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Tag: education

Empowering girls through education


Shantha Sinha, left, with Jacqueline Bhabha

By Anisha Gopi, Project Manager

On July 25th, 2016 the Harvard University South Asia Institute (SAI) and Tata Trusts hosted the second webinar of a multi-part series on Women’s Empowerment. The webinar titled ‘Empowering Girls through educational access and opportunity:  What enables deprived girls to succeed’ was led by Professor Shantha Sinha, one of India’s leading child rights activists and founder of M. Venkatarangaiya (MV) Foundation. Professor Sinha was formerly the Chairperson of the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights and has been honoured with the Raman Magsaysay Award and the Padma Shri. The webinar was moderated by Professor Jacqueline Bhabha, Professor of the Practice of Health and Human Rights at the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health, and Director of Harvard FXB Center for Health and Human Rights.

The 90 minute webinar focused on factors enabling girls to attend school, challenges faced by school-going girls and successful strategies for ensuring girls have access to secondary education. It was attended by grassroots practitioners, students and academicians from India, the US and the UK.

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Reimagining education in Pakistan

Mariam Chughtai, left, with Syed Babar Ali

Mariam Chughtai, left, with Syed Babar Ali

By Shajia SarfrazEdM Candidate, Harvard Graduate School of Education; SAI Student Coordinator

What should a school of education in Pakistan look like? What problems should it address? What should be its goals, and what kind of products should it produce twenty years into the future? These were some of the questions that were raised and addressed at the Education Roundtable that was convened on May 6th 2016 at the Harvard South Asia Institute in Cambridge, Massachusetts, attended by scholars, administrators, and leaders in the field of education from across the US and Pakistan.

A thread which weaved through the entire discussion was a tension between a top-down versus bottom-up approach to delivering impact. This dichotomy manifested itself numerous times. For instance, when contemplating the school’s theory of change, the discussion delved deep into whether the mandate of the school of education should be focused on policy-level decision making, or whether it should be more involved in issues of practice. Many discussants felt that change happens at the bottom, not at the top. Specifically, it happens at the level of the educator. If that is the case, how should the school of education identify domestic needs of practice and address them? Continue reading →

Student voices: Understanding the Special Education System in Pakistan

By Syeda Farwa Fatima, International Education Policy, Ed.M Harvard Graduate School of Education ‘16

This is part of a recurring series in which we share reports from Harvard students who have traveled to South Asia with support from a SAI grant during the winter session.

Click here to read more reports from students.

Farwa received a research grant from SAI to study the special education system in Pakistan.


A Government Center for Special Education in Model Town, Lahore Photo credits: Farwa Fatima

While certain debates over the past decade have focused on increasing rights for people with disabilities, the recently adopted Education 2030 agenda with the landmark Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) 2015, has secured a safe place for comprehensive actions for inclusive education. SDG 4 aptly calls to ‘Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all, specifically for ‘persons with disabilities’. A recent report traces out how one in three of the 72 million out of school children in 2007 had a disability – a statistic that is yet to be updated for the current figure of 56 million out of school children.

In the context of Pakistan – which already has the second highest population of out of school children, a JICA report quotes how ‘persons with disabilities are mostly unseen, unheard and uncounted’ thereby constituting the most marginalized group of the country. The regular government school system functions independently of the special education system, except for a few private schools that have started to acknowledge inclusive practices. However, such schools are mostly located in bigger cities and target a niche population that can afford the services. Despite numerous policy agendas, including the National Policy for Persons with Disability that specifically advocated for a shift from exclusion to inclusion, followed by The National Plan of Action to execute this policy (which never took off), Pakistan failed miserably to achieve the targets set. The National Education Policy vouches ‘to equalize access to education through provision of special facilities to boys and girls alike, underprivileged/marginalized groups and handicapped children and adults.’ Unfortunately, little has been done to translate the policy into action.

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Livemint Q+A: Entrepreneruship in India

This interview was originally published on

Tarun Khanna at the Jaipur Literature Festival 2015. Photo: Priyanka Parashar/Mint

Tarun Khanna is the Jorge Paulo Lemann professor at Harvard Business School, where he has studied and worked with multinational and indigenous companies and investors in emerging markets worldwide. He is also Harvard University’s director of South Asia Institute. Khanna has led several courses on strategy, corporate governance, and international business over the years. He currently teaches in Harvard College’s General Education on entrepreneurship in South Asia.

