What you can do to ensure excellent education for all

Consider the following scenario. You are the parent of a five year old. You want your child to get quality education. Since you have decided to go for an English medium school, government schools are ruled out. You feel that without quality English medium schooling, your child will not have the education and therefore the opportunity to do well in life. So you approach all the reputed English medium schools that you can and secure your child’s admission in one of them.

Believable, right? A parent is never willing to send his or her child to low-cost private school when he or she has the means to send the child to an expensive private school. The question is one of ability and not of willingness.

Consider another scenario. You have to travel to another city on an overnight journey by train. Would you choose to go by sleeper class or AC class? Since you have decided you need to be able to sleep comfortably during the journey, general class is ruled out. You decide to travel by sleeper class.

Believable, right? High-quality education is often considered a necessity but high-quality travel, a luxury.

As individuals, we often get our priorities right. As a group of individuals, we often get them wrong. There are many low-cost private schools in our neighborhoods which provide low-quality education. It is an unfortunate skew of our priorities as a group that we are able to build high-quality, low-cost metros for intra-city travel but are not able to provide high-quality, low-cost education to all. Low-cost, high-quality education is the passport for a large majority of children to economically and emotionally secure futures. Without that, we are building a society which is foundationally weak since a poorly educated workforce is a poorly-functioning and ill-productive workforce.

Can we, as a group, do something to ensure that the basic necessities of life can be met with high quality services? This is actually the responsibility of the state, but when the state does not fulfill its obligations, others have to step up and fill the gap. The other entity could be a business, it could be a not-for-profit organization, or it could be an academic institution. Of course, these entities do not enjoy the same scale as the state but they often have better processes and better culture in place, at least in our country.

So what exactly can these non-government entities do? Quite a bit, actually. Businesses can adopt low-cost private schools and support them in focused, result-oriented ways. Specifically, they can:

  • Support teacher salaries at government pay scales at a bare minimum. Typically these schools pay teacher salaries well below government pay scales. Businesses can step up to fill the salary gap as part of their corporate social responsibility initiatives.
  • Support teacher training programs. NGOs provide long term teacher training programs of one to two years’ duration which have been shown to measurably improve student performance.
  • Evaluate student performance through independent student assessment agencies. These assessments should be held at least twice during the school year: at the beginning and at the end of the year.
  • Support student performance through supporting employee engagement with the students in the form of after-school student tutoring in the employees’ neighborhoods.

The reason for focusing effort on empowerment of teachers is that a great teacher can bring about up to three standard deviations of improvement in performance as compared to other factors such as improving school infrastructure, using more resources in the classroom, changing student-to-teacher ratio which usually bring about improvements of a fraction of a standard deviation.

An example where this experiment has been successfully implemented is the set of Navyug schools in New Delhi. Navyug School is described as an experimental school for the talented children from economically weaker section of the society and is free; The students and the teachers go through a rigorous screening procedure, placing these schools at par with any good private school in India. (Src:Wikipedia)

I am taking up a project called Eklavya to make excellence in education a reality in ten low-cost private schools in Bangalore. If you know a recipient school or a donor individual, business or NGO to help achieve this, please contact me and I would be happy to help or receive your help.

If you are part of an education-related NGO or a company CSR initiative, will you take up the challenge of creating a well-educated and productive society through excellence in education at low-cost private schools? Will you unlock the full potential of a thousand minds? The choice is yours.

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