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Both top down and bottom-up!

Article first posted in here.

Monday morning 8 a.m: As I walk towards WCS, a charter school in Philadelphia, Pennslyvania, USA, I see the friendly face of the school leader standing at the gate and shaking hands with every student as they enter and wishing them good morning.

A few weeks later, I am sitting inside the Teach for India classroom of a municipal school in Mumbai. Students enter through the door giving a hi-five to their teacher.

Another month later, inside a 4th grade classroom of a middle income school in Delhi, a child raises her hand seeking permission to use the washroom.

Schools across the world have a clearly defined and sometimes unspoken way of functioning. From the morning assembly to the school song to the annual day, everything is part of a school’s culture. From the minute they enter the school and through the day, students as well as teachers are exposed to various aspects of the school culture, which they consciously or unconsciously imbibe. These include the vision and values, beliefs and assumptions, rituals and ceremonies, history and stories, and physical symbols. For example, when you walk across the corridor during mornings when everyone might wish you or when the lunch bell rings and students run out of classrooms, there is a certain vibe in the space that makes you feel whether a school is a happy one or an orderly one that emphasizes discipline. Hence, culture can be seen, heard and felt in many ways.


Over time, the school culture develops both organically as well as in planned ways. For example, in many schools across India teachers use a red pen for marking student work. It is strange as there is no defined rule on using red pens but it seems part of the teaching culture. When asked why they used red pens, many teachers said that the others in the school did when they had joined and so they assumed that it was what they were supposed to do. This is inorganic growth of culture based on certain beliefs and assumptions shared by the school community members. We often hear old teachers tell new ones that this is the way they do things around here. The vision and values along with policies and procedures defined by the school lead to organic growth where a lot of things are controlled by what has been ascertained. Hence, a school’s culture is shaped by its history, context and the people in it including teachers, students, administrative staff and parents. Just as culture is impacted by these aspects, it also impacts student learning and behaviour, school achievement and reform. For instance, school spaces that are free of corporal punishment positively impact student behaviour by allowing them to learn in a stress-free environment. Such an environment created with the help of teachers and students, makes teaching and learning more effective for both.


Since, culture is impacted by and impacts the members of the school community, the onus of creating it and sustaining it lies on them as well. Yet, the leadership in all of this has a huge responsibility in creating a conducive environment for teachers as well as students. In order to ensure that culture is created and maintained more organically, school leaders can follow a four-step process.


  1. Make/Mark: To ensure that their school represents a certain type of culture which reaches all members of the school community, school leaders need to first create a vision and then transform this vision into systems and structures. School leaders, with support from teachers and in many cases students, need to set procedures, expectations, and consequences across classes. These translate into a common or shared language for the teachers and it impacts the students the most as they then don’t have to switch gears to adapting to each teacher. I remember during my observations at WCS, I saw the teachers using a common behaviour management system having the same consequences when students did not behave as expected and students were very well aware of the expected behaviour and the rewards or consequence they would have to face if they followed/did not follow these.Another practice that I have seen being common across classrooms in many low-fee schools with great culture are ‘agreements’. These are classroom rules created by students in agreement with each other and with the support of their teacher – e.g. students will raise their hand to answer a question instead of shouting it out or when they need to step out of the classroom they would walk in a line instead of groups. The same expectations were applied in the playground, library, cafeteria, etc. Setting clear expectations/agreements tells the students that this is the positive environment you deserve. While creating consequences in conjunction with these agreements, the school leader, teachers and students need to ensure that these are appropriate, immediate and consistent. If a student runs out of line, then making them miss their lunch break probably isn’t the best consequence; instead s/he can be made to leave the class after everyone else.

    Things such as the school motto, school song, vision and mission also need to be stated and communicated to the school community members. Back in school as a student, I remember our school motto – One Planet the Earth, One Family the Mankind – was very visible as we had students from various nationalities as classmates and there were many activities around protecting our environment, being inclusive by celebrating various festivals and days. Such events created a sense of community and increased our sense of belonging towards the school.

    A major role that school leaders have is in building effective communication within the school especially among teachers as well as those outside, i.e., parents. Culture is also about relationships and these need to be built so that all members work collaboratively. Setting up weekly, fortnightly, monthly meetings, conducting one-on-ones, etc., are also deliberate ways of building culture in school.

