How Careworks Foundation is helping students in Karnataka’s government schools and creating a future-ready workforce
Careworks Foundation (CWF), the CSR wing of Quess Corp Bangalore, has one aim: bettering the lives of children in government schools in the country.
Founded in 2014, CWF believes that education and healthcare are the two most important areas that can accelerate sustainable socio-economic development in society. The foundation’s main focus is on improving quality education through aspects like the physical environment of the school, classroom environment, student health, teacher development, and stakeholder involvement.
CWF’s flagship school enhancement programme has successfully worked with 61 government schools and over 398 teachers, benefiting 14,800 children till now. It has also distributed 24, 233 education kits among government schools, primarily in Karnataka.
The foundation members believe that each school in Karnataka is unique, which is why their approach is clear: not to intervene in the school setup, but to provide support and suitable solutions with the participation of school authorities.
The schools that they have worked with include Government Higher Primary School Chunchagatta, Government Higher Primary School Konanakunte, Government Primary School Ibbalur, and Karnataka Public School Varthur. The foundation’s work has impacted students from pre-school to Class 10.
Smitha BS, Head at Careworks Foundation.
In a conversation with Social Story, CWF head Smitha B S talks about the foundation’s work so far, the impact it has had, and the plans for the future.
Edited excerpts of the interview:
Social Story: How did the idea of launching the CWF school enhancement programme in 2014 come about?
Smitha B S: The causes we chose to work on initially were education and health. Since education was our first priority, we did research on government schools in Karnataka. When we went and saw the schools, we realised that beautiful programmes were already designed for students. However, when we checked with teachers about the math and science programmes and toilets, they said that there were no funds.
We realised that the government provides many programmes to these schools, but there is a huge gap when it comes to execution. It was to bridge this gap that we chose to focus and work specifically with government schools, and provide holistic development.
We help teachers in execution through the Careworks school enhancement programme; it is not a one-time approach, but a long-time association.
SS: How do you aim to provide a sustainable livelihood to marginalised sections of society through your education and healthcare initiatives?
SBS: This programme is not intended to provide livelihood to the marginalised as such. However, the ultimate vision is to create a better workforce.
We believe that only through strengthening the education system can we bring the marginalised to the mainstream of society and to the formal workforce.Most of our students are first-time school-goers. Their parents are either working on construction sites or as maids and daily wage labourers. If we leave this population of students unattended, there is a high risk of them dropping out and joining the non-formal work force.
SS: Tell us about some of the projects or social outreach programmes you have carried out under the school enhancement programme.
SBS: Careworks is working on three main sub-programmes under the school enhancement programme: the school enrichment programme, the student enrichment programme, and the teacher enhancement programme.
School enrichment: Under this, we work to renovate of school buildings to create better learning environments. We provide books and stationery materials to schools, and help set up infrastructure facilities like lighting, furniture, and fans. We also help set up and refurbish school libraries.
Student enrichment: This focuses on students’ physical and mental health by making teachers aware of the importance of early detection of problems. We help identify issues students can be dealing with, be it physical problems, substance abuse, or complications that children from single-parent families face. We work on a case-to-case basis, and have tied up with hospitals and NGOs for treatment.
We are also developing a manual in association with NIMHANS, Bengaluru, on school mental health, since this is a neglected area. We always want results but often forget to take care of children with learning disabilities. In this manual, we will look at psychosocial problems and how to improve children’s life skills.
We also organise dental camps where screening and treatment of students is done. A school cabinet to enhance leadership qualities among students is also organised.
Teacher enhancement: This programme aims to enhance teachers’ professional skills. It helps promote personal and professional wellbeing, and improve the attitude towards themselves and their profession. Teachers learn how to use technology and improve vision building and linguistic abilities.
Careworks Foundation believes that children can have a brighter future if school programmes are better designed today.
SS: How do you reach out to government schools? Does Quess Corp provide funding? Who are some of the partners you have teamed up with?
SBS: All our funding comes from Quess Corp. We are not executing this through any partner organisation. Our team of 15 core members executes our programmes. We have civil engineers on board because they do a lot of work on school building and renovation, as well as facilitators. We have one facilitator to monitor initiatives for every 10 schools.
SS: What were some of the early challenges you had to face? How did you overcome them?
SBS: The major challenge we initially faced was lack of stakeholder support. We noticed that we had too many interventions from multiple donors, especially in Bengaluru schools. This was adversely affecting schooling.
One could find a minimum of 10 organisations in government schools, but every one worked in their own way; there was no coordination.
We managed to overcome this by organising a school mapping activity that involves all stakeholders.
This helps organisations decide who is doing what. This also helps schools and NGOs/corporates to come to a common consensus, which in turn helps increase stakeholder participation in schools.
Another challenge was acceptance from school managements. It took a lot of time to let them know that we were there to help them, not dominate them or to take anything away.
When it came to building infrastructure, getting permissions and signing MOUs was also a big challenge.
I remember once, in the early days, I went 64 times to sign one school MOU. Now, we have reached a stage where departments call us to take up a particular school.
Impact so far
SS: What has been the major impact so far through the school enhancement programme?
SBS: One of the major impacts of the school enhancement programme has been an increase in enrolment and attendance in government schools. In the next year, we foresee a 36 percent increase in enrolment.
We are currently working with 61 government schools (of these, 16 are preschool or anganwadis) where 15,000 students are currently studying. If we consider students who have passed out, we have supported more than 25,000 children over the last five years. Apart from this, Careworks has helped 2,975 children benefit from computer education.
We have upgraded 14 science labs and 21 libraries, and renovated 295 school toilets. A total of 18, 331 students have been supported under the health programmes, and we have even awarded 602 scholarships. As many as 380 teachers have also benefited from this initiative. There has also been an increase in stakeholder participation.
SS: What are your future plans for the CWF school enhancement programme? And for Careworks?
SBS: The idea is to develop a programme that anybody can adopt. We consider the school enrichment, student enrichment, and teacher enhancement the major pillars of a school, and are designing programs around them.
We would be happy to assist any organisation or corporate who would like to replicate this model in the future. We plan to scale and train organisations and interested individuals, and provide technical support.
We actually wanted all NGOs and corporates who want to work in the school space to come together, and aim to come out with a module that incorporates all these three by 2021.
We will also look at design of schools. For example, in government schools, if a sponsor is available for painting the building