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Education technology for Affordable schools in India

4 Aug

Affordable private schools are low-cost private educational institutes that cater to communities in India and in other emerging countries.  These schools are increasingly using low-cost technological innovations that is not only helping them sustain but also providing quality education to the students enrolled.

Different reports put the number of affordable private schools (APS) to around 350,000 in India. As many as half of the total urban school going students are enrolled in APS and enroll roughly 20% of the rural students. APS typically teach from grade 1 to grade 10.

Educational technology is used in 3 different ways in these schools.

  • Computer labs
  • Technology enabled classes
  • Technology for administrative related works

Computer labs

Majority of the affordable private schools buy second hand computer systems which have some default applications besides Microsoft office.  Internet access is not commonly available in APS. Computer lab is managed by a dedicated teacher who divides the classes in two parts- theoretical and practical classes. Usually the computer classes are conducted between grade 6 and grade 10. The theoretical teaching is taught using the syllabus of the board to which the school is affiliated. There are 4 types of education boards in India which are Central board of secondary education (CBSE), Indian school certificate examination (ICSE), International baccalaureate (IB) and the state board.

Technology enabled classes

These are held with the use of audio-visuals which are projected on to a surface typically a projector or a white board/wall. Lately, use of smart boards is visible in schools which have interactive surfaces i.e. they respond to touch. Though smart boards are now visible in some APS schools, it is still not very popular owing to the large monthly fees per class the school has to pay to the company for using these interactive boards. Infrastructure leasing and financial services (IL&FS) developed a community computer called K-YAN which is a portable projector with built in Wi-Fi, speakers and USB ports. It is sold to schools along with digital content in subjects such as Math, Sciences and English.

Breakthrough innovations in low-cost computing devices such as tablets have revolutionized the way education is delivered. Recently launched Aakash tablet which is priced under $35 has found considerable acceptance different stakeholders in India. Though it is still at a nascent stage to be introduced in the APS but researchers believe that such devices are the future.

Technology for administrative related works

APS are increasingly using low-cost education administration solutions that can simplify and streamline operations such as maintaining records of student grades and attendance, processing admissions and managing accounts & donations. Organizations such as Pratham Infotech and Empathy Learning systems are providing low-cost classroom management systems to APS across the country. Schools are using SMS as a means to reach out to parents to send notifications such as school holidays, exam dates and fee reminders.

Technological interventions in affordable private schools seem to have a bright future. One account puts the number of private schools in only one city (Hyderabad) to 5,000 schools of which a large part is affordable private schools. New entrepreneurs, NGOs and international funds on education are increasingly investing in such initiatives, thus making it a reality for low-income communities to reap the benefits of quality and affordable education.

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Education technology for Affordable Private Schools in India

4 May

Affordable private schools are low-cost private educational institutes that cater to communities in India and in other emerging countries.  These schools are increasingly using low-cost technological innovations that is not only helping them sustain but also providing quality education to the students enrolled.

Different reports put the number of affordable private schools (APS) to around 350,000 in India. As many as half of the total urban school going students are enrolled in APS and enroll roughly 20% of the rural students. APS typically teach from grade 1 to grade 10.

Educational technology is used in 3 different ways in these schools.

  • Computer labs
  • Technology enabled classes
  • Technology for administrative related works

Computer labs

Majority of the affordable private schools buy second hand computer systems which have some default applications besides Microsoft office.  Internet access is not commonly available in APS. Computer lab is managed by a dedicated teacher who divides the classes in two parts- theoretical and practical classes. Usually the computer classes are conducted between grade 6 and grade 10. The theoretical teaching is taught using the syllabus of the board to which the school is affiliated. There are 4 types of education boards in India which are Central board of secondary education (CBSE), Indian school certificate examination (ICSE), International baccalaureate (IB) and the state board.

Technology enabled classes

These are held with the use of audio-visuals which are projected on to a surface typically a projector or a white board/wall. Lately, use of smart boards is visible in schools which have interactive surfaces i.e. they respond to touch. Though smart boards are now visible in some APS schools, it is still not very popular owing to the large monthly fees per class the school has to pay to the company for using these interactive boards. Infrastructure leasing and financial services (IL&FS) developed a community computer called K-YAN which is a portable projector with built in Wi-Fi, speakers and USB ports. It is sold to schools along with digital content in subjects such as Math, Sciences and English.

Breakthrough innovations in low-cost computing devices such as tablets have revolutionized the way education is delivered. Recently launched Aakash tablet which is priced under $35 has found considerable acceptance different stakeholders in India. Though it is still at a nascent stage to be introduced in the APS but researchers believe that such devices are the future.

