One month ago, I began a journey. A journey which is still changing my outlook towards almost everything I can think about. As a Swaniti Fellow, I am mandated to assist Member of Parliament and Minister for Urban Development, Mr. Kamal Nath, to evaluate and strengthen Vocational Institutes in his constituency, Chhindwara, Madhya Pradesh.

Education is empowering. Empowering through education and skills is the power to grow, set goals, values, standards and live by them. It represents freedom from a life of struggle, exploitation and oppression. It makes you work towards a more progressive humanity. Education dilutes ignorance. It makes us responsible and responsive. In stark contrast, recently Indian students ranked second-last globally when tested on their reading, math and science abilities. Education does not only mean being able to read and write. It involves continuous learning in order to achieve fuller and growing participation in society. According to these standards, more than 70% of India’s literate population is illiterate.

Let’s rewind to February 2013. I was introduced to Sambuddha and Aashish, my colleagues on the assignment. With each of us coming from diverse professional backgrounds, we made a strong team to take on our problem. Our limited secondary research told us that the heart of the problem would be almost technical in nature and fairly easy to identify: shortage of infrastructure, a faulty curriculum at Institutes, etc. After a preliminary meeting with Mr. Nath in New Delhi, we headed to Chhindwara to conduct some primary research and experience first-hand the core issues faced by students and institutes in the constituency.

Our stint in Chhindwara involved meeting almost each and every stakeholder: Institutes, Students, Industry, Government and the average population. We were aghast with the amount of development Mr. Nath was pivotal in bringing about, and unanimously credited for by every thinking soul in Chhindwara. There was no shortage of best institutes, infrastructure, non-profits and people genuinely seeking change. Apart from this, we got a chance to interact with tribals and farmers in far-flung villages, where development had never managed to seep in, or probably be accepted.

Deeper introspection in to their problems gave us findings that statistical data and research could have never captured. The solutions each stakeholder seeks were so fundamental, so simple, yet certainly the biggest challenges we face and fail to tackle, not only in Chhindwara, but throughout India. Education & skill development are undoubtedly the keys to a developed India.

As Fellows, we are using all our intellect and resources made available to us – the genuine, unending support from the Swaniti Team & Mr. Nath’s Office – to bring about innovative solutions to seemingly deceptive, simple issues. In my next post, I will give a detailed account of our challenging yet satisfying experiences whilst being the change we want to see!