The ABC of change

Even as the government finalises its New Education Policy (NEP), 2019, there is a massive change that is taking place across the country in the public education system that many may have not noticed. 

No matter which state one looks at — barring a few who are slow to move or yet to grasp what their peers have — the state education system is broken, losing students to private schools and barely managing to educate the fewer and fewer numbers it is left with. In almost every state, the education budget is swallowed up by staff salaries and very little is available to ramp up school infrastructure, invest in teacher training, tools or pedagogy. Many schools across states resemble a derelict, crumbling old structure and lack the energy that students infuse spaces with. There’s a tired feel that envelopes you at the Indian public schools — no matter which state school you visit.

Without going into the phenomenal change the Delhi government has managed to achieve with its own schools (this is an Aam Aadmi Party government achievement done at its own behest), a visible change in the capital is evident if one visits the South Delhi municipal corporation schools. There, the Delhi-headquartered Education Alliance (EA) has stepped in to help revamp the public schools — by roping in NGOs and other such organisations who work with the school — and has done a remarkable job of it. The Alliance is now working in 18 schools, where enrollments are up from 1,800 to over 5,000 and tell a story of happy students and parents.

It is likely to expand to schools in Madhya Pradesh and Tamil Nadu in the coming months. The model is unique in the sense that EA acts like a bridge between the government and the private partner who will help improve the school, refraining from running the school itself.

In Andhra Pradesh, the Bridge International Academies — an international initiative — is now working with the state schools. The state government had several schools that were practically empty as they failed to attract students. From four schools and a few hundred students in 2015-16, Bridge is now working in six schools in Vijaywada district with close to 800 students and has around 40-45 highly trained and motivated teachers. Increasingly, it is offering to work in partnership with the government to achieve quicker and far reaching results. Once the model is proven and established, it will be offered to other state governments.

Working with close to 21 schools and impacting almost 10,000 students, the Akanksha Foundation began with its own schools to target low-income communities and is now offering its learnings to the state school systems in Pune and other parts/districts of Maharashtra by working in partnership with government schools. In Mumbai region, Aseema and Muktangan are also working in similar spaces, all with slightly differing models.

Bharti Foundation (a philanthropic arm of the Bharti group) that runs the Satya Bharti Schools Program and Quality Support Program has also achieved some scale and is now working with 2,500 schools and centres in 18 states and UTs and reaching close to 400,000 students. A community membership project, it now covers 200,0000 community members in close to 4,000 villages.

More recently, Uttarakhand — with state machinery that appears to be in deep slumber — has embarked on an “Adopt A School” policy, cleared by the Cabinet in March this year. The state is still struggling with access and better allocation of existing resources better but has now realised that outcomes need more than just more resources and teachers. A local trust that works with 3,200 slum children in the area has now adopted six schools, brought in donors such as the Hans Foundation and is improving what’s on offer. Similar CSR-led initiatives in Udham Singh Nagar and other districts have delivered never-seen-before results for the state and it’s trying to replicate the model across the state.

The upshot of all this is two primary things. Like a juggernaut, change is coming closer everyday and the elephant, if not moved, is certainly feeling the ground beneath it tremble. The movement that has begun is yet to gather momentum but it’s already leading to better nourished, more educated kids and happier parents in fits and starts.

One inevitable unhappy consequence of this development is the plight of highly paid but increasingly insecure government teachers, headmasters, staff and officials. “Who moved my cheese” is what they are asking themselves and each other. The “why” is something they know but cannot tackle. The ideal outcome — moving with the cheese — is easier said than done. 

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