Technology for administrative related works

Photo Courtsey- Pratham Infotech Foundation

 APS are increasingly using low-cost education administration solutions that can simplify and streamline operations such as maintaining records of student grades and attendance, processing admissions and managing accounts & donations. Organizations such as Pratham Infotech and Empathy Learning systems are providing low-cost classroom management systems to APS across the country. Schools are using SMS as a means to reach out to parents to send notifications such as school holidays, exam dates and fee reminders.

Technological interventions in affordable private schools seem to have a bright future. One account puts the number of private schools in only one city (Hyderabad) to 5,000 schools of which a large part is affordable private schools. New entrepreneurs, NGOs and international funds on education are increasingly investing in such initiatives, thus making it a reality for low-income communities to reap the benefits of quality and affordable education.

Mobile phone penetration in India & its advantages

25 Sep

At a time when telecom companies in certain countries are finding it hard to sustain and improve their top & bottom line, it’s a different story all together in India. With a thriving mobile phone market, the country has over 900 million mobile subscribers as of January 2012(report by Telecom Regulatory Authority of India, TRAI). Urban subscribers are roughly 65% of this whereas subscribers in rural area constitute the rest 35%.

The Government of India recently announced a scheme under which each and every family which falls below the poverty line will be provided a mobile phone plus a talk time voucher worth INR 200 every month.  6 million additional subscriptions (falling below the poverty line) will thus be added to the figure of 900 million. What next is becoming visible is the power of using mobile phones to help address the needs of people especially the under privileged lot.

E-Choupal, an initiative by ITC (a major FMCG player in India) delivers real-time information and customized knowledge to farmers which improves their decision making ability, helps them fetch a better price for their produce. E-choupal initiative has already benefitted up to 3.5 million farmers across the country.

Eduvarta, an award winning UNESCO recognized social SMS enterprise aims to use mobile phones intelligently. It provides local information through SMS on topics such as politics, crime, water & electricity problems in the area, etc. to the local people. Eduvarta has a reach of 700,00 households and is still expanding its reach by tying up with community leaders in the villages. Another local NGO in the state of Uttar Pradesh is using mobile phones as a tool for teaching alphabets and calculation.

Coupled with the onset of internet facilities in mobile devices these days, mobile phones will go a long way to empower the poorest and disadvantaged sections of the society through effective communication techniques.

An innovative program ” School on Wheels “

19 May
Informal Education

An innovative program reaching out to out-of-school children

School on Wheels

With the Right To Education Act & Sarva Shiksha Abhiyaanenforced for a considerable amount of time now, India still has over 16 million out-of-school-children (roughly equivalent to the population of Netherlands).

A unique scheme called “Schools on Wheels” which focuses on such children has been launched by the Government with support from a number of private organisations. According to the Govt. “ This project ensures education to less settled groups of children i.e. those who live on pavements, railway platforms, street corners, brick kilns,  and the children involved in child labour, etc. “.

90% of the fund for this initiative is available through the District Innovation Fund whereas the rest has to be procured from the NGOs or from the public.

The Schools on Wheels program aims to:-

  • Teach children (in the age group of 6-14 years) of migratory laborers by making the school available to children at their temporary-settlements.
  • Provide education to other out-of-school children who could not be enrolled to school in time or who have had to (or were made to) resort to child labour in order to provide for and support their families.
  • Reach children who have befallen to Drug-addiction
  • Provide education to children who belong to less settled groups of the population or nomadic tribes viz. beggars, Gujjar tribes who migrate with their herds often.

In Punjab, Tata Winger vehicle has been used for the purpose. The whole vehicle has been refurbished and equipment such as LCD screen, Books, Book Shelves, Chairs, Laptops etc., have been placed inside the same. The one time set up cost of this “school on wheels” is roughly INR 12 lakh (USD 23, 280), and the recurring monthly cost is about INR 25, 000 (USD  485).

Since the target segment is children who have not had exposure to formal education system, informal ways of teaching and learning have been used. Three key goals have been established for teaching:

  • Basic proficiency in local language
  • Basic Arithmetic Skills (Number Recognition, Addition, Subtraction, Multiplication & Division)
  • Basic English

Even though modern technology is being used for this program, it must be ensured that the same is done adequately in a limited time frame in order to cater to this large segment of children and bring them on equal footing with other children who have formal schooling. Adolescents and youth in the rural communities are ready and enthusiastic about updating their technical skills. The recently realeased Aakash tablet stands testimony for the same, as I have come across many young people in the villages of Northern India who have ordered the Aakash tablet and are eager to learn or improve their basic computer skills.