  2. Model: Once the school leader along with other members has made the structures and systems for culture building, it is also important for him/her to model it well. Just creating the vision, values, etc., is not sufficient; school leaders might talk about these in staff meetings and display some of these in the school corridors to reinforce the cultural messages. From small things such as acknowledging that s/he does not know something and needs help from a staff member to being accepting of ideas of others and working collaboratively with transparency, there is a lot expected of the school leader. They need to think through the smallest of actions. For e.g., if they want a culture of collaboration among the teachers, they need to provide time and space for teachers to meet and plan together. They need to be mindful of their body language as well as the verbal cues that they give such as using more of ‘we’ instead of ‘I’ to communicate collaboration instead of individualism.To create a positive environment, it is imperative that the school leader acknowledges and appreciates those around – both teachers and students. Writing a small appreciation note, praising someone in front of other members or individually acknowledging when they are doing something well, displaying exceptional student work, are some of the ways that school leaders can model positivity through actions.
  3. Monitor: Culture, even though not very tangible, can be identified by the school leader and other members of the school community especially by what it looks, sounds and feels like. For e.g., when you see students working in groups in classrooms, the culture encourages collaboration. Once the culture has been set and communicated, it needs to be assessed for improvement – what good bits need to be kept, and what harmful bits need to be changed.There are multiple tools through which school leaders can assess this – school and classroom walkthroughs, which many school leaders call ‘morning rounds’, teacher and student surveys, discussions in staff meetings, one-on-one conversations. While doing walkthroughs, school leaders pay attention to whether the school environment is physically safe and secure or not along with the interactions among the members of the school community, which depict the school’s culture. For e.g., while looking into a classroom, if desks are arranged in groups instead of rows, this indicates that students often work collaboratively. Similarly, on hearing conversations in classes and corridors, school leaders can pay attention to the level and tone of voice the teacher uses when talking to students and if the conversations are polite and respectful.

    When monitoring culture, school leaders must be prepared to use all of their senses and ask what do they hear, what do they see in the corridors and classrooms, what do they feel as they walk through the school.

  4. Maintain: In order to ensure that the culture in a school space is maintained, continual messaging is required. Things that are positive are sustained and replicated. With continuous monitoring, school leaders can find out what aspects of the culture are positive and should be reinforced and what aspects of the culture are negative and harmful and should be changed. Great culture is built by repeated practice by all members of the school community, especially teachers and students. Aristotle had said that we are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit. And positive culture building needs to be a habit not just for the school leaders but for all members.

To conclude, I would like to share an old saying – Rome was not built in a day – and neither can you build the culture of an organization over night. Building a great culture is like running a marathon and not a sprint, a process that needs to be repeated consistently.

The author is the Curriculum Head for India School Leadership Institute (ISLI) and has done MA in Education at Azim Premji University, Bangalore. She completed her Teach for India fellowship in 2012 and can be reached at


Akbar and Rahi Crafts of India

When Akbar (Batch 14-16) approached us with news of his new venture Rahi Crafts of India (RCI) – a platform for handicrafts manufacturers, suppliers and exporters, we thought it was a story worth sharing. Reading through his experiences might inspire other entrepreneurs from the university to follow their passion and dreams.

Alumni Team:  What made you take the leap into this venture?

Akbar: For a long time I thought I had to develop something that had never been done before to be successful. In a decade I traveled in multi-states (Karnataka, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Kolkata and N-E states and so on) and I found that in each state there are local artisans who are making good and valuable crafts product but they are unable to sell their products due to unavailable of market, poor connection and transportation. These artisans always get exploited by agents and middle persons and they are unable to gain the profit.

Too many times I’ve thought about this and then contemplated various scenarios and how it could play out. I analyzed every aspect and tried to guess and estimate all the contingencies. Then I have decided that I will create an online platform and put together the most basic form of the handicrafts product designed by local artisans and start selling. This process will help me to estimate how the product might fare in the marketplace and provide real feedback which will help me to enhance my enterprise.

Alumni Team: What were the biggest initial hurdles to building your venture and how did you overcome them?

Akbar: To being an entrepreneur I need to nurture my ability to develop and cultivate relationship with others because that skill is essential to the growth and success of business. For starting of a business not only enough money will be needed but also support of friends, family and others will be required during lean startup months.