Apart from teaching, Khanna is also actively involved in the start-up ecosystem. In November, Khanna co-founded a Bengaluru-based business incubator, Axilor Ventures. Khanna is also co-founder at Chaipoint, a chain of 70 tea stalls in Delhi and Bengaluru that he started with students about 18 months ago. On the third day of the Jaipur Literature Festival (JLF), Khanna spoke in an interview about the Narendra Modi government’s engagement with scholars and about incubating start-ups in India. Edited excerpts:

You’ve been voicing concerns about India’s economic progress prior to the new government’s formation. Have your views changed after six months of the Modi government?

There is already a much more concerted attempt (by the new government) to solicit inputs from different people than I ever saw from the previous government, in a much more systematic way. My interpretation from the outside (I’m not part of this government in any way) is that policymakers are reaching out for thoughts from other people and trying to get diversity of views expressed as inputs of their policymaking process.

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Addressing gender norms through education

Gender and Education Seminar1

Participants included representatives from government, research, non-government organizations and academic institutions.

By Payal NarainProgram Consultant, SAI Delhi Office

On January 9, 2015, the Harvard South Asia Institute (SAI), Harvard FXB Center for Health and Human Rights, and the Population Foundation of India (PFI) co-hosted a day-long seminar on “Addressing Gender Norms through Education: Developing and Implementing Adolescent Curriculum” in New Delhi.

The aim of the seminar was to formulate a research agenda and constitute a group of partners representing government, researchers, non-government organizations and academicians. Held at the PFI office, the seminar was well attended by representatives from the state and central government, civil society and the academic community. In all, there were 28 invited participants, including two who Skyped in from Boston.

Education is crucial to re-orienting gender stereotypes and traditional gender roles, and has the potential to address gender based discrimination and violence by altering patriarchal and repressive mindsets. Though there have been many attempts to create educational frameworks that address gender norms, a comprehensive nationwide program is yet to be implemented.

There is a need for a framework that promotes healthy attitudes about gender and sexual health, empowers young people with accurate, age appropriate and culturally relevant information that is accessible and engaging, and develops skills to enable them to respond to situations in a gender-sensitive manner.

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Creating a better India

Harvard US India Initiative“We want a better India,” reads the slogan for the Harvard US-India Initiative’s (HUII) Annual Conference in New Delhi on January 9 and 10, 2015.

HUII is an undergraduate student-run organization at Harvard that aims to create dialogue between Indian and American youth to address some of India’s most pressing social, economic, and environmental issues today.

The conference, which is cosponsored by SAI, is set to take place at the Shangri La Hotel, and is the largest yet for the organization. It boasts an impressive lineup of speakers and panel topics, including ‘Liberal Arts and Conservative Societies,’ ‘Politicians and the People,’ ‘More Artists or More Dentists,’ ‘Human Rights in India,’ ‘The Economics of Rural India,’ and ‘Science and Society.’

Keynote speakers include Piyush Goyal, Hon’ble Minister of State with Independent Charge for Power, Coal and New & Renewable Energy in the Government of India, Mirai Chatterjee, Director of Social Security, SEWA, and Shri Jairam Ramesh, MP Rajya Sabha, former Cabinet Minister.

SAI recently talked to Namrata Narain, Harvard College ’15, one of the organizers of the event, to learn more about how HUII is working to increase discussions on important issues by connecting young academic communities in India and the US.

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Teaching in Pakistan as an Act of Love and Courage

This blog post originally appeared on Fernando Reimers’ blog.

Members of the Harvard community gathered on Tuesday night, Dec. 16, for a vigil on Harvard Yard in honor of the victims of the Peshawar attack.

By Fernando M. Reimers, Ford Foundation Professor of International Education, Director, International Education Policy Program, Harvard Graduate School of Education; SAI Steering Committee member

I awoke this morning to the painful news that seven cowards had entered a school in Peshawar, in Northern Pakistan, where they had murdered 132 students and 9 teachers and staff. My heart goes out to their families and friends. I share the pain of those, still in disbelief, that anyone would intentionally target civilians not engaged in combat, in a school, with the deliberate intent of killing them.

A group has claimed responsibility for the attacks, in the name of the Taliban, as an act of war against the Pakistan military. Only they, in a world of delusion, think there is a justification for this gruesome act. No one else in the world shares their view of reality, not in Peshawar, not in Pakistan, not in the world. The assassins who conceived that it was fair game to assassinate hundreds of teenagers and their teachers to achieve some goal are alone in their thinking, they lack reason and soul. I can only imagine the grief of their mothers, of their spouses, of their families, in realizing how far the deep end of reason and reality these thugs have fallen. How their cowardice has robbed them of any sense of identification with country, with religion, with family. These murderers, and anyone else who enabled their crime, have no soul, they don’t belong in this planet, they are not recognizable as members of the human species.

