From Practice to Policy: Our Progression So Far at Central Square Foundation

July 30, 2013 by Ashish Dhawan, Central Square Foundation

Can you think of any institution or enterprise that has attained success without a clear vision? The Indian school system with 1.3 million schools serving 240 million children is flying blind – we are guided without any clear outcomes-based goals or any data on student learning. Year after year we sink billions of taxpayer rupees into education without educating the majority of our children.

India’s education policies, including the most recent Right toEducation Act 2009 (RTE), focus primarily on inputs. For the first time, the 12th Five Year Plan talks about ‘student learning’ as the primary goal of education and yet makes no mention of how we’ll go about measuring this goal.

At Central Square Foundation (CSF), we are pushing to make ‘Quality’ the focus of education policy and practice in India. During the last few months, we have met numerous elected leaders and senior bureaucrats focused on education at various levels of government. Their interest in improving the quality of education inspires optimism in us and we are working on a number of policy initiatives to increase quality.

This year, FICCI (Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry) initiated a National School Education Committee, which CSF is chairing. We plan to focus this group of 25 corporate members and the FICCI platform to call the attention of policymakers towards critical education reform issues.

We have also convened civil society organizations to advocate for a quality focus in education. On March 28, a few days before the RTE’s enforcement deadline expired, CSF coalesced a group of like-minded civil society organizations to draw media attention towards Making Learning the Priority in RTE.

Earlier this year, the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (MCGM) approved a policy for Public Private Partnership in Education (PPPE). CSF provided inputs in developing a robust framework for selection, evaluation and results-based financial reimbursement to private partners that will work with MCGM toimprove the quality of learning in Mumbai’s municipal schools. We are now bringing together a group of foundations to form a PPPE coalition that will take the lead in enabling other such partnerships and expand this movement for quality education to scale.

The India School Leadership Institute (ISLI) that CSF co-funded with a group of international foundations launched its first cohort in May. Aspiring for high standards, ISLI was very selective in its intake, with a seven per cent application- to-acceptance rate. The Akanksha Foundation is currently incubating the programme in partnership with Teach For India and KIPP.

The Mindspark Learning Centres in Delhi, serving over 400 children, are providing encouraging evidence for the potential of models that blend technology with traditional learning. Over the first six months of learning, Mindspark Centre students demonstrated nine months of progress in Maths and eight months progress in Hindi over the baseline. Three new centres have been added recently, taking the total centre count to five. We are working with our partner, Educational Initiatives, to refine the business model for this initiative so that the network of centres can become a self-sustaining enterprise and support even more children living in disadvantaged communities.

We continue to support the Akanksha Foundation, which runs a network of 13 schools in partnership with Mumbai and Pune municipal corporations. Akanksha’s Madhavi Gavirineni and Anjali Sabnani participated in the KIPP Fisher Fellowship in the US to develop their instructional and leadership skills. We are happy to share Madhavi’s reflections on the KIPP experience and its relevance to transforming her school in Pune. We are now supporting an early grade reading programme across Akanksha’s school network to improve students’ comprehension ability.

3.2.1 School successfully completed its first year with 118 children movingfrom Kindergarten to Class 1. Fifty per cent of 3.2.1 children are counting at an exemplary level and in reading comprehension children can carry their skills from familiar texts to new texts indicating conceptual understanding. Thanks to sustained engagement with parents and community members, 3.2.1 is almost at capacity for the coming school year, in which another 120 children will join Kindergarten. We are also happy to share with you that Gaurav Singh, the founder of 3.2.1 received the Ashoka and Echoing Green Fellowships in 2013.

As part of our search for the next generation of education entrepreneurs we launched Edupreneur Quest, India’s first ever social-enterprise business plan competition focused on education, in partnership with Teach For India and Villgro Innovations Foundation. The winner was Apnishala, a Mumbai-based organization founded by TISS Social Enterprise graduates that is developing life skills among 8-14-year-olds through a stories programme. We intend to repeat Edupreneur Quest to attract bright young minds with fresh ideas into the education space.

As we continue our efforts to improve education, we have grown in strength – our new staff members include alumni from Teach For India, the Young India Fellowship and the LAMP Fellowship.

Warm Regards
Ashish dhawan signature
Ashish Dhawan