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Premji's massive donation highlights importance of education

Azim Premji’s Rs 8,846 crore donation towards education could set off a trend in philanthropy in a country where family wealth, with a few exceptions, is generally kept in the family or donated to religious houses

In what is considered to be possibly the largest individual philanthropic contribution ever made in India, Azim Premji, chairman of India’s third largest IT company, Wipro, has donated 9% of his personal fortune, or Rs 8,846 crore (approximately $2 billion), to the cause of education.    

The endowment to the Azim Premji Foundation, which Premji set up in 2001, will further the educational work of the Foundation that works in rural India in collaboration with state governments to improve the quality of education. Its programmes have reached around 25,000 schools, and over 2.5 million children. It has worked with the Karnataka government on examination reform; in Rajasthan it works to strengthen government schools; and it is working in two districts of Uttarakhand in partnership with the government in teacher training, principal training, curriculum development, management systems, etc.

The Foundation is also setting up a university in Bangalore to create a pool of education and development professionals, and develop teacher educators and academic resources. It will have about 3,500-4,000 students in five years and be operational from July 2011.

“Good education is crucial to building a just, equitable, humane and sustainable society. We want to contribute significantly towards improvement of education in India, and through that towards building a better society. The Foundation’s significant increase in scale and its clear focus on social purposes will require a substantial long-term financial commitment, which is the purpose this endowment will serve,” Premji said.

The increase in scale includes the new university as well as several field programmes. Anurag Behar, joint CEO of the Foundation, said in an interview that institutions would be set up in 50 remote, disadvantaged districts to understand local issues, the means at the disposal of the local population and then to devise local programmes to help that particular district.

The Foundation currently employs 350 people; that number will go up to 5,000 in about five years, Behar said.

School education in India needs all the help it can get. Government schools provide a poor standard of education and private schools are too expensive for the masses of poor children who need a decent education. Under the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan programme, enrolment in primary schools has improved but the quality of teaching and facilities still leave much to be desired. The main goal of the SSA, launched in 2001, was that all children of 6-11 years of age should complete primary education by the year 2007, and all children of 6-14 years of age should complete eight years of schooling by 2010. The targets have not been met.

India’s total literacy rate is 65.38% according to the 2001 census; its female literacy rate is only 54.16%. There is a huge gap between rural and urban literacy rates -- 80.3% in the urban population and 59.4% in the rural population.

The Millennium Development Goal for education requires universal primary education, that is, all children to complete a full course of primary schooling, by 2015.  

Parliament has recently passed the Right to Education Act through which education has become the fundamental right of all children in the age-group 6-14 years. To meet this commitment, the number of schools and teachers will have to increase hugely.

Source: Wall Street Journal, December 7, 2010
            Mint, December 1, 2010
            India Development Gateway, September 2010