Pratham’s Quest Regarding Education for Children Supported by Fort Bend Residents

A school without walls in Himachal Pradesh where Pratham works with children.

COMMUNITY CULTURE | By Zeenat Kassam Mitha –

Pratham was founded in India on the belief that every child has the right to a quality education. Pratham USA is a chapter that allows that belief to become reality. Many residents of Fort Bend County are supporters of Pratham, as they have either lived or worked in India and understand the mission of the organization. “Pratham has grown to become a global presence in six other countries, besides India, including the United States,” said Vice-President, Pratham Houston, and Fort Bend County Resident Asha Pai Dhume.  “Pratham USA, ranks among the top American charities, consistently earning a four-star ranking from Charity Navigator.”

In 1994, Pratham began with support from UNICEF and the Mumbai Municipal Corporation, when Dr. Madhav Chavan and Farida Lambay began to transform the educational landscape in the slums of Mumbai, India by setting up self-sustaining Balwadis (pre-schools). Families in communities where Pratham ran preschools demanded help for school children who were lagging behind in primary school. “Pratham Founder Dr. Chavan taught women in the slums of Mumbai to teach pre-school children in their own homes,” said Marie Goradia, former Pratham USA President, and wife of Pratham USA Founder Vijay Goradia.

“From our work in villages and urban slums, even fifteen years ago, we could see that enrollment levels were high. The real question was ‘are children learning?’” said Rukmini Banerji, Pratham CEO. That led to the Annual Status of Education Report (ASER).”

Bollywood actress Sushmita Sen, Pratham education recipient Sanjana Das, Asha Pai Dhume and Ash Shah at the 2017 Pratham Gala in Houston.

For over ten years, ASER has assessed  600,000 rural children annually to quantify their learning, bringing to light that nearly 50% of India’s fifth graders could not read at a second-grade level. The data provided the greater community a voice in being assertive for education reform. ASER has become a benchmark used by nonprofits, government and policymakers to assess and transform educational systems internationally. “ASER uncovers a real problem in our education system. Once you see the problem and understand its origins, then solutions quickly follow.” said Banerji.

Through partnerships with governments, industry and community volunteers, Pratham has broadened its scope over the years to encompass upper primary school children, female dropouts and young adults in need of vocational skills. A system of measurement and regular third-party evaluation of Pratham’s programs has led to effective implementation on a larger scale.

What started with a single preschool in the slums of Mumbai has evolved into a national network that  has reached 45 million children and youth through literacy and vocational programs in 20 Indian states, establishing Pratham as one of the top non-governmental organizations dedicated to fostering universal literacy.

But Pratham’s work doesn’t end at India’s borders. By sharing its knowledge and experience with other non-governmental organizations, Pratham continues to further the movement of citizen-led assessments internationally that it originated 10 years ago through the ASER. Arguably Pratham’s most influential contribution to education policy, the ASER model has taken root in a dozen countries on three continents and reaches a million children across the globe annually.

Pratham USA Founder and former President Vijay Goradia said, “Dr. Madhay Chavan was willing to be unconventional.” Chavan was willing to break many long-held myths about educating an underprivileged child. He refused to accept that nothing could be done to educate children living in abject poverty and who could not even afford to eat one square meal a day.

“I’ve always believed in leading by example,” said Vijay Goradia, a Houston resident. “So the first year, Marie and  I committed to match dollar for dollar the first $125,000 raised in Houston. We exceeded our goal.”

Many Fort Bend residents who support many other local charities and foundations support Pratham due to the vast impact for children in their home country for so little. They understand the value of giving locally as well as overseas where children, who otherwise would have no hope for education, can benefit greatly.