"I had friends working for women’s liberation. I had friends working for popularisation of science. I said to them – none of these things you want to do are possible if people cannot read and write.” Madhav Chavan
Madhav Chavan was brought up in a politically active family at a time of tumultuous change in India. After completing a Ph.D. in the USA, Chavan returned to India in 1986 to teach Chemistry at the University of Mumbai. He was struck by the plight of the city’s poor, and he applied his scientific training to create a solution of beautiful simplicity.
Chavan saw that education was the main barrier to India’s development and that action was required that would bring rapid results. Leveraging the power of collaboration from the outset, he joined forces with UNICEF and the city government to ensure “every child in school and learning well”.
Using his passion for social justice as a catalyst, he launched a mission to create large-scale impact at low cost. The reaction produced by combining the primary elements of government infrastructure, corporate resources and citizen volunteerism had striking results in bringing literacy to Mumbai’s slum children. Futhermore, the formula easily passed the scientific tests of scalability and replicability and spread rapidly across the country.
Today the mission has expanded to 17 of India’s 28 states and Pratham, the NGO of which Chavan is co-founder and CEO, is the largest non-governmental provider of basic literacy and numeracy for underprivileged children in India. Its programs now address pre-school education, learning support to both in-school and out-of-school children, computer literacy, vocational training and special programs for vulnerable and working children.
Independent studies have shown that children who have attended Pratham pre-schools are much more likely to attend primary school than other children in their age group, and that they perform more highly than their classmates.
Chavan's scientific method includes monitoring and evaluation. Thanks to a nationwide voluntary effort, Pratham’s Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) measures quantitative and qualitative parameters including enrolment, facilities and learning outcomes. The model has now been replicated in a number of countries in Asia and Africa.
Accepting the WISE Prize for Education, Chavan said: "Some 25 years ago I saw that new thinking was needed to improve the lives of the millions of underprivileged in my country. Many individuals and organizations have contributed to what has been achieved, and I share this tribute with them. WISE is pursuing a similar mission on a global scale, and I applaud its bold vision and inclusive approach. This Prize is a major landmark that reminds me how much more remains to be done. It is an enormous honor for me to be recognized by this unique community of innovators, and I hope to perform my duties as a global ambassador for education to the best of my ability.”
Read the full biography of Madhav Chavan here