and cooperation and I am duty bound to further strengthen it. I hope this unique alliance born from the efforts of the leaders of our two nations will be inherited by the people and that affection and friendship between our two peoples will henceforth be the bond that binds our destinies together forever," says Jigme Khesar, the eldest son of former Bhutanese king Jigme Singye Wangchuck, who voluntarily abdicated the throne in his son’s favour on December 14 last year.

A highly educated alumnus of the Phillips Academy (Andover), Cushing Academy and Wheaton College, Massachusetts, USA, and Magdalen College, Oxford which awarded him an M.Phil in politics, HM Jigme Khesar has identified education of its young population as Bhutan’s top priority under the new dispensation.

"Like India we are a young country, with the average age of a Bhutanese citizen a mere 23 years. Bhutan has an overall student population of 190,273 including those in the non-formal and monastic education system, and those studying outside the country. The national literacy rate is only 60 percent though gross primary school enrollment rate is 96 percent. Responding to criticism that the quality of education in the country was deteriorating, we started an initiative to reform the education sector last year. Reforms in the area of curriculum, reviewing school activities, enhancing use of information communication technology in education, infrastructure expansion and improving teacher quality, have already been initiated," says HM Jigme Khesar.

In the higher education sector Bhutan is all set to promote its second degree college and the kingdom’s sole university — the Royal University of Bhutan (RUB) — will move to a 289-acre site on the outskirts of Bhutan’s capital Thimpu (pop.50,000) in December. "One in three graduates in Bhutan has either studied in India or other countries. Right now higher education is available only to those who can afford to go abroad or to those of exemplary merit who manage to get a place in RUB. This scenario has to change and the promotion of the new college will increase higher education capacity," says the modest, self-effacing monarch.

Meanwhile the expansion and development of RUB is proceeding as per plan. New degree prgrammes have been introduced in Dzongkha (the kingdom’s lingua franca), computer sciences and business administration to replace Delhi University affiliated study programmes. "Our intent is to introduce more independent degree courses on a par with global standards by 2008. Our ultimate aim is to make RUB degrees acceptable worldwide," adds his majesty.

Srinidhi Raghavendra (Thimpu)

R&D missionaries

On February 5, Indiana-based Purdue University’s Discovery Park, a $300 million inter-disciplinary research facility comprising ten centres of innovation spread over 40 acres in the US, signed a memo-randum of understanding with India’s department of science and technology, for collaborative research in the fields of energy, biofuels, agriculture (e-agriculture), nanotechnology, entrepre-neurship, life sciences, information technology, healthcare, pharmaceuticals and the environment. Having already signed collaboration agreements with the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, ISRO and Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham University, Purdue is all set to become a major player in entrepreneurial research in India.

Under the agreement signed between Dr. T. Ramaonjan, secretary DST and Charles Rutledge, vice-president of research at Purdue, a planning committee of three people each from DST and Purdue, will finalise the annual research agenda. "The idea of setting up a Discovery Park on our model in Amethi (Rahul Gandhi’s constituency — Editor) was discussed and it is for DST to draw up a road map for actioning this proposal. Significantly the proposal is being examined in detail. We’re in joint discussions, putting facts together," says Rutledge, who headed a three-member delegation (comprising Pankaj Sharma, associate director of the Discovery Park and Jay Gore, interim director at the Energy Center) which visited India between January 29-February 7.

Rutledge derives special satisfaction that Purdue University has a long standing relationship with India and a host of distinguished alumni including C.N.R. Rao (scientific advisor to the prime minister), Ravi Venkatesan (chairman Microsoft India), Pooja Shetty (Adlabs), Sowmyanarayanan Sadagopan (director, IIIT, Bangalore), and G.V. Prasad (chief executive of Dr. Reddy’s Labs) who are making significant contributions to Indian science and technology. "Now under our Asian Initiative we want to strengthen these connections through collaboration with institutions and corporations to foster student, faculty and research exchange programmes," says Rutledge, an alumnus of Harvard University and a pharmacology professional.

"This exercise got off the ground after several interactions during international conferences where we established contact with people from DST and their subsequent visit to our Discovery Park," recalls Pankaj Sharma, an experimental nuclear physicist, who drew up a shortlist of potential partners in India.

"As economic neighbours and trade partners in a flat world, we know that India and the US face many similar challenges in the areas of energy, science and technology. The expansion of this partnership to include India’s primary government research agency will benefit both of us as we confront this challenging world together," says Gore, associate dean in Purdue’s College of Engineering.

With the United States by far and away India’s largest trading partner and trade between the two nations aggregating to $27.1 billion (Rs.121,000 crore) per year, the Purdue University-DST partnership may well spark India’s belated R&D revolution.

Autar Nehru (New Delhi)

Scope multi-tasker

Shashi Ravichandran, head of corporate affairs and change management at Scope International, Chennai, a wholly owned subsidiary of Standard Chartered Bank, juggles multitudinous tasks and corporate commitments with élan. Soft skills are her forte and her exceptional talent is amply displayed in her book Incorporate which was released in January this year to provide impetus to Scope International’s campus initiatives.

"The book suggests ways and means to enhance communication and soft skills of college students to enable them to adapt to the rapidly changing workplace environment. It details important soft skills and corporate etiquette required by industry which should be incorporated into curriculums so that college students become readily employable," says Ravichandran.

Under a ‘Incorporate’ programme, Scope International has signed a memorandum of understanding with SASTRA Deemed University in Thanjavur for a pilot project which includes collaborating on curriculum design, training programmes, lectures and workshops for professors and students, production of textbooks and teaching aids. Based on receptivity to this initiative, Scope will extend services to other colleges. A second initiative titled WE@Scope, is a portal designed to empower women students by enabling online interaction with women managers in Scope.

