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

India Today - - STATES - By Uday Mahurkar

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

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