Leadership For Equity
Leadership For Equity makes use of public-private partnerships to navigate the complex path of enabling government school education in India to fulfil its full potential
When people talk about government schools, it is rarely in a favourable light. Other than some rare bright spots, the picture painted through multiple analyses is rather bleak. Maharashtra has emerged to become an exception. The government schools in the State have been at the forefront of leading innovation, especially when it came to digital learning and adoption. In 2017, as Secretary of School Education, I met Madhukar Banuri, the Founder-CEO of Leadership for Equity (LFE) and his team at an MHRD National Conference in Pune. Along with the then Secretary, School Education, Maharashtra Government, Nandkumar, I had the pleasure of launching their MITRA Application. In our brief conversation, Madhukar mentioned that LFE's core ethos had been in building effective government schools. It was heartening to witness someone from a non-profit showing an unwavering belief in public education and a commitment to empowering the government systems to deliver quality education at scale. Madhukar and his co-founder Siddesh are young change-makers who have emerged from Teach For India Fellowship.
Leadership For Equity (LFE) was born in 2017 out of a very simple but impactful realisation that no single private enterprise or consortium could equitably empower 250 million school-going children with excellent education, and therefore, it was critical to strengthen the existing public education system. But how does one go about it? LFE believes that there is no single pathway to influence systemic change so they work with a parallel top-down and bottom-up approaches with teachers, officers and policy-makers. Most importantly, they do not come with any proprietary solution. They co-create programmes with their respective government partners so that the change is truly inbuilt and sustainable. Rather than rely only on traditional workshops to build capacity, they have adopted a model of what they call 'on-the-job support', augmented by online self-learning, to build the capacity of officers and teacher mentors in the system.
Initially, a new cadre of teacher mentors was introduced in the Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) under the aegis of the 'Shikshak Sahyogi Dal' project across the 180 Marathi medium schools in Pune. Thereafter this approach scaled as a 'Shikshak Mitra' in neighbouring municipal body, PCMC. The next step was to work with the SCERT Maharashtra. The association resulted in the creation of the MITRA Application. This application ultimately led to the evolution of DIKSHA Application for which Maharashtra now contributes the largest share (48 per cent) of national usage.
In order to strengthen its presence in rural areas, LFE works with the Nashik Zilla Parishad to improve overall learning outcomes and enrolment. They do this through the monthly cluster academic meetings or 'shikshan parishads' by building the capacity of the teacher mentors to facilitate and support teachers better and simultaneously the capacity of the administration to implement
and monitor various academic programmes. Similarly, when LFE noticed that the demand for use of technology in the classroom had been growing but the teacher's capacity to meaningfully integrate it in the classroom did
not receive much attention, LFE partnered with the Nalanda Project to initiate the Nalanda Tantrasarthi programme in Nashik's 25 ZP schools. The classrooms receive tablets and complete charging and maintenance infrastructure with access to learning videos and structured assessments in Marathi. Teachers are supported to meaningfully integrate them in their everyday lesson routine and even start leveraging its capabilities to create assessments and manage student data on their own. Rather than being a standalone project, a systematic approach is followed to develop a cadre of teacher mentors amongst them as the programme intends to scale to 300 schools in the coming years. Over
the last 3 years, LFE has worked with more than 620 teachers' mentors across different local and district bodies in Maharashtra, impacting more than 33,000 teachers in the State.
LFE has ventured to create various models to develop skills and capabilities middle management field officers with a combination of online self-learning, peer learning communities and in-person workshops. What sets them apart is that they recognise that training alone is inadequate to lead to lasting behavioural change. They have a 'doing' component where they co-implement government programmes closely with the officers. An example of this is the first of its kind large scale MOOC for teachers where over 20,000 teachers were trained on spoken English skills in collaboration with the SCERT officers. This not only resulted in increased teacher skills and familiarity with technology but also saw training budgets be cut from 2,000 per teacher to 250 which speaks volumes about creativity and efficiency for a public institution like the SCERT. The most important outcome was that the officers running the project are now confident of running any outcome-focused blended programme and are permanent assets in their respective departments. Till now, LFE has trained more than 640 officers and has seen an extremely positive response to the content, style and rigour they bring into building capacity of middle management.
In addition to the work with teachers, mentors, middle management and policymakers, LFE undertakes research projects to add nuance and try to undo the sectoral narrative of mistrust and inefficiency about government school systems. This highlights their fundamental belief that strong public systems are the only equitable way of bringing quality education to the masses in India. Hence, it has been one of LFE's prime concerns to re-energise the larger community of educators, foundations, community and philanthropists to invest their time, talent and treasure in strengthening government systems.
At its core, LFE's fresh and idealistic approach is firmly rooted in the belief that public systems are, by definition, the gatekeepers to equity and that sensitive and effective public systems will ensure that all children receive an excellent education, which is their fundamental right. Towards this mission, LFE strives to bring together a diverse network of leaders both within and outside the system — from educators to government officials and non-profit organisations and philanthropists to scale the idea of 'building effective public education systems' across India. LFE symbolises the ethos of the 'Nexus of Good' as it attempts to scale good practices through public-private partnerships.
Views expressed are personal