Model Districts Education Project

MDEP | Access to Achievement was a collaborative, five-year demonstration project of the Center for Sustainable Development, The Earth Institute, Columbia University, New York and housed at the Columbia Global Centers | Mumbai. The project worked with the Government of India and key education stakeholders in selected rural districts of India. Building on the experience of the Global Center’s Model Districts Health Project to improve maternal and child health outcomes in India, MDEP used current scientific evidence and best professional practices to develop, recommend, monitor, and evaluate a high quality, cost-effective, transferable and scalable model of primary education. Selected districts served as regional pilots for scaling up improvements. The project locations were Morigaon, Assam and Medak, Telangana.

The UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) call for all children to complete a full course of education by 2015. These MDGs transitioned into Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in October, 2015. The Sustainable Development Goal asks to “Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all” (Open Working Group Proposal for Sustainable Development Goals, 2014).There have been significant strides in terms of access, as the number of out-of-school children worldwide dropped from 100 million in 2000 to 57 million in 2015 (MDG Report, 2015), but corresponding strides in quality have yet to be achieved universally. The passing of Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act (2009) provided a new policy context and a new series of opportunities to strengthen the quality dimensions of primary education in India.

Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA), or Education for All, the current scheme for universal education, reports striking gains in access. With the opening of 288,000 schools and the establishment of primary schools within one kilometer of 98% of all habitations, nearly 20 million children have been enrolled and the number out-of-school reduced from 25 million in 2003 to 8.1 million in 2009. Gender and social gaps in enrolment have also narrowed. The ratio of girls to boys is 96 per 100, compared to 90 per 100 in 2000; the enrolment of children from Scheduled Castes (SC) and Scheduled Tribes (ST) now better reflects their share of the population (SCs constitute 21% and STs 11% of enrolments); and, by 2006, 2.18 million of 2.5 million children with disabilities had been enrolled in primary school (World Bank, 2013). However, a closer examination revealed many deficiencies in the move towards universalizing elementary education.

India’s National Policy on Education and its Programme of Action applaud SSA’s progress and endorse its continuation; but they also assert that the root problem in systemic failures of primary education in rural India is weak accountability in the management of learning performance. Their primary focus has thus shifted from ‘equity in access’ to ‘equity in achievement’. To realize the promise of the Right to Free and Compulsory Education Act for India’s future, the imperative now must be to improve achievement, or quality, in education. MDEP in its commitment to support the public system of education addressed concerns of equity, inclusion and quality in primary education, particularly in rural schools of the country.

The purpose of the project was to improve the quality of primary education by developing and testing an evidence-based model of primary education that was 'locally owned and operated' yet readily adaptable for other locales. There were two specific aims, each with discrete, measurable outcomes:

  • to improve the quality of student learning
  • to lower dropout rates

The project sought to demonstrate that a relatively modest, targeted program of innovations and resources geared toward community building, teaching and learning, and educational programming, coordination, monitoring, and evaluation would significantly improve the two outcomes of interest, while simultaneously being cost-effective and readily scalable. The project was thus also expected to facilitate India’s progress towards Millennium Development Goals, which address issues of universal access to primary education and related outcomes by the year 2015, and would continue towards the Sustainable Development Goals moving forward.

  • Nirupam Bajpai, PhD, Project Director and Principal Investigator, Earth Institute, Columbia University
  • Radhika Iyengar, PhD, CIE/Economics, Director of Education, Earth Institute, Columbia University
  • Seema Nath, MPhil, Research Associate, Earth Institute, Columbia University
  • Tara Stafford, M.A, Senior Education Technology Specialist, Earth Institute, Columbia University
  • Chandana Kakati, M.A, District Project Coordinator, (Morigaon, Assam)
  • Bharath Ganji, District Project Coordinator, (Medak, Telangana)

The IKEA Foundation generously supported the Model Districts Education Project, which aimed to improve the quality of primary education in India (Millennium Development Goals 2 and 3) by 2015 and move forward to ensure the Sustainable Development Goal to 'ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all' (Open Working Group Proposal for Sustainable Development Goals, 2014). The Foundation's support enabled the project to work in two districts, in Assam and Telengana, to improve the quality of teaching and learning outcomes in government schools.

