IEN will be taking a break until the end of August, but in the meantime, please revisit some of our posts highlighting specific improvements that organizations like Fount for Nations, Van Ness Elementary School and Transcend, and the Central Square Foundation are making in schools and learning opportunities around the world. IEN returns in September with our annual scan of “back to school” headlines in the US and other parts of the world.
This week, IEN continues to look at the developing work of the Central Square Foundation (CSF) and its efforts to build the capacity for improving learning outcomes in India. The post draws from an interview with CSF’s Co-Managing Director Shaveta Sharma-Kukreja. Last week, partone explored the first five years of the Foundation’s initiatives (2012-2017) and how they developed their current strategy focusing on foundational learning, educational technology, and affordable private schools. This week, part two concentrates on the “four pillars” of their approach to foundational learning and the lessons they have learned in trying to improve learning at scale in India.
“Four pillars” of work on foundational literacy: Partnerships, aligned instruction, professional development and assessment
Thomas Hatch: Tell me a bit about your work on Foundational Literacy now.
Shaveta Sharma-Kukreja: After almost four decades, India came up with a new education policy that highlights that unless we solve for early learning, any other reform, whether we do it in higher education or in secondary schools, will become irrelevant. Just last summer, the national government launched the policy with the introduction of the National Initiative for Proficiency in Reading with Understanding and Numeracy (NIPUN) The initiative aims to ensure that, by 2026-27, every child in India attains foundational literacy and numeracy by the end of Grade 3. CSF has had a small but a catalytic role in the development of the policy, and this initiative is now phase three of our mission.
It’s important to know that India doesn’t have a formal early childhood education system. Our Right to Education Act starts at age six and grade 1. Prior to that, you can go to the Anganwadi Centers, which are under a different Ministry, the Ministry of Women and Child Development (MWCD). Those Centers, by the way, have done an incredible job when it comes to vaccination, nutrition, and health, but, unfortunately, the system is overloaded, and they also now have to take care of education. The new education policy talks about the need to address this problem in the three-to-eight-year age group and to have a strong pre-primary section, but it’s not yet institutionalized in the education system.
TH: So this is a new focus area – it still follows your same general approach – but it’s not a totally distinct endeavor?
SS: Exactly. It’s what we call radical prioritization of early learning. The idea is how do we equip the existing education system to raise the floor of their approach to early learning so that it translates into learning outcomes? And it’s particularly crucial right now because, with COVID, enrollment in India is back to being a problem, especially with some socio-economic groups. For example, a girl who walked into grade three now would never have gone to grade 1 or grade 2, and India doesn’t have a pre-primary school system. The girl is probably eight or nine years old and is expected to start working at the third-grade level. That’s why the early learning focus is so important from a COVID learning loss perspective as well.
“Now a girl would walk into grade three never having gone to grade 1 or grade 2, and India doesn’t have a pre-primary school system. The girl is probably eight or nine years old and is expected to start working at the third-grade level. That’s why the early learning focus is so important from COVID learning loss perspective as well.“
Building a lot on RTI’s approach in Kenya, we are pursuing what we call a four-pillar approach. The first step is to do a system diagnostic – “What are the critical enablers we need?”. One of the challenges in India is that learning gains are very intangible in the early stages of education. In India, the first high stakes assessment happens in grade 10, which is a board exam. That’s very critical and private schools will advertise how well they do, but it’s very late in the cycle of education and there’s no ownership or accountability for earlier stages of education. Actually, the system allows a child to pass out of primary and upper primary school without really having learned. That’s why the first step is How do we get alignment on goal setting and communication?” From the Chief Minister of a state to a parent or an illiterate parent who’s sending a first-generation learner to school, do we all understand what we mean by the mission of education and what we are hoping to achieve? What does learning to read with meaning mean? What does it mean to be able to do basic arithmetic? That becomes the first pillar.
“From the Chief Minister of a state to a parent or an illiterate parent who’s sending a first-generation learner to the school, do we all understand what we mean by the mission of education and what we are hoping to achieve? What does learning to read with meaning mean? What does it mean to be able to do basic arithmetic? That becomes the first pillar.“
Teacher professional development and teaching and learning materials – the second and third pillars – are related. With our literacy and numeracy partners, we are working on a structured pedagogy approach to ensure that there is a common learning outcomes framework reflected in lesson plans, workbooks, and learning activities for children in the classroom as well as deeply aligned teacher professional development. One of the learnings of all teacher training initiatives in India has been that teacher training by itself – which isn’t aligned to our curriculum or pedagogical approach – might inspire teachers, but doesn’t always translate to benefits in the classroom. So it’s designed to be a very integrated approach. In other words, it’s capacity building for the entire value chain, including teacher education and including all the materials and layers of academic support which are supposed to be helping teachers in the classroom.
The fourth pillar is assessment and developing a monitoring framework. What will the assessment and monitoring dashboard look like at the district level, at the state level and then at the national level? Unfortunately, in India right now assessment is equal to testing and testing means we are judging children, whereas the intent has to be to assess so that we can support children wherever learning gaps are coming up.
