Facilitating education and holistic development of deprived children through innovative schools and active engagement with stakeholders
The Akanksha Foundation was founded in 1991 with a simple idea to deliver high-quality education to all children, regardless of their socio-economic backgrounds. Started by a driven and dynamic 18-year-old with a big dream, the journey commenced when the founder Shaheen Mistri, then a student, began teaching a group of students from a donated classroom nestled in Holy Name High School in Colaba.
Today, Akanksha Foundation has grown from a team of student volunteers to a professional organisation with over 700 staff members, teachers and volunteers — all together on a quest to create a holistic educational experience for children from disadvantaged backgrounds.
Recognizing the need to work with public schools to make an impact on a greater scale, the foundation began a School Project in 2017 in collaboration with the municipal corporations of Mumbai and Pune. The PPP (Public-Private Partnership) model is rooted in the best practices of high-performing schools globally and Akanksha's own experience in education.
In 2018, Akanksha was invited to start its first CBSE school in Navi Mumbai in collaboration with the Navi Mumbai Municipal Corporation (NMMC). What makes this partnership unique is NMMC's commitment to a cost-sharing model to reimburse Akanksha for 55 per cent of teacher salaries. Further, this has prompted corporations from other cities to work with Akanksha on a similar cost-sharing model. The foundation is now in the process of setting up six schools in the city of Nagpur in the year 2021-2022.
As of 2021, The School Project has grown to include 21 public-private schools across Mumbai and Pune, catering to the educational needs and potentials of over 9,300 students and 3,100 alumni. Today, schools run by Akanksha Foundation form one of the largest urban networks of public-private partnership of its kind in India.
Each Akanksha school builds and develops a team of teachers, a school leader, counsellors and social workers in collaboration to run the school. The team serves as an enabler for children to realise their highest potential by
creating a safe, collaborative and positive learning environment.
The organization believes it is important to invest in teachers to support adaptation to remote learning and continue developing innovative and interactive educational methods. Teachers' professional development is at the heart of Akanksha's work, and continuous upskilling of all educators through the year is of utmost importance. At the beginning of the school year, all newly recruited teachers as well as returning teachers commit to four weeks of intensive professional development training, followed by another year of training that includes weekly workshops, peer observation, feedback and one-on-one mentoring.
Over the last four years, under the able leadership of CEO Saurabh Taneja, Akanksha Foundation has created a roadmap for children to realise their potential through its student vision framework. Saurabh is an IIT engineer by qualification and had worked as a school leader in one of the foundation's schools in Pune before assuming the role of the CEO.
To promote a culture of holistic development and quality learning, each school in the Akanksha network is focused on investing in three core areas:
Academic achievement: Akanksha schools set rigorous learning standards to maximise students' potential and create a nurturing environment for children to excel in academics. The multidisciplinary curriculum is reflected in the daily timetable with subjects ranging from Information and Computer Technology, integration of the Arts in mathematics and science, to music, physical education and sports to even library/reading. Above all, Akanksha schools ensure the inclusion of technology and the use of digital learning techniques in the day-to-day activities of the classroom.
Akanksha classrooms were using digital technology even before the pandemic. The school shutdown has accelerated Blended Learning as a way for students and teachers to use technology effectively. A rounded approach using a mix of traditional (in-person/classroom) and virtual teaching techniques have been adopted. A key pillar of Blended Learning is to provide personalized learning solutions to all children to ensure that the learning never stops. Despite being located in tier-1 cities of Mumbai and Pune, overcoming the digital divide continues to be a real challenge for Akanksha. Teachers are working hard towards delivering education to every home, and so far, Akanksha has procured 1,500 new tablets for grades ninth and tenth, investing a total of 1.6 crores towards enabling digital access.
A creative and pragmatic learning tool, unique to Akanksha, is the 'Art for Akanksha' (AFA), empowering curriculum for the socio-emotional and academic development of all Akanksha students.
Socio-emotional well-being: Socio-emotional development is a core aspect of Akanksha's student vision. This philosophy is grounded in the idea that success in the 21st century requires each child to go beyond just academics and develop soft skills for lifelong learning and growth. Currently, all 21 Akanksha schools implement Socio-Emotional and Ethical (SEE) learning practices as part of their daily timetable. SEE is a creative and pragmatic learning tool aimed at providing socio-emotional support while honing fundamental skills developed by Emory University in partnership with the Dalai Lama Trust. The year 2020 was a challenging year, more so for schools and school-going students. To combat and grapple with the emotional trauma experienced by students during the school shutdown, all Akanksha schools actively engaged in periodic student well-being calls. A support system aimed at preventing students, who were unable to participate in remote learning, from dropping out entirely. These well-being check-ins also address the concerns of children in distress or at high-risk due to health ailments.
Community engagement: At Akanksha, it is believed that parents are partners in the learning journey. Hence, intensive support is provided to empower parents in the areas of community health, economic resilience and as learning facilitators. Outside the classroom, community initiatives are guided by social workers and counsellors who have formed strong ties with students' families and the local community.
Looking ahead, Akanksha plans to expand its network of innovative schools, share effective practices and advocate for systemic reform in education for children across India. It envisions a network of 21st-century schools, enabling children to harness the power of digital tools to grow into empowered, global citizens!
Akanksha has demonstrated that good work can not only be done but can be scaled through public-private partnership in the true spirit of Nexus of Good.
Views expressed are personal