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Muktangan

The Muktangan Trust is an excellent example of a decentralised, community-based education model that makes optimum use of public-private partnership to scale-up

Muktangan
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It was sometime during 2017. I had taken over as Secretary, School Education a few months ago. This was a visit to a municipal school in Mumbai at the insistence of one Sunil Mehta who must have been in his late 70s. What impressed me was his energy, enthusiasm and persuasive skills. What I saw amazed me. Municipal schools had a terrible reputation and though the education was free, even poor parents preferred not to send their children to such schools. This school was different. Management of this school had been overtaken by the Muktangan Trust headed by Sunil Mehta and driven by his wife Elizabeth who had made India her home. (Muktangan Education Trust is a Not for Profit organisation, registered under the Bombay Public Trusts Act, 1950).

In 2003, after having spent 35 years in India as an educator in every aspect of teacher and school education, three key questions were tormenting Muktangan Founder, Elizabeth Mehta:

(1) Why were the systems not working?

(2) Why were teachers demotivated?

(3) Why were children not learning?

These questions emerged out of her 11 years of work, when, as the Project Director of a national school improvement programme for the Aga Khan Network in India, she had been partnering with the Government in the implementation of the District Primary Education Programme (DPEP), the forerunner of SSA.

The answer to the above questions was that meaningful, sustainable change could only come about through a "whole systems' approach" at the school level. Incremental, externally, imposed change would never sustain. Nor would it address the problem of poor teacher motivation. Only when teachers (with headteachers more fully playing their leadership role) were given relative autonomy as professional practitioners, would they be able to support the natural, creative learning of each and every child in their school. The relationship between the teacher and student, which is crucial, had largely been neglected. Could that greater confidence in the skills of teachers be demonstrated to achieve such a relationship that could become a self-fulfilling prophecy? They would then be able to sustain their pupils' natural curiosity to learn. All too often, it was this very confidence that children lost in the current system.

The limited learning outcomes, required to pass pencil and paper examinations, have unfortunately become the goal and yardstick of effective schooling! The stress on the product of education, rather than its process, has blinded us to the fact that it is the quality of the processes that would lead to a much larger array of outcomes, of which the ability to pass examinations plays only a very small part.

In March 2003, with the support of her husband, she planted the seed, by developing seven women from the local, marginalised community as thinking, early childhood practitioners. This first group, recognising the liberating nature of the pedagogy, chose the name Muktangan for the organisation.

Muktangan has grown tremendously over the last 17 years; it has been addressing an important and largely unmet need. Seven English-medium schools have been set up. All the educators, including the librarians, pre-school, class, subject, computer, art & craft, physical education and music teachers along with special educators and the school leaders in these schools have been drawn and developed from the local community. It is truly 'education for the community by the community'! Leadership comes from within these schools! All the stakeholders have a voice.

Their in-service teacher education programmes are integrated within schools. All faculty are shared and schools are laboratories for researching processes which lead to more, personally, meaningful learning for students and teachers alike! Both teacher and school education programmes follow a constructivist approach. The state syllabus is followed in the schools, but care is taken to ensure that both teachers and children fully understand the concepts they are exploring together. Teacher education programmes draw upon our classroom, pedagogical learnings from the schools.

Children, including the differently-abled, are given both the freedom to express their ideas and teachers who are interested in actively listening and responding to them. They have developed into self-confident, sensitive and empathetic individuals who have also excelled in the board examinations (taught entirely by members of their own community). They have then gained admission in leading colleges and are now taking up professional careers.

A career ladder has been developed for community teachers. They ultimately become faculty who work in partnership both with the internal Muktangan teachers and those of our outreach partners. Seeing the relevance of this model many partner organisations have taken our support in enriching their own programmes. These, amongst many others, include NGOs working in tribal areas, the Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS), SCERT, UNICEF, Zilla Parishad schools, the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) and most significantly the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai. Researchers, both local and from prestigious foreign universities, have and are conducting research on the Muktangan model of systemic change and are presenting their findings both in professional journals and at international conferences.

Numerous impact studies have also highlighted the impact which the programme has had on our teachers, most of whom are women. Many are now the major income earners in their families and have become the decision-makers in the community. More than 90 per cent are pursuing further, educational and professional qualifications, through distance learning. That, too, is in spite of their heavy domestic workloads.

However, what has truly validated the effectiveness of this model of 'schools as learning organisations' is the response of the community educators in the current Covid crisis. They have successfully reached out to over 87 per cent of their students offering on-line educational support along with personalised phones calls. Non-Muktangan students in the same communities have also been availing of this support.

Muktangan has clearly demonstrated the benefits of a community–based model with decentralised planning and implementation, along with the value of close, student-teacher bonding. The larger system, now, has much to learn from this approach.

The impact of Muktangan is expanding organically. The model propagates the idea of organisations themselves adopting their own systemic approach. Muktangan's expertise is now available to support other organisations in the creation of their own model, based upon their own analysis of their own problems. Similarly, Muktangan's pedagogy, whilst globally relevant, will need modifying by each and every interested organisation. Muktangan's future role is to actively and respectfully listen to and help other organisations think through their own plans, utilizing the 'Plan-Do-Review' paradigm which from the beginning has been the basis of Muktangan's growth.

Muktangan is a great example of the Nexus of Good. Here is a wonderful model of public-private partnership that has proved to be successful and now is being scaled and has the potential of scaling further.

Views expressed are personal

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