Then, in order to support adoption and behavior change around these four pillars, we have to take into account things like, in India, teachers don’t retire. As economists say, there’s a “stock” but not a “flow;” there’s not an active “churn.” “I’ve been a teacher for two decades. What’s in it for me to truly change how I teach children language or another subject?” That’s why we’ve specifically called out behavior change along with things like home learning and community engagement. How can we augment the teaching time that children are getting in school with the time they’re getting at home? But I want to stress that the idea is not to shift the responsibility of education to the parent, but can they play an enabling or facilitating role?
These four pillars capture the work we are doing in our key states (Haryana, Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh) with a focus on learning. Overall, our role is to leverage other NGO’s in the eco-system. The coalition that works with the state government in each case includes the Central Square Foundation, and we typically play a project management role and help to leverage other NGO’s in the eco-system, including a literacy expert and a numeracy expert. This approach reflects the principle that to solve this complex need, we need different organizations to bring their expertise and co-create a solution with the state. And it’s not proprietary. We want Gujarat to run it as Gujarat’s Foundational Literacy and Numeracy program. For it to actually scale and sustain, the budget, the branding, the operational costs has to come from the State itself.
Reflections on the challenges and opportunities of supporting learning at scale
TH: What kind of pushback have you gotten as this work has evolved? Are there particular areas where the government has resisted or you’ve had to change in order to move the partnership forward?
SS: It took us a while to land on this four-pillar approach, but it’s what we have done strategically and theoretically. Actually bringing it to the ground with other partner organizations, as you can imagine, is easier said than done. There was a learning curve that we ourselves needed to go through.
It’s easy for me to say that we are bringing together a project management partner, a literacy expert, and a numeracy expert. But historically in India, NGOs haven’t collaborated well. I think we NGO’s and civil society organizations tend to be in love with our own IP [intellectual property]. We think we’re the only ones who can do it, and it has to be done “our way.” But if I’m a teacher in a government school, and I’ve been teaching a certain subject for two decades, I’ve seen many programs and many missions and many NGOs come and go, but I’m still here. You can’t expect me to learn a different way of teaching language and a different way for numeracy and then do assessment. It all has to come together in an integrated manner.
“If I’m a teacher in a government school and I’ve been teaching a certain subject for two decades, I’ve seen many programs and many missions and many NGOs come and go, but I’m still here. You can’t expect me to learn a different way of teaching language and a different way for numeracy and then assessment. It all has to come together in an integrated manner.“
The devil in the details is how will all the partners work together? How will we establish accountability? That’s been a learning experience. Because organizations are also people, understanding the chemistry of different partners – first at a coalition level, and then with the government stakeholders – has also been an interesting journey.
From a government perspective, everyone understands why early learning is important so they latch on to the need for early learning, but I think the biggest challenge has been assessment and putting a strong monitoring system in place. Again, this comes from a legacy of assessment being equated with tests and exams that are used for selection. But it’s been much harder to make the transition to using assessment to inform instruction and to make course corrections so that everyone is that grade level and year-end remediation is not required.
The other classic challenge is how prescriptive should a structured pedagogy approach be? Is teaching a science or is teaching an art? With our approach with the instructional materials and guidebooks for the teachers, we are trying to solve for the part that is science. And if you are a teacher who gets the art part right, your classroom will be more engaging, your students will be more engaged, and it will show up in their work. Whereas, if I’m an average teacher with average motivation, and I just want to get my work done, if you can provide me with a scientific solution that is prescriptive to a certain extent, at least it will ensure that my children get to grade level.
So, all in all, I would say our own learning has been around four challenges. First, what does it take to build a coalition for the four-pillar approach: What will our role be, how do we establish accountability? Second, how do we land that approach with a government so they see we are not coming with our own NGO program, that we want to help strengthen their early learning program? Third, how do we solve the assessment problem, so that assessment is both a check for understanding in the classroom and a way of monitoring so we know the health of the system overall? Fourth, what does having a scientifically defined learning framework with micro competencies and related lesson plans, do to the autonomy of a teacher? Those have been the biggest challenges and areas of learnings for us.
“What does having a scientifically defined learning framework, with micro competencies and related lesson plans, do to the autonomy of a teacher?”
TH: What have you learned and what have you had to change in order to shift, particularly that NGO mindset of “I have the solution?”
SS: The first thing we’ve learned is we don’t have to start with a solution that we are proposing. First, we have to do a diagnostic and understand – and help the government understand – what their current approach is. How do they do early learning? What have their gaps been? What’s happening in the classroom and what are teachers experiencing? Then one of the things we’ve had to change is to get the conversation started on learning goals, teaching and learning materials, and on an assessment framework with the government as an equal partner. We’re not presenting the framework to them. We’re actually discovering it together. We’re peeling the onion to see what ‘s amiss, what can we contribute? How can you support that or this is sacrosanct and you can’t touch it? For example, in India, you can’t touch textbooks. Textbooks come from NCERT/SCERT (State Education Department) and they just get followed. However, if you want to reorder or the sequence or if you want to skip two chapters and augment them with some supplementary material, we can have that conversation. It has been crucial to understand the constraints and the appetite for change. It has taken us a while to realize that we’re not helping states start the early learning program we are helping them augment their early learning programs so that kids learn on grade level.
