The rapid increase of low-income children studying in private schools is one of the most striking trends in school education today. Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (MCGM) schools saw a 29% decline in student enrolment in a decade from 2002 to 2012. As a result, an estimated 25% of space in MCGM schools is used for non-educational purposes. Yet, a doubling of the allocated MCGM education budget from 2008 to 2013 accompanied this overall decline in enrolments. The municipal school education system is clearly in need of rejuvenation.
When government schools demonstrate innovation and quality, parents respond. Even as the overall municipal system loses children, the enrolment in English medium MCGM schools doubled in the five year period from 2004 to 2009, while all other mediums declined except Hindi, which held constant. Yet, the government has been slow to respond to this demand, and only 13% of MCGM schools are English-medium, according to the 2012 Praja Foundation report, “Status of Municipal Education in Mumbai”.
In early 2013, the MCGM passed a policy on institutionalising public-private partnerships (PPP) in education. The goal of the policy is to increase the quality of education in the municipal school system by allowing private education providers to introduce innovative practices and other needed support. We believe the policy offers valuable opportunities to also utilise idle infrastructure in MCGM schools, and to address the growing demand from low-income parents for English medium education.
The MCGM Education PPP policy is reflective of a global trend toward harnessing the energy of the non-state sector in schooling provision. Countries ranging from the US and the UK to Colombia, Pakistan and Uganda are fostering the collaboration of the public and private sectors, complementing each other’s strengths to provide better education.
Within India, in addition to Mumbai, municipalities such as Chennai and South Delhi, the states of Gujarat, Punjab and Rajasthan and the central government through its model school scheme are all looking to PPPs as a means of expanding access and increasing quality in the government school system.
In Mumbai, NGOs like Akanksha, Aseema, Muktangan and 3.2.1. Education Foundation are already running schools in partnership with the MCGM with success. Their schools are located within MCGM school buildings, they cater to students from the neighbourhood communities without charging any fee, and their operating costs are comparable to the government spend per child. The positive learning outcomes revealed by various studies show that these schools are demonstrating innovations in delivering quality education that have relevance to the larger ecosystem.
I joined the board of Akanksha as I believe it is demonstrating a new model of excellence within our municipal schools. Through the 15 schools it operates across Mumbai and Pune, I see Akanksha developing focus areas that offer lessons for the MCGM school system as a whole:
1.) Belief that every child can learn – Akanksha believes all children can learn regardless of their background or circumstances. Similar to government schools, they accept all children who apply (in cases where demand for seats exceeds supply, there is a lottery). The team deeply believes all children have the potential to succeed and invest time, energy and resources in all their children. By holding themselves to this belief, they have developed a culture of excellence in their schools.
2.) Have goals and measure them – Akanksha believes the quality of education in its schools should rival that of the best elite schools in the city. Their students take the ASSET test administered by Educational Initiatives that is widely used among the better private schools in the country. Akanksha’s goal is that their students should be at the median level of this test and they monitor progress towards this goal annually. In 2013, the first batch of Akanksha school students in Pune took their Class 10 state board exams, and had a 100% pass rate (this compares with a state-wide pass percentage of 87%).
3.) Invest in leadership – Akanksha invests in its staff and students at all levels to develop their leadership skills. It partnered with Teach for India, Central Square Foundation and the US-based KIPP Foundation to launch the India School Leadership Institute to develop school leaders within its network and around the country. It also runs structured leadership development programmes for teachers, students and its staff that build the capacity of the network as a whole.
4.) Innovate and experiment – The benefit of having a small network of schools is that it is possible to experiment with new ideas and see how they work on a limited scale. For instance, it is piloting an early grade reading programme that addresses students’ weakness in reading English through a combination of phonics and small group instruction methods. It has also piloted the use of technology in teaching maths for classes 4 and 5, where teachers supplement their instruction with students practicing skills using Khan Academy on a low cost tablet. They are monitoring both these pilot programmes closely to see if they have a measurable impact on their students’ learning and can then share the learning from these experiments across the network and with other schools in the ecosystem.
5.) Engage stakeholders – Akanksha spends a lot of time engaging with the communities in which it works. Its schools have active school management committees with strong representation from parents and its social workers have deep links within the community. As a result, Akanksha schools are able to respond to community and parent needs for their children.
Organisations like Akanksha, working with the government in a partnership model, are important proof points of quality education. We must support such organisations to spread their learning, so that excellence for every child becomes the norm in our government school system.
Ashish Dhawan is founder and CEO of Central Square Foundation, and a board member of Akanksha Foundation. The Akanksha Foundation runs 15 municipal schools in Mumbai and Pune in partnership with the BMC and the PMC. Follow them on twitter at @Akanksha_India.