Failures in Education

SELCO Foundation
Sep 7, 2018 · 5 min read

“We have to remember Bellary when we talk about the history of education in India.” says G. Gauthama, outlining the trajectory of the Indian education system,

“It is from there that an officer of the British wrote back home to say that we ought to replicate Indian educational system, which he perceived as economical, given that students were often left to themselves. It was only later in 1929, during the Depression where coming from a good school ensured a Government Job, which was so important at the time, where our education system started taking the shape it has now. I think the failure in Indian education is a failure of character.”

Some panelists would probably agree with Gauthama’s view, but on the whole, the entire panel was eager to share instances of failures from various prisms- right from the corridors of the most sought after Scientific Institution in the country to the remote mountains of the Ladakh region.

Systemic Failures

“There’s no doubt our intentions are good” says Ashok Kamath of Akshara Foundation, “But these intentions are not backed by planning and that’s what I term as systemic failures.”

He continues to list out the problems that one encounters working with the state,

“Lack of training, lack of follow up, lack of checks and balances, established processes. These are systemic failures. Years ago we implemented a teacher training program right before the holidays, but by the time the teachers had come back, all was forgotten because they had no occasion to practise it.”

Ashok also candidly recounted the time a successful 45 day program that put non-readers on the path of reading that had worked to great acclaim in the city of Bangalore, but failed when it was scaled up to the entire state of Karnataka,

“We gave the government all the material, and what they had done was to copy it and distribute it all these schools. Now teachers were handed this material and had no idea what to do with it really. Some who were smart figured out how they could utilise it, but there no training or follow-ups. This is when we realised we can’t just come up with a good model and pass it on, there is some hand-holding required and this is how you reckon with systemic failures.

For Sujatha Sahu of 17,000 Feet, the system was essentially in place, but the problem arose from a different type of systemic failure,

“Ladakh had around 900 schools, with around 25 students on average receiving an English medium education. All the kids from these villages were going to school and the education was good, but why wasn’t there any impact? The problem was that such areas are so underserved because of their remoteness that these people were simply not confident because of such an isolation.

Santosh Noronha, a researcher at IIT Mumbai, bemoans the lack of infrastructure,

Our labs are not adequate, we’re not encouraged to take apart things and put them back together but tomorrow these same engineers are expected to go and build bridges? Imagine if we spoke about a medical institute like this?”

Finding Solutions And Working With Communities

“I think one of our biggest failures is looking at what happens in the classroom, without looking at the community around it.” says Kamath, “Now we have Maths Contests all over the states that are fully funded by the Gram Panchayats that are a big success. We should realise that things work when we all work with each other.”

Sahu recounts her own experience when she first got into the education sector 6 years ago,

“We went to a region like Ladakh and found out that they were receiving an English medium education, and we thought about how children from such a remote region would pick up English. We were convinced that we could teach them that this could be done better. We soon realised we were barking up the wrong tree, their systems were in place and there was a healthy student teacher ratio, it was working and children were going to school.

That’s when we realised that we should focus on working within existing systems and making them better. We might carry notions that technology is the great leveller, but it means nothing if it does not function within existing frameworks.

A Myopic View Of Success

Photo by Alireza Attari on Unsplash

Noronha provides an interesting aspect of failure from within the environs of academia,

“We have around 40,000 Journals that publish our studies and research, out of which one out of five talk about negative results. The publication model demands that we talk about successes and not our failures.”

Noronha also outlines where he finds that academia fails to address the complexity of developmental research,

“When we research failures, we fail to take in the complexities. The nature of Sciences is that we’re slotted into being specialists, but how does that apply to developmental research where there are so many variables, how will a specialist be able to solve any of that?”.

The panel on education gave us glimpses of failure from a local contexts, broader lapses and the issues that plague academia itself. If we are to take Santosh Noronha’s view, we only stand to learn more from the many variables that failures offer us too.

For more detailed insights on what ensued in the Failures in Education panel at the Impact Failure Conclave 2018, watch the video below.

For more details visit our website: or write to us at

Impact Failure

The aim of Impact Failure is to provide an in-depth and open discussion about the role of failure in the development space. The goal is also to celebrate learnings that emerge from failures and the impact that can be created through the learnings.

SELCO Foundation

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SELCO Foundation seeks to inspire and implement solutions that alleviate poverty by improving access to sustainable energy to underserved communities.

Impact Failure

The aim of Impact Failure is to provide an in-depth and open discussion about the role of failure in the development space. The goal is also to celebrate learnings that emerge from failures and the impact that can be created through the learnings.

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