“It has been crucial to understand the constraints and the appetite for change. It has taken us a while to realize that we’re not helping states start the early learning program we are helping them augment their early learning programs so that kids learn on grade level.”
Over the next two weeks IEN looks at the first 10 years of the evolution of the Central Square Foundation (CSF) and its efforts to build the capacity for improving learning outcomes in India. The posts draw from an interview with CSF’s Co-Managing Director Shaveta Sharma-Kukreja. Part one explores the first five years of the Foundation’s initiatives (2012-2017) and how they developed their strategy for the next five years focusing on foundational learning, educational technology, and affordable private schools. Part two concentrates on the “four pillars” of their approach to foundational learning and the lessons they have learned in trying to improve learning at scale in India.For more on the 10th Anniversary of CSF’s founding see #10YearsOfCSF: Leaders at CSF on Their Vision for the Next Decade.
Central Square Foundation’s first five years: Developing a “wide-portfolio”
Thomas Hatch: Can you tell me about the background and evolution of the Central Square Foundation (CSF)?
Shaveta Sharma-Kukreja: We started in February 2012. The founder of CSF, Ashish Dhawan, has one of the largest private equity funds in India. He always had a deep desire to move to the development sector, and he started by serving on boards of other NGOs to try to gain an understanding of education. I joined CSF in July 2012, and for the first five years, we were only funded by our founder which allowed us to be very entrepreneurial in how we looked at education. The only “guardrails” he put up were that we would be a non-profit; we will look only at school education (K-12); and we would support young social entrepreneurs. As a result, venture philanthropy shaped a lot of the work that we did in the first phase of our journey.
Without external funders, we had the flexibility to look at a diverse set of issues from education technology to early childhood education to data and assessments. During this time, grant making was one big part of our work. Second, we supported research, particularly research from the perspective of how it can inform policy. Since we are neither a university, or an evaluation agency, our research was always oriented more for policymakers and for other education leaders and on how our research can help the ecosystem develop a collective voice. Third, we focused on government engagement. Even while we were doing grant making and looking for innovative solutions, we knew that for any solution to scale and be sustainable it needed government adoption. Early on, we weren’t even sure what government engagement meant, but we began by trying to come up with innovative solutions, having smart researchers lend their voice to it, and then handing it over to the government to run with it. But, as in much of the developing South, government demands typically include asking you to work in partnership with them, so we ended up setting up a number of project management units both at the central and the state level.
TH: What’s the advantage of an organization like yours taking some of that work on in a partnership with the government?
SS: The reality is that most people in the government understand the issues and challenges that the system is facing; they’re not blind to it. but the education production function is so complex that it’s difficult to pick out one part of the problem and solve it. The government is in the business of setting up the policy, and they are doing the regulation, and they are also the service provider of education. Working with an external partner enables them to hire people with a different profile – with different backgrounds and more specific expertise about a particular issue. The external partner becomes an extension of the government but they’re also able to bring a different profile of talent and to be razor sharp on the issue that they’re working on.
“Working with an external partner enables [the government] to hire people with a different profile – with different backgrounds and more specific expertise about a particular issue. The external partner becomes an extension of the government, but they’re also able to bring a different profile of talent and to be razor sharp on the issue that they’re working on.“
For example, working on a partnership focused on school leadership was my first project at CSF. At that time, school leadership as a term was not even being used in India. But, in 2012- 13, we were able to bring a group of people together, including myself, from the US and India, with expertise in organizational leadership to create the India School Leadership Institute (ISLI) which worked with principals of “low-fee” private schools. (For an overview of the evolution of ISLI see IEN’s conversation with ISLI Founding Director, Sameer Sampat.) But then the government was able to set up a National Center for School Leadership that built on a lot of our learnings in ISLI even though “low-fee” schools aren’t even part of the government sector.
The development of India’s national online platform for teachers provides another good example. As you know, the growth of technology in India has always had the advantage of better device penetration, cheaper internet, cheaper hardware but the software solutions have been the problem. In this case, states started building their own portals for teacher education but their first version was basically just a PDF of their teacher manual that they put on their websites. So there was a huge opportunity for a platform to be built, not just a portal, but a platform on a national level that states could connect to.
