UP govt takes cues from AAP, pushes massive education reform programmes

The UP government’s thrust on education reforms was inspired in large part by the Aam Aadmi Party’s reform push in Delhi’s school education.
IAS officer Vijay Kiran Anand (UP cadre), director general of school education in Uttar Pradesh, has a lot on his plate. Mission Prerna, an aggressive education reform project that he is helming, encompasses 159,000 schools, 575,000 teachers and 18 million students in the state. Launched in September 2019, Mission Prerna is a huge and ambitious project, and it is already beginning to bear fruit.

 
Supporting Anand’s efforts is former IAS officer Dhir Jhingran, who, in 2015, quit his bureaucrat’s job to set up the Language and Learning foundation. The foundation is currently working in five states (Haryana, Rajasthan, UP, Bihar and Chhattisgarh) to improve the language skills of students, on the premise that no learning can happen without strong language skills.

 
The project management partner is Gaurav Goel, founder and CEO of Samagra, a consultancy that works with state governments across India to solve complex governance challenges across domains such as education, employment, skilling, public service delivery, and agriculture, among others.

A major inspiration and support for Mission Prerna is the Central Square Foundation (CSF) that has identified foundational learning as one of the fundamental gaps to be filled in order to overcome India’s learning crisis. CSF’s founder Ashish Dhawan, CEO Bikkrama Daulet Singh and their team have been closely engaged with the UP government for the last two years, offering advice, financial support and access to their wide network in the field of education.

 
CSF is acting as a thought partner for the state to put in place a structured foundational learning programme. It is also funding the efforts of Samagra in Mission Prerna.

 
“In UP, the CM’s office is giving a free hand to reform-oriented bureaucrats and this has helped the state take a lead in foundational learning,” says CSF’s Singh.

 
The state has also got the support of NITI Aayog, led by Amitabh Kant, who emphasises the need to focus on foundational learning and is urging states to adopt sharply targeted programmes instead of catch-all reforms.

The UP government’s thrust on education reforms was inspired in large part by the Aam Aadmi Party’s reform push in Delhi’s school education. In fact, its success in this sphere made almost every other state sit up and take notice — even before AAP won the recent Delhi polls.

 
The second prod came from Niti Aayog’s School Education Quality Index (SEQI), which, like the Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan, appears to have unleashed a competitive spirit among states, with each vying with the other for a higher spot.

 
To understand why the Prerna Mission is one of the most ambitious programmes in the sphere of school education in India, one needs to appreciate the scale and depth of UP’s problem. Studies and data by organisations like Pratham have highlighted the severity of India’s learning crisis. For example, the findings show that children in Class 3 cannot read texts meant for Class 1. Or that one in two students in Class 3 cannot do the math required to solve daily problems. Or that 50 per cent of the students lack basic literacy skills even after Class 5.

UP’s case was even more dire, because there was no official data to begin with. Until very recently, the state education department functioned entirely offline. There was no data on teachers — nothing to track even their presence in school.

Personnel and leave management was unheard of. The state bureaucrats had no reliable data on infrastructure or the lack of it.

And there was no comprehensive data on learning outcomes at a state-wide level (some sample-based data was available).
Moreover, all inspections — if they happened at all — were manual. The key issue of funds management was ad-hoc and subject to innumerable leakages. Even in the absence of data, officials were well aware that their state was featuring towards the bottom of the list of states’ performance in education.

 
But sometime in 2018, things began to change. UP’s chief minister Yogi Adityanath started looking at his state’s school education with a closer lens. In June 2018, a programme was launched, much in the manner of Delhi, to improve the physical infrastructure of schools. Subsequently, Mission Prerna was launched in September 2019. A district task force with 75 DMs was set up, which tracks developments regularly. Every district also has a project management unit in place. And the efforts are monitored at the CM’s level.

“We still have a long way to go, but reasonable progress has been made,” says Anand, who is temporarily working on Covid relief operations. He claims the government schools are now beginning to reverse the fall in enrollments, and since this is being monitored through Aadhar, it is verifiable. Anand adds that enrollments in the last academic year stood at 18 million students, an increase of 1.2-1.5 million students over the previous year.

 
All school inspections — done on 15 parameters — are now online. Moreover, the annual confidential reports on teachers, their deployment, transfer and arrears due are all being done and tracked online so that the nexus between officials and teachers can be broken.

 
Today, over 100,000 leave applications have been processed online and over 100,000 teachers have applied for transfers online — an area which used to see a lot of corruption in the past. Records of 575,000 lakh teachers are now online. A public financial management system is being rolled out to bring in financial transparency.

 
The state has also begin to focus on the learning outcomes of students and these have now been  made online. Two levels of exams — Student Assessment Test 1 and Student Assessment Test 2 —have been held online. Remedial classes have been introduced for students who fare poorly in these exams.

 
Mission Prerna is a spectacular project owing to the short time frame in which it is to be achieved. To bring about this kind of transformational change by March 2022 (pre-coronavirus outbreak target) is a huge challenge in a field where change is a four-letter word.

Already, teachers had started protesting against the new rules.  But as the message sinks in, officials say, they expect almost every stakeholder to fall in line. More so, because chief minister Yogi Adityanath is not the sort of person anyone would like to fall foul of.

 


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