Since 2003, Sikshana Foundation has been working to develop scalable, replicable models to improve school education. It encourages students to learn.
Bangalore-based Sikshana Foundation reports that 71 percent of class VII students in schools of rural Karnataka cannot do basic third grade arithmetic. Such is the state of 72 percent students in Maharashtra, and 52 percent of them in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. Though these numbers apply to both private and public schools, Sikshana focuses on the problems public schools face in India.
Most initiatives made in the field of school education focus on the supply side – on lessons, infrastructure, and resources. The side that demands – the students – remains largely unacknowledged. This, of course, is not apparent as most changes made are deemed to be for students, even if very little work is done to motivate them towards learning. Sikshana believes in working for the latter.
Sikshana Foundation was established by E.S. Ramamurthy who wanted to use his management experience as the GM of a large public-sector unit for improving the quality of learning outcomes in government schools. The CEO of Sikshana Foundation, Prasanna V.R. says,
The children are the inspiration behind Sikshana, and the focus on motivation as one of the core concepts of Sikshana intervention got refined as we worked with them over a period. One of the key findings, early on in our evolution, was that the school ecosystem was not utilising the provided inputs efficiently.
The foundation focussed on reward mechanisms to encourage children. When its process worked, it continued to extend its journey and its educational techniques were eventually adopted by government schools.
Sikshana’s programmes focus on regular attendance and participation, foundational maths and local language skills, grade-level skills, and English language and critical thinking expertise. The target group is primarily students of class I to VIII in government schools, but the organisation works with parents, teachers and the community around the schools for sustained, wholesome development of learners.
Step one of the Motivation Model is rewards and incentives. Students receive silver, star-shaped badges for participation in academic work, green ones for improving the school environment, and pink badges for participating in sports and cultural activities. These forms of participation are recorded in the students’ diaries.
Step two aims to create a safe psychological space where it is okay to fail. The intent is to provide the students the space and confidence to take risks even at the cost of making mistakes. Students are willing to share concepts they know and this complements the efforts of the teacher. This is implemented through peer-teaching groups that work together for 30-45 minutes every day before school hours or during recess.
Step three is a method of structured learning. Students are provided booklets – of which they complete three pages every day – with writing and drawing. They are given the next booklet only after they finish the first one, and if they ask for the next. This ensures that students stay motivated and care about their own work. In the same way, students receive mathematics booklets of which they are expected to complete two pages each day. There is a ‘Learning Tree’ which they literally create with stickers earned for each skill they acquire. This allows both students and parents a clear perspective of what a child is gaining and where she must work harder.
The motivation model culminates in the fourth step — deliberate practice. Students, by then, are helped to create their own goals. They are encouraged to work in a focussed way to improve themselves and to achieve the end they have outlined for themselves.
From a single school in 2003, Sikshana Foundation has expanded its support to 2,000 government schools and nearly three lakh students. It is funded by various foundations and corporations, such as USA-based Vibha, Dell India, and others.
Prasanna says, “Sikshana started its journey of improving the quality of education delivered by the Public Primary Schools in India in 2005. The intervention called "Prerana" was piloted in a few schools till 2008, but we needed to rapidly expand to hundreds of schools to prove the validity of the model and here large grants from Dell made it possible. To meet our goal of scaling Prerana to all schools in Karnataka, we had to create an Analytics, Process and Tools (APT) platform to help State manage the program. Here again Dell helped us with the necessary hardware to create the system which is now being used by the Department to monitor the progress of 2.2 million children studying in nearly 44,000 schools across Karnataka.”
Sikshana is developing an integrated solution comprising of “teacher-led classroom learning” and “student-led projects” in association with Dell, their technology partner. These projects focus on sharing a limited sets of devices across the school, thereby creating a cost-effective model. With the state government's support, the Shikshana team plans to spread the programme across hundreds of schools. Presently, the programme runs in 362 schools across Karnataka and Maharashtra.
Sikshana’s unwavering focus on ensuring that every child gets a fair opportunity to learn, as it scaled from covering tens of children to lakhs of children now, is what makes me want to continue to be a part of it, says Prasanna.
Sikshana has developed a model of structured learning and practice in primary schools, which has been implemented in many schools across Karnataka. It has named it ‘Prerana’, or ‘inspiration’. The Government of Karnataka has partnered for joint implementation of this project in Chitradurga and Davanagere districts of the state.
Sikshana Foundation will join hands with Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan and the Department of Primary and Secondary Education, of Karnataka, to deliver student motivation programmes through teachers and government officials. Prerana aims to inculcate an interest in learning in students, and thereby generate better learning outcomes.
Besides, Sikshana is working on Sikshana Technology in Education Programme (STEP) to enable digital literacy and learning through technology in the classrooms of government schools.