Project Highlights

Cross Country Review of Public Primary Education in Rural Brazil, China, Indonesia and Mexico: Suggestions for Policy and Practice Reforms in India tried to highlight successes and the challenges in other similar countries of Brazil, China, Indonesia and Mexico that will in turn benefit India in promoting ‘quality’ education. This paper attempted to help Indian policy makers learn from the Global South as similar intervention for improving learning outcomes has been attempted in other developing countries.

The Policy and Practice of Public Primary Curriculum in India – A study of textbooks in public primary schools of District Morigaon (Assam) and District Medak (Andhra Pradesh) examined the perception of teachers, cluster resource coordinators, resource persons and staff members from district and state level offices of SSA, DIET, Department of Education and SCERT, on the challenges and opportunities related to the textbooks in public primary schools. Data indicated that textbooks continued to be the prime source for education in schools.

However teachers and resource persons across the two sites felt inept to make use of the textbooks in a pattern suggested by the National Curriculum Framework of 2005. Teachers felt rushed to complete the prescribed curriculum and the lack of resources made it more difficult for them to develop teaching learning materials to supplement the use of textbooks. Despite repeated trainings on the relevance of learning by application and use of multimedia, teachers continued to teach through the age old didactic practices. As a result, teachers and students have become even more dependent on textbooks that are for most schools and households the only tool for literacy. The paper concluded with a list of recommendations to the local governments and education authorities that it has derived from an assimilation of findings from different sources.

In Service Teacher Training for Public Primary Schools in Rural India – Findings from District Morigaon (Assam) and District Medak (Andhra Pradesh) presented an amalgamation of different viewpoints of teachers, cluster resource coordinators, resource persons, and staff members from district and state level offices of SSA, DIET, Department of Education and SCERT, on the challenges and opportunities usually associated with the in-service teacher trainings in public primary schools. The data collected through this research indicated that in-service teacher training is not reflective of the principles proposed in the curriculum. There were severe gaps that impacted the quality outcomes adversely. The teachers felt that the training they receive at the Mandal/Cluster level was not the same that was first intended to be delivered at the state/national level. The dilution in the dissemination of training is another reason for sub-par teacher training practices. Hence, the in-service teacher training expectations and the realities are divergent. As a result, despite a burst of interventions such as the RTE 2009 and CCE 2012 to improve the quality of education, the impact is minimal. The quantitative data indicated that reasons for choosing to teach stemmed from influential role models and altruistic impulses. Teachers were overall quite satisfied with teaching as a profession, more so in Medak. Another important finding was that the lack of multi-grade teaching and multi-varied role of teachers impact their performance in classrooms. The paper concluded with a list of recommendations to the local governments and education authorities.

While the project was creating its knowledge and network base on the ground, conscious efforts were made to find other contextually relevant models that can offer possible solutions to the educational problems in the two sites. One of the models that MDEP team has been keenly researching is the Multi-Grade-Multi- Level (MGML) model of education. MGML pedagogy refers to the teaching of students of different ages, grades and abilities in the same group. This methodology is emerging as a widely popular alternative to the traditional teaching-learning methods in India. The underlying principles of this model aim to address the various problems of rural schools through a child-centred and a locally- sensitive approach. Several small scale qualitative assessments of MGML projects in India and other developing countries point towards their relevance to the key goals and context of the MDEP project. Their design, relevance to rural schools in India, and their proven scalability (as ABL in Tamil Nadu, Chhattisgarh, Karnataka, and Gujarat) make a fair case for considering them as one of the key interventions for Morigaon and Medak. The MDEP team have travelled to sites to understand MGML pedagogy in - Jorhat in Assam, Chennai and Kanchipuram in Tamil Nadu, Chittoor in Andhra Pradesh, and Raipur and Bastar in Chhattisgarh.

In Morigaon, Assam a district wide needs assessment survey was carried out. The baseline survey assessed the ground reality of schools and explored areas of intervention. The two main aims of the study were to assess students learning level specifically language (native and English) and arithmetic and to determine the realities of schools on various education indicators stipulated by various assessment, education data collection centers such as ASER, TSES, etc.

A small survey was conducted in 64 schools in two blocks of Kowdipally and Narsapur in Medak to collect data on school infrastructure and classroom conditions. Subsequently, an action plan was prepared and shared with the district for implementation of MGML pedagogy in the district.

The MDEP team provided technical assistance to the SSA, Morigaon and TSSA, Medak as requested.

