At Oxford, Gautam Patel gained a Masters in Biochemistry — and the inspiration to do something utterly different that would transform the lives of others.

Opening the school gatesBy Lindsey Harrad

A pioneer for inclusive education through the not-for-profit Sajeevta Foundation he co-founded in Gujarat in 2010, Gautam Patel (Hertford College, 1999) credits the rigorous Oxford tutorial system with teaching him the value of real education. ‘I soon realised it wasn’t just about memorising facts from a text book or ploughing mindlessly through the reading list — the aim was to make you think creatively, to develop your own ideas.’

Gautam was inspired to come up to Oxford after attending a summer camp with the Sutton Trust, Sir Peter Lampl’s charity that aims to improve social mobility through education. After graduating with a Masters in biochemistry, he decided the laboratory life wasn’t for him.

Opening the school gates

‘What drives me now, and is the reason I created the Sajeevta Foundation, is the desire to tackle the huge educational and social inequality in India by delivering high-quality learning,’ says Gautam (pictured right and, above, teaching). ‘We partner with high-quality private schools so children who would ordinarily have gone to a government school — where staff are often not teaching and learning levels are alarmingly low — have the opportunity to aim higher.’

But rather than targeting a selected few, the foundation is developing inclusive teacher-training programmes to address the widespread inequalities in the classroom, ensuring students from all backgrounds can be more effectively educated together. In a country where 50 per cent of children will drop out of education long before reaching the equivalent of UK GCSEs — the vast majority of these from the poorest backgrounds — the foundation’s long-term aim is to develop an educational programme that can be adopted by any school in the country with a commitment to inclusive learning.

The Sajeevta Foundation’s work, highlighted in the Michaelmas 2014 issue of Oxford Today, is receiving funding and technical assistance this year from the Central Square Foundation philanthropic fund. The aim of this, says Gautam, is ‘to scale up our work as a nationally relevant model to support many more children to be successful’.

He adds: ‘It’s not as simple as teaching them better English and maths — it’s overcoming barriers to success such as the lack of constant shelter, of food and income. Typically their parents and siblings are not educated, they see unemployment all around them, so they expect to grow up and be unemployed too. Sajeevta is about giving them higher aspirations, but we also aim to make them into problem solvers and independent learners to help them deal with their day-to-day challenges and overcome the odds that are stacked against them in life.’


Images © Krutika Patel, reproduced with permission.