World Economic Forum- Beyond Davos

11 Sep

I recently visited the head office of the World Economic Forum in Geneva, Switzerland.  It was a perfect bright and sunny day to visit the office nestled on a hill-top, overlooking the beautiful Lake Geneva. All along the tram ride from the commercial center to the WEF office, my mind raced with questions about the organization. WEF is generally known for the annual Davos summit, pictures of snow capped small resorts in a town bustling with leaders from across the world, and I was busy recalling all that I had seen and heard about it on television. By the end of the day, I got answers to all my questions and learnt quite a bit about the WEF and its work. In the following paragraphs, I will briefly describe what I now know of the World Economic Forum and its various initiatives:

The World Economic Forum (WEF) is the 3rd largest broker in the world after United Nations & World Bank. Founded in 1971 by Professor Klaus Schwab, the WEF aims to improve the state of the world through multi-stakeholder engagement. The approach they follow can be described as:

  • Multi-stakeholder: WEF engages various stakeholders – Governments, Businesses and Civil Society to further its goals.
  • Future Oriented: There is emphasis on engaging with Young Global Leaders, Global Shapers, Social Entrepreneurs and Technology Pioneers as a strategy to make an impact in the long term.
  • Strategic Insight: The Forum has helped set up Councils and Networks to develop strategies to improve the state of the world, such as the Global Risk Response Network, the Global Benchmarking Network, the Global Agenda Councils and the Global University Leaders.

A widespread network of diverse communities helps WEF address issues on social, economic, political, environmental level by bringing people from different walks of life on a common platform to find real-time solutions to world problems. An excellent example of the same would be the ‘Breaking the Impasse Initiative’ held during the WEF forum on ‘Middle East & North Africa’ in May 2013 where over 300 business leaders from Israel and Palestine in the presence of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas & Israeli President Shimon Peres appealed to their respective governments to renew ties with each other, thereby putting an end to the long-drawn conflict between the two nations.

WEF also actively engages in dialogues aimed at addressing issues like youth unemployment in the Arab world, gender inequality in India, the future of energy etc. by calling upon industry leaders at one table to discuss possible solutions.

Some of the other activities undertaken by the WEF, which is increasing its visibility across the world are:

  • The Global Competitiveness Report– An annual report released by WEF measures the ability of a country to provide high levels of prosperity to its citizens, and incorporates over 110 different variables to arrive at the ‘attractiveness’ of a country as a place of residence and work.
  • Regional events/Forums – WEF with help of its regional partners engages in constructive discussions with industry leaders, government officials, NGOs & community leaders to solve wide range of issues facing them. Some of these include:

*        Helping Myanmar’s rural poor

*        Safeguarding Syria

*        Dialogue on the future of Mongolia

*        Dialogue on the future of South Caucasus & Central Asia

  • Global Agenda Councils– A network of over 1500 Thought Leaders from across the globe have been grouped into over 80 Councils. The WEF encourages dialogue, outlines agenda and catalyzes their activities. These focused groups address technological, economic, geo-political, social, environmental & regional issues to encourage brainstorming and provide innovative solutions.

In the context of education, which is the focus of the blog, World Economic Forum addresses a range of issues too. The forum has discussed issues such as:

  • How businesses benefit from investing in education
  • Providing quality education to rural areas in Latin America
  • Need for increased investment for education of girls
  • Need and importance of Early Childhood Education
  • Educating the next wave of entrepreneurs

An article from the website of SOS Children’s Villages states that there are about 720 million adult illiterates in the world which is roughly 10 times the population of France. What’s more worrying is that almost 75% of them belong to 10 countries of the world – mainly Pakistan, China Indonesia & Brazil. Also, almost 40% of these adult illiterates are from India.

The Forum has dedicated one Agenda Council to Education & Skills with an objective to improve education levels across the world. Improved education leads to higher productivity & innovation, thus leading to job creation and hence, economic growth. A WEF report on Global Education Initiative can be accessed at http://tinyurl.com/pxrkgww

Such dialogues when combined with implementation strategies have far reaching affects. For instance, sharing best practices with organizations working at the ground level will enable resolution and facilitate change at a much faster rate. Over 60 projects including steps to tackle corruption, combating chronic diseases and improving environmental standards are currently being addressed by the WEF.