The national teacher platform called DIKSHA relied on core technology that came from the EkStep Foundation. Their own legacy is from AADHAR which is a platform enabling the Government of India to directly reach residents of the country in delivery of various subsidies, benefits, and services by using the resident’s unique 12-digit Aadhaar number only. They already had sophisticated technology at a level that no state government would have been able to develop itself. CSF then took on the project management responsibilities to integrate and adapt the technology for the state governments so that it aligned with their needs and had the look and feel of their website portals. It was a logical opportunity for CSF to start working with the government, but it was dependent on identifying a strong need where the government wanted support and where CSF had the ability to provide that support. It’s one of my favorite examples of a government partnership, because it involved a foundation like EkStep that brought in the technical capability; we brought in the project management capability, and we also had a much deeper understanding of teacher education, having worked on that for about four years. To the best of our knowledge, this is one of the most successful examples of a public good being created in partnership with CSO’s and NGO’s and different parts of the government. By 2020, the Prime Minister described DIKSHA As “one nation one platform” for the entire spectrum of education, now serving students and families as well as educators.
Shifting to phase 2: Focusing on “impact”
TH: The examples you talked about illustrate how you were operating during those first five years?
SS: Yes, and this was the time at the end of what we call the first phase of our work that our Board put the question in front of us of “What will CSF’s work look like?” During that phase, we were an operating organization which doesn’t actually work on the ground with students and teachers and school leaders. We incubated ISLI.
We helped to bring the leader in from the US (Sameer Sampat who went on to co-found, with Azad Oommen the first Executive Director of CSF, Global School Leaders on the ISLI model), but I was the donor on the team. I wasn’t running the organization. We were also working with states who had different interest areas. In Delhi at one point, we were working on the school-to-work transition and department restructuring. Two very distinct areas of work that are not directly related to student learning outcomes. It’s a long value chain for department restructuring: it depends on department re-structuring leading to better pedagogy and better curriculum that reach classrooms in schools and teacher education programs that then leaders to better teaching and learning. Our board left it up to us to decide: would it be better for CSF to continue with the “wide portfolio” approach and continue to engage with state and central government, when an opportunity and interest appeared? Or should we take stock and pick a part of learning outcomes where we could have a more direct impact? And we felt that the breadth of our work allowed us a space where we could narrow down our focus and make a more meaningful impact. We essentially said: Let’s pick out an area. Let’s be more outcome and measurement and evaluation driven in our work overall and also in how we work with our partner.” We always say for education reform to stick we need to zoom in to a district and go deep. Similarly, we decided to pick an issue within education and go deep.
“Would it be better for CSF to continue with the “wide portfolio” approach and continue to engage with state and central government, when an opportunity and interest appeared? Or should we take stock and pick a part of learning outcomes where we could have a more direct impact?“
This was around 2017 and about the time that the Gates Foundation began looking at doing work in education in India. Our first validation came when they chose CSF as an “in-country” partner. We were still a relative rookie in the education space when they saw potential in us.
As we moved into this second part of the CSF journey, we shifted from the portfolio approach to three focus areas:
Technology in education
Private school sector
Landing on the need for foundation learning was very evident for us. There is a rural household survey called ASER which has been going on in India for 20 years, and it shows that the problems with basic skills are quite deep.
The second area, building on some of our earlier work, was education technology. The widespread availability and use of mobile devices and data put India in a unique position relative to many other countries. There was also a lot of for-profit entrepreneurial activity happening in India, so we saw an opportunity for solutions to be created and designed locally. We also had a unique advantage because CSF had already been playing an evangelizing role for how tech can be leveraged for education within the government system.
The third issue area is private schooling. We are very unique as a country where over 40% of children do not take advantage of the free education provided by the public education system. Education in India, like it is worldwide, is aspirational. The moment a family can afford to pull their child out of the free government school, they would rather send their child to a private school with fees beginning at roughly $10 a month. For the most part, the government has looked at the private school system mostly from the perspective of regulation, and there hasn’t been a strong focus on quality. But in the first phase of our work, because a lot of us, including our founder Ashish, came from the management and the corporate side of the world, many people assumed “Oh you guys must be pro-private schools,” and it took us a while to clarify that whether it’s a government school or low fee private school the school is accountable to deliver quality education.
Our approach to these three areas has been similar to what I described for our first phase:
Working with the government and creating a reform agenda with a collective voice of other education leaders
Evidence building and supply shaping comes from the work we do with our partners, with other NGOs in the ecosystem with a sharp focus on the public good – making sure that whatever we are creating is available to others in the education ecosystem – and an emphasis on research
Deepening our government engagement efforts by shifting from working across multiple issues in multiple geographies to focusing our work in certain states on the issue of foundational literacy and numeracy
Getting to scalable and sustainable solutions in these areas became an extension of our approach in phase two. Across focus areas like education technology, we are trying to be more sharply focused on early learning, including at home, and in our work in private schools, we are trying to raise the bar for quality at the primary level. From a measurement perspective, we are targeting the learning poverty index the World Bank has highlighted (measuring the percentage of children who can read and understand a simple text by age 10), asking “how can we contribute to bringing down learning poverty in India?” with an ambitious target of bringing it down from 55% to 15% over the next five or six years. We’ve found this is both a directional goal– requiring us to articulate how our work contributes to it – and an aspirational and inspiring goal that connects our work with others.
TH: Given how hard it is to achieve these goals, have you also established some benchmarks to see if you’re headed in the right direction?