Many private organisations are also funding this program in various states. For example, Aviva Insurance has partnered with Save the children, an NGO working for child rights, where they are reaching out to street kids in Kolkata. A Danish organisation (BAT-KARTEL) recently funded a similar initiative for stone quarry workers community in Jodhpur (in the western state of Rajasthan). I sincerely hope that this innovative model – the School on Wheels program- is successful in reaching out to a large number of children who continue to be deprived of their RIGHT TO EDUCATION.

Interview – Understanding the role of School Management Committees in the backdrop of the RIGHT TO EDUCATION ACT (2009)

20 Feb
Government Primary School , Ukhimath Uttarakhand

GPS Ukhimath (Uttarakhand)

All government and aided schools across the country should constitute a School Management Committee that would plan, monitor and implement Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) schemes as per the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education (RTE) Act of 2009.

In a candid conversation with Mr. Chandra Mohan, President of the School Management Committee (SMC) of Government Primary School (GPS) Ukhimath , he talks about formation, role and  responsibilities of SMCs.

Key Facts:

 School:- Government Primary School, Ukhimath

District: Rudraprayag (near to the pilgrimage sites of Kedarnath & Tungnath)

State: Uttarakhand

No. of Children in School: 52 (classes 1 to 5)

No. of Teachers: 2

What is an SMC and when was it set up in GPS Ukhimath? 

An SMC works toward achieving proper and smooth functioning of a school, by catering to its infrastructure needs, mid-day meal programs and ensuring a better learning environment for children. A school development plan (S.D.P) is prepared and shared with government officials. As per RTE guidelines an SMC is a 12 member committee comprising parents and community representatives.  The RTE Act came into force from April 1, 2010 but in Uttarakhand, SMCs were formed only after April’2011. Thus, the first SMC for GPS Ukhimath was formed in 2011 and luckily I became the president of the same. (Smiles)

How is an SMC formed and what is the tenure of the committee?

 First, a meeting is held in the school premises and all parents of children enrolled in the school and other villagers conduct a ‘baithak’ (an informal gathering). It is called an ‘AAM SABHA’ (General Meeting). Interested people from among this group apply for the posts of President and Vice-President. Polling takes place and the person who receives the most votes becomes the President of the Committee. However, the President should definitely have his or her child enrolled in the school. The Vice-President is also elected in a similar fashion. Ideally the principal of the school is made the Secretary of the SMC, but in case there isn’t any Principal, the next most experienced teacher in the school is appointed as Secretary.  The village head (also called the ‘Gram Pradhan’) is a member of the committee. Also, if the ‘Gram Pradhan’ is not available (or is not interested in joining the committee), the Up-Gram Pradhan is made the member. Then there is a Village Development Officer (VDO) who is also a part of this group. The remaining members are from amongst the parents of children who are enrolled in the school.50% of the members should be women. This is how we have a 12 member School Management Committee (as mandated by the RTE Act).

All the members of the SMC undergo 3 day long training. Resource persons include people from local NGOs and Cluster Resource Coordinator.

The training is called Jagriti’ and has three important components:-

  • Learning about and understanding the Right to Education Act (RTE), it components and how to involve parents, children and the community in the process of actualizing the Act.
  • Learning about the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyaan(SSA) Movement
  • Learning about and understanding the Right to Information ( RTI) Act

The tenure of an SMC is two years, after which it will be reconstituted using the same process.

SMC( as per provisions of RTE Act) for GPS, Ukhimath

School Management Committee(SMC) members during a meeting

When are the SMC meetings conducted? Also, how do you implement the key aspects discussed during meetings?

3 major meetings take place in a year. One happens in April at the start of the new academic year, one happens on Teacher’s day i.e. on 5th September and the last one takes place after the final exams in March. Also, the SMC sits on the last Saturday of every month to discuss the affairs of the school.

The outcomes of all meetings are shared with the Block Education Officer (BEO). A few months ago, I made the BEO aware of the poor condition of the school building. The same was taken up and the building has now been renovated.

Do you think that the school system has become more accountable and efficient after the introduction of SMC?

 Yes, earlier it was difficult for a teacher to teach as well as manage the day to day affairs of the school. With the introduction of SMC, this problem has been reduced to some extent.

Could you tell us about the infrastructure of GPS Ukhimath?

 In addition to the existing school building, a new building is coming up which will have 3 rooms in it. The school has 2 toilets and a new one is currently under construction. There is a kitchen where the mid-day meal is cooked. There are adequate books for children and new books keep coming on a regular basis. We are trying to match up to the standards of the RTE Act, and abide by its norms.

