Dr Madhav Chavan & Dr Rukmini Banerji: Pioneers in Literacy & Learning in India


53 mins
Sep 26, 2023


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In this episode, we hear from pioneers in literacy and learning in India: Dr Madhav Chavan and Dr Rukmini Banerji of the Pratham Education Foundation.

Pratham is one of India’s best-known non-governmental organizations and was established in 1995 by Madhav Chavan and Farida Lambe. Since then the organisation has strived to improve literacy amongst India’s children with the mission ‘Every Child in School Learning Well’. Pratham conducts the Annual State of Education Report (ASER) Survey, a nationwide household survey on the state of education in rural India capturing vital information on child enrolment and learning outcomes.

Dr Madhav Chavan grew up in a commune in Maharashtra and went on to study chemistry at the Institute of Science in Mumbai and completed his PhD from Ohio State University. After a brief stint as a professor in America, he returned to India in 1983 and began working with Doordarshan where he produced programmes on literacy. He then worked with UNICEF and the National Literacy Mission in the informal settlements of Mumbai. All of these experiences in literacy led him to co-found Pratham in 1995.

Dr Rukmini Banerji grew up in Bihar and was a stellar student and sportswoman. She studied at St Stephen’s College and later at Oxford University, where she was a Rhodes scholar. She earned her Ph.D. at the University of Chicago. Dr Banerji joined Pratham on returning to India in 1996 and has worked extensively in designing and supporting large-scale partnerships with various state governments to improve learning outcomes in children. She has been the organization’s CEO since 2015.

This is the first episode in a two-part series. Madhav Chavan and Rukmini Banerji are in conversation with author and philanthropist, Rohini Nilekani. In this episode, we will hear about the history of Pratham, the early influences on their lives and educations, and the power of volunteerism, and of primary education as a societal mission that has to be solved at scale.

This conversation was recorded at the Bangalore International Centre in Bangalore.

Additional Reading:
Land, caste, class and gender – Gail Omvedt’s writings were united in their vision of utopia by V Geetha
The Teachers’ Strike and After: Emerging Trends and Issues by Amrik Singh (1988)
TV serial Akshardhara becomes tool for social change by M. Rahman
83rd Amendment to the Indian Constitution
UNESCO’s World Declaration on Education for All, Thailand, 1990

Archival Audio:
ADULT EDUCATION PROGRAMME by National Literacy Mission Authority GOI OFFICIAL CC BY 3.0