Interview with Mr. K.S. Viswanathan

K. S. Viswanathan is a graduate from BITS, Pilani and has over 27 years of experience in the IT field. He is referred as KSV amongst the IT industry colleagues.

VP: Would you like to outline your career path for us?

K.S.V: After finishing my MBA from Madras University in 1981, I started my career with Rohtas Industries as a Management Trainee (system). Later, I joined Electronics Corporation of India Limited (ECIL) in 1982, as the Management Executive (marketing). In 1987, I joined Wipro Infotech in their Delhi office as a Territory Manager. In 2000, I was promoted as the Chief Executive Officer at Wipro for their products division. In November, 2000, I joined Dell as their Managing Director for setting up their direct business model in India. In 2003, I re-joined Wipro as their Head of India Operations. This was a leadership role involving strategic management, customer management, as well as P&L management. During my tenure, in the last financial year, Wipro Infotech posted record sales of USD 1 Bn from Indian operations.

I have spent the last 27 years in the IT industry in various roles in Product Marketing, Sales, Operations, Marketing and general management functions. In each of the years, I have been able to turbo charge the business and have always achieved the goals assigned to me. The career path has been very rewarding. Important assignments have come my way and these have helped me in making a name for myself in the Company and in the Indian IT industry.


VP: What made you take the decision to join the Azim Premji Foundation and how is the experience?

K.S.V: When I turned 50 in 2007, I made a self assessment. It is important to note “what one has achieved in life and what else one can contribute to society”. I had spent my first 27 years in the IT- Corporate world, which has contributed to personal growth and the growth of commercial ventures. I was itching to do more creative things and assess how one can leverage the past acquired strengths in the corporate life and contribute to the growth of the development sector.

I had heard about Azim Premji Foundation’s pioneering work in the area of Elementary Education in the country and was attracted to the segment. To meet its vision, APF is proposing to set up a University for Education and I have been assigned the key responsibility for the same. This role leverages my past competencies and one is hopeful of making a mark- personally and professionally, in this segment.

The experience so far has been fantastic. There is a lot of learning and once again, the passion in me has got ignited just the way it had before, when I started my employment career in 1981. I only wish, I had taken this change to the education segment. There is so much to do and so little time ahead. Managing the University project has been a fantastic experience with a wide learning curve ahead of me. I work much more in the Development sector than what I did in the corporate world. The purpose this time is to chase and conquer issues larger than one self.


VP: What exactly is the Azim Premji foundation doing now in the school scene in Karnataka?

K.S.V: The Azim Premji foundation is focused on Rural Government Schools in the states. We work along with the State Governments in executing some of their priorities. Karnataka has over 45000 Elementary Schools and 8000 Education functionaries. However, the learning levels in these schools are very low.

The key objective of the Azim Premji Foundation is to significantly contribute to the Universalisation of Elementary Education in India that facilitates a just, equitable and humane society. After 7 years of operations driving this goal, the foundation has now identified Teacher, Education functionaries as well as Examination reforms as the three pillars as the major programs to pursue.

Teachers tend to teach what gets tested. Teachers are the key transformational agents in the class rooms. Education Functionaries play an important role on how a teacher is actually engaged in a class room. What is needed is a common shared Vision amongst the various stake holders in the Education System in the country.

With these goals, the Azim Premji Foundation has been working with the State Government on various initiatives that will supplement their efforts in improving the quality of education in the state.

Our programs in the Karnataka Government is built around Examination reforms, Class room teaching learning process, Teacher training and preparation and Academic support for schools.

We started with Accelerated Learning Program (ALP) in North East Karnataka (the most backward economically and academically) in 2001. This was followed with the Learning Guarantee Program ( LGP) where we ran programs to assess the learning’s in the class measured in terms of Competencies acquired in Maths, Language and Science in Class 2 and Class 4. Based on our findings, the Karnataka Government set up a special Organization, Karnataka State Quality Assessment Organization ( KSQAO). KSQAO is now running the LGP program across the state to assess the competency acquired in the Elementary Schools in the state. Currently, we are implementing Child Friendly School initiatives in 330 schools in Surpur block of Yadgir district in NE Karnataka to assess the impact of Community participation in School management, Teacher support system as well as LGP.

