Gunvant Jain: Starting an education revolution in India

A few months ago, I wrote a post about Jagriti Yatra, a train journey that takes place in India every year. Its purpose is to gather youth (Millennials and soon, GenZ) who aspire to create positive social change and expose them to problems that need solving, communities that need help, and experts who can provide guidance and insight.

Many of the Jagriti Yatra participants (200 so far!) have gone on to launch businesses and non-profits that are strengthening India’s economy and social infrastructure. Recently, I connected with two of them: Gunvant Jain and Vaishali Gandhi.

Gunvant Jain, founder of Shikshalaya

Gunvant Jain, founder of Shikshalaya

An “engineer by profession and educator by passion,” Gunvant was a college student when he first started thinking about the kind of purposeful life he wanted to build:

“During my final year of college, I saw a common trend among my peers. Everyone was losing interest in their jobs and their lives were missing the passion they used to have. They didn’t just want jobs. They wanted to go out into the world and get some fresh air and meet some new people. That’s why I joined Jagriti Yatra. I realized that we [humans and society] are in the middle of a massive transformation across all the dimensions of life.”

After graduating from college, Gunvant joined Teach for India, which provided the opportunity to consult with a start-up in secondary education. As a result, he gained an understanding of a problem that often goes un-noticed in the larger context of improving education in India: Even "so-called comparative better schools or high-end schools" often fall into the trap of rote learning, creating pressure for the students, which extends to their parents and families. It also means that wealthy students are not taught critical thinking and creative problem-solving. That's obviously a disadvantage for those students, who miss out on the creative problem-solving aspects of critical thinking. Perhaps just as problematic, since they are wealthy and will likely become the job-creators of the future, it's an even bigger problem for India's long-term social and economic development.

Simply stated, it means that many of the people likely to become India's next leaders may be at an intellectual disadvantage when it comes to building India's future. As Gunvant explained to me:

"The well-empowered class of society, the financially well-off, eventually end up compromising their creative and critical thinking. As a result, the class of society who can create employment opportunities become opportunity consumers."

This realization, along with his participation in a Jagriti Yatra journey, his work with Teach for India, as well as his experience with the education start-up, led Gunvant to create Shikshalaya, an "after school learning center" that serves middle income students who attend more affluent schools.

Shikshalaya provides academic support to higher primary and secondary grades, and its curriculum is structured holistically, blending activities, technology, practice and classroom sessions. Consequently, students are able to play a very active role in their learning. Programs are also available for parents, to help them understand how to support their children’s pursuit of education during the stressful years of childhood and adolescence.

Members of the Shikshalaya learning community.

Members of the Shikshalaya learning community.

As Gunvant explained, it’s a model built to solve 21st century challenges faced by teenagers, especially in the context of education and overall personal development:

“The way in which the academia is taught today isn’t necessarily keeping pace with the challenges that are emerging. But if you teach children to think critically by focusing on fundamentals, they will always be looking for solutions based on understanding, instead of just memorizing information and reciting answers. That’s important, because the bar of expectations rising so quickly that answers become meaningless without an understanding of the problems. At Shikshalaya, we teach students how to think simply by focusing on fundamentals.

If Gunvant's vision is successful, if Shikshalaya produces the kind of forward-thinking students he envisions, and Shikshalaya's after school model turns out to be replicable, he could help drive a change in the way that after school educational assistance is provided, which is a major topic of discussion in India.

Gunvant is 28, by the way.