Alumni Team: How do you plan to deal with competition?

Akbar: I think as long as the products offers value to customers, it’s ready to launch, everything else will come in due time. Many times, most of the entrepreneurs get caught up in trying to make everything perfect, but I think focus more on getting the business out there and then improve as long as go on.

For the successful business uniqueness is essential hence I have decided that I will not copy other, people have a need for variety, so if I have the same products as the other, I’ll have nothing to compel customers to choose my products versus my proven competitors. So, modeling other successful products, keeping good quality at moderate prize will help me to succeed in the competitive market. 

7. What do you know today that you wish you would have known when you first got started as an entrepreneur?

Akbar: Three things:

  • Financial

Capital is a backbone of every business without that no one can’t proceed. Likewise, I had a plan, idea and talent but I was unable to proceed due to lack of finance.

  • Registration and process

It was very difficult for me to register as a proprietor in NCR due to lack of local identity proofs, rented home and so on.

  • Banking & Security Challenges

To open a current bank account and maintain Rs. 25000 balance was very difficult initially and due to lack of finance, local id proofs and other documents.

– The Alumni team

Collaborative Film Project – “The Seed Beneath the Snow”

I just wondered whether it would be of interest to some of us to contribute to this collaborative film project on the late David Fleming, the radical economist and the author of Lean Logic: A Dictionary for the Future and How to Survive It:

In any case, most of us might love to watch the fascinating tasters such as this one:

What happens when you look deep into the eyes of an animal – a fellow creature, sharing our planet?  What do you think of this? We’re opening up for collaboration our new major documentary about the unique vision of the radical economist, David Fleming. We’re putting online short tasters like this as we film them for your feedback with ideas, events and people we could include. Leave your comments here, or find out more at http//

– Swalih (M A Development, 2012-14)



My experiences as a Development Professional

This article by Vanisha Tiwari (2014-2016) was first published in the Medium.

Unlike most of my friends and family members, I chose to be a “social worker” (as they say) and these pieces from my sketchbook are a memoir of experiences that I went through in last 15 months as a development professional. These lessons can not be taught in any social education institution. The album conveys the imperfections of a human being, the challenges that a development practitioner faces, harsh realities of our society and the enormous ability in a person irrespective of his/her social background to make this world a better place.

Not only rains, Mumbai should be blamed for its floods

Article by Dhwani Shah (2014-16 batch) and first published in HardNewsMedia 

 Mumbai masterminds its floods with its uncontrolled craving for development—by converting floodplains, bottlenecking rivers and reclaiming several hectares of coastal areas

The torrential rain that battered Mumbai on September 19 almost made the denizens of the metropolis gasp in horror as they waited to see if the downpour would again inundate the city as it did just a few days ago on August 29. The deluge that hit the city last month was a chilling reminder of the floods that brought the megacity to a standstill on July 26, 2005, and led to the death of over 500 people and 16,307 cattle, affected 30,000 vehicles and damaged more than 2,000 houses. A lack of warning by weathermen before the August 29 downpour had caught the city off-guard and led to a complete breakdown of suburban train services of Central and Harbour railways of Mumbai Division.

This time, however, the city had received warning of heavy to very heavy rainfall from the Met department. A total of 108 flights were cancelled and the suburban railway services were hit, with trains running late. Several cars were abandoned on the roads and heavy traffic was witnessed even after the rain reduced. For hours after the rain had stopped, the water did not recede in several parts of Mumbai. Thousands of people were stranded at the railway station, in trains, and on roads. Some decided to stay put at their offices or homes of relatives and friends.

For Mumbai, heavy rain is not the only cause of floods. The metropolis masterminds its floods with its uncontrolled craving for development. This has led to the conversion of floodplains, bottlenecking of rivers and reclamation of several hectares of coastal areas. Shrinking open spaces, cutting of trees, increasing concretization of land open to the sky has led to lesser ground area for the water to seep in. This has contributed towards the increase in rainwater runoff and has increased the pressure on the city’s stormwater drainage systems built in the colonial era.