In their madness, these seven criminals targeted students and teachers in a school, a place where together they worked to advance understanding, to gain the knowledge and the dispositions to better understand the world and to improve it. This crime was committed in a house of light and of love.

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Educating India: One Meal At A Time

Shridhar Venkat, CEO of the Akshaya Patra Foundation

By Katherine Curtiss and Divya Sooryakumar, International Education Policy Ed. M Candidates, Harvard Graduate School of Education

“Think about the last time you were hungry. How long did your hunger last and how did it make you feel?” said Shridhar Venkat, CEO of the Akshaya Patra Foundation, as he started his presentation by viscerally connecting the audience to the student beneficiaries of his foundation.

On November 5th, 2014, in an event co-hosted by the International Education Policy Program at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and the Harvard South Asia Institute, Mr. Venkat discussed the work of the internationally lauded Akshaya Patra Foundation that provides healthy and nutritious mid-day meals to students in the government-run schools in India.

Hunger and malnourishment plague children across the country. With India home to 40% of the world’s malnourished children and 8.1 million out-of-school children, the Akshaya Patra Foundation’s mid-day meal intervention provides children enrolled in the government schools with at least one nutritionally sound meal per day.

This mid-day meal is not only often incentive enough for out-of-school children to enroll, but is also equally important for low-income enrolled students who cannot afford a mid-day meal. The foundation operates with a vision that “no child in India shall be deprived of education because of hunger.” Founded in 2000, the Foundation started serving 1,500 students in five schools in Karnataka and today serves 1.4 million students across 10 states. They are now aiming to feed 5 million students.

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Power Play: Teacher Transfers in India

“It may seem chaotic, and quite frankly it is”, said Tara Béteille describing the complicated power play between teachers and politicians in India.

By Ghazal Gulati and Divya Sooryakumar, International Education Policy Ed. M Candidates, Harvard Graduate School of Education

Tara Béteille of the World Bank joined the South Asia Institute on Thursday, October 30th to discuss teacher accountability in India at an Education Seminar titled ‘Powerplay: Teacher Transfers in India.’ She dove head first into the complex dynamics underlying the nexus between government school teachers and politicians. The seminar was chaired by Akshay Mangla, Assistant Professor, Harvard Business School.

Despite admirably high enrollment rates, the quality of education in India is dismally low, Dr. Béteille explained. One of the factors impacting learning levels is high teacher absenteeism and low accountability in the public school system. Interestingly, teacher accountability is being compromised by an interdependent relationship between the teachers and the politicians.

Through her research, Dr. Béteille has uncovered the murky world of politically motivated teacher transfers in three states: Rajasathan, Karnataka, and Madhya Pradesh. The alliance between politicians and government school teachers has been under-wraps for many years due to the intricate legal ramifications of their relationship. Further, limited awareness and research on the topic, has allowed this illicit relationship to flourish.

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Contemporary South Asia Student Blog: Technology and Education

This is the second blog post in a series from students enrolled in the course ‘Contemporary South Asia: Entrepreneurial Solutions to Intractable Social and Economic Problems taught by SAI Director Tarun Khanna. The course features several modules on issues facing South Asia: Urbanism, Technology and Education, Health, and Humanities.

This week’s focus: Technology and Education, with Tarun Khanna, Director of SAI, Jorge Paulo Lemann Professor, Harvard Business School

By Siddarth Nagaraj, MALD Candidate, The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy,Tufts University

Following our module on urbanism, we shifted toward closer scrutiny of social entrepreneurship and technology in South Asia. Our new module began this week with a lecture by Professor Khanna in which he challenged us to ponder the extent to which technological transmission of information can replace traditional means of teaching.

In the case of South Asia, the gap between the two often seems extreme. Whereas the educational videos of organizations such as Khan Academy and Udacity are viewed by hundreds of millions worldwide and have catalyzed a growing industry focused on remote learning, the subcontinent remains beset by formal education systems that serve their students appallingly.

During our brief reflection upon technology and education, we questioned whether those responsible for teaching future generations of South Asia can learn from the successes of these programs, or whether it is time for their responsibilities to be passed on fully to technologically based alternatives.

Partly due to the work of groups like Khan Academy and Udacity, technology is increasingly being regarded as both a means of learning information and a source of knowledge. Students and supporters praise such organizations for their reliability, the diversity and quality of courses offered and the ability of their lessons to be used according to individual learning preferences.

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