The organisation is leading change towards ensuring improved learning outcome for children
There is no doubt that during the past couple of decades, we have managed to get most of the children to a school in India. However, there was an urgent need of solving the problem of poor learning outcomes. This was even more critical at the secondary level which bars children from availing career and life opportunities and trap them in the cycle of intergenerational poverty. In the wake of COVID-19 where schools have been shut for over a year, this need has become more pressing than before.
In my capacity as Secretary, School Education, Government of India (GoI), I had the chance to meet Transform Schools (TS) team when they were still working at Kusuma Foundation. This was during my visit to Odisha in 2018. The visit was primarily to review education programmes. I was impressed at how this sector was being managed by the state government under the inspired leadership of Pradipta Kumar Mahapatra, an IAS officer who headed the Department.
Transform Schools worked with the system and uses the space and budgets provided under GoI Learning Enhancement Programme (LEP) to deliver a circa 200 hour targeted instruction programme during school hours via trained government school teachers. The teacher is supported in assessing each child's learning level, building foundational competencies, application and test preparedness. The programme uses effective pedagogy and high-quality resources delivered in partnership with the State Council of Educational Research and Training (SCERT). An end-line assessment tracks the improvements for each child. In Odisha, it is led by a young and dynamic IAS officer, Shri Bhupendra Singh Poonia.
Their programme and ability to scale was impressive. During the discussion with Pradipta, I got to know that a Public-Private Partnership (PPP) had been initiated on a large scale and the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (JPAL)-affiliated researchers had been tasked with evaluating the impact.
As the team was on the verge of creating something big and ambitious, their UK affiliate organisation transitioned their strategic focus outside India. Pankaj Vinayak Sharma, Country Leader of Kusuma Foundation and his team sought a meeting to seek strategic guidance on their focus post-Kusuma.
Having witnessed their work, I encouraged them to set up Transform Schools with a focus on teaching and learning improvements in middle and secondary schools. Pankaj believed that PPP would be a key to scaling education solutions for the poor. The team was guided to focus on understanding the requirements of the government for such partnerships. They were also advised to focus on two important areas – impact and equity. They were also invited to participate in the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD)'s regional NGO partnership workshop at Raipur, where several State government representatives were exposed to the work of several credible organisations. The secondary school learning programme found huge resonance with the learning focus of several States.
Post-retirement, in December 2019, I was invited by The Nudge Center for Social Innovation at Bangalore to address a group of social entrepreneurs as a part of its accelerator programme. All these were performers in their own right. It was heartening to meet Pankaj again and the core team of Transform Schools as a part of the cohort. The scale they had achieved, the results they were looking at, and their aspirations were impressive. I was also pleased to learn that Kusuma and several other credible partners decided to back this initiative.
As of 2021, the programme has traversed many terrains- it now targets 5.1 million students across five Indian States - Odisha, Chhattisgarh, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, West Bengal. It has a proven, JPAL evaluated intervention under its belt. Bringing together key education stakeholders right from the government to the students, the organisation has seen immense success under the stellar leadership of partner State Education Secretaries.
The results from its Odisha programme (Beg et al, JPAL 2020) – Utkarsh are impressive:
- 0.6-1.7 years of additional schooling in under 50 hours of instructions for each subject
- Performance improves for students across all terciles
- Uses best global pedagogies - Broad based gains are fairly uncommon for programmes at scale
Despite the setbacks they faced as a young organization during the past year due to the pandemic, Transform has not backed off from its focus on learning outcomes. COVID-19 pivots and innovation led them to support the Haryana government's "Ghar se Padhao" and the Chhattisgarh government's "Padhai Tumhar Duaar" initiatives by providing competency-based worksheets for students for classes 1-9. In Haryana, teacher professional development was prioritised on Digital Infrastructure for Knowledge Sharing (DIKSHA) for teachers, headteachers and government officials. Transform also led the revamp of Haryana's LEP programme for classes 1-9 and Himachal Pradesh's LEP programme for grades 1-6. In Chhattisgarh, Transform has supported 15 districts, prioritizing the aspirational districts to provide academic mentoring and support the State's multiple study-at-home initiatives including the LEP programme 'Nikhar'. Odisha continues to be a standard-bearer with Transform supported LEP - 'Utkarsh' reaching each of the 350,000 students in Class 9 in a state-led blended mode across all 30 districts accommodating for COVID-19 restrictions.
Committed to high-quality systemic solutions at scale, conversations are ongoing with credible global partners to set up state-wide partnerships to impact indicators beyond the education sector. The primary focus therein is equity in access, transition, and attainment at the secondary in Transform's partner States. To achieve this, they are leveraging Machine Learning algorithms for their existing data to predict students at the highest risk of dropping out from formal education. The predictive nature of this experiment is particularly relevant in the post-COVID-19 world, where socio-economic vulnerabilities fueling waves of dropouts, re-enrollment, and learning slides are anticipated.
What Transform has achieved is a system-driven inspired action. With its expanded focus, multiplied impact, & depth of understanding, Transform Schools is likely to reach 6.6 million or 17 per cent of India's secondary school students in government schools by 2021. By 2023, this number will at 10 million.
Transform presents a great example of Nexus of Good. They started small, established a proof of concept and scaled their ideas on the ground through public-private partnerships.
Views expressed are personal