Millennium Post

Million Sparks Foundation

Million Sparks Foundation makes good use of public-private partnerships to scale its teacher training programmes to ensure holistic development of school-going children

Million Sparks Foundation

After taking over as Secretary, School Education in 2016, I soon discovered that public-private partnership was necessary to improve the quality of education as was already being demonstrated by some NGOs. Hence, a series of conferences were organised to understand the good work to scale such a partnership. It was in one of these workshops that I met this committed couple, Abhinav and Mona Mathur, both PhDs from IIT Delhi, who had left their lucrative jobs to set up a Foundation, Million Sparks (MSF) to attend to a critical aspect of school education, teachers' training.

At that time Million Sparks Foundation had only recently been founded. They were enabling the lifelong learning and continuous capacity building for teachers by providing high-quality training, personalised lesson plans and bite-sized content on a social learning network that was hosted on "ChalkLit" an app that they had previously developed. They wanted to reach one million teachers by 2021 and 10 million teachers by 2025.

Million Sparks Foundation was only working with the Delhi Government then, enabling their online capacity building program led by Dr Sapna Yadav of the SCERT Delhi, and had conducted many training sessions that had been very well received by the teachers but most teachers kept coming back to consume their referenceable lesson plans and their social learning feeds which Million Sparks kept updating daily.

What particularly caught my attention was that from the very beginning they had a vision of wanting to provide a platform and experience at India scale so that all the 300 million children going to school could get impacted by 2025. Their team had the experience and the backgrounds, the drive and motivation which could impact education.

The teachers on their platform were highly engaged. This was a fruit of the labour they put to understand the user and their requirements. They spent months studying the existing training methodologies followed to train teachers, understanding what teachers and school leaders required, and reviewing the best practices followed by the learning and development teams of the best corporates globally.

Central Square Foundation's founder Ashish Dhawan, and PayTM founder Vijay Shekhar Sharma helped and volunteered some initial guidance and resources. The resulting high levels of engagements caught's attention who contributed resources generously to the efforts of Million Sparks.

Million Sparks Foundation has made steady progress and now has MOUs with Goa, Haryana, Chattisgarh and Odisha apart from Delhi. They did several projects in Uttar Pradesh as well.

In partnership with Saksham Haryana, the Samagra Governance teams, and the SCERT Haryana, MSF facilitated the execution of the 'Saksham Haryana' programme on their platform. The analysis of the data that their programmes create is extremely insightful and was made available to the officers of the state.

MSF focuses strongly on scholastics topics but also ensures exposure of teachers to various co-scholastic topics that improve their delivery in the classroom. The objective is the holistic development of children and the development of 21st-century skills.

MSF has taken up a unique initiative to enable teachers to introduce the UN Sustainable Development Goals to children at an age-appropriate manner and explain how they, their families and their community can contribute to the achievement of these SDGs. They have partnered with the industry, National Green Tribunal, Delhi Jal Board, UNEP, WWF and CEE to develop content and programmes for some of them.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, their team created more than 70 pieces of training, most of which were to support teachers. Training topics included online lesson planning, how to engage and ensure that children without smartphones learn, how to make videos and share with your students, how to provide feedback to students etc. They now have 550,000+ teachers on their platform across the country These teachers impact the life and learning outcomes of 30 million children annually.

The training on how to make great videos and share with your children was developed after MSF received hundreds of calls, requests and suggestions from teachers clearly identifying the need for this training. Till the date of writing of this article more than 150,000 teachers have undertaken this training across various states.

A key initiative that they have undertaken is to introduce teachers about mental health, a topic which is not generally understood and/or accepted around India. Reports suggested that more than 50 per cent of India is displaying some issues around their mental health owing to the lockdowns. This would amount to five million teachers and 150 million students having some mental health issues which is huge and intractable by the few mental health professionals we have in India. Till now, Million Sparks has trained more than 200,00+ teachers on this topic making them aware and also capable to provide some initial support to students and parents if anyone is visibly undergoing mental stress, depression and/or anxiety

In collaboration with the Swasth App, Wysa, Innerhour and Nimhans, MSF has come up with a mental health self-assessment tool and are working on a report that captures the state of mental health of the teachers and students across the country.

MSF had been initially been asked to create training and instantaneously scale these across Delhi by the Delhi Government to raise awareness about sexual abuse and corporal punishment. They collaborated with the Delhi Commission of Protection of Child Rights, the Delhi State Legal Authority under the guidance of the State Council of Education Research and Training (SCERT) Delhi. They introduced training on prevention of child sexual abuse and eliminating corporal punishment in 15 days of the request in both Hindi and English. These were made available to other states as well with due permission from Delhi. More than 1,00,000 teachers have undergone the training

From the very first day, MSF has remained committed to scale and expand to vernacular languages as well. They presently support English, Hindi and Odiya but have already integrated Marathi, Gujarati and Bengali with their application.

MSF has formed relationships with several other NGOs and through them have access to varied content — some prominent NGOs include Shiksha a part of Shiv Nadar Foundation, Pratham Story Weaver, Akshara Foundation, Lend a Hand India, Educate Girls. Their aim is to reach one Million teachers by 2021 and 10 Million teachers by 2025.

Million Sparks Foundation presents a great example of Nexus of Good as they have not only come up with workable solutions in the teachers' training but have managed to scale it through public-private partnerships.

Views expressed are personal

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