Mumbai’s rivers and creeks provide it with a natural drainage pattern for draining excess rainwater. The rivers of Mumbai have witnessed the brunt of the development. The rivers at several locations along the course have been diverted, reclaimed and concretized with walls. Several areas of mangroves and mudflats, classified as CRZ IA areas that act as protection zone between the sea and land, have been reclaimed by builders and government. Floodplains have been encroached by slums and concretized. Moreover, some buildings have been built abutting or altering the river and no action has been taken so far.

The mangroves and creeks of Mumbai also face a threat from the 6,000 MT or more waste generated every day. This waste is dumped unsegregated and untreated in the dumping grounds which are created over areas of mangroves and open spaces. The dumping grounds in Kanjurmarg, Mulund, Shivaji Nagar, and Gorai were developed on mangroves and mudflats. The waste that is dumped unattended, forming high mountains, have played a significant role in bottlenecking the rivers. Plastic has created havoc in Mumbai’s drainage system. Till date, there is no solid waste management system functional on the ground.

The Bandra-Kurla Complex, MHADA layout of Charkop and several other areas have been developed by filling the creek areas that harbour mangroves and mudflats. With constant clearance of the forest areas of Sanjay Gandhi National Park and Aarey Milk Colony, the ground’s capacity for water retention has been reduced and therefore, soil erosion and floods are likely to increase. Many proposals have been submitted to the forest department seeking permission for the clearance and conversion of the forest areas in and around Mumbai. If such conversions continue, Mumbai’s protection shield will diminish.

Apart from the recent floods, Mumbai has many lessons to be learned from the Chennai floods of 2015 and the floods of 2005. Urgent steps towards sustainable development of the city should be taken. Efforts should be taken to revive the rivers that have been choked. Mumbai is a coastal city, several areas of the city are below the mean sea level. No region of Mumbai is more than 200 to 300 metres away from the sea. In view of climate change and rising sea levels, only a sustainable approach can lead to better infrastructure and quality of life.

That Girl

  • By Divya Mishra (MA Education, 2013-15) first published in Karvaan 2017

To the friendships I never had,
to the friends who never stayed,
To the people who never met me,
To the ones whose will was free.
I don’t have a problem if I was lesser known,
Cause all of them don’t have my friendship sworn.
You can think of me as a slut or cunt,
But you cannot bring me down however hard you hunt.

(to the girl who drummed her way from red light area in Mumbai to music institute in US)

A Rewarding Journey Uphill

  • By Thamarai Selvan (MA Education, 2013-15) first published in Karvaan 2017

Travelled all the way from Madurai for a two-year program. It was a big risky decision which I made in my life when my wife was carrying our first baby. I came to the university with the mind that, if it suits I can continue if it does not suit, let me quit and continue my previous job. It was surprising to know that many people left their high-paying jobs and chose social space as their future career. Thus, the crowd was a mix of those in their late 30s and 40s, and some who just got out of their under graduate program. They engaged in different interests (geography, economy, social and linguistic) and the army comprised of people from J&K to Madurai. The single factor that threaded them together was that they were guided by a passion towards building a better society.

The welcome note for the batch was organized and a panel discussion was also arranged. Few faculty and students talked about the life at the university for the first year students. Finally the Man of the Field Mr. Peri, (with a long kadhi kurta and jolna bag) came and shared his experience from North East Karnataka. It was a representation of what is happening in the field (at the foundation). It made my mind to freeze there in the campus, “Yes, we have come to the right place, we can stay here”. If we didn’t listen to him we wouldn’t know whether we would have continued or not (in Azim Premji University) who quit our job and took the two year program which is serious and academically rigorous in nature.

The next two years went at lightening pace with variety of academic engagements starting from readings, assignments of varying nature – like film making, travelogue, on-field assignments, preparing materials and story cards for minority languages, reading aloud and arranging story festivals for children, regular two-year school visits, travelling to field institute for doing field research, teaching in and after school children’s program (for two months) for our own understanding of subject pedagogy, staying at an alternative school for two weeks to understand their vision of schooling and how they are integrating subjects and transacting the curriculum which they conceived and agreed upon and also conduct a small level research based on the way in which teaching learning happening for a particular subject not to mention the 40 – 60 GB of course and course aligned material (I just checked my folder size and this is after deleting and organizing files). When you read the course material and come to class it will be an wonderful session if you not read the paper it will not be a participatory and you will be a mere spectator (passive observer). It was fun and at the same time enriching experience when people will be contesting social theories with their own personal experience it is similar debate between structure and agency.

