Education Innovator Kartikeya Uniyal Lives the Spirit of Georgetown at GU-Q


Kartikeya Uniyal (SFS’23) comes from a Brahmin family. An inherited privilege and legacy of India’s ancient caste system, it is an identity that has inspired him to take on a fight for social justice in his community, first as a high school student in New Delhi, and now as a college student majoring in International Politics at Georgetown University in Qatar (GU-Q).

As a young teenager in New Delhi, Kartikeya grew up believing that the caste system, outlawed by India’s post-independence Constitution in 1950, no longer existed. “The issue of caste is something that never came up in household discussions,” he explained. 

The caste system historically divided Indians into four social groups, with the Brahmin class at the top, and it determined a person’s occupation and economic and social status. Outside of the caste system and at the lowest level of this social hierarchy were the Dalits, or “untouchables”, who were relegated to lives of poverty and menial labor. 

At the age of fifteen, Kartikeya made a decision that would challenge everything he knew about the inequalities that are driven by hereditary social stratification. He began volunteering with a local NGO teaching English language debate at an underfunded public school in Delhi. 

The experience of working closely with secondary students from disadvantaged communities who had access to government-provided computer labs but not the digital literacy training that was needed to use them, he said, “led me to research the ways institutionalized social and economic inequalities impact access to education and learning.” 

Kartikeya spent two years working to create and implement a digital literacy program for area schools, but it failed to generate interest due to operational constraints.  “I realized that even though we gave everyone a right to education, outcomes for most are pre-decided.” 

At 16, he took on an independent research project on the impact of sanitation policies in one of 250 villages designated as “Scheduled Caste,” among the most disadvantaged socio-economic groups in India. It was a watershed moment, his own privilege standing in marked contrast to the living and working conditions of his fellow citizens. “I was shocked to see the state of education for children in this village. The cost of my shoes was more than the annual income of many families I met.” 

To continue his mission to improve access to quality education to the underserved, Kartikeya decided to apply to Georgetown University. With the option of a Doha campus closer to home, an internationally recognized international affairs program, access to resources, and a public-service oriented campus culture, GU-Q was the perfect fit.

In his first year, Kartikeya was selected for the Clinton Global Initiative University (CGI U) social incubation program working on a project to empower youth and political leadership at the grassroots level. “Our project transformed after the COVID-19 pandemic, which exposed India’s poor education infrastructure where only 23% of Indian households had access to the Internet.” He decided that it was time to dedicate himself to making education more equitable.

That led to the launch of Access Labs, an ed-tech platform that provides access to digital learning using a mix of web and chatbot technology so that students who don’t have access to the internet or a laptop can still take a valuable skill building course using their phone. His project has received support and collaboration from the Peace Innovation Lab at Stanford University. Further funding and support came with grants from Georgetown’s Penner Family Experiences Fund and the SIPS Summer Scholars Program.

Now in his junior year, Kartikeya has recently been awarded a Georgetown University Education and Social Justice Summer Research Fellowship, where he will spend three weeks in Summer 2022 learning best practices at the intersection of education and social justice under the guidance of a local Jesuit-led institution. The fellowship is administered by the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace & World Affairs and the Center for Social Justice Research, Teaching & Service (CSJ).

Associate Professor of History and Faculty Chairperson at GU-Q, Dr. Edward Kolla, recommended him, indicating,  “Kartikeya’s efforts in promoting education accessibility reflects a true commitment to social justice issues, and to working towards solutions. What’s probably most impressive to me is the fact that he goes about all of this with a quiet, humble dedication. He isn’t interested in broadcasting his achievements, because he really cares.”

Kartikeya notes, “I believe that all my privileges are a consequence of my caste,” and  “that privilege has granted me access to resources like a good education that brings with it the responsibility to share the benefits with those who don’t share my privileges.” In his dedication to justice, peace, and compassion, Kartikeya represents the best of the “Spirit of Georgetown.”

In 2022, the Georgetown community is celebrating the Spirit of Georgetown, a 500-year old educational tradition inspired by St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits. In his dedication to justice, peace, and compassion through developing innovative solutions and tools needed to close education access gaps, Kartikeya represents the best of this tradition.