A NEW SCHOOL OF THOUGHT
Real-time tracking in the state’s 40,000 public schools brings about a big drop in absenteeism among teachers, students RUPANI’S AIM HAS BEEN TO BOOST NOT JUST SCHOOL ATTENDANCE BUT LEARNING OUTCOMES AS WELL
During official work hours, government school principals and teachers in Gujarat have a habit of keeping tabs on their cell phones—for a call they can miss only at their own peril. The voice on the other end verifies their presence in school, seeking details of when they reported to work and what their day’s schedule is.
Gujarat started real-time monitoring of school teachers a year ago to curb absenteeism and improve academic output. Under the project, a command and control centre (CCC) was set up last November in Gandhinagar to audit the attendance of 250,000 teachers and 7 million students across 33,000 government and 7,000 governmentaided schools. On June 9, chief minister Vijay Rupani inaugurated a new CCC building in the state capital. Some 70 executives operate from the facility now.
This is how it works: school principals update the attendance of teachers and students on an app. The data is fed to 3,250 cluster resource coordinators (CRCs), each armed with a GPS-enabled tablet and supervising 10-15 schools, and 250 block resource coordinators (BRCs) at the tehsil level. Each CCC executive coordinates with 25-50 CRCs, BRCs and principals daily to crosscheck the data.
Gujarat officials estimate that before the project’s launch, over 60 per cent of the targeted students and one in every five teachers used to skip school. Attendance, they claim, has now shot up to 85 per cent among students and over
90 per cent among teachers. “We are determined to put the entire government school education system on track by identifying the problems at the
grassroots,” asserts Rupani.
Absenteeism is an acute problem in the public schooling system. A 2017 World Bank report, based on a survey of 3,700 schools in 20 states, found that one in every four government primary school teachers did not turn up on any given day while only 50 per cent of the teachers in attendance took classes.
Gujarat officials link student absenteeism in the rural areas primarily to farm labour preferring to send their children to work in fields or do household chores and girls being withdrawn before they can finish middle school. For instance, till last December, only 40 per cent of the 200 students at the Chaniara village school in Ahmedabad district’s Detroj taluka used to attend classes. Most absentees were children of agricultural labourers. “My parents wanted me to help them out at our rented farm,” says Kinjal Thakore, a standard eight student of the school. Her classmate Goral Thakore’s parents thought it was better if she stayed home to look after her five siblings while they worked in the farm. Govindbhai Patel, the school’s principal, says despite persuasion, parents would not let girls study beyond the seventh standard. Ever since the crackdown on absenteeism, even the school’s teachers have been encouraging parents to send their daughters to study. Attendance, Patel says, has gone up to almost 95 per cent.
Rupani’s aim has been to improve not just school attendance, but learning outcomes as well. As part of a ‘remedial teaching’ plan started in July 2018, under Mission Vidya, around 120,000 teachers were mobilised to hold special classes in reading, writing and simple mathematics for approximately 630,000 sixth and seventh standard students from 24,000 schools. The three hour sessions were held for 50 days. Officials say about 60 per cent of the students improved their skills. According to Gujarat secretary (primary and secondary education) Vinod R. Rao, “It was just a question of vision and determination. The chief minister was firm in his commitment to get the students to overcome their learning shortcomings.”
In September 2018, the government introduced centralised weekly tests for students till standard eight, mapping scores in various subjects throughout the academic year and preparing performance reports. “It’s a big achievement as it involves hundreds of thousands of students. A model like this can revolutionise the country’s school education system,” says Rohit Mehta, an expert with Central Square Foundation (CSF), a third party evaluator of the project and partner of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in India. ■
EAGLE EYE The Gandhinagar-based Command and Control Centre that monitors the attendance of school teachers and students