SS: Unfortunately, because of COVID, the plan to get a baseline is still on paper. The whole principle of system reform is that you’re doing it – not just with the approval of the government – but in partnership with the government. However, with the situation worldwide with COVID, that’s been impossible. We actually adapted a tool that USAID uses, the Early Grades Reading Assessment and the Early Grades Math Assessment. We’ve partnered with an assessment agency, and we’ve piloted it in English and in Gujarati so the tool is ready, but quite honestly haven’t even asked the government for permission yet because it’s just unfair. We’re also acutely conscious that whenever we get an opportunity to do the baseline, it will actually be lower than it would have been before COVID first hit. But, in a way, it will also capture a more picture from ground right now.
Strong school leadership impacts student outcomes, and this relationship is more important during a crisis. School leadership training can be cost-effective if it is delivered using best practices. However, there are limited programs focused on working with school leaders in lower and middle income countries (LMICs). As a result, the evidence base on this issue is sparse relative to the central role that school leaders play in a school’s functioning.
My organization, Global School Leaders (GSL), aims to play a catalytic role in developing evidence on school leadership in LMICs. In order to do this, we have been scaling school leadership training programs while strengthening our monitoring, evaluation, and research systems to contribute to the larger ecosystem of learning on this issue. We have worked with over 3,500 school leaders, impacting approximately 920,000 students. Our primary countries of focus are India, Indonesia, Malaysia and Kenya. During COVID, we have expanded to work in Peru, the Philippines, Uganda and Nigeria.
Why survey school leaders?
In 2020, we conducted a thorough review of the evidence on school leadership in LMICs. One of the key questions that emerged from that review is: “What are the key leadership practices that impact student learning for students from marginalized backgrounds?”
In order to deepen our understanding of this question, we have developed a set of High-Leverage Leadership Actions (HLLA) that synthesizes key leadership practices identified by our review and our experience training school leaders. We then developed a consultative process with a group of 10 education leadership researchers, our Academic Advisory Council, whose work is rooted in LMICs, to further refine this list.
These focus areas are not intended to be a complete framework of practices for school leaders. Instead, they serve as actions that 1) impact student outcomes and teacher performance 2) are trainable 3) are relevant across contexts. The six High-Leverage Leadership Actions we have identified are:
Create a positive school culture that reflects high expectations
Build teacher skill through observation & feedback
Understand effective teaching practices
Set school goals, create plans, and monitor progress
Promote teacher leadership
Disrupt inequitable patterns
In order to understand the quality of school leader practice in HLLA areas and the amount of time school leaders give to HLLA areas, we developed a set of school leader, teacher, and student surveys.
We piloted this survey toward the end of 2020 with our partners from India, Kenya, Malaysia, and Indonesia. Each of our four partners identified one school leader training program that started in early 2020. From this group of 180 schools, we randomly selected 10 schools from each partner. From each selected school, we surveyed the school leader, 5 teachers, and 20 students in grades 5 or 8. Our sample was thus 40 school leaders, 200 teachers, and 200 students. We ended up collecting data from 34 School Leaders, 116 teachers, and 145 students. The biggest gap in data collection was that our India partner was unable to collect teacher or student data.
What did you learn from the survey?
Overall, three findings from the study stood out:
1. The belief that all students can learn, and that teachers are critical in this process, is not universal.
In our sample survey, we saw that the percentage of teachers who believe that “all students can learn” is lower than the percentage of school leaders who believe the same. While 74% of our school leaders believe that all students can learn regardless of familial background or educational experience, only 48% of teachers agree.
While 74% of our school leaders believe that all students can learn regardless of familial background or educational experience, only 48% of teachers agree.
2. School leaders are providing teachers with limited opportunities to grow professionally.
Less than 40% of teachers reported receiving monthly short observations of at least 5 minutes from their school leader. Further, only 12% of school leaders reported conducting monthly observations of 30 or more minutes. Less than 50% of teachers reported their school leaders doing monthly in-service activities related to improving teacher skills and only 16% of teachers stated that they had opportunities to learn from their colleagues.
Less than 50% of teachers reported their school leaders doing monthly in-service activities related to improving teacher skills
3. School leaders use little data for decision making.
In our sample, less than 20% of school leaders reported using learning data to make curriculum changes, and only around 25% reported using data to incentivize teachers. Even though student absenteeism was identified by both teachers and parents as the biggest hurdle to student learning in their schools, only 62% of school leaders reported tracking student attendance. While almost all the school leaders reported having a school improvement plan that included student learning targets, in a majority of cases, these are not updated or reviewed regularly.
Less than 20% of school leaders reported using learning data to make curriculum changes, and only around 25% reported using data to incentivize teachers
Moving forward, we plan to conduct yearly follow up with this group of schools to see how their practice changes over time. We also will continue to test and refine our understanding of key actions leaders need to perform to impact students and improve our ability to measure these actions. We believe that understanding the detailed actions and choices school leaders make can have a substantial and sustained impact over the quality of education students receive.
