(Author: Pramod Sridharamurthy)
I am pretty excited to start this series of blogs on one of the most interesting projects of my life. This is a project that focusses on improving quality of learning in Government schools especially in rural India. The goal of this project is to create a model that is replicable, holistic, low cost and easy to implement. Through these articles, I will articulate what we attempted to do, our collective learning and my own experiences. While the blogs are being written by me, I am documenting our collective learnings as a team. The success of the project is because of the team working behind it and not one person. Personally, its been a enriching experience to work along with such a dedicated and passionate team.
The reason I am writing this article and along with this a series of other articles is because we (ILP) believe there is more to all of us than just our work. We all have a responsibility to give back to the society that made us what we are today. The more accomplished we feel, bigger is our responsibility. Each of us is driven by our own experiences, our own value systems and beliefs, so I say, to each his own. But, irrespective of what drives us, I think, we all have to do our bit to give back.
We strongly believe in a level playing field. We believe that while the choice of capitalizing an opportunity is left to an individual, there should never be anyone, who misses out, because of lack of opportunity. The most disadvantaged, should ideally have the same opportunities as the most affluent. That is what drives all of us here at ILP and we want to do my bit to level the playing field.
We would love to share our model with any individual or corporate wanting to make a difference in the education sector. Thanks to the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) law in India, every corporate now has a ‘mandated’ opportunity to make a social difference. This is an opportunity to rise above being merely legally compliant to being a socially responsible corporate (SCR). I am hoping that these articles will nudge some of you to start thinking about how you can give back to the society.
There are many who continue to work tirelessly as part of this project to ensure we make a difference and I need to write a seperate blog, just to introduce the team. As for these blogs, I would like to thank two volunteers, Kirthana Sathyamurthy, a grammar and content Nazi :) and Vijay Vasudevan, a really creative guy, who have made my writing look a lot better than what it is. Thank you Kirthana and Vijay!
Over the last few years, along with other founding team members, I have been involved in starting a new initiative that focusses on improving quality of learning in Government schools through an NGO called India Literacy Project (ilpnet.org), where I volunteer. Quality, as you know, is one of the key aspects lacking in our education system, not just in government schools, but surprisingly even in private schools. We call this initiative Multi-Dimensional Learning space (MDLS). Through this initiative we aim to equip Government schools, especially in Rural India, to provide children holistic learning experiences, learning experiences that mould children to be capable, confident, inquisitive, and value aware.
The reason I am excited and wanting to share is because this project which started off with 50 students few years back is now being implemented in all schools across an entire taluk, covering about 200+ schools and around 20,000 children! We have managed to implement this at a cost of less than 1 Rupee per child per day! We have seen positive change in the confidence, skill, inquisitiveness of children and we have managed to get significant support from the schools and the education department to implement this across an entire taluk. While there is a lot more work for us to do, I felt the time was right to start sharing details about what we attempted to do. As we fine tune our project based on our learning on the ground, I will continue to update what we learnt and how we fixed it.
There are many very committed volunteers, generous donors and core staff who have helped shape this project and bring it to where we are today. The difference between vision and reality is execution and it goes without saying that without their support, this project would have remained a vision.
In the first blog, I would like to cover details about how it all started
(All the details below on Genesis was based on the details provided by Sudhira and Sindhu – Trustees and Volunteers of ILP for long. All this happened long before I started volunteering for ILP, so thanks to them for providing me with this content)
The year was 2003, when a group of really passionate volunteers in Bangalore, came together to felicitate working children who had been bridged back to school and had passed their 7th standard board exam (Back then, Karnataka state used to have board exam at the end of 7th standard). The group of volunteers thought this was a great achievement for these children and wanted to recognize this. Project ‘Puraskara’ was thus born. After two years of felicitations, some of the volunteers felt that mere felicitation was not enough and these children needed support in high school too. ‘Puraskara’ thus started morphing itself from felicitation to providing scholarships to children. Back then the main issue was to ensure access / retention in schools. The scholarship was provided to ensure that the child doesn’t drop out on account of any wants that her/his parent(s) is (are) not able to support for. Student selection was driven by volunteers who conducted house-visits. Of course there were some over-riding criteria that made the child eligible (physically challenged; child of single parent). Beyond the numbers that were gathered in a pre-decided form, it was believed that a visit to the child’s house by a volunteer and volunteer’s judgement of the child/parent’s living condition was a good metric to assess the need for scholarship or Puraskara.
While working with children through Puraskara, ILP volunteers had identified several issues: English was a challenge universally. Since English was a challenge, students who switched from Kannada to English medium had a tough time in Maths and Science. Even otherwise Maths and Science was proving to be a challenge to most of them. These directly affected their scores. The next step was to setup community centers that not only helped improve on English, but also math and science. Enter “Arivina Mane”. Arivina mane was a community library setup to create a child centric space for children from economically disadvantaged communities. This space also hosted a library to inculcate reading habits in children. Volunteers visited these centres and conducted adhoc sessions on math/science, organized experiential learning activities and more. The space was not only open for high school children, but also open to children of all age groups. The library at the Centre with child friendly books was the key attraction for children. Encouraging reading habits early on also helped children improve their language skills. Given that we were working mostly with first generation learners there were more challenges that we noticed – life coping skills. So, slowly these children were exposed to life coping trainings too.
While a lot of work was being done on multiple fronts, all of this seemed to be piecemeal and not integrated. It was also not able to reach to a much larger set of children. By then, Govt. of Karnataka extended the mid-day meal scheme to high-school; gave bicycles to girls first and then extended to boys in high schools. Campaigns against child labour grew stronger and RTE came into place. In a way, the relevance of Puraskara for ensuring access to education was being addressed by the Government in multiple ways.
We at ILP believe in working with the system and not build a parallel system. Since the access was being addressed in a big way from the government, we decided to focus on the next big gap for economically disadvantaged children in general and government schools in specific, which is Quality of education. We wanted to take all our learning till now and put a structured program for improving quality in government schools (and hence indirectly impact economically disadvantaged children). We wanted this program to be cost effective, scalable and most of all focus on the child’s overall, balanced growth.
Want to know more about MDLS – Click Here