By collaborating and creating public-private consortiums, the foundation seeks to offer a countrywide tech-enabled solution to provide early childhood care to deprived families
After superannuating from the civil service, I had set up a foundation — Nexus of Good — to locate, identify, understand, appreciate and propagate good work so that such work could be replicated and scaled. As a part of this effort, we were organising seminars and webinars to roadshow good work. In one of these webinars in 2020, I had the occasion to listen to Azeez Gupta, the co-founder of Rocket Learning. I couldn't do anything but be impressed with what this organisation was attempting to do under the inspired leadership of this youngster, Azeez and the co-founders Utsav, Vishal and Namya.
According to India's National Education Policy, early childhood care and education (ECCE) is one of the 'greatest and most powerful equalisers'. More than 85 per cent of brain development occurs by the age of eight years. Research has continually shown that access to better ECCE is related to lower rates of dropout from school, increased earning potential, and better life outcomes.
However, children from low-income families in India do not have access to any sort of ECCE — either through institutions or through their parents. Public schooling in India at the pre-K level is limited to daycare centres that focus primarily on nutrition rather than cognitive stimulation. At home, parents lack what Rocket Learning refers to as AIM — Aspiration to be involved in their children's learning at the foundational level, Information that is contextual and usable to educate their children, and the Motivation to continue education in a sustained manner. This means that parents are either not involved in their children's education, or at most send them to low-cost private pre-K schools that do not teach in an age-appropriate manner. This shows up in dismal educational statistics for children in government and low-cost private schools.
The aim of 'Rocket Learning' is to build early childhood and foundational learning at scale in India, connect the government system and parents, and drive community change by systematically leveraging technology, media, and social incentives or influencers.
Rocket Learning (RL) uses a custom-built technology platform to create and mobilise digital communities of parents and teachers around ECCE. It sends simple educational material to groups of parents and teachers each day through automation and asks parents to send back responses of their children, engaging with the content and creating significant group effects. In the groups, RL conducts social media challenges, influencer role modelling, and group competitions to ensure high engagement with their content. This is all enabled by their core technology stack, which sends out real-time nudges and simultaneously carries out large-scale data analytics on parents' feedback — making use of computer vision and AI to classify individuals' responses.
Rocket Learning is perhaps the only ed-tech organisation in India that engages in two-way communication with low-income users through a platform that they are already using regularly and at scale. It uses technology and advanced analytics to learn how and why parents and children engage with RL's content the way they do and address their needs across aspiration, information, and motivation to enable better learning.
Rocket Learning's solution is inherently scalable through technology and the core philosophy of partnering with governments and education system players. They have been working with the governments of Uttar Pradesh and Chandigarh and leading district administrations in Maharashtra to build trust and credibility with the low-income populations that they serve. They have seen excellent early traction. Their ambition is to help public school systems leverage an impactful and cost-effective model (variable costs are lower than Rs 5 per child per year) and therefore catalyse high-quality ECCE and foundational learning across every state of India within 10 years.
This NGO is creating partnerships by collaborating and creating public-private consortiums of experts and practitioners. They have forged strong alliances with leading civil society organisations such as Central Square Foundation, Samagra and Akanksha — in addition to governments — which create substantially more value than one-off piecemeal approaches.
The progress and impact that RL has made so far have been quite encouraging. Around 40 lakh children have been supported in one lakh schools with AV content for home-learning in partnership with government education departments and ICDS systems. One lakh parents and children have been impacted in 2020 through the tech-enabled model. More than 10,000 teachers have been imparted training on ECCE, foundational literacy and numeracy and inducted into the programme. Strong parent engagement, measured as the time spent by the caregiver on educational activities, has increased by 40-50 per cent.
Rocket Learning partnered with the dynamic leadership of the Uttar Pradesh Education Department under its initiative, Mission Prerna, to enable children between the ages of six-eight years to access quality learning. The focus was on equipping parents with Awareness, Information, and Motivation/ Measurement (AIM). WhatsApp groups were created among teachers and parents, and core teams were formed across the RL team and the state team. Awareness was created through mass media campaigns on Doordarshan, newspapers, and celebrity videos (Suresh Raina as a brand ambassador). Information was shared on WhatsApp groups through content aligned with the existing curriculum in the states. Finally, Motivation and Measurement was generated through e-report cards, certificates, social media, and WhatsApp campaigns among parents and teachers. The impact of all these efforts under the AIM framework on learning outcomes of children is also being ascertained through randomised controlled trials in a couple of districts.
Across five districts, nearly 90 per cent of schools with grades one and two are covered under the online Mission Prerna programme — with 5,000 teachers and over 50,000 parents actively engaging and doing activities with their children.
Rocket Learning's mission is to enable children in India between the age of three-six years to access nurturing, age-appropriate learning environments by:
- Catalysing a systemic shift in the ECCE space as an expert resource organisation supporting the Government
- Collaborating with governments to create aspiration infrastructure to enable universal enrolment of all children between ages three and six.
- Cultivating communities to grow a nationwide social movement, mobilising 30 million "smart parents" and one million teachers, to help children develop essential skills and recognise childcare as an essential value creation.
The team at Rocket Learning has clearly demonstrated that good work can not only be done, it can also be scaled through public-private partnership in the true spirit of Nexus of Good. They have a long journey ahead of them but an excellent beginning has been made.
Views expressed are personal