We are also running a Management Development Program for 8000 Education functionaries in the state.


VP: What does the Foundation do in other states?

K.S.V: We have extended the concept of Learning Guarantee Program in the few districts in the states of MP, Gujarat, Rajasthan and Uttaranchal. We are also developing Child centric, self paced, interactive learning system using educational software in 18 languages including 4 tribal languages, to facilitate the unleashing of creativity in children.

In addition, in the states of Chhattisgarh, Orissa and Pondicherry, we are working with the Governments to assess the impact of Technology led initiatives in Class room learning along with, as well as providing Academic and Pedagogic support to Schools . Our programs cover 13 States, 16000 schools and 2.5 Mn children.


VP: India currently has about 35 Million children “out of school” and about 157 Million children in the school. How are you trying to bring a balance between quantity and quality?

K.S.V: We have a unique challenge here. We need more schools to cover larger number of children in the country and at the same time, the quality of education in terms of school infrastructure, class room process as well as Teacher support system.

Post the launch of the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (Universalisation of Elementary Education) program, there has been an improvement in the access to the school for the children in the rural areas. Today, close to 90 % of the children have an access to an elementary school within a distance of 3 Kms from their homes.

However, in the process the quality of education has taken a beating. Other programs like Mid day meals, free text books etc have further enhanced the gross enrolment ratio in the schools to around 90%. This is good and welcome news with respect to quantity.

However, quality of education has emerged as the biggest concern in the elementary school system in the country. We have around 200 mn children in the age group of 6-14; out of who only 52% of them reach Class 8 and only 31% reach class 10.Even amongst these children, only 1/3rd of the children are able to read and write their names in their native language.

One of the main reasons for the higher drop out rate as well as low learning in the elementary schools, is the quality of class room process, Curriculum design and Teacher support system in addition to other socio economic factors. The good news is there is an increased awareness on these issues and there is a good focus from all concerned including NGO’s like Azim Premji Foundation, Ministry of Education in the Central and in the state government to address these issues . It is a slow but a definite process towards improving the quality of education in the elementary schools.


VP: So what, according to you, are the key needs of elementary education today?

K.S.V: Elementary Education today requires a good Academic Support System, more accountability to all stake holders including the Community for learning outcomes as well as a common shared strategic perspective amongst all stake holders in the system. Making the Teacher’s job more exciting, more important as well bringing more recognition to the teachers and the Education functionaries can change the way we look at the Elementary education system in the country.

We need more Action research in the challenges of the Elementary Education. There is also a need to revamp the teacher Education system in the country focused on Elementary schools.


VP: What are your views on the youth of today and what advice would you have for them so that they may be successful and accomplished individuals such as yourself?

K.S.V: India is a young country. Over 50% of the Indian population is under the age of 28 years. In the year 2025, India will have the lower average age in the entire world. Indian youths are our real hopes for the future. Today’s youth are the torch-bearers for a triumphant India ahead. Today’s youth are well informed, more intelligent, more adventurous, willing to take risks – however with low level of patience. India’s youth power can transform India in the coming generations. Like the current generations is thanking Mahatma Gandhi and other freedom fighters for getting us the Independence, in my opinion, the future generations is going to thank the current youths in India for making us proud in all subjects in life.

In the seventies, when the foreign visitors come to India they use to ask, “What is it that we can do for India?”. Today the foreign visitors ask “What can India do for us?” Such has been the power of youth in transforming India.

My advice would be to continue with the above achievements. Have confidence in your self. Have positive attitude in any situation. There is no substitute for hard work. Maintain a high degree of ethics and integrity in life. Don’t forget the past roots.

Compiled by

Smita Rajmohan