What are the subjects taught to children in School?

 There are 8 subjects in all from Class 3 onwards: English, Math, Hindi, Sanskrit, Geography, Social Studies, Environment Studies and Drawing.

 For classes 1 and 2, the subjects are English, Math, Hindi and Drawing.

Children are enrolled in their age-appropriate class i.e. a 6 year old will get admitted in class 1. If the level of the child is not as per the grade, he or she is given special attention and efforts are made, by the teacher, to bring him/her to the age appropriate class.

As a President of the SMC and as a person who has been involved with the development sector for a long time, has there been a substantial change in the learning levels of children in Govt. Schools?

SSA has definitely played a big role in improving the learning levels of school children in schools, even though massive work still needs to be done. Earlier children were not enthusiastic or forthcoming. The curriculum of SSA has given children the freedom to express themselves. This freedom translates into improved learning levels.

One final question, if someone wants to visit your school in Ukhimath, can he or she do it?

Yes, you are most welcome. Ukhimath is a very picturesque place, and I would be more than glad to entertain visitors. I can be reached at cmukhiyal@gmail.com

School Management Committee(as per RTE Act guidelines) President at GPS, Ukhimath

Chandra Mohan is the President of School Management Committee of GPS Ukhimath and is actively involved since 2008 with Pratham Education Foundation, an NGO working in the field of education. He is a district coordinator with Pratham and is recognised more by his nickname “CM saab”.

Learning Enhancement Program by Pratham Education Foundation & Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, Punjab

16 Jan

Pratham Team Member in a Govt. Primary School, LudhianaPARRHO PUNJAB – a program launched in 2007 by Pratham Education Foundation, an NGO working in the field of education & Sarva Shiksha Abhiyaan, Punjab with an aim to improve the learning levels of children in classes 1 to 5 in government run schools across the state.  In 2007, Pratham did a pilot across 30 identified blocks and in the subsequent year took the initiative to all the schools that fall under the ambit of SarvaShikshaAbhiyan, Punjab, in short called as SSA Punjab.  From 2007 to 2009, Pratham largely focussed on L2R which is “Learn to Read” a program that focuses on providing learning to kids in basic mathematics( number recognition, addition, subtraction, multiplication, division) & basic Punjabi( step by step learning of Punjabi by using muharni).  The situation was grim because as per the ASER survey in 2008, 60% of the children in standard 5 could not do a basic division question.  Also, as per a study by NUEPA (National University of Education Planning & Administration) which works under the aegis of ministry of Human Resource, Punjab’s performance was dismal in terms of setting up of new primary schools & in provision of basic infrastructure facilities. As per the study, the state was placed at 23rd position among all the states in the country.

Pratham Education Foundation focused on L2R till 2009. In 2009-2010 session, Parrho Punjab introduced English for students of classes 4 & 5 who were at story level while continuing with L2R( Basic Maths + Punjabi). Pratham’s unique CAMAL methodology which is based on activity based learning started to show improvements on the ground. In 2009, the figure of 60% children in standard 5(Aser’2008) who could not do basic division question got down to 52% , and this 52% figure got down to 29% in 2010. The striking aspect here (in 2010) is that the performance of government schools children was better compared to their peers in private schools. Also, 73.8% of the children in classes 3, 4& 5 could read a text of standard 1 perfectly which was less than 60% as per Aser survey of 2009.

Pratham Block Coordinators being trained in English & Maths by our master trainers

In 2011-2012, Parrho Punjab is going a step further. A dedicated program has been launched in English & Maths. In English L1 has been introduced for classes 1, 2 & 3. Key aspects of L1 module in English are:-

  • Use of bilingual approach for students of class 1, 2 & 3.
  • Involves methods of teaching alphabets using stories
  • Uses activities to enhance the listening skills of a child

 In Maths, topics have been chosen from syllabus of classes 4 & 5. 7 unique competencies have been chosen and an effective methodology has been devised in order to deliver it to the children on ground. These seven competencies are:-

  • Number System
  • Multiples & Factors
  • Fractions
  • Measurements
  • Decimals
  • Profit & Loss
  • Averages & Ratios

Each competency is equipped with loop cards & other group activities which ensure an effective delivery of the concepts in a fun way.

