Dr. Shashi Rao
Dr. Shashi Rao doing what she does best!
While Ananya Trust was officially set up in 1998, its roots can be traced back to the 80s, when Shashi was living and working in the US. She was as a preschool teacher; one of the key things she learnt during her interactions with 2 to 5 year-olds was that a child’s social environment influences learning to a large extent. And this was especially so in the case of children she was teaching. Most of them were from broken homes; whatever the parents were going through was clearly affecting the children – not only emotionally but academically too. Seeing this really got her interested in understanding the factors that affect learning. That’s when she decided to do a PhD in Education to understand this better.

The more she studied, the more she understood why so many children are out on the streets in India. She attributed this to the broken educational system, which does not address children’s social and emotional needs. Most schools address academic needs only. So children for whom academics is not that important are not able to cope with the regular educational system. But she personally feels that it is the children who reject the school because schools have nothing to offer them – and not the other way around, as most people believe it is. This became the focus of her PhD – understanding the conscious and unconscious processes that go on in the system.

She makes an interesting analogy between the British rule in India and the current educational system. Just as the British’s colonization eroded India economically, the educational system erodes children intellectually. Just like the Ken Robinson school-of-thought, she equates education to an assembly line production; where children, like moulds of clay, are expected to come out looking perfect. And along the way, the educational system keeps rejecting those that don’t fit into the ideal of a perfect. But that got her thinking about whose ideal of perfect was being referred to. Even the curriculums of the IITs and IIMs that she studied had an ideal of perfect as the American or the Western worlds want. So, what happens about what we want? The idea behind Ananya was to respond to these needs and wants.

The idea was to have an educational system that responded to the needs of children. A school where children decide what they want to learn, where they want to learn, why they want to learn, and when they want to learn; and teachers provide the how. Their sole focus should be on how to teach the children. Shashi also believes that children on the streets are not unintelligent by any stretch of the imagination. Judging these kids on the basis of their IQ , which is so different from their native upbringing, just didn’t make sense! All this finally culminated into Ananya – a school that turns the entire educational system over its head!

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