How are school leaders responding to the coronavirus outbreak? This week’s post describes the responses to school closures of members of Global School Leaders (GSL). GSL provides preparation and professional development programs for school leaders in India, Malalysia, Indonesia, and Kenya. Sameer Sampat and Azad Oommen launched GSL to build on and expand work they and their colleagues began at the India School Leadership Institute (ISLI) in 2013. Sampat discussed the initial evolution of ISLI in an IEN interview in 2016. An interview with Sampat about the work of Global School Leaders and the challenges and possibilities for seeding leadership preparation programs around the world will be published in IEN later this spring. This post appeared originally on Medium
School leaders can respond to GSL’s global survey about their responses to the outbreak in their communities: https://t.co/NEQNCgxu6l
As the COVID-19 crisis deepens and spreads, a strong response by school leaders (SLs) is urgent to mitigate against the disruption faced by children who may be out of school for the foreseeable future. SLs are uniquely positioned to have the respect and personal relationships to guide families on how to support their children at home during this unprecedented, fast-moving challenge.
In our program partner regions in India, Indonesia, Kenya, and Malaysia, schools are shut and public gatherings, including training workshops, are banned. We are bringing our four partner organizations together to provide motivation and thought-partnership as we face this unprecedented crisis. Our partners’ response to taking responsibility within their communities is inspiring.
This blog shares the actions taken by our team and partners to support SLs through this crisis. We hope it sparks ideas that other SLs can localize for use in their own communities. We are still finding ways that our SLs and partner organizations can meaningfully build collective action to support those most in need. If reading this blog sparks any thoughts, suggestions, or feedback, we would love to hear from you.
GSL Response Framework
As GSL, we are focused on supporting playing a leadership role by motivating and supporting our partners to take a collective response. Two primary thoughts are centering us:
We must keep the physical and mental well-being of our leaders, teachers, and students at the top of our actions
This moment highlights the critical leadership role our SLs must rise to in service of their schools and communities. To that end, we must first and foremost model the same care and urgency that we hope to see from our SLs.
We are working with our partners to address the needs of our SLs so that they, in turn, can ensure that every child is cared for and their basic needs are met. Parents see the SLs as community leaders, but SLs are dealing with an unprecedented situation.
Partners are now working through a three-step initial response and sharing updates on weekly network calls. We drafted this tool to codify a framework for action that collects the thoughts we’ve heard from our partners:
Set-Up Communication Channels: Partners are checking in on, finding resources to support, and motivating SLs to ensure that they have the energy and ability to serve their communities, despite the personal challenges they may be facing.
Understanding Community Needs: Based on the information that is emerging from the communication chain, partners are facilitating responses to community needs. Partners are collecting data and sharing regular updates on the assets/ needs of the communities.
Inspiring with Stories of Hope: Partners are surfacing and documenting stories about how SLs are finding ways to respond to provide insight and motivation for others, both in our networks and beyond.
Partner Progress and Resources
Over the past week, our partners have been putting together multiple efforts to support their SLs and communities. Here are a few highlights with attached resources:
Skill-building with SLs on relevant Leading Learning competencies — engaging parents, dealing with trauma, leveraging online and radio learning tools
Clusters of Support — ways to bring groups of schools together to distribute resources and check-in on well-being
Creating a call for SLs to share short video clips of how they’re responding to the crisis
Developing a webinar on “School Leadership in Crisis” that will feature a panel of Ministry of Education and Culture officials, local academics, and practitioners
Will be delivering their planned last workshop of the academic year via Zoom in mid-April
Setting up weekly small group calls with SLs from the ISLI program in Delhi and Hyderabad that Alokit co-founders worked with personally to understand their needs. See their notes.
As next steps, we are building resources that address the following questions that have emerged from the work being done by our partners:
Are there conversation templates for how teachers should be using their time speaking with families during this crisis?
What are some pre-skills we can be working on with SLs to motivate them to more fully interact with teachers and their communities if they aren’t doing so on their own accord?
What kinds of data should partners be collecting? What is the impact we want to be able to have at the end of this and what is the data we need to be collecting now in order to ensure that we’ve done this?
While our contexts are different, our partners are united by a fierce belief in the importance of school leadership in meeting the needs of learners and their communities. We are compiling a list of education-related resources — please feel free to look through these if they are helpful to you. We will be checking in with our partners regularly and will continue to update our community through this evolving situation.
JAISALMER, India – In a rural desert school, students from this corner of Northwest India sit on the floor, squirming and awaiting instruction They have few desks and supplies and not a single computer. The setting seems highly unlikely for an innovation like blended learning to take root.
Yet throughout India, a number of digital initiatives are underway aimed at improving education in areas that lack sufficient trained and experienced teachers. The Hechinger Report visited schools in India recently and talked to experts about blended learning – which includes an element of online learning with in-class instruction – and the potential it has for helping both teachers and students in the world’s second-most populous country.