This new approach has been introduced with certain identified schools across the states. Punjab state consists of 20 districts, 216 blocks & 1498 clusters. In all there are 13, 397 government primary schools.  One school was carefully selected from each cluster and was termed cluster model school. The 4 parameters which define a cluster model school (CMS) are mentioned below:-

  • Pupil-Teacher Ratio (PTR):-  This should not be more than 30-35
  • Enrolment:-  The school should have a minimum of 50 students
  • Learning Levels:- School should have good results( for Maths, English & Punjabi)
  • Infrastructure:- Basic infrastructure should all be in place

Delivery Mechanism of the program

Before I delve into this, I would like to show you how the government as well as the Pratham system runs. And then it would be clear as to how the delivery takes place.

Government Hierarchy level SarvaShikshaAbhiyan , Punjab

  1.  Special Project Director(S.P.D)
  2. Asst. Special Project Director ( A.S.P.D)
  3. Parrho Punjab District Coordinator ( P.P.D.C)
  4. Block Master Trainer ( B.M.T)
  5. Cluster Master Trainer ( C.M.T)
  6. School Head teacher

The School Head Teacher is entrusted the task to manage the needs and requirements of the school such as procurement of food supply for mid-day meal program, TLM, etc. apart from his/her teaching assignment. C.M.T manages all the schools in that particular cluster. Each C.M.T has roughly 12-13 schools under him. The B.M.T manages the working in his block. Each block is divided into some 6-7 clusters. P.P.D.C works at district level and manages the working of roughly 7-8 blocks (bigger districts such as Ferozepur, Gurdaspur & Hoshiarpur have more) that fall in his lap. Teachers with good track record are made PPDCs, BMTs or CMTs.

The Pratham Team Structure is as follow:-

  1. Regional Team( sits in New Delhi)
  2. State Head
  3. Pratham District Coordinator (P.D.C)
  4. Pratham Block Coordinator (P.B.C)
  5. Pratham Cluster Coordinator(P.C.C)
  6. Volunteers

Pratham Block & District level Team members during a training session in Amritsar

Pratham team structure is similar to the govt. structure except the presence of volunteers. Volunteers are people from villages who can volunteer for 3-4 hours a day in the primary school in their village. PCC is entrusted the task to train the volunteer with the Pratham’s Learning tool which he is supposed to use during this stay at the school. In the subsequent blogs I will further elaborate on the role of volunteer and what in-kind benefits Pratham is providing to these volunteers.  In Punjab, we have about 1800 volunteers who work with us without any salary. Volunteers are usually young boys/girls or married women.

Pratham & Govt. teams at various levels work in close coordination in order to implement the Parrho Punjab (Read Punjab) program. As we saw earlier, this program has been successful to an extent in bringing about improvement in the learning level of students. We hope this coordination produces similar positive outcomes in the years to come as well.

PUNJAB- Status of Education & Pratham’s Intervention

7 Oct

Punjab state has 13,397 Government Primary Schools

Punjab, the land of 5 rivers, scores fairly well in agriculture but not so well when it comes to education.  With the partition of British India in 1947, a large part of Punjab went to Pakistan and in 1966 some parts of Punjab went to Himachal Pradesh & Haryana.  Left now is some 50,400Km2 of area with a population of roughly 2.8 crore people. It is an agriculturally rich state and is also called the “Granary of India”. Punjab produces 2% of the world’s wheat & 1% of the world’s rice. The extensive canal system and numerous rivers such as Beas, Sutlej, Ravi & Ghaggar have made the land very fertile & apt for farming. Careful observation of the map of Punjab shows how well the major rivers criss-cross through the state of Punjab. The major rivers (Ravi, Beas & Satluj) have divided the state into three regions:-

Malwa Region: Comprising Firozepur, Fazilka(newly formed), Muktsar, Bathinda, Mansa, Faridkot, Moga, Barnala, Sangrur, Fatehgarh Sahib, Patiala, SAS Nagar(Mohali) & Ludhiana districts

Majha Region: Comprising Amritsar, Gurdaspur , Pathankot(newly formed) & Tarn Taran districts

Doaba Region:- Comprising Jalandhar, Kapurthala, Hoshiarpur, SBS Nagar(Nawashahr)& Rupnagar districts. This region is also called the NRI hub of Punjab.

The overall literacy level in Punjab is approx 69.7% (census 2001) which is lower compared to the national average (75%). The sex ratio is much skewed in Punjab with 876 females per 1000 males. The literacy levels of females (63.4%) are also much lower to that of males (75.2%). This variation is visible across the districts as well, with some districts having high literacy levels while others portray a very dark reality. Hoshiarpur District tops the chart with 81% literacy rate whereas Mansa district is at the bottom with 52.4% literacy rate. There are 13,397primary schools in the state benefitting 1.3 million kids studying there. As per the Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) survey in 2006, 52% of the students in standard 3 could not read a standard 1 text which improved slightly to 46% in 2010. 1.7% of the total children in the age group 6-14 are out of school children.