Based on the findings from Year 1 and Year 2, a comprehensive package of interventions was suggested that address the holistic development of children under the vision of ‘School as a Way of Life.’ The school is a basic socializing institution that should provide a stimulating learning environment for a child to develop necessary life skills. These recommendations attempt to address a package of interrelated services that are likely to improve enrolment, grade completion, and educational quality. These interventions are in seven areas; early childhood education, nutrition, health, physical education, school as a safe space, multi grade multi- level pedagogy, and community-school partnership.

The ‘School as a Way of Life’ framework of interventions was shared by Dr. Nirupam Bajpai with the leadership in Assam and various education stakeholders for implementation in Morigaon district in Assam. The Chief Minister of Assam and different officials present at the meeting endorsed the concept of ‘School as a Way of Life’ and subsequently the MDEP team prepared a vision document and action plan for implementation of these interventions. In addition to Morigaon, Assam, the MDEP team was asked to implement the program in Jorhat (upper Assam) and Goalpara (lower Assam). The MDEP team is working closely with SSA, Guwahati to implement this program.

In Medak, Telanagana, Bajpai shared the ‘School as a Way of Life’ framework with the Secretary to the Government of Telangana, Department of Primary Education. Post the state level meetings, district level meetings were initiated and Dr. Bajpai and the CGC | SA, Medak team met the District Collector and Magistrate of Medak , Mr. Rahul Bojja to discuss the way forward. He suggested implementing the MGML pedagogy in the Mulugu block of Medak first and then gradually scale it up.

In order to implement MGML pedagogy in Mulugu mandal (block), the team conducted a needs assessment study in Mulugu and have prepare an action plan for implementation based on the needs assessment study. The team is working closely with TSSA, Medak and various other departments for the implementation of the program in the Mulugu mandal.

The research team worked on five policy papers. These papers tackled a variety of subjects in primary education. These papers were on the topics of Early Childhood Education; Gender Education in Primary Schools; Data driven decision making and policy in public primary education; Annual Work Plan and Budget Process Strengthening Measures, and; Understanding Challenges to Applying RTE in the rural context. These papers were shared with education stakeholders at both the national and state level.

A qualitative study on Community participation in primary schools was conducted in Medak, Telangana and Morigaon, Assam. Community participation in education is embedded in its context, so it activation requires an understanding of the setting. This research study aimed to explore how key stakeholders, e.g., teachers, parents and government officials, define community participation. The study further aimed to determine factors that aide or impede participation and to recommend ways to enhance the amount and quality of participation. In both sites, we observed poor participation in the SMC. Teachers blamed parents for not attending meetings and parents blamed teachers for lack of information about meeting times. Some key reasons for poor performance of the SMC were low member participation, corruption, cultural barriers such as the caste system, and political pressures. Suggestions for improving participation include: increasing general understanding of the meaning of participation and how people can participate. On-going trainings that use the language and concepts of participation are needed to build and sustain the capacity of SMC. Committees such as Mothers Groups, PTA and SMC should develop fixed guidelines for operationalizing their unique roles to avoid redundancy, even as they explore areas for mutual community-building and collaboration.

Another research study was completed on the Challenges to successful implementation of classroom management and time management techniques by teachers (one in Medak, Telangana and another in Morigaon, Assam). The objective was to find out how effectively the teachers are able to translate their training on classroom management into the real life classroom situation. The study also aimed to identify the problems teachers encounter in employing the classroom management techniques in the real life classroom situation and ways this can be addressed. In Medak, Telangana, the findings highlighted that classroom management is a very integral and important part of pre-service teacher training. Most teachers in Medak have a very good grasp of the concepts and theoretical underpinnings of classroom management. However, teachers are ill-equipped to handle the real classroom setting which is multi grade by default and hence they require additional training and support on how to tackle the challenges of the real classroom. In addition they face challenges of student absenteeism and irregular attendance. In Morigaon, Assam, the findings highlighted that classroom management should be a very integral and important part of pre-service teacher training. Most teachers in Morigaon were not familiar with the concepts of classroom management. These teachers were found ill-equipped to handle the real classroom setting which is multi grade by default and hence they require additional training and support on how to tackle the challenges of the real classroom. Even in mono-grade classrooms teachers were unable to manage the classes effectively. In addition they face challenges of student absenteeism and irregular attendance, unhygienic conditions, teacher scarcity, Mid-Day meal arrangements, and a host of other challenges.