It was a two year journey of theory and practice. Normally in many institutes and university, they have few faculties who can think out of the box and come from multidisciplinary background but in Azim Premji University most of them are of this kind that’s why it stands alone in alumni’s mind forever. This university is unique because as an institution it thinks like an out of the box academic institution and provides all the facilities and exposure to students. Since it is a university it has the flexibility and placid system to approve or disapprove or grant a program for study so it is convenient to offer liberal programs to students or professionals who want to come to social space with some balancing academic and practice. Almost for all my course I have done field work (I think except PoE). Which helped me to develop a holistic understanding.

When I started my practice it was a chosen and deliberate decision to start with APF which aligned with my personal vision on education, society and social change. When we graduate out of a program and started practicing we found that there is a big gap between the course and the practice. That’s customizing the strategies and approach which suits in the area (geography, local culture…) in which you work. We may have studied many approaches and research papers which succeeded in other parts of the country or world, in education domain or teacher professional development in particular. But when it come to a teacher’s classroom you have to customize based on that particular classroom’s needs. Here, you have to understand the teacher, the pupils, the head teacher, the local educational administrative officers, the community and many more…

So as a practitioner, we need to be very humble and patient before we started reacting or working in given situation. We have to initially observe how things in the field work and how can we contribute to the team or organization better. If we keep that in mind and start working it will give us a great pleasure when we are in the social field. But if we start looking and theorizing and begin critiquing things with an ideal state and critically looking at everything, it will become a danger for us as well us for the organization.

So as a graduate of the university we need to think twice before making a statement or generalizing things or making a judgement. This kind of a behavior will draw people’s attention too, and they will begin to listen to us. This way, we can make constructive changes, easily. It is a great four (2+2) year journey which I am continuing (from university) at our foundation.


सुखलाल और मैं

Shehnaz (

मैं करीब डेढ़ साल से छत्तीसगढ़ के आदिवासी बहुल क्षेत्र दंतेवाड़ा के सरकारी स्कूलों में काम कर रही हूँ| वैसे तो मैं मुख्यतः माध्यमिक स्कूलों के शिक्षकों और बच्चों के साथ काम करती हूँ परन्तु जब कभी भी मुझे माध्यमिक स्कूल से थोड़ा समय मिलता है तो मैं अपने माध्यमिक विद्यालय के एकदम समीप स्थित प्राथमिक विद्यालय के बच्चों के साथ कुछ गतिविधियाँ करने उनके स्कूल में चली जाती हूँ|

वैसे तो मैं मानती हूँ कि प्रत्येक बच्चा अपने आप में अनोखा होता है लेकिन फिर भी मैंने बच्चों के साथ काम करने के अपने अभी तक के अनुभव के आधार पर पाया कि मुझे जाने क्यों कुछ बच्चे अन्य बच्चों की तुलना में कुछ ज़्यादा ही आकर्षित करते हैं| ऐसा ही एक बच्चा है प्राथमिक स्कूल में कक्षा एक में पढ़ने वाला सुखलाल| मैं जब भी इस बच्चे की कक्षा में जाती हूँ तो वो मुझे वापस नहीं आने देता| सुखलाल हमेशा काफ़ी खुश रहता है और उसे जैसी एक धुन सी रहती है लिख कर चेक कराने की| कभी-कभी तो मुझे उसे लेकर चिंता भी होती है कि कहीं वो अपने किये हुए काम को एक वयस्क व्यक्ति से अप्रूव कराने का आदी न हो जाए| इसीलिए जब भी मैं उसे उसकी कॉपी कर उसका नाम लिख कर देती हूँ तो कोशिश यही करती हूँ कि वह खुद अपने लिखे हुए को जांचे| शुरुआत में सुखलाल अपने नाम के सभी अक्षर उलटे लिखता था परन्तु अब वो अपने नाम के सीधे अक्षर लिखना सीख गया है| सुखलाल को ऐसा लगता है कि मैं उससे अधिक जानती हूँ और उसे सिखाऊँगी| तो कक्षा के भीतर कुछ ऐसा होता है सुखलाल- छोटी छोटी चीज़ों के लिए मानो मुझपर आश्रित सा महसूस करता हुआ| कभी-कभी जब मैं माध्यमिक स्कूल में होती हूँ तो वो अपने स्कूल से माध्यमिक स्कूल तक अपनी कॉपी के साथ आ जाता है| और मुझसे कहता है, “मैम चेक कर दो|”