Reading Room for kids at Government Primary School, Hassanpur, District Ludhiana, Punjab

Reading Room

Close to 82.1% of the children in the age group 3-4 attend an anganwadi or a balwadi center in the state. Across the state roughly 60% of the children (age group 6-14) study in a government school whereas 38% of the children study in private schools.

Our NGO Pratham Education Foundation, started working with Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan(SSA) Punjab in 2008-09 with an aim to improve the basic reading  & arithmetic skills of school going children under an ambitious program called “Parrho Punjab”. Key aspects of Pratham’s intervention with SSA Punjab are:-

  • Reaching out to all the school children across the state
  • Introducing innovative teaching methodologies such as Combined  Activity Maximize Learning (CAMAL) methodology.
  • Ensuring the accountability of teachers
  • Introducing supplementary material to be used by teachers/volunteers in schools.
  • Working with out-of-school children

The state of Punjab, comprising 22 districts is divided into 216 educational blocks. These educational blocks are further divided into 1498 clusters. Each cluster has on average 8-9 villages with each village having a school. This is how we arrive at the total primary schools in the state which is 13,397 schools. The education is entirely free for children from 6 to 14 years of age as per Right to Education (RTE) Act of 2009.

Over 120 million children across India are served mid-day meals daily

Govt. appointed cook

Students are also offered mid-day meal during the school hours. The school timings are from 8AM to 2PM and the lunch break happens at 11:30 AM for half an hour. The meal provides roughly 300 calories and 8-12 grams of proteins to the kid thus making him/her healthy enough to be able to concentrate in class and also to keep the child absentee rate low. On my visits to a couple of schools in Punjab, I found that the absentees are more in classes 1 & 2 and decrease afterwards. As per a Cluster Master Trainer (CMT) “Parents are not very serious about sending their kids (those in classes 1 & 2) regularly to school”. They take them out to functions or for any work when they go out of their village” The government appointed CMTs undertake community drives to make parents understand about these issues. Pratham has appointed volunteers in about 1850 schools in the state who assist the school teachers in the delivery of the subjects in a more effective manner. These schools are spread across 38 educational blocks present across all the districts of Punjab.
There have been concerted efforts by the government of Punjab to improve the learning levels as well as the enrolment ratio of children across the state. Direct government interventions & interventions through Public-Private mode such as the Parrho Punjab(Read Punjab) have greatly improved the overall education delivery mechanism in the state.

For 2011-2012, Parrho Punjab in association with Pratham Education Foundation

Patiala District(Punjab) resource group at Pratham Education Foundation

has gone a step ahead by working on higher level mathematics competencies with over 3100 schools in the state(across all the education blocks).

 Long way to go.. PUNJAB!!!!

Computer-Aided Learning (CAL)

12 Sep

It used to be the same routine for Adishree, a standard 3 student at Aamchi Shala School in Chembur, Mumbai until she started going to this unique class at the school premises itself. Ask her now and she would have loads of things to talk about what she has been upto. I was amazed to see the way she was flawlessly moving the computer mouse pointing to just the right thing that she wanted. “Basket” she exclaims.  In this game(Basketball), the player reads the given one, two or three-digit number on the screen and then helps the elephant in the circus play basketball by making it throw each numbered ball available into its corresponding basket, which represents the place of digit of that number. As I moved further to other computer systems in this government run Marathi medium school, I found children glued to other games focusing on different aspects such as Khulja Gin-Gin (focusing on addition, subtraction, division, multiplication), Mouse House (identification of different shapes such as triangle, rectangle), Tol Mol(addition/subtraction) , AarPaar( forming words using vowels & consonants) & Jewel Thief(concept of pairing right set of things). The systems have been carefully designed and the look and feel of it including the seating arrangement(kid-friendly Little-TikesTM furniture)resonates with the interest of children.

CAL model works on the principle where the idea is to deliver the subject specific concepts through situations to which the students are familiar with. Cartoon programs on television are something that most of the kids love to watch and when they get to see these cartoons back in the classrooms they tend to focus more.  A  study by Massachusetts Institute of Technology, USA concluded that Math scores of children who participated in the CAL program improved by a 0.47 deviation. Classroom teaching can sometime become monotonous & boring but the variety available with the CAL model breaks this deadlock. A study by Azim Premji foundation on the outcomes of CAL model state “Most student show improvement in visual motor coordination and non verbal reasoning”.

