16 May 2016

Accountability in Education: An introduction to the DEISPI system

The introduction of successive acts for education reform in India, most notably, the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) in 2002 and the Right to Education Act (RtE) in 2009 has led to increased access to elementary education in the country. Gross Enrollment Rate (GER) has increased, the gender gap between boys and girls in primary schools has been reduced, and schemes such as the provision of mid-day meals has ensured that the children stay in schools.

While this looks good on paper, it is a generally known truth that the quality of education imparted in most of our schools continues to remain sub-par. An assessment by the non-governmental organization Pratham revealed that 40% of students in Class 5 are unable to read a book prescribed for Class 2 students. 57% of the students are unable to solve arithmetic sums prescribed for a Class 2 student.

According to a 2007 report, of the 294 districts identified as educationally backward, 135 are Tribal, Border, Hilly and Forested districts (TBHF). In a bid to improve the quality of education in these districts, Pragya has piloted an Education Management Information System (EMIS) across 330 schools in 11 TBHF Districts in the region. Although various EMIS already exist, we developed a Dynamic Education Information System for Planning and Improvement (DEISPI) suited to the needs of these remote regions.

What is DEISPI?
Simply put, DEISPI is a set of data collection tools that enable us to evaluate the schools across three parameters: student development, quality of instruction, and school operations and management.
Student Development is measured in basic literacy, basic numeracy, basic cognitive skills, social behavioral development and emotional behavioral development. This is compared to a level considered the basic or standard for the age.
Quality of instruction is based on the response of the students and parents and is measured in instructional clarity, knowledge of the subject etc.
School Operations and Management quality is gauged by finding out whether the institution meets the basic minimum level of physical infrastructure, whether it has separate facilities for Children with Special Needs (CWSN), availability of Teacher Learning Materials etc.

The Bare Foot Monitors (BFM) trained for the purpose enables the collection of data. Workshops are conducted at the district level with the help of the District Education Office and monitoring through the Village Education Centers (VECs) The data collected with the help of the community helps in monitoring the quality of education in schools across the target district.

Case study
Rudraprayag, Uttarakhand, one of the two districts in the Himalayas where the DEISPI project is currently running, has some of the highest literacy rates in the country. According to the 2011 census, the literacy rate for Rudraprayag is 81.30 %, against the state average of 79.63 %, and well above the national average of 64.8%. Uttarakhand ranks among the top ten states when it comes to literacy levels in the country.

In a district level discussion held at Rudraprayag, where the DEISPI is being piloted in 30 schools, a number of issues were brought forth. The need for at least one residential school for Children with Special Needs (CWSN) was felt. Besides calling for a greater involvement of the parents in the school system, the assertion was made, contrary to popular belief, that the teachers at the private schools were generally more qualified and better trained than the teachers at the government schools. In the meetings held at the Village Education Councils (VECs) the villagers asked questions about the infrastructure of the schools, the quality of instruction, the student-teacher ratio etc.

During the assessment by Pragya, we learnt that many schools face issues that affect the learning of the students. One school, which stood out from the rest, is the Government Primary School in Khat village, Ukimath. The school, which has 35 students and one teacher, was holding its classes in a nearby lodge after the original school building was damaged in the 2013 floods that hit Uttarakhand. Despite the adverse circumstances, the teacher was very supportive, and the school emerged with high scores across all parameters. The parents of the students, concerned about the learning levels of the students, were enthusiastic in their participation and support of the DEISPI program. The team at Pragya advised both the parents and the teachers on ways in which to increase the learning levels according to the DEISPI parameters.

The Public Education System in India, particularly primary education, is one of the largest and most complex in the world. What the DEISPI does, by making the various stakeholders: students, parents, and teachers part of the system is to make the education system more accountable.

9 May 2016

Education in the Himalayas

In 2014, efforts to build and maintain strategic roads in the areas along India’s border areas were ramped up. In the remote and hilly regions of the Himalayas, the roads are usually shut during the winter, and when open, the elements and the terrain often conspire to cut off access.

Most of the laborers who work on the roads are migrants from the plains. It is a matter of irony, then, that the children of those who work to improve and maintain connectivity to these remote regions have little or no access to education themselves. While most children are enrolled in the local schools, the itinerant nature of the workers’ lives leads to a large percentage of children dropping out of the schools altogether.

At Pragya, we believe that if you cannot reach the schools, then the schools must come to you. Mobile Education Units (MEUs), popularly known as ‘My School on Wheels’, are vans equipped with digital equipment, and specially designed material by the folks at Jodo Gyan.  These vans are working to improve basic literacy in these regions.

The strategy of our ‘My School on Wheels’ is multi – pronged: to operate a Basic Minimum Literacy program for children and adults, while encouraging the children to enroll in the local schools and minimizing the drop out rate. Simultaneously, Pragya is also in the process of promoting health and safety awareness among the migrant laborers. Members from Pragya act as facilitators between the employers and the laborers, conducting campaigns and holding awareness camps about basic health and safety standards. Two ‘My School on Wheels’ are already operational in Kinnaur, Himachal Pradesh and Chamoli, Uttarakhand, serving a total of 12 migrant camps in both the districts. So far, 78 sessions have been conducted and 148 children have already enrolled in the program.

4 May 2016

Pragya's 3 yr project on 'Empowering the Hinterlands'

The persistence of violence against women and girls is one of the most pressing issues of our times. The issue of Violence Against Women (VAW) only enters the collective consciousness of the nation when a particularly gruesome act of violence has been perpetrated, only to then recede into the background.

What is less spoken about is the need to address the issue surrounding violence, which often has its basis in the collective attitude, and the mindset of a community. And when the communities in question are those at the margins of society – as is the case with Scheduled Tribes in the Dungarpur and Udaipur districts of Rajasthan – the issue of VAW is often compounded by social and economical marginalization. We, at Pragya, recognize that any long-term change in the attitude towards women cannot occur in isolation of the overall development of the community.

It is with this goal of holistic development in mind, that the first Empowerment Centre (EC) - the Pragya Sashaktikaran Kendra – was inaugurated in Dungarpur on 19 April 2016. The Sashaktikaran Kendra, handled by a trained caretaker, will act as a one-point information access system about local government schemes, information about lawyers, NGOs and CBOs. The establishment of Women’s Peer Groups and identification of local women leaders will engage with the local Panchayats and the stakeholders in the community with a view to sensitize them about issues of gender discrimination and violence in the community.

Besides this, regular awareness programs about hygiene, sanitation, nutrition and a Know Your Rights (KYRs) Campaign are also to be carried out to address the issues that surround VAW. The strengthening of access to basic health and nutritional services, along with economic empowerment of the women, can go a long way in PREVENTING Violence Against Women.

Our aim is not just the redressal of VAW; it is prevention, through sustained engagement and long-term change.

Pragya’s endeavour is supported by the UN Trust Fund to End Violence Against Women, managed by UN Women, whose goals are addressing the needs of women and girls in communities across the world.

Bringing children back to schools

The earthquakes and aftershocks which struck Nepal in 2015 had an enormous impact on the country’s poorest communities. The effect on Nepal...