Illustration by Swetha (

लेकिन बच्चों के साथ हमारा काम सिर्फ कक्षा के भीतर तक ही सीमित नहीं होता| हमें प्रत्येक बच्चे को समझने के लिए उसके साथ थोड़ा समय बिताना होता है| और उनके साथ कक्षा के बाहर समय बिताने के दौरान ही कुछ ऐसा होता है जो हमारे चेहरे पर मुस्कान ला देता है| ऐसा ही कुछ अनुभव मेरे साथ भी हुआ| एक बार मेरी माध्यमिक शाला के एक बच्चे के पैर में चोट लगने की वजह से काफी सूजन हो गयी| जड़ी-बूटियों के उपचार के बावजूद भी घाव भरने का नाम नहीं ले रहा था| मैंने यह ज़रूरी समझा कि एक बार बच्चे के माता-पिता से मिलकर उसे अस्पताल ले जाने के बारे में चर्चा करनी चाहिए| मुझे बच्चे का घर पता नहीं था तो मैंने उसके घर के पास रहने वाले कुछ बच्चों से बात की कि हम लंच के समय उसके घर जायेंगे| इन कुछ बच्चों के समूह में सुखलाल न शामिल हो ऐसा तो हो ही नहीं सकता था| वह खुद ब खुद बोला कि मैं भी चलूँगा मैम| तो इस प्रकार पांच बच्चों के साथ मैं उस बच्चे के घर चल पड़ी| इन पांच बच्चों में तीन सातवीं कक्षा के और दो प्राथमिक कक्षा के थे, उनमें से एक सुखलाल था| जिस रास्ते से होकर मुझे उस बच्चे के घर पहुंचना था वहां बीच में एक छोटा सा नाला था| बारिश का मौसम होने के कारण उस समय वह भरा हुआ था| अन्य बच्चे तो पहले ही इसे पार कर गये| सुखलाल मेरे एकदम आगे-आगे चल रहा था| नाले का पानी देखते ही मेरे मुँह से अनायास ही निकल गया, “अरे मैं तो इसे पार ही नहीं कर पाऊँगी|” यह सुनकर सुखलाल तुरंत बोला, “नहीं ले जायेगा मैम|” यह कहकर फ़टाफ़ट पूरा नाला पार करके उस पार खड़ा हो गया, मानो मुझे आश्वस्त करने के लिए दिखा रहा हो कि देखो ऐसे पार किया जाता है| मैं धीरे-धीरे चलने लगी और वह उस पर से मुझे देखता रहा, तब तक जब तक मैंने पूरा नाला पार नहीं कर लिया| इसके बाद रस्ते में एक और चीज़ आई जहाँ सुखलाल को खुद को मुझसे सुपीरियर साबित करने का मौका मिल गया| इस बार रास्ते में एक गड्ढा आया| ये गड्ढा इतना तो गहरा था कि इसे कूदकर ही पार किया जा सकता था| सुखलाल ने कूदकर इस गड्ढे को पार किया और वापस मुड़कर मुझे देखने लगा, मानो यह सुनिश्चित कर रहा हो कि कहीं मैं गड्ढा पार कर भी पाऊँगी या नहीं| मैंने उससे कहा, “देखो कर लिया मैंने पार, तुम्हें क्या लगा मैं नहीं कर पाऊँगी?|” यह सुनकर वह मुस्कुरा दिया| अब तक हम बच्चे के घर पहुँच चुके थे और चूंकि मुझे हल्बी(दंतेवाड़ा की क्षेत्रीय भाषा) नहीं आती थी तो मेरे साथ गए हुए माध्यमिक स्कूल के बच्चों ने ही बच्चे के माता-पिता से बात की और उनके कहा कि वे उसे लेकर अस्पताल जायें|