There are ample of organisations working in the area of Computer-aided learning. Pratham Infotech Foundation is working in over 7 states and has reached out to over 1, 25,000 kids till now. The foundation organises training programs for school teachers known as sancharaks in the usage of these game. Private organisations such as Educomp & NIIT have partnered with various state governments to initiative this program. In Tripura, Educomp is working in 45 government schools whereas NIIT has taken up another 28 schools where they are running this CAL program. Department of Education, Gujarat Government has rolled out computer aided learning in rural government elementary schools covering standards 1 to 7 to attract and retain children. Recently, Chhattisgarh government tied up with Educomp solutions in a bid to implement ICT(Information & Communication Technology) solutions to 582 schools in the state in a deal worth Rs. 60.72 crore. Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan(SSA) the flagship program of the government of India whose objective is to achieve universalization of elementary education has also earmarked Rs. 50 lakh per district per year under its functional head of “Innovation”. This amounts to roughly Rs. 320.5 crore( taking all 641 districts) available for the ICT solutions every year.

The conventional classroom teaching still weighs heavily against the CAL program as their is a limitation in terms of the mobility of these set-ups. Books, notes, etc. could be carried by kids anywhere they want to but the same is not valid for these bigger installations. On top of it, the reach of computers is very miniscule in India. For every 1000 people only 16 computers are available & only 2.2% of the total public schools in the country possess computer systems. Implementing CAL program in rural areas of the country also require support systems of that magnitude as systems are bound to get errors/ breakdowns.

IBM has tied up with various state governments/NGOs to implement the IBM Kid Smart Learning program. The school that I visited had 15 systems provided by IBM. IBM Kid Smart Learning program was launched in 1998 and has benefitted more than 10 million children in over 60 countries. Educational software making organisations have seen a steady growth in the last decade. Some of these include Riverdeep(initiative of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), Sanchar Infotech & Mind Candy( promoters of moshimonsters.com). Rural Education Action Project(REAP) at Stanford University has undergone trials of the CAL program among the migrant students in schools around Beijing,China. It plans to develop educatioal software programs in lieu of the results of the trials conducted by them.

A 2005 study by IMRB puts the drop-out rate of students in government schools in India to 6.9% which went down to 4.3% in 2009. Computer-Aided Learning makes the education more interesting & joyful and possess the ability to reduce the drop out & repetition rates for school going kids. Computer-Aided Learning model is definitely an effective way to improve the learning levels of school going kids.

Rural India Dynamics & Skilling Initiatives

26 Jun

Rural India forms the backbone of our country. It is where the farmers plough their fields to produce food for our consumption. Rural India was that imagination where life is full of hardship, scarce electricity, poor infrastructure, elders glued into a discussion with no real objective, naked children running here & there and women trapped within the boundaries of their households. Some of the above description used to be a part of our write-ups whenever we sat down under the shade of the sun in our schools vying for a prize in an essay writing competition. Naive minds think naively is what I can say as I look back at my childhood.

Before I further dwell into how raw my imagination of rural life was, let’s look at some of the rural India statistics and where do we stand in terms of the literacy levels. 72.2% of India’s population resides in rural areas. My excel sheet gives a figure of about 939 million number of heads present in the rural areas. This figure constitutes roughly 14% of the current world’s population. I & probably you would also agree that this 14% has a much larger role to play in the overall dynamics of the world game. But since the game begins with education, let’s have a look at the literacy numbers.

We have roughly 300 million students at different levels enrolled across our country with over 6.46 million teachers. Every year our finance budget allocates a sizable chunk of money to the education sector. For the year 2010-2011, this figure is roughly 3% of our GDP. Owing to the greater intervention of the central/state governments coupled with various other organisations/NGOs, the literacy levels have improved considerably. They now stand at around 75% from about 73% 2 years ago. 75% literacy rate though looks not that bad, but the flipside is that there is a sizable difference in the rates when we make a comparison between variables as mentioned below

  •  Male & Female literacy level
  •  Scheduled castes, scheduled tribes & tribal population literacy rates
  •  Rural & urban literacy levels
  •  Rich & poor literacy levels

Though we could compare on a range of other aspects but the above mentioned ones broadly gives you the level of disparity that exists. Government interventions such as the “Sarva Shiksha Abhiyaan” & other interventions on the public-private mode are moving in the direction of taming the enrolment numbers but at the same time the quality of education being provided and the drop-out rate of students is also giving a dim picture. Roughly 2% of the students in the country at present have access to some form of technical education. Vocational education constitutes 0.3% in it. The government run Industrial Training Institute popularly known as the ITIs are doing a commendable job in terms of churning our technicians but their low numbers and quality still puts forward a lot of questions to be answered. As per the Directorate General of Employment & Training’s website (www.dget.nic.in), number of affiliated ITIs currently stands at 8755 across the country.

