“It started as a story about a mother being dismayed by the education system,” says Kiran Sethi, explaining how she set up Riverside Education Foundation. Unhappy with her son’s experience of school, Sethi decided to found her own. By drawing on her background in design she developed an approach to education that is now inspiring schools and educators around the world.

Sethi says she became disillusioned with the way her son was being taught after realising that he was coming home with “no recognition of why he was doing what he was doing”. She felt there must be a better way and drew on her own background as a successful designer to come up with an alternative model, re-imagined from the perspective of the child. “I applied the same principle we do in design and thought why doesn’t the user – the child – inform the design?”


Doing well, doing good

Sethi started her school in Ahmedabad, India, in 2001 with just 24 children. It now has 400 pupils from kindergarten to Grade 12 and offers the IGCSE curriculum for Key Stage Three, as well as its own programme developed in the school. Riverside’s slogan is “I can” and its guiding principle is that children “do well if they do good”. Students are encouraged not only to believe in their potential to change the world, but to put it into action. “It’s the idea that within us resides a superhero, that you have everything within you to make someone’s life a little better,” says Sethi. “I see my students not as ‘the future’ but as the ‘now’.”

In line with this philosophy there is an emphasis on real-world learning. Sethi describes how kindergarten pupils created an audio-tour for the local zoo, while Grade 9 students learning about water filtration processes visited low-income communities to understand the quality of drinking water available there. They then built prototypes of water filtration machines that could be used by community members. By engaging with the real world, students at Riverside understand the relevance of what they are studying. “They also learn that there isn’t always a neat answer and they may need to dig deep to come up with resolutions,” says Sethi. “We’re getting children to recognise that going back and refining an idea is not failure.”


A global model

In 2016, Riverside celebrated its 15th anniversary and in that short time it has gained a global reputation. Design for Change, the educational model that Sethi created for Riverside, is now used in more than 30 countries. It was one of 10 finalists in the Commonwealth Education Good Practice Awards 2015 and in 2012 won the Rockefeller Foundation Youth Innovation Awards. It has also won a Design to Improve Life award from INDEX, which recognises design that creates solutions to global challenges.

Sethi has drawn on her passion as a mother and expertise as a designer to develop an education system that is informed and inspired by the children it teaches. Riverside Education Foundation aims to provide a more meaningful experience for its pupils, and the alternative model it offers is now influencing schools around the world.