Learning Links Foundation
Learning Links Foundation effectively uses the public-private partnership model in order to scale up its efforts in reducing the learning and technology-access gap throughout India
In 2017 as I travelled across the country in my capacity as Secretary, School Education, Government of India to have a feel of the ground reality, I discovered how a number of NGOs were attempting to bring about an improvement in learning outcomes with the help of government officers. This was in sheer contrast to the distrust that existed between the public and the private entities otherwise. A series of workshops were organised to bridge this gap. And, when I was invited to deliver a talk at the Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy of Administration, Mussoorie where senior civil servants are trained, I suggested an interaction of the young recruits with a few NGOs for a better appreciation of respective roles. Learning Links Foundation was one of the invitees as it had done wonderful work in the field.
Learning Links Foundation was born out of the belief that every child deserves an equal opportunity to learn and thrive. Guided by this belief, Dr Anjlee, founder of Learning Links, endeavours to democratise opportunities for growth while addressing some of the most difficult challenges in education. With over 40 programmes being implemented in more than 20 states, the organisation strives to create a world that encourages every child to fulfil potential. The objective is to reduce the learning gap, bridge the technology divide, and develop future-focused skills. Its teams bring progressive changes through many initiatives of which those focusing on building future-readiness in every child set them apart.
One of the biggest challenges of today is that as the world transforms so does the future of our children but they may not be ready for it. There is a need to prepare them to cope with rapid skill shifts and be innovative and entrepreneurial in thinking. For education systems, this calls for deliberate interventions to transform pedagogy and the learning environment such that it allows children to build, demonstrate, and apply these capabilities.
In 2008, Learning Links Foundation launched the STEM Shakti program that integrates innovative use of technology into the core curriculum to build STEM skills in students. The goal is to bring a mindset shift in that students learn to create opportunities for themselves than merely chase opportunities in life. Other than teacher capacity building and impactful student engagement activities that seamlessly integrate technology, the programme also uses a mobile innovation station (tech-resources equipped van) that augments the learning process. The mobile innovation station goes from school to school providing a dedicated space for students to tinker, explore and make. Students who have participated in the programme have presented technology solutions to real-world problems in global competitions and returned home as victors. That the students come from economically challenged under-served communities is a testament to the programme's intent to level the playing field for all children. Its true success is seeing a child who delivers newspapers in the morning to supplement the household income address a global audience on a STEM innovation.
In 2016, Learning Links joined hands with Atal Innovation Mission (AIM), NITI Aayog to use the tinkering approach as a driver of creativity, excitement, and engage students in exploring STEM concepts, practices and phenomena. With activities such as laser cutting, virtual reality, 3D printing and robotics, the tinkering labs are the playground of the future for students. In these specially designed labs equipped with technology resources, learners are encouraged to build their understanding of concepts by investigating tools and materials and exploring questions that interest them.
The Learning Links team worked closely with government officials to create a proof of concept for ATL and adopted schools across the country to achieve impact. Tinkering was a new approach for government schools and Learning Links mentored both school leaders and teachers across states to enable readiness for changes in pedagogy. Resource persons from the Foundation facilitated student learning inside tinkering labs and formed community synergies to invite experts who would mentor students. The mentors included professionals from the corporate world, academia, government, and higher education institutes. A Tinkering Marathon was designed to challenge innovativeness and rewarded students with national as well as global recognition thereby sustaining their motivation and interest.
Based on the learning from the first year of implementation, the Learning Links team set-up processes to guide the ATL initiative to greater success and easier adoption. The Foundation also helped AIM to ensure that data points gathered across all ATL schools were documented and fed into the ATL Dashboard developed by the government. The ATL Dashboard tracks the use of ATLs, identifies innovations led by students across schools and analyses data to inform future practices. An ATL Handbook was created collaboratively to guide state governments on setting-up and making the best use of the labs. This lends the initiative replicability, scalability, and sustainability.
In order to move the needle from innovation to entrepreneurship, the next powerful step was to initiate the student entrepreneurship programme (SEP). A sub-initiative under ATL, the SEP mentors the finalists of the 'Tinkering Marathon' in converting their prototypes into marketable products. This has led to six teams setting up their own enterprises! Truly an example of creative problem solvers re-imagining products and services as solutions that improve life around them. Some of these student entrepreneurs have also represented India at the India-Singapore Innovation and Start-up Summit.
In the past 4 years, the Learning Links-NITI Aayog partnership has created innovative and open-ended STEM-rich learning experiences in 1,742 schools across the country. It has equipped more than 92,000 students with key future-ready learning skills that include problem-solving, collaboration, creativity, communication, social and emotional skills, and entrepreneurship. The adopted schools have emerged as models of excellence and best practices have been shared to inspire innovation in more schools. An impact study of the ATL initiative has revealed promising results. More than 80 per cent of ATL teachers are familiar with design thinking as opposed to less than 45 per cent in Non-ATL schools. More than 90 per cent of ATL teachers have been exposed to new technologies as opposed to less than 50 per cent in Non-ATL schools. More than 90 per cent of ATL students agree that they project 21st-century skills in their work and attitude (life skills such as collaboration, problem solving and creativity, and career skills such as innovation, technology, and local and global awareness).
The Learning Links Foundation, under the inspired leadership of Dr Anjlee, presents a great example of Nexus of Good as it has demonstrated that not only can good work be done, it can be scaled through a public-private partnership.
Views expressed are personal