Progress is desperately needed: The UNESCO Institute for Statistics estimates that India, where half of the 1.2 billion population is under 25, will need some three million new primary school teachers by 2030. India’s education system has long lagged behind others, despite the country’s enactment of the 2009 Right to Education (RTE) ACT, which was supposed to give every child in the country the right to a full-time elementary education “of satisfactory and equitable quality.”
India has also had long had a problem with keeping girls in school. And many of the public, government-run schools – where 70 percent of all children study – have no computers or tablets.
So why is there so much optimism about blended learning as a solution? Many believe it has to do with both the huge population of India, the country’s many education needs and its chronic shortage of qualified teachers. If done well, blended learning can help all kinds of students – including slow learners – get up to speed, while boosting the ability of those who learn more quickly to master competencies and move ahead.
“I think blended learning has the potential to have a huge impact on education in India,” said Aarushi Prabhakar, an education specialist at Mindspark (also known as IACApplications), a company that that promotes a personalized interactive approach to math and language instruction catering to each child’s pace and style of learning.
Prabhakar acknowledged the lack of computers and connectivity in many Indian public schools, but said plenty of efforts are afoot to build offline solutions or add basic internet connectivity. In addition, the private sector operates 25 percent of the nation’s 1.5 million schools; those schools tend to have better facilities and more up-to-date technical equipment.
She and others are heartened by a public push from senior education officials in India on the potential of technology-aided solutions, and by the “e-India,” strategy led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Tulsi Parida, a director of growth for English learning apps at Zaya Learning Labs in India, said Zaya largely works in schools that have their own digital equipment, or finds ways to persuade outside entities to get computers donated or loaned to the schools. The education nonprofit, which provides after-school programs, designed its own blended learning model and apps to work anywhere in the world. We first heard about Zaya via the Christensen Institute, a nonprofit think tank that has been out front in studying blended learning and student-centered design around the world.
Zaya’s team “trains the teachers throughout the year, with school visits at least once a month, to share best practices on blended learning,” Parida said, adding that the insights teachers gain from the school visits inform their training, as well. School “implementation managers” visit schools regularly to make sure teachers are trained in blended learning techniques and synchronize the data to double-check progress.
“We are trying to make it more intuitive for teachers in the coming year,” Parida said in an email.
It wasn’t possible to see Mindspark in action, so we asked the company a question many who follow blended learning want to ask: how can we be sure blended learning is working? Prabhakar told us about a randomized trial of the product that showed a large improvement in learning after only four months of a child’s exposure to the program, some of which is outlined in this video. (Keep in mind this comes from the company itself, so we couldn’t independently verify the results.)
A more nuanced view of how blended learning is working in India can be seen in a 2015 report done by the membership and advocacy group CoSN. A senior delegation including a number of American educators visited the country, and also wondered how blended learning “could be implemented in the absence of electricity and internet access.”
It’s a question worth following, and reading more about in the report.
The new digital efforts come at a time of deep concern over the decline of education standards in India, both in government and private schools. They also come as India’s government is pushing to increase digital literacy in the country and add more projectors, speakers, whiteboards and interactive learning opportunities – and could have fascinating implications for countries struggling to catch up with technology and new ways of reaching students.
“Looking back at the last two decades and more, we can see the impressive progress that India has made in providing educational opportunities to children. Today we have more than 96% of children (in the age group 6-14) enrolled in school. There is a government primary school in almost every habitation in the country. Children get free meals in schools, in many states textbooks and uniforms are also free. In 2010, the India Parliament passed the Right to Education Act which guarantees free and compulsory education to all children ages 6-14. In terms of inputs and infrastructure, the Indian government has made huge strides in the provision of schooling. Now it is time to look at some of the outcomes of schooling and more specifically at the question: are our children learning?”
Recent reports from India show that the country is grappling with several issues surrounding the implementation of the Right to Free and Compulsory Education Act, also known as the Right to Education Act (RTE). RTE was signed into law in 2009 with the aim of providing every child between the ages of 6-14 with a high quality, compulsory education. Yet, as outlined below, the country’s efforts to comply with the law have brought to light various issues that have hindered an already confusing and complicated process.
The apparent first step in the effort to educate all children involves enrolling them in school. In some parts of the country, such as Navi Mumbai, 80% of public school seats remain unoccupied. The Times of Indiaquoted one official as saying that last year only a handful of the over 3,000 available private school seats had been filled. The Indian Expressnoted the particular concerns raised by parents of nursery school children, as well as children with special needs. As one Delhi school principal shared, “In totality, there are no dearth of seats in city schools. But when everyone is looking to get their children into the ‘so-called best schools’ in the city, it is then we have a problem. And frankly, the problem will continue till the problem of supply and demand is solved.”
Reports from areas such as Aurangabad show that private schools, which are legally required to designate 25% of their highly coveted seats to disadvantaged students, are finding ways to bypass this requirement. By altering the application schedule, or failing to post admission dates in public spaces, and in some cases even creating illegal admission tests or enrolling fictitious students, these private schools violate the RTE. As a result, civic organizations are taking up the effort to disseminate information to parents, and the government has promised strict oversight of admission procedures. However, this year the government has also transferred the admission process online, which raises questions about how those who are illiterate and/or do not have access to the internet will be able to apply for school admission at all (some reports indicate that this online system is purposely intended for “unaided,” or private, non-minority schools). Reports from Chennai show that the government has declared only a one week time period for enrolment, which would further hinder the process and is contrary to the spirit of the RTE.
