How the Punjab Education Collective turned around the government schools in the State

Members of the Punjab Education Collective, which won the Collective Social Innovation Award from the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship, talk about how they worked with the state government to provide good education to children in the government schools

Updated - May 22, 2023 10:55 am IST

Published - May 21, 2023 12:08 am IST

A geography lesson at a government school

A geography lesson at a government school | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Through the pandemic-led lockdown, a government school in the interiors of Mohali, Punjab, kept communications open with its 65 students and their parents. The staff regularly called parents and asked about the family’s well-being and the child’s willingness to learn at home. When things normalised, the school reopened with a Parent-Teacher Meeting. The school was decorated to receive the students, the parents were treated with dignity and made to feel important, as they discussed their ward’s interests and progress with the teacher.

This may appear to be a simple measure but it has borne fruit in the interiors of Punjab, as parents are returning their children to government-run schools. Often, the rural environment does not push one towards education. Earlier, PTMs were rare. If they did happen, the parents (mostly farm labourers) didn’t show up. When they did, the teachers and parents didn’t understand one another.

Beginning

But, since 2019, there has been a systemic transformation in the education ecosystem of Punjab, thanks to a group of social entrepreneurs who hit upon the idea of collective responsibility in improving the teaching-learning process and enhancing student-learning outcomes across the 19,000 government schools in the State.

For the four youngsters leading their own NGOs, it was an alarming revelation to discover how Punjab’s education ecosystem was living off peoples’ aspirations. Those who could afford it sent their children to private schools and the majority just wanted to migrate to Canada. Though most government-run schools in Punjab had better infrastructure compared to other states, either the student enrolment was poor or the student-to-teacher ratio was an extreme 1:1000. Between 2014 and 2017, over 40% of the students failed their exams and more than 300,000 migrated to private schools. Nearly 70% in the 14-18 age group could not identify their state on the map and 50% in Class 5 could not comprehend basic Maths. Yet, for consecutive years, the State topped in IELTS, the English language test for study or work abroad.

(Clockwise from left) Simranpreet Singh Oberoi of Sanjhi Sikhiya; Rucha Pande of Mantra4Change and Khushboo Awasthi of ShikshaLokam

(Clockwise from left) Simranpreet Singh Oberoi of Sanjhi Sikhiya; Rucha Pande of Mantra4Change and Khushboo Awasthi of ShikshaLokam | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Thus, the Punjab Education Collective (PEC) was formed with four NGOs — Mantra4Change, Sanjhi Sikhiya, Samarthya and Shikshalokam — working in tandem with the state department. “We do not dictate or impose grand new plans or replace the existing policies but try to make things work with what exists. It requires some motivation, out-of-the-box thinking and co-creating solutions,” says Khusbhoo Awasthi, Co-Founder and Chief Operating Officer, ShikshaLokam.

Impact

In the last four years, enrolment in government schools has crossed 27 lakhs and, early this year, the PEC was one of the recipients of the Collective Social Innovation Award from the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship, a sister organisation of the World Economic Forum.

So how did it all happen? The PEC aligned with the State’s flagship programme Padho Punjab, Padhao Punjab, and helped drive change through Samaaj (the four NGOs), Sarkar (State Education Department) and Bazaar (philanthropic organisations like the Ford Foundation and market players like Deloitte and McKinsey).

Simranpreet Singh Oberoi, Co-Founder, Sanjhi Sikhiya, explains PEC’s approach. “We designed, orchestrated and evangelised change by identifying motivators and mentors from within the schools, community, panchayats and villages; amplified the leadership development opportunities, designed leadership curriculum booklets for all stakeholders and developed apps to track every big or small progress and challenges they faced.”

The results can be seen in the Performance Grading Index (instituted by the Department of School Education and Literacy, Union Ministry of Education), the National Achievement Survey, the School Education Quality Index initiated by NITI Aayog and the Annual School Education Report by Pratham Foundation: Punjab’s overall ranking has moved from 13 in 2019 to number 1 in 2020/21 and 2022.

“We stepped in to develop clarity and promote a shared understanding of the roles that parents, teachers, mentors, and community leaders ought to play. The State was prompt in revising budget allocations for a slew of activities from infrastructure and teacher education to action research and exposure visits,” says Rucha Pande, COO, Mantra4Change

“Bringing change in the state’s education system at scale, with speed and sustainably meant co-creation, collaboration and more context. Building a larger network of civil society organisations to drive impact across domains helped,” adds Siddharth Chopra, Co-Founder, Samarthya

It started with small surveys and evaluation of what did not and would work at the ground level and friendly interventions and prompt action on every complaint or demand. Government schools were given the support to make their environment more inviting whether in Fatehgarh Sahib or remote corners of Ropar and villages around Ludhiana. Today, the initiative has metamorphosed into a larger movement. It has taught and shown teachers and community members to be independent and proactive in providing good education to their children.

Co-creating instant solutions is the way ahead, underlines Khushboo, citing the example of a Gurudwara management in Mohali that came forward to repair a wall and whitewash the school building. Typically, if there are 15 schools in a cluster, they have now developed a community of good practices, taking responsibility and self-managing things and learning from each other. The State Education Department is fully invested in attending to calls for help.

During the pandemic, Punjab was accelerating its relationship with people in the education space. While the award has put the spotlight on the PEC, the team realises that there is still a long way to go to ensure the system’s sustainability. “We have to make an impact on every child in the State and make Punjab a successful prototype for the country,” says Simranpreet.

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