To conclude in the words of Klaus Schwab – “Collaborative efforts are needed in a multi-stakeholder community and they are the best way to achieve sustained economic development and social progress”.

There is a long way to go, but as long as steps are being taken in the right direction, we can hope to achieve the much-needed goals of – sustained and sustainable economic development as well as social progress.

A point of light for underprivileged communities in the Middle-East

18 Aug

An exclusive interview with Cayce Pack, Women’s empowerment coordinator at Tomorrow’s Youth Organization (TYO)

TYO is a non-governmental organization that aspires to break ground in non-formal early childhood education and women’s empowerment. Founded in the year 2007, TYO is currently working in Palestine & Lebanon.

What was the motivation behind setting up TYO in Palestine and Lebanon?

Tomorrow’s Youth Organization first opened its doors in Nablus, Palestine in March 2008, when the city was heavily affected by longstanding conflict, and isolated by surrounding checkpoints. Within this context, a small team of American and Palestinian staff pursued TYO’s mission to make life better for women and children marginalized by poverty and violence. Their success was marked by the community’s overwhelming response, and in the time since, TYO continued to grow remarkably, reaching nearly 15,000 community members through holistic, multigenerational programming. In 2011, Tomorrow’s Youth Organization Lebanon was established to bring the success of TYO Palestine’s women’s entrepreneurship programs there.

Low female labor force participation rate (15.5% in Palestine and 21.7% in Lebanon) but higher levels of education- why the disparity?

Throughout the Middle East, women have made great progress at gaining more equal access to education, but that has not yet translated into more access for employment outside the home. Main obstacles stem from gender-biased beliefs about women’s rights- which can range from early marriage, inability to work outside the home, family limitations on a woman’s travel, and restrictions on property rights.

Women entrepreneurs in Palestine at a TYO training program

Women entrepreneurs in Palestine at a TYO training program

Can you tell us about some of the successful start-ups that have come up through this FWEME program?

Since our female entrepreneurship programs began in 2010, over 15 women-owned businesses have been launched in Palestine, and Lebanon has seen similar success. They represent a host of innovative ideas, such as graphic design, compost production, catering services, and more. Female entrepreneurs from TYO’s programs have been afforded opportunities to travel to countries like the United States or the United Arab Emirates for conferences and business trainings.

How easy/difficult it is for you to make the women in Palestine understand about their potential and their ability to make that difference in the professional world?

As we saw in recent recruitment for our latest female entrepreneurship program, Fostering Women Entrepreneurs in the Middle East, there is an outpouring of women very interested in starting or growing their own business- but obstacles still remain. Primarily, we work with women as they take risks for the first time, explore options like loans or investments, negotiate resistance they might receive from their families, and split from traditional societal norms that would want them to work only within their homes.

How do you raise awareness about your work among the people of Palestine and mobilize them for these programs?

In the five years since our founding in Palestine, we have become increasingly known in the community, given our American and Palestinian roots. Our center in Nablus serves the four refugee camps in the area, as well as other disadvantaged areas. We work with both local and international organizations to expand our work. Our center also serves as a hub for programs throughout the northern West Bank area, reaching communities often underserved. With this strong network of partners and contacts, TYO continues to successfully outreach in the community and country at large.

What are the main issues that Palestine is currently grappling with and do you think organizations like yours are bridging these gaps?

Palestine faces a unique set of challenges, which include conflict, poverty, and marginalization of women and children. The lack of women’s economic empowerment does limit Palestine’s growth and poverty reduction, and also leads to less favorable education and health outcomes for children. Until women are equal decision makers in their homes and communities, full economic and social progress isn’t possible.

TYO adopts a holistic approach to make life better for women & children

TYO adopts a holistic approach to make life better for women & children

Is there good support for your work from national and international organizations/donor agencies/governmental support (including from Palestine).