अब हमने वापस लौटना शुरू किया| एक बार फिर से हमें गड्ढा और पानी से भरा हुआ नाला पार करना था| सुखलाल पहले की तरह अभी भी मेरे आगे-आगे ही चल रहा था| इस बार रास्ते में जब फिर से नाला आया तो फटाफट उसे पार करके दूसरी ओर पहुंचकर वह हँसते हुए ज़ोर-ज़ोर से बोला, “ले जायेगा मैम, ले जायेगा|” मैंने कहा, “कोई बात नहीं, ले जाने दो| तुम तो हो ही मुझे बचाने के लिए|” यह सुनकर वह मुस्कुरा दिया| नदी पार करने के बाद वह मुझसे आसपास लगे हुए पेड़ों के नाम पूछने लगा, जैसे मन ही मन कह रहा हो, “हां कक्षा में तो बहुत परीक्षा लेती हो, अब बोलो?” उसे उन सभी पौधों के नाम पहले से ही पता थे और मुझे एक का भी नाम नहीं मालूम था|

मैं कह सकती हूँ कि शायद सुखलाल को उस दिन यह बात समझ में आई हो कि मैं सर्वगुण संपन्न या सर्वज्ञानी नहीं हूँ| ऐसे बहुत से काम होंगें जिन्हें शायद वह मुझसे बेहतर ढंग से कर पायेगा| शायद वह समझ सका हो कि यदि कुछ बातों के लिए वह मुझ पर आश्रित महसूस करता है तो मैं भी कई बातों के लिए बच्चों पर आश्रित रहती हूँ| चाहे वह किसी बच्चे के घर का रास्ता बताना हो, क्षेत्रीय भाषा में बच्चों के माता-पिता से बात करनी हो या स्थानीय पेड़-पौधों के नाम बताने हों, बहुत सारी बातें हैं जिनमें वे मेरी मदद करते हैं|

Early Literacy Initiative (ELI) Website

Dear Friends,

Early Literacy Initiative (ELI), is a university based initiative located at TISS, Hyderabad, and funded by Tata Trusts. It is a domain-building initiative that aims to focus on  aspects of teaching, research and advocacy efforts with respect to Early Literacy.

We are pleased to inform you that on the occasion of World Literacy Day (Sept 8th), we launched Early Literacy Initiative (ELI) website. It is now live and available for you to visit at:

Objectives: This website serves two functions. It will represent ELI’s ongoing work in research and teaching. We will also use the website as a means to reach out to other organisations and individuals working in the area of early language and literacy in order to discuss issues of common concern.

Thematic Blog: Multilingualism: To address this need to create a platform where we can network and communicate with each other, the ELI team has designed a series of thematic blogs. The first blog (live now) is on the issue of multilingualism in India. A couple of blog pieces on this topic are currently available to read and respond to online; and other pieces will be put up on a weekly basis over the next 7-8 weeks.

We welcome your participation on this blog – please comment, respond to, or write blog pieces yourselves on the topic.

While all languages are welcome, we would need a rough English translation to accompany the original blog piece. We will put up both original and translated versions side-by-side

The length of blog pieces should ideally be from 500 – max. 2000 words.

Resources: We will put up a selection of curated and annotated resources linked to the thematic area. At present, you will find resources related to multilingualism. Over time, we will keep adding resources related to other themes we take up, such that, you will find resources related to a variety of topics at the ELI website.

We would be thrilled if you took a few minutes out from your day to visit our website and blog, and leave comments on the topics being discussed. You can also reach us on our Facebook page.

We look forward to exploring ideas with you over the next few years. Please feel free to forward this mail to interested individuals and organisations.
Thank you,

ELI Team.

India’s Urban Floods Are More Acts Of Man Than God

Originally posted @ on September 1, 2017 by V R Vachana who is Senior Associate, Advocacy and Reforms, Janaagraha Centre for Citizenship and Democracy.



The flooding woes of Indian cities have hit the headlines yet again, with MumbaiChandigarhBengaluru and Agartala being among the worst affected. As for the response to these crises—there is enough evidence to indicate that the patchwork solutions that have been employed will work like steroid shots that might mitigate the issue temporarily, but worsen it in the future.

Planning in tatters

The fundamental issue behind recurrent urban flooding can be traced to the lack of a comprehensive masterplan that is properly implemented and enforced. According to the Green Economy report (UNEP, 2011), poor urban planning can cost a country 3% of its GDP. It is a known fact that the planning process in Indian cities is flawed at various levels. Chandigarh, often touted as our best planned city, was intended to house half a million people but now bears the load of over 1.5 million residents, clearly overwhelming its governance and infrastructure capacity .