There is an additional requirement of 240 million people over the next 10 years. Further, a sizable proportion of the current workforce is undertrained and hence needs to be equipped with quality skills. Let’s not forget that close to 90% of the total jobs in India are skills based. National Skill Development Corporation (NSDC) set-up under the ministry of finance has a target to provide skills/upgrade skills of 500 million people by 2022. NSDC is tying up with NGOs, private training institutes such as talentsprint by providing them with interest-free loans which in turn helps them to train people in vocational skills. NSDC has so far approved 36 projects with various partners committing 45 million skilled workers by 2020.Pratham; an NGO working in the field of education has also stepped in this vocational skilling arena. Through its program called Education for Education (EFE) which is working in 16 states across the country, Pratham is providing basic digital Literacy & English skills to people in the rural areas at no cost. Private initiatives such as ‘IITians for ITIs’ & Basix’s B-able are also contributing their bit in improving vocational skilling in the country. ‘IITians for ITIs’ is a PanIIT program which aims to drive excellence in the vocational field by engaging with the ITIs(Industrial Training Institutes).Basix’s B-able also focuses on vocational skilling in sectors such as automobile, mobile repairing, food processing & Insurance.

April 1, 2010 brought the right to education act into force which aims to provide free & compulsory education for children in the age group of 6-14 years. If the act gets implemented well across the states, this would go a long way in the development of the country and would also somewhat help narrow down the demand supply gap of skilled labour in 20-30 age group bracket. Though the government’s focus largely remains in primary education but every year there is a slight growth in the budget allocation for technical education as well. This year 6330 crores have been allocated to the enhancement in technical education. National skill development mission has been allocated 500 crores in this financial year for its focus on vocational skilling.

Inclusive growth’ has been one of the most talked about words in the current scenario. I firmly believe that with government and private initiatives like the ones mentioned above, we can certainly leapfrog into the next league, maintaining the socio-economic prosperity in due course.

Game Changers or mere audience

27 May

For a long time  I had been thinking of being a little more flexible(cutting the ice now) and of penning down my thoughts about the rural transformation that I am watching through my own phase of complex makeover. A short stint with an educational e-startup where I worked to ensure that our students crack the dreaded MBA entrance exams  and become the bright yound leaders of tomorrow, posed more questions for me than the solutions & provided more anxious moments than the good effects of the sweet drugs(non injurious to health). There is nothing that I have against my previous organisation or against the MBA wannabes but about me,about my real, visible & tangible contribution  or if I  cut it short about what I really want to do.

We all aspire to create a big impression in whatever we do. You talk to someone who has just started a venture, he would have a plan of how to take the venture up to 100 crore mark, a newly opened restaurant by a B School grad will have concrete plans on the lines of MCDonalds or CCDs which are just ubiquitous and could easily be located provided you extend your neck just a little further. Mr. Suresh Kalmadi also had similar plans but then things can’t go right for our”World Class” politicians(read Jairam Ramesh) all the time.

Walking on a different track than what our politicians have chosen, I decided to work in the domain of vocating skilling in the rural areas, a sector where the kuchha construction has just begun(forget the red carpet ). The sector looks promising and if I could be a little more sarcastic will look promising for a couple of more years to come. India has ever been talked about its population, about the farmers,about the poor India  and always the big numbers have caught the eye of the people. I have even started to realise that we as Indians have started to find a hidden happiness in boasting ourselves of this fact( though critics might defer on my view). I often come across the facts such as 50% of our population is under 25 years of age or 65% under the age of 35 and so on and so forth. Where do we actually go from these stats mentioned above? Or are these stats good enough for a nice piece of article(including mine) where the number of zeroes at the end help us in bagging the numero uno spot.

I am only trying to highlight the grave issue whose sole solution lies in that open source word which we have been hearing ever since our first grey cell got activated , none other than “education”. Education has to be feeded in the beaker full of rural mass in ways that defer for children, adults and the older ones. Education is the only primary need apart from a basic dose of just enough roti, kapda & makaan. Pockets of realisation of this fact has started to happen atleast on some scale and in my subsequent write-ups I would bring along such works and something what I have been associated with.

Lets just not compel Mr. Abdul Kalam to apologize for making the title of his book as Vision 2020 and to force him to change it to Vision “I have no answer”.  Spare a thought for that truck driver whose daughter has cracked the IIT JEE entrance examination today than worrying about the fact that you could not see Shahrukh Khan dance had his team KKR reached in the finals.

Spare a thought for us… for India.

A fully literate INDIA.