Yes, TYO’s work is powered by strong partnerships with both local civil society partners, as well as international institutions. TYO’s unique multigenerational, holistic approach- as well as the proven programmatic success- has led us to work alongside leading regional and global organizations. These partnerships allow us to continue our groundbreaking work, and expand our point of light throughout the Middle East.

With fragile geo-political situation in that region, how do you manage to continue moving forward while taking all the stakeholders into confidence?

TYO’s apolitical, areligious approach allows us to meet the needs of Nablus as well as engage a wide variety of stakeholders- our work is based around both needs assessments and monitoring & evaluation, so we are certain to provide relevant, effective services.

Increasingly, CSR initiatives are becoming an important part of companies and even B-schools are incorporating social-business courses in their curriculum- how do you view this development? And is it helping social organizations (like yours) in achieving its objectives?

TYO knows that investing in women’s empowerment is nothing less than smart economics- and the increase in CSR and social responsibility programs only benefits this belief, and provides more opportunities for our work. These programs also helps develop innovative revenue streams and increase organizational sustainability.

Cayce Pack- TYO coordinator Cayce holds a Master of Social Work degree from New York University  and has worked for UNICEF USA in the past. She has also been  significantly involved with programs for refugee and immigrant women  in the United States. She originally hails from Tennessee (US) and is  currently based in Nablus (Palestine).

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.

Innovative ways to introduce business skills among schools students in Morocco

8 Jun

Casablanca, Morocco: – Argen Robben & Mario Mandzukic would probably qualify as two of the happiest persons on 25th May 2013. After all, they made the difference on the field and helped Bayern Munich lift the UEFA Champions League cup. Some 2800 kilometers away, in Casablanca, people were as passionate as the people in the stands at Wembley stadium in London. All cafes in Casablanca were full of people watching the final match intently. Sipping Moroccan tea and chanting Yalla-Yalla (which mean “Go-Go” in Arabic), it seemed like they were having the time of their life.

Though I will not even faintly qualify as a football fan, but the enthusiasm and energy that day surely rubbed off on me too. On the same day, I also happened to visit a government school in Casablanca where I observed and participated in an innovative session titled the “Entrepreneurship Master Class”, facilitated by Injaz Al-Maghrib – a social organization based in Casablanca.

Entrepreneurship Master Class (EMC) is a 5-hour long class conducted by volunteers. These volunteers however, happen to be senior executives from major private sector companies in Morocco. The Class is directed at students from Grade 6 to Grade 9 (referred to as Collège in the French baccalaureate system) with an objective to instill a sense of entrepreneurship and understanding of corporate structure from a young age. In the class that I observed, students were divided into small groups and all activities were required to be done and submitted as a group activity. A volunteer from Attijariwafa Bank (one of the biggest banking groups in Morocco) showed logos of famous brands and asked students to identify them with the company concerned. Students were explained the importance of a brand and were later asked to design a logo which is simple in design but one that resonates in the mind of people for a long time. The next activity was a discussion about the company structure and the designations & roles of important people. Students were then asked to suggest a role for themselves and also mark on a sheet facilitated by Injaz listing characteristics that define them. They were then required to create a business card for themselves. “The best thing that I liked was the enthusiasm and the sheer excitement among the students to do something different than the other group. And to do this, they were keenly looking at each proposal that was coming from the members of the group”-said another volunteer, manager at Attiwariwafa Bank who works in the credit card division of the company.

Students designing logo as part of the EMC activity

Students designing logo as part of the EMC activity

Unemployment rate among the youth is a major problem in the Arab world and Morocco is no different. In the past couple of decades, the Arab world has gone through a dramatic demographic transition. With more than 3 million new individuals entering the job market every year, the labor force in this region is growing by a CAGR of about 3.3%. What makes matters worse is that the unemployment rate among the youth is at its peak at the moment. According to a World Bank report, the average unemployment rate in Morocco is 35% (only better than Iraq and Palestine), and the average rate in Arab countries is about 24%. With a stable democratic political system and its geographical advantage (only 7.7 nautical miles from Spain), Morocco has all the potential to overcome the problem of unemployment.  According to a survey conducted by a consulting company with the CEOs of private companies in the Arab World, only 54% agreed that the current educational system provides the graduates with the adequate skills needed by the industry. Even after investing 25% of the Total Government Expenditure (TGE) on education, things are not moving in the right direction for Morocco, which also witnessed sporadic protests by young people in the backdrop of the Arab uprising that was visible in many countries especially Tunisia, Egypt and Syria .What is needed is the right kind of education and training that resonates with the needs of the industry making it easy for the fresh graduates to be absorbed by companies as soon as they complete their graduation.