"This website will provide online training, mentoring, counselling, career guidance, knowledge of prevailing industry trends and skills required in the workplace. MoUs to roll out this programme have been signed with Stella Maris College and M.O.P Vaishnav College for Women in Chennai," says Ravichandran, an alumnus of Madras University, who moved to the US, specialised in communication and worked in several organisations for 16 years, before returning to India in 1990. For over a decade she worked with IT companies in Chennai in the area of communication and soft skills training. When StanChart promoted Scope International for its BPO operations in 2001, Ravichandran was recruited to head the team devising multi-cultural migratory processes.

Since then Ravichandran has played a vital role in building Scope from a fledgling firm into perhaps the largest and most diverse banking back office enterprise in the country, offering an array of services in seven business verticals, servicing 56 countries in which Standard Chartered has a presence.

As part of her corporate social reponsibility she works with NGOs to spread awareness about HIV/AIDS and restoring vision to the blind. In 2005 she was awarded the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) award of Helpage India. Her future plans are to grow with the bank and expand its horizons, and consistently add value to her work.

Hemalatha Raghupathi (Chennai)

Nath’s Karavan

A history alumnus of Lucknow University, Vikrant Nath has translated his love for the subject and his concern for preservation of India’s ecology into an entrepreneurial venture committed to sensitising the public — especially students — to their cultural and environmental heritage. Launched in 1999, the Karavan Heritage and Nature Society is a first-of-its-type education enterprise. As Nath explains, "its purpose is to experience India in her jungles, her wilderness, her myriad life forms, monuments, books, poetry, music and dance". To this end the Karavan Society organises affordably priced workshops, excursions, tours and summer camps.

"Each one of our activities is customised," says Nath. Thus for school children there is the Freedom Tour which is a day-long visit to the monuments associated with India’s first war of independence. "Through a hands-on experience of historic monuments and listening to experts explaining their historical context, student involvement in history is stimulated — something rote or textbook learning can never achieve," says Nath.

Another popular event on the Karavan calendar is gjnasa (quest), a series of activities organised during the summer vacations. Through star gazing, toy making, experiments, cycling expeditions, tree planting and farm visits, children are encouraged to develop questioning minds and make decisions. "Parents are also invited to these camps so that they can adopt greener ways of living and pass this on to their children," Nath explains.

Karavan is also involved in documenting "unknown treasures". These are off-the-beaten track monuments of great environmental value such as a 200-year-old Banyan tree near Lucknow which covers an area of 54,000 sq ft. "We discovered a little known Ox- bow Lake around Lucknow that covers the remains of a 3,000-year- old civilisation. Together with the local community, Karavan camp participants de-weeded it recently. Acts such as these immediately form a connection between nature and man," he says.

Nath’s efforts have attracted notice and currently 25 Lucknow schools are regulars with Karavan, even as the self-funded society has 50 enlisted members from fields as diverse as engineering and photography. And though Nath realises that for many children these tours are entertainment, he insists that environment is too important a subject to be left to textbooks and school teachers.

Vidya Pandit (Lucknow)

Inspired educationist

"The child," aptly remarked the great British poet Wordsworth "is the father of the man." In the case of Dr. F.F. Motiwala, the influences of his childhood have gone a long way in shaping his intimate involvement with education.

"I grew up in the New Era Boarding School, Panchgani, a school run by the Bahai community. I saw it develop stage by stage and that was a great inspiration," explains Motiwala, a qualified homeopathic medicine practitioner certified by the Baba Saheb Ambedkar Marathwada University, Bangalore and visiting professor at the Maharashtra University of Health Sciences, Nashik. Motiwala’s interest in education received a further boost while he read for a homeopathy degree in Karnataka. "The poor quality of education we received enhanced my interest in the education delivery process," he recalls. "While a student, I became acutely conscious of the deficiencies in the education system. I resolved to promote institutions which would deliver the quality education which children deserve."

Thus, while Motiwala was still a homeopathy student, together with his wife Afsaneh he promoted the Lotus Montessori School in Dharwad (Karnataka) in 1984. Today this school runs a primary section, although the Motiwalas handed it over to an independent management when they left Karnataka in 1987. On their return to their base in Nashik, the Motiwalas started their second school — also Lotus Montessori School, which is currently a high school renamed Dawn Breakers School, under the Motiwala Education and Welfare Trust.

Constituted in 1989, apart from the Dawn Breakers School, the Motiwala Trust also administers the Motiwala Homeopathic Medical College (estb. 1989) in Nashik and the Priceless Pearl High School, a residential boarding school affiliated to the Delhi-based Council for Indian School Certificate Examinations, in Igatpuri (Nashik district). "We are also setting up an international school in Ras Al Khaimah in the UAE,’ says Motiwala. "Named the New Era International Day Boarding School, it will offer the IGSCE curriculum of the Cambridge International Examinations (CIE) board."

A sponsor of the New Garden English School run by the G.V. Pillai Trust in Saikheda Village, some 20 km from Nashik, Motiwala has now set his sights on starting English-medium schools in rural areas. "I am very keen on reaching quality education to rural children," he says.

Looking back, Motiwala believes that all this would not have been possible without his mother’s support and her great faith in enabling education. "We were not born into affluence. But to sustain the education of our family of three children, my late mother Zobi Motiwala started a laundry business in Nashik. She remains the chief motivator and inspiration of our many initiatives in education," he remembers with gratitude.

Gaver Chatterjee (Mumbai)