When people in their everyday life and work feel that they are not individually responsible for the lack of movement, growth, or development, it does not augur well for a progressive and healthy society. And, if the education sector is the victim of this vacuum, our future may have been taken hostage.

We all are linked to children and education, in some way or other in our lives. We have our expected roles to play, both collectively and individually, in thought and action. How do we release the prisoners of our attitude?

Just take a look at India, and its education sector, and how it binds tomorrow’s aspirations with today’s failures. The key issues which have been affecting the school education in India include policy and planning, coverage, access and utilization, infrastructure, implementation, outcomes, and impact. While quality of education is a collective impact of all the actors and factors, there is a general tendency to attribute failures and deficiencies to others.

Half of India’s 1.2 billion people are below the age of 25, and the quality of school education services are critically needed to realize the potential of this enormous group. Challenges and large disparities in service quality and student performance continue to remain, especially within the public sector.

As a result, private sector solutions are becoming attractive (and deceptive!) alternatives to government schools, leading to pauperization of people in a country where inequality has been increasing in alarming rates.

Lack of new ideas or innovation - in response to the critical needs- is an issue which has been affecting overall processes and outcomes of school education in India and the whole world in different contexts. A country like India has looked to developed countries for their best practices and tried to adapt them to local context.

It is deplorable that the country continues to ignore the goldmine of grassroots ideas, by not using those for harnessing the existing systems and resources. There is a pressing need to improve the scenario of education in India. What do you think is a solution?

An exciting answer to the issues and challenges that confront us today is Zero investment innovation (ZII) .However, ZII first starts with a need for and belief in innovation.

Innovation as a Solution:

There are organizations and individuals who have been working on improvement of education and process innovations in small, invisible and unrecognized ways. If these could be searched, researched, refined, and replicated en masse, this could revive and enrich the declining education systems.

On the basis of its established beliefs and approaches, Sri Aurobindo Society has developed the concept of ZII, and working with the teachers on its institutionalization. Not seriously taken up by the policy makers until now, ZII is proving to be one of the most effective game-changing drivers in India’s education system.

What is Zero Investment Innovation (ZII)?

Zero investment innovation is a new idea being or can be implemented effectively without any additional expenditure or with minimum expenditure. This is possible, and is already being practiced by people even in remotest rural corners of the country.

While ZII inspires a person to move from inactivity, to activity, to additional responsibility from a world of possibility; it needs courage to translate individual actions into institutionalization of innovation. ZII also requires empathetic and ethical-enabling of individuals to urge for their personal excellence.

A creative combination of the strength of ideas, self and selflessness; ZII is both powerful and empowering as a grassroots tool.

While ZII does not need much money; it can prove to be more than money. ZII can do what money has failed to do. It also sends out a strong message that large scale educational outcomes are possible with small money if people initiate, internalize and lead the process.

This idea has been getting support directly or indirectly from different sources. The realization that big results do not need big money got a support recently through the statement from Betsy De Vos. In her first extended policy address as United States Secretary of Education, she pointed to the lagging test scores and program with billions of dollars into low-performing schools which failed to produce better academic outcomes. She rejected the notion that money was a panacea for the challenges facing public schools.

ZII is a harmonious and balanced blend of the modern and the traditional, of outward-looking innovation and the inward- looking revival of the self. It is truly an altruistic solution in response to global needs. It should be practiced by all actors in all sectors of progress and impact which would further strengthen the education scenario.

ZII and Teachers:

While there are various actors working on school education, our most important players are the teachers. Teachers are the frontline builders of character, future, nation and the society, and have been the foremost influencers of the life of our children. They are in the best position to lead ZII, because:

- We need teachers’ ideas, because their ideas move the matter: change self, society, and civilization.

- If teachers are inspired and given ownership, they can come out with wonderful and innovative ideas.

- Teacher excellence is possible when they take action on the basis of their own or internalized ideas and passion.

- When teachers come together and practice their own ideas, they build institutions.

If each teacher realizes her/his role and plays it with commitment, there would be significant development and impact. If every teacher ethically and professionally asks the self as to what she/he could do, and what more he could do; this very question could contribute to solutions, and prove to be a creative power.

The above convictions have led Sri Aurobindo Society to launch the Zero Investment Innovation for Educational Initiatives (ZIIEI). In its mission to continuously pursue solutions in search of a better tomorrow, Sri Aurobindo Society has forged collaboration with the Government and the HDFC Bank. It has been working to inspire and train more than 2000000 teachers for practicing this concept.

I am eager to come back to you, to tell the exciting story of how ZII unfolds individual excellence, and the impact of empathy.

Author's Bio: 

Dr. Pradeepta Kumar Nayak is the former Executive Director of Indian Centre for Philanthropy. Presently, he works as the Senior Manager- Research with Sri Aurobindo Society. He is also a member of the Board of Advisors at the Initiative for Equality, USA. He was a Senior International Fellow at the Centre on Philanthropy and Civil Society, CUNY, USA.

Pradeepta has been contributing to the concepts and practices on awareness, education, inspiration, empowerment, consciousness, creativity, health, leadership, learning, trust, transformation, self and success.

Pradeepta can be reached at sicp.pradeepta@gmail.com