I feel initiatives such as EMC are a step in this direction since they are providing business skills to students at an early age, making students look beyond the existing rote based learning in schools. The final task in the EMC session is the new product development. Students were asked to design a greeting card. In order to do so, each group was asked to buy the raw materials (such as tapes, paper, crayons, etc.) necessary to make the greeting card. Specifications regarding the minimum standards of the final product were provided to each group. In the end, each team submitted their work including the logo and the final product for evaluation. The final product also had a cost sheet where each team was required to first calculate the cost of each of the raw materials purchased and then determine cost per unit. They were also asked to define the selling price of the product and also the net profit per unit of the product. “This activity was interesting as I understood what direct & indirect costs are. Also how the cost can change when produced in large quantities was interesting to see” said Sanaa, a student who happily showed me the logo that her team had prepared.

Students ready with their product design- the final requirement of the Entrepreneurship Master Class(EMC)

Students ready with their product design- the final requirement of the Entrepreneurship Master Class(EMC)

A winner was declared at the end. Each team was given a feedback on their performance. Prizes were distributed to the winning team and everyone who participated in the class was provided with a certificate. The smiling faces of students flashing their business cards while receiving certificate clearly showed the impact made by the program.

As I saw the students leaving the classroom with the certificate in their hands, they had a big smile and a glint of hope in their eyes. It seemed as if a whole new different world awaits them in the future, but only if we continue to nurture this talent and prepare students to face the challenges of the professional world, come what may.

According to Gloria La Cava, World Bank Senior Social Scientist and author of the report ’The Challenge of youth inclusion in Morocco’- said “Before the ‘Arab Spring,’ there was a lot of talk in Morocco, and in many of the neighboring countries, about how the youth were an important resource, that they represented the future. Now is the time to advance in the direction of actualizing an ambitious vision to place this generation at the center stage of development in Morocco.”

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.

United Nations Global Education Initiative

11 Jan

Millennium development goals set in the year 2000 had a mandate that every child at primary level across the global should have access to basic education by 2015.

On 26th of September 2012 Ban Ki Moon, the secretary general of the United Nations pledged to put education at the heart of the sustainability agenda. The Secretary General launched a dedicated website to address the issues pertaining to education http://www.globaleducationfirst.org/. The initiative “Education First” has already won commitments of $1.5 billion. Has the situation improved is a big question?

Year

Out-of-School Children (Millions)

1990

105

2000

102.1

2010

61

There are 61 million children of primary education age in the world  without access to education.  Let’s analyze this data over some decades.

Interventions by various governments especially in Africa & South Asia greatly reduced the out-of-school children number from 102.1 million to 61 million but the dark side is that the 61 million figure has largely remained constant for the past 4-5 years.  According to UNESCO’s Institute for Statistics (UIS), of these 61 million children, 47% are expected to never attend the school, further 26% entered the school but left in the middle and the remaining kids are likely to join the school again in the future. Since 1990, South & West Asia have reduced the out-of-school number by two-thirds.  Sub-Saharan Africa accounts for 50% of the total out-of-school children in the world.

Efforts like “Education First” have become very important to find a solution for problem of education. In low-income countries such as Burkina Faso, Chad, Sudan & Zambia, an additional year of education increase the average income of the person by approximately 10% and in some countries a correlation was found with the GDP levels.  An additional year of education can lift the GDP by 0.37% annually.

Let’s hope for a better world where everyone is assured access to education. Efforts have to be made to come up with improved policies that address these concerns. It’s time for various Governments across the globe to make education their top-most priority.

 

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.