“We promote the joy of reading

by making story books accessible to under privileged children”

Shares Amrita Patwardhan, Head of the Education Portfolio,
Tata Trusts in conversation with All About Book Publishing.

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Tata Trusts works in Education, health, nutrition, water sanitation and rural upliftment, among others with a pan India reach.Education has been a key focus area for Tata Trusts since its inception, ranging from scholarships like the J.N. Tata Endowment scholarship, which was instituted in 1892 continuing till date, in the building of institutions of higher learning such as the Indian Institute of Science, the Tata Institute of Social Sciences and the Tata Institute of Active Genetics. Here, Amrita Patwardhan, Head of the Education Portfolio, Tata Trusts, shares how Tata Trusts promote the joy of reading for underprivileged children and more. Excerpts.

AABP: Do tell us how education has been a key focus for Tata Trusts?

Amrita: Tata Trusts works with a network of Associate organisation and NGO partners to design and implement programmes that address issues of quality in schools situated in hard-to-reach rural geographies by investing in teacher development, community mobilisation and supporting the school education system to improve children’s educational experiences. Thereby, improving educational outcomes with a focus on reaching these disadvantaged communities.

The education portfolio has a strong presence in over 10 states, in 30+ districts and in the last five years,Tata Trusts has reached out to over 40 lakh learners through its various initiatives.

Amrita Patwardhan heads the education portfolio at Tata rusts. She has beenwith the Trusts since 2003, instrumentalin, working on and
spearheading several impactful initiatives in the education sector
across the remotest areas of the country. She has represented
the Trusts on National Mission on Libraries, has been on various expert
committees set up by the National Council for Education Research and
Training, and Ministry of Human Resource Development to review
national programmes on literacy, elementary education and children’s
literature.

AABP: What are the challenges in the Indian education space?

Amrita: India has made significant strides in universalising access to elementary education over the last few decades by passing the Right to Education act, making quality education a right for children between the ages of 6 to 14 years.
But, the key challenge is ensuring quality education for children, especially for those from disadvantaged communities:
• Implementation of the Right to Education in letter and spirit by ensuring all schools have a suitable learning environment for children, professionally equipped teachers, opportunities for their all-round development remains a challenge.

• We still have large gaps in school infrastructure in terms of functional toilets, playgrounds, functional libraries, and ICT labs among others. Non-teaching responsibilities of government school teachers needs to be reviewed and reduced and they need to be professionally supported to meet the diverse learning needs of first and second generation of learners. The education system needs to do a lot more to move away from rote learning and create opportunities for children to explore, ask questions, pursue their interests and strengths.The challenge for us, is to ensure that all children are in school, are learning and thriving!

AABP: In the covid situation what was and currently is the scenario of the education ecosystem?

Amrita: With the nationwide lockdown, schools were closed and the government asked teachers to teach children online. While schools in urban areas managed this transition, for large majority of schools especially those in underserved rural areas, this meant almost complete disruption in children’s access to education and mid-day meals. A number of research studies have pegged rural access to online education to be as low as 10%. While a larger percentage of children received some teaching learning material through WhatsApp (worksheets, videos etc), there is little evidence on amount learning that it enabled. It is now quite clear that extended closure of schools has and will have long term impact on children’s education and well-being and recovery from COVID is going to be a long and hard road ahead.

AABP: What are Tata Trusts initiatives to make learning more joyful and meaningful for the students. What are the various themes undertaken and how they are implemented?

Amrita: Tata Trusts focuses on improving the school environment, investing in the professional development of educators, empowering the community to support child education, setting up libraries to promote reading and many more. We do this in collaboration with academic, civil society organisations, state governments and other foundations. One such initiative, Parag focuses on promoting the joy of reading by making storybooks accessible to children from underserved communities, while training teachers and librarians to make learning more joyful for children. Other initiatives focus on the integration of sports and physical literacy, life-skills development for children and adolescents and bringing experiential learning into the teaching sessions.

AABP: What are the initiatives undertaken for the teachers?

Amrita: Tata Trusts has set up the Centre for Excellence for Teacher Education (CETE) at Tata Institute of Social Sciences to seed high quality pre-service and in-service teacher education offerings and conduct research.Tata Trusts and its partners have designed and offered blended education programmes for teachers teaching in primary, middle, and secondary schools:

(i) Library Educator’s Course and Children’s Library Course for equipping teachers and librarians to set up vibrant libraries and promoting reading.
(ii) TEJAS – a blended teacher professional development for government school teachers in Maharashtra with the British Council for English language teaching proficiency.
(iii) Partnership with Language Learning Foundation to offer blended courses on language and literacy.

AABP: Share your vision for the next five years.

Amrita: Tata Trusts’ vision is to strengthen the public education system that caters to disadvantaged communities through a range of initiatives ranging from Early Childhood Education to high-school education while working in around 30+ high priority districts with a large percentage of tribal, aspirational and minority dominated communities, to improve the school environment, classroom level teaching and system level capacity and leadership to sustain the change.

AABP: How can some of the challenges be solved and how can we promote reading for pleasure.

Amrita: Promoting reading for pleasure needs work at multiple levels. The Parag initiative focuses on:
(i) Supporting development of quality storybooks in Indian languages and their dissemination by recognising efforts children’s book authors and illustrators.
(ii) Designing and offering development courses and opportunities for teachers, libraries, illustrators.
(iii) Setting up and activating school and community level libraries to provide ready access to storybooks.
(iv) Catalysing the children’s literature sector through the BLBA awards and Parag honour lists.

Amrita Patwardhan heads the education portfolio at Tata Trusts. She has been with the Trusts since 2003, instrumental in, working on and spearheading several impactful initiatives in the education sector across the remotest areas of the country. She has represented the Trusts on National Mission on Libraries, has been on various expert committees set up by the National Council for Education Research and Training, and Ministry of Human Resource Development to review national programmes on literacy, elementary education and children’s literature.

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