Even with these enrolment issues, some reports point to a drastic increase in applications from urban poor families, from 140,000 last year to 360,000 for next year. As more and more families seek to enroll their children in school, the standard lottery admission process has proven tedious and contributed to an increase in complaints. Many of the complaints derive from the lack of transparency, which has led some parents to apply to a number of schools to increase the changes of their child getting in.
Once students are enrolled in school, concerns arise about what goes on inside of schools. On this topic, reports point to schools’ lack of compliance in terms of infrastructure and teacher training. According to dnaindia.com, only 59.67% of students are in schools that have met the teacher student ratios outlined in RTE. Further, while RTE mandates that all teachers in the country be trained by 2015, India has 660,000 untrained teachers and 500,000 vacant positions.
Student attendance is an additional concern, as The New Indian Express reports that the Education Department in Karnataka has called for an RTE amendment that would establish an authority to maintain attendance records, notifying the parents of absent children. A recent article in The Times of India, quotes Ossie Fernandes, director of Human Rights Foundation (HRF), as saying, “there is no auditing…to check whether RTE is implemented.” Fernandes went on to suggest that if government and private schools are serious about implementing RTE, they should be open to independent school inspections.
Yet, some say that India must first address the larger issue of childhood poverty and slavery, which has forced many children into the workplace rather than the classroom. According to the recent Global Slavery Index, India is home to half of the world’s modern slaves. Despite the government’s 2012 ban of all types of child labor under the age of 14, little has changed in the past two years. With a poverty rate of approximately 25%, and more than 50% of the population under the age of 25, a recent editorial in The Nation suggests that implementation and enforcement of either the child labor law or the RTE will require the ratification of the International Labor Organization’s Convention 182.
News reports from this past month have shown that many countries are rethinking the role of vocational training in their education systems.
In Denmark, www.dr.dk reports that the government is considering new academic entrance requirements to vocational programs that some fear would result in thousands of students being barred from such programs.
Denmark is not alone in it’s effort to “raise the bar” on vocational education. The BBC reported that a survey of British employers showed almost 60% believe the government does not do enough to provide students with the vocational training they need. The Guardian has also reported that a new standard will be applied to vocational education, allowing for diplomas endorsed by companies such as Kawasaki, Honda, and Volvo, but also hotels and even the Royal Ballet School, which is backing a qualification in performing arts.
Similarly, Thailand is also pledging to reform education to meet the demands of employers by reforming their system of vocational education. As reported in The Nation, the Education Ministry shared plans to work with the private sector to jointly design curriculum and training programs that give students real-life experiences as well as an academic education. The Thai government will also work with Germany, Australia, Japan and China – countries that have large investments in Thailand. However, in an earlier article, The Nation also reported that some researchers have expressed concerns that the government could still be doing more.
Similar news reports, collected from online sources over the past month, show a widespread call to improve vocational education, to reconsider the academic curriculum, and for educators to work alongside employers. These reports can be found coming from countries such as Malaysia, Nigeria, The United Arab Emirates, Liberia, Sudan, Ghana, Ireland, and India.
A quick scan of the recent news on teacher quality illustrates the continuing debates over the best strategies to develop the most effective teaching force. In India, a recent panel discussion suggested there is a divide between those who call for greater focus on attracting the most promising candidates by elevating the status of the profession, raising salaries, and establishing guidelines for professional responsibilities, and those who call for updating teacher training programs so that candidates will be better prepared for the challenges of the profession.
In England, the strategy of using financial incentives and higher standards for professional entry to increase the quality of the labor pool has been in the news again as the Mail Online reports that the number of job applicants for teaching training positions in math and physics in particular has “collapsed.” Two years ago the UK Education Secretary, Michael Gove, sought to improve teacher quality by withdrawing funding for teacher training to students who achieved only the third class honors degree. The measure put the country in line with other high performing countries, such as Finland and South Korea, but the story reports that the cut-off score contributed to over 700 teacher training vacancies in math and almost 400 in physics. Related reforms include an increase in the number of candidates training in schools rather than teacher training colleges which Geoff Whitty discussed in a recent IEN post. ICTScoop also describes a project designed to recruit new teachers help improve literacy and numeracy in underserved areas as “getting off to a slow start.”
At EDUCA 2013, Thailand’s annual conference for teacher professional development, Pasi Sahlberg explained Finland’s approach to teacher quality. The government has accomplished this by funding teacher education, recruiting the best candidates as teachers, and giving teachers more time to prepare for classes. While what Sahlberg calls this “Less Is More” approach often emphasizes teacher preparation and recruitment, Sweden is experimenting with further investments in professional development. For example, with funding provided by the European Union, a new project will provide coaching and observation support for teachers in select schools.