Inequitable planning results in a divided city – where areas facing minimal flooding end up well-planned and serviced, while vulnerable areas that are low-lying and comprised of informal settlements are left out.

Unmanaged urban sprawl is a clear indication of failure to accommodate the actual pace of a city’s growth, placing undue stress on land. And, with the absence of mechanisms for plan implementation and enforcement, cities end up with encroachments and violations that block natural drainage systems, resulting in urban flooding. The Annual Survey of India’s City-Systems (ASICS) 2016, an urban governance benchmarking study across 21 major Indian cities showed that 14 Indian cities scored zero on a scale of 10 in their ability to successfully implement plans while the remaining seven cities scored a meagre 0.9. The study also showed that no cities have an effective mechanisms to deter plan violations.

Not surprisingly, the Union Minister for Transport, Nitin Gadkari, recently described the Town Planning Department in Maharashtra as “hopeless” and “good for nothing”, emphasising the need for agencies to chalk out plans in tandem with the city’s growth patterns.

Indian cities do not aim for equity and resilience. Inequitable planning results in a divided city – where areas facing minimal flooding end up well-planned and serviced, while vulnerable areas that are low-lying and comprised of informal settlements are left out. Furthermore, they are not equipped with robust indicators to measure success and failure of plans. This can be further attributed to the fact that India has a dearth of town planners, sectoral planners and plan enforcement staff. According to UN-Habitat (as cited in the ASICS report), India has only one planner per 4,00,000 population in comparison to the UK, which has 148 planners for the same strength of people.

Robust planning and design standards would also help implement scientific design of drains, separation between sewage and storm water and adequate capacities of storm water drains. No city in India has adopted a design standard for drainage systems. Most cities also lack adequate drainage coverage. For example, Chennai has 855km of storm water drains against 2,847 km of roads, resulting in floods after minimally heavy rain. In Mumbai, storm drains receive almost 40% of sewage from the city either by direct discharge/overflow from sewers or by drainage across the ground, leading to reduction in its capacity to drain rainwater.

Who is in charge?

Urban flooding events are followed by finger-pointing between authorities, highlighting the issues caused by fragmentation of governance and services. While it is the city government that receives flak for urban flooding, most planning policies and decisions do not come under their control, which raises the larger question on the state government’s reluctance to devolve planning responsibilities to the city government as envisioned by the 74th Constitutional Amendment (Mumbai being an outlier in this case).

The approach to developing solutions needs to be systemic rather than reactionary. If not, urban flooding and all the suffering that comes with it will continue to haunt Indian cities.

City governments are, however, responsible for negligence in annual preparedness for monsoons such as clearing storm water clogs etc. Urban flooding is always followed by reports on city governments not being proactive in maintaining storm water drains—for example, In Bengaluru, storm-water drains lie higher than feeder drains that carry rain water into them. Citizens complicate matters by treating uncovered storm water drains as garbage bins, leading to further clogging in monsoons.

What next?

It’s likely that cities will only become further prone to frequent flooding owing to challenges posed by global climate change. There is an emerging pattern of unprecedented localised heavy rainfall in some Indian cities, notably Hyderabad in 2000, Ahmedabad in 2001, Delhi in 2002, 2003, 2009, 1010, Chennai in 2004 and 2015, Mumbai in 2005 and 2017, Surat in 2006, Kolkata in 2007, Jamshedpur in 2008, Guwahati in 2010, and Srinagar in 2014.

Flooding has significant impacts on the economy and it is disheartening that we are yet to conduct and document assessments on resulting risks and losses from such events. It is worthwhile to look at London, a city at a high risk of flooding by the River Thames, and its flood defense system—the “Thames Barrier“—that is largely successful and projected to work until 2070. It is interesting to note that London has also gone ahead with a project titled “Thames Estuary 2100” to manage flood risks primarily posed by surges in the North Sea tides, showing the city’s commitment to developing a forward-looking plan for disaster mitigation. India’s municipal planning and governance system also needs to include effective methods for disaster preparedness, including early warning systems, on a war footing.

The approach to developing solutions needs to be systemic rather than reactionary. If not, urban flooding and all the suffering that comes with it will continue to haunt Indian cities.