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Every school system has the responsibility to nurture, enable and foster every child. The poorest of the poor in India depend on the public education system to realize their dreams of a better future. This system is a lifeline for them, being free of cost, and the government expends immense resources towards running this school network that dots the Indian landscape. Yet, India is now at the edge of an educational crisis of epic proportions. The public school system is massive, with 250 million students and 9 million teachers. However, the student learning outcome data is grave: 50% of Class 5 students in India cannot read a Class 2 textbook and three-quarters cannot do division, as per the nation-wide Annual Status of Education Report, 2018. For the 166 million children going to 1.1 million public schools, the learning gap is particularly acute. Millions of dollars are budgeted and expended by the government – towards school buildings, books, stationery, boundary walls and beyond. Millions of schoolteachers, school leaders and a constellation of education officials are engaged daily in delivering education to the next generation of the country. Yet, the system falls woefully short on student learning outcomes, due to an interconnected web of poor policy, implementation and governance. As a whole, the government school system spends too little time on academic activities and learning outcomes, focusing heavily instead on school administration – record-keeping, mid-day meal distribution, non-education professional duties (e.g. running census, manning election booths). In short, our children are going to school, but not learning. The COVID-19 pandemic has further exacerbated the issue, with school closures leading to immense learning losses. Government school systems in India are grappling with identifying and implementing new ways of working – trying to enable distance learning for their students. However, this is neither easy nor straightforward in the low-resource context, especially for first-generation learners and those without access to digital devices. Consequently, we have a situation of ‘learning poverty’ on our hands, whose reverberations are bound to be felt for decades to come. If unaddressed, this will lead to a citizenship without basic life skills, much-needed critical thinking, or the ability to navigate an increasingly complex world.
From our humble roots of working in 1 school with 9 children, today we Peepul 4 programs across New Delhi and Madhya Pradesh for over 300 thousand teachers, 9.5 million students across 100 thousand schools. We bring a practitioner’s expertise to rigorous, large-scale systemic transformation by creating demonstrations of excellence in government schools. We work through interventions at the level of school networks, state systems and national policy support so that we can shape a future where public schools provide education at par, if not better, than private schools. Through the years, we have co-created programs with government school systems and we have refined a four-part model of systemic transformation that helps improve learning outcomes in government schools. OUR MODEL: 1. High-engagement classroom practice toolkit: The key to translate school enrolment to regular attendance and academic achievement is “high-engagement classrooms” - where a child is meaningfully and effectively engaged by the teacher. With this, the student attends classes regularly, engages in learning, and in turn, achieves learning outcomes. Consequently, the school is seen by parents as valuable, and there is less chance of students dropping out of school, and a virtuous cycle of learning is built. Towards this, we have developed a set of best-practice techniques and tools, which help a teacher effectively engage a classroom of students in learning. 2. Teacher skilling: We require high-quality and motivated teachers, who can implement these high-engagement classroom practices. For this, we have developed a model of teacher development, coupling bite-sized, modular, practical training approach with supportive teacher peer learning communities. 3. Mentoring: We create layers of structured academic mentorship in the school ecosystem, to ensure timely, contextual in-school coaching and support towards academic achievement. 4. Aligned incentives and accountability: We create a school administration setup that protects the interest of student academic engagement and learning, vs. non-academic activities, ensuring “more time for learning”. OUR PROGRAMMES: 1. Exemplar School Network, Delhi, India: We test, demonstrate and continually evolve our high-engagement classroom practice toolkit through three Exemplar Government Partnership Schools, that support 1200 children from the poorest families in Delhi. These schools are bright spots in the public education system, with 85%+ of our students meeting or exceeding grade-level expectations. They prove the excellence that is possible in the public school system, at a cost model comparable to normal government expenditure. 2. Building the Capacity of Teachers and Education Officials (Sitara), Delhi, India: We are supporting the teacher capacity building of 2,800 teachers across 568 Delhi primary schools in partnership with the SDMC (South Delhi Municipal Corporation), to build their capacity to implement the toolkit in their schools and classrooms. We use a three-pronged strategy which includes: (1) bite-sized modular training sessions, (2) professional learning communities, and (3) in-classroom observations and support to build the capacity of teachers. An output of the 4-year program is also a cadre of 48 Master Trainers from the trained teachers, running four Teacher Development Centers to continue the Peepul model of training for all teachers across the SDMC. In its first 2 years, our model has shown impact: 90% trained teachers implementing best-practice techniques, with 75% actively engaging students and using interactive techniques to support children’s learning. 3. SDMC School System Strengthening and Transformation (Parivartan), Delhi, India: We have flagged off a three-year-long holistic system transformation program, in 2021, with the objective of significantly improving the learning outcomes in the schools of the SDMC (South Delhi Municipal Corporation). It aims to improve the quality of education in the SDMC system through academic, administrative and institutional reforms to bring about a sustained change in student learning outcomes, along our model. The program envisions working with 568 SDMC schools, directly impacting over 6 thousand teachers and 250 thousand students. 4. Teacher Development and Systemic Strengthening (CM Rise), Madhya Pradesh, India: A flagship program of the School Education Department of the Government of MP, in partnership with Peepul, that has received accolades nationally. The program looks to upskill teachers, create academic mentorship and build systems of incentives and accountability, towards improving student learning outcomes. The program began with a Digital Teacher Training program on the national teacher learning portal, DIKSHA, and is now expanding to create a holistic, structured teacher professional development ecosystem, with the vision of “high performing teachers for every child”. Moving forward, we will work closely with officials at the district, block, cluster level to do the following: (1) provide data and dashboards to provide teacher and school level performance (2) build the capacity of these individuals to play a stronger mentoring and coaching role within the system (3) build monitoring tools through technology platforms that will support the measurement of student engagement, teacher behavior and changes in classroom practice that will lead to improved learning. This program involves working with 100,000 schools, directly impacting ~300,000 teachers and ~9.5 million students in the state of Madhya Pradesh, of which around 85% are rural schools.