Lisa Heydlauff

Ashoka Fellow
Fellow Since 2003


This profile was prepared when Lisa Heydlauff was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2003.
The New Idea
While the failures in India’s education system are many and well documented, there are a few sterling examples of school experiences that are inspiring, positive, creative, and joyous. In India we hear what does not work, not what does.To tackle the problem of uninspiring education, Lisa decided to adopt a strategy that is positive and celebratory. She traveled through the country to identify very special schools operating in diverse geographical and cultural regions and to faithfully capture the opinions of children who are part of them. From those experiences, Lisa is producing a series of books, television shows, and public events. Going to School is a celebration of what school can be, and it all began on January 31st 2004, in a giant tent, with over 1,000 children, painted elephants, waving flags, India’s first Miss Universe, Sushmita Sen, and her daughter Rene. As the press swelled the stage, not only New Delhi, but also India’s national media celebrated the beginning of what school can be.
The “Going to School in India” campaign and the images Lisa is adding to the education universe will bring children into contact with each other in the common element of school and alter their perception of themselves, other children, and what school can be. Her materials are stories of real children, real schools. Both the stories and Lisa’s presentation of them challenge the methods of traditional nonprofit organizations, which have long offered support to children and schools. Her tools are not incremental, they are different. Every story is a nondidactic, gem-like lesson in geography and social context. Each also tells how students have solved problems or created change related to their school and subtly introduces a local organization that works with children and schools (several feature Ashoka Fellows). The stories help children learn to see and appreciate the many differences that exist among students in other parts of the country. They ask students to think about what school is like for them, how they would describe it to another child from a different part of their country, and what they would like to change.
The will of the children alone is not enough to make such an effort a success. Lisa has pulled in other important constituents in society who can keep the flame of interest alive and can also help create the attitude that schools should be more accountable to children. Once the children are acquainted with their counterparts in school in other parts of the country, there will be a process for them to suggest changes that they would like to see in their own schools. Teachers, leaders in the government educational system, and nongovernment organizations that work with schools, corporate sponsors, journalists—all will have access to children’s feedback to Lisa’s materials, a process of transparency that will constitute a simple but direct reporting system. Together their efforts can improve the Indian classroom.
The Problem
The Strategy
The Person

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