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Celebration of Service

Changing India one student at a time

IBM financial analyst donates time and money to improve education in rural India

Many of the more than 1000 students attending the Government Boys High School in Chittur, near Palakkad City, India, live in abject poverty. Because of this, they view attending school not as an educational opportunity that will lead to a better life, but rather as a chance to get two free meals a day.

“These are students – many of them – who live in poverty and have uneducated parents, parents who don’t know the value of education. As such, the students don’t realize what school can offer them beyond free meals,” says Satish Puthanveedu, an IBM Financial Analyst who volunteers, giving his time as well as money to the school.

Puthanveedu’s wife is a teacher at Chittur’s Government Boys High School, and so he knew first hand some of the school’s challenges – from funding for overall school programs to teachers without enough resources in the classroom to a lack of sports equipment.

“Unlike private schools – which have adequate funding and motivated parents and teachers – the government schools often can be neglected and students get lost in the system, progressing even though they aren’t really learning. When it comes time to apply for higher education – which is based on merit – they haven’t done well enough to get accepted,” Puthanveedu explains.

Puthanveedu met with the school director at the Government Boys High School and showed him the IBM Reinventing Education Change Toolkit which offers guidance and real, practical tools about leadership and organizational transformation to improve school quality. Most of the content in the Change Toolkit does not focus on specific educational practices, looking instead at the organizational aspects of schools and school districts that help and hinder change.

The school director and the Parent Teacher Association liked the proven frameworks for leading and managing change in the school, and with Puthanveedu, agreed to begin the conversations necessary to effect change. “It is a very big project to bring change to the school and then the district. It’s important, but it will take months, years. In conjunction with that, I also wanted to work with the students.”

He continues, “I thought if I could spend some time with students and help them understand the value of education and what it can bring to their families that they could see that the only way you can remove poverty from your family is by acquiring education.”

Engaging 280 high school students with only a laptop projector

Puthanveedu met with 280 students in Class 9 and Class 10 and says he was worried he would have a tough time keeping that many students focused and quiet. “It was just me, a laptop projector and approximately 30 minutes of material to keep the students interested. But once I started talking, they really focused and had lots of questions. One of the main questions was ‘What is the guarantee that once I get a good education I will have a good life?’”

Puthanveedu cited the example of India’s current Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, who grew up in a small village that didn’t have electricity or many options. Singh applied himself, studying by candle light, and ultimately gained his DPhil from Oxford University.

“I told them, if you have the will to achieve and the courage to fight back, you can better yourself and your lot in life. Your duty is to come to school and participate in all that is offered – sports events, educational events, music – everything is wide open, it’s not just books.”

In the three months since Puthanveedu met with his first group of students, their grades have increased. “We’ll have some hard figures to report at the end of the quarter,” he said.

Passionate about big change on a small scale

Each month, Puthanveedu, along with teachers and officials from Chittur’s Government Boys High School and the Parent Teacher Association, meet to further the discussion about the change necessary to transform the school. “We are gearing up for change, following the templates in the IBM Reinventing Education Change Toolkit. Of course, it takes time – we shortlist problems we want to work on by month, quarter, and year,” says Puthanveedu.

The school needs additional funding to help implement change and Puthanveedu is working with them to seek out external donations from corporations and government grants. In addition, Puthanveedu donates 5% of his salary each month to the school. It’s used to buy supplies and sports equipment, such as cricket bats and balls, and footballs (that’s soccer balls for you US readers).

“I can’t help build our nation in a big way, but certainly I can do it in a small way. I realize that the way to do this is by helping the younger generation and poorer people, by bringing them a quality education. This helps our nation and our individuals succeed. It’s a long process, it takes time, but when I see a student playing with a cricket bat or studying hard over a book, I know I am making a difference for them, and for my country.”

IBM is marking its centennial year with a worldwide celebration of volunteer service. Throughout 2011, IBM invites everyone to join our global community of employees, retirees, families and friends as we support the communities where we work, live and learn together.