Retooling India’s Rural Schools Using Good Work and Social Enterprise
by Sandeep Deshmukh, Hemendra Kothari Foundation
I have been working for the last twenty-seven years in India’s sector, consciously adhering to ethical practices and excellence. I joined the Hemendra Kothari Foundation to work on rural development education and through it, found an arena for Good Work. I got attracted to the Good Work Project when I heard first about it from Professor Gardner when he was visiting Mumbai in 2011. In his public interface he dealt at length with the principles of multiple intelligences, and how each intelligence can be mobilized to contribute to good work. He also drew richly on the Gandhian school of thought and practice to illustrate his point. His speech and subsequent interaction helped me connect with the work of the Good Work Project.
Since then I have explored Good Work Project material to further the goals of my Foundation and myself. We have been pursuing the three core values of ethics, excellence and engagement since day one of the Foundation’s inception. Today we can speak about a silent yet robust national platform for education centered on the values of ethics, excellence and engagement.
Still, there are tensions that exist in our work that we hope to ease through our interventions. The forefathers of India’s education policy envisioned schools as the vehicles of knowledge and skills that would transform rural India into a modern society. However, with 80% of the nearly 1.3 million schools in India being located in rural areas, one generally sees a dilution of quality with expansion of school base in the country. The farther one moves away from the greater urban areas, the more questions are raised pertaining to accountability, ethical values, professional standards of teachers and support staff, standards of institutional performance and effectiveness of delivery mechanisms.
Our twin foundations, the Hemendra Kothari Foundation and Wildlife Conversation Trust, are working on the issue of ensuring quality schooling to the rural public. We have identified key result areas which require direct interventions. Anticipating changes in the key result areas such as teaching systems; access to knowledge resources; school centered management; and professionalization of work force, we are trying to create baskets of direct interventions that would strengthen the network of educational resources around a socially and economically deprived child. These interventions are evolved by us in convergence with our non-profit partners. Partners like Indian Institute of Education, Eklavya, Aide Et Action, Pratham, Samavesh, Gramin Shiksha Kendra have remained outside the ambit of government yet impacted the school system positively at different points of time through work at practice, policy and curricular levels.Here, we will look at some of the most critical issues we are trying to address and our social enterprise solutions we are testing for these – from utilizing technology to provide teachers with professional networks and supports, to challenging the status quo on what makes an excellent teacher.
1. Inadequate number of teachers: Often one finds less than the required number of teachers in government schools in distant rural districts. Teacher absenteeism or shortages may stem from a lack of responsibility towards the particular school or community. Schools always carry the risk of closure if the teacher does not turn up frequently. In order to address this issue, we need to find individuals from the community who are willing to take responsibility for its citizens’ educations. The creation of two types of support cadres by our foundation with rural communities alleviates the disadvantages resulting from teacher shortage. At the village level, a non-formal education center is manned by a community youth who is trained as a teaching volunteer. The direct support to the school goes through a cadre called Extension Resource Teachers (ERT). These are professionals who live in the vicinity of the villages under support and give planned, dedicated teaching time, community mobilization, teacher support and a government liaison in each village under their cover.
2. Additional professional development: Government teachers on average receive twelve days of training in a year across districts of India. These trainings are generally known to be lacking focus, preparedness of faculty and critical duration. This lackadaisical approach to training can impact the teacher quality. Thus, we extend another fifteen days of subject training, teaching methods, lesson planning, and school management on top of government training. Systematic observation of children, under the guidance of better prepared teachers and for an average period of six months, shows progress on reading, writing, listening, and math. A need-based continuous training support to teacher pays good dividends and has implications for the level of excellence for teaching throughout the entire country.
3. Digital dashboard for teachers: We believe that like every other person, a teacher will go through different stages of job satisfaction. She will come to a stage when she start seeking answers to questions on subject matter and knowledge transaction. Given the existing government support system’s constraints, it is necessary to consider alternatives. A dashboard contains classroom analytics facilitating continuous assessment of children – mandatory for a government school – that was created by our partners Aide Et Action and Vtabeans Pvt. Ltd. The dashboard is also regularly populated with lesson plans by voluntary groups of government teachers. All initial reports indicate that the dashboard is a dependable reflection and reference board for teachers. The dashboard fills up the empty space for peers by single teacher schools in remote forest areas.
A multitude of other important problems pertaining to learning ecosystem are being addressed by our group, such as developing official policy for inclusive education and constructive engagement with teacher unions. We supported groups of 355 government schools in remote forest areas during the previous year. In the current year, we are extending support to 540 schools. The latest drive by our twin Foundations is to facilitate establishment of six centers of education excellence in different regions of India. We will keep looking to the Good Work community often with issues and updates.