Some eight years ago, Nadakkavu Government Vocational Higher Secondary School for Girls in Kozhikode, Kerala, was a typical government school. Despite a legacy of over 120 years, it was an apology of a school — leaking roofs, classrooms that had just four walls as their sole assets, a room or two, doubling up as toilets that were so stinky that it was a challenge for girls not to drop out, and abysmally low academic standards.
This is more or less the case with the nation’s 1.2 million primary and secondary schools managed by the central, state and local administrations. The schools are a picture of neglect, decay and rock-bottom academic performances.
Thanks to a private-government partnership, pioneered by businessman Faizal Kottikollon and his wife, Shabana, through their Faizal and Shabana Foundation (FSF), the Nadakkavu school today has metamorphosed into impressive buildings and infrastructure that surpass the best in private schools and nearly unmatched academic excellence.
Last year, an education publication, Education World, ranked the Nadakkavu Girls School as India’s second-best government school. “Government schools are in a bad situation because they haven’t been properly maintained due to lack of funding,” says Faizal Kottikollon, who is currently based in Dubai. “Around 90 per cent of India’s kids go to these schools and that’s where inequality starts. When they don’t have textbooks, or toilets, when classrooms leak, you can imagine how that shapes them. It’s a chain reaction.”
The renovation of the Nadakkavu school marked a new journey for the school as well as the Foundation. The school reopened in just seven months with superlative infrastructure — new buildings with swanky classrooms, equipped with computers for every student, modern science labs and the entire paraphernalia. The school playground has a synthetic turf, a rarity for a government school. The Foundation also re-trained the teachers, overhauled school meals and introduced sports lessons on the school’s newly built pitches.
“When the school opened, I remember the state was shocked,” Faizal says. “People had never imagined that these kids, 70 per cent of them living below poverty line and most coming from a fisherman’s colony, could attend a school like this.”
“We worked on many aspects, not just the infrastructure,” says Shabana, adding that the community around the school has also been positively impacted. Local women got jobs in the school kitchens, and in a country where there are fewer safe public spaces for walking, especially for women, the community now has facilities for exercise and yoga. “It wasn’t just one school and a few students,” says Faizal, “it uplifted the whole community.”
FSF has supported the renovation of 19 schools in Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka and their model was adopted by the Union government. The Foundation has played a part in the transformation of around 1,000 schools countrywide, with more than 3,00,000 students benefitting from upgraded facilities. “What started out as pure philanthropy when we donated to our first school has now become a model for school renovation across the country,” Faizal says.
It is another fascinating story as to how the school renovation programme triggered a larger community development initiative. To ensure prompt construction deliveries, Faizal set up under his Dubai-headquartered holding company KEF Holdings, a new unit called KEF Infra that utilises robotics and automation in its advanced manufacturing operations to deliver high-quality building projects quickly and efficiently. KEF Infra has 1,400 employees and factories in Krishnagiri, Tamil Nadu, and Lucknow. It has tied up with Silicon Valley technology firm Katerra that has revolutionised the design and construction industries.
The Faizal and Shabana Foundation launched a community development project in Krishnagiri, under which around 5,000 people of the district have benefited from upgraded school, vocational classes in English, computers and tailoring; support in organic farming and modern cattle rearing, better quality housing and improved sanitation.
KEF has its footprint in a wide spectrum of activities, with verticals in infrastructure, healthcare, agriculture, education investments and metals. Under KEF Healthcare, the group has completed its first flagship project, Meitra Hospital, a 220-bed tertiary care hospital in Kozhikode, in just 18 months.
The hospital aims to bring world-class healthcare services to all sections of people. Meitra Hospital has recently become the first hospital in South Asia to introduce Smith & Nephew CORI robot-assisted surgical system, the most advanced technology for faster and complete recovery of patients requiring joint replacement.
Faizal and Shabana Foundation’s model of collaboration between a private foundation and government entities has been included as a philanthropy case study for a course at the business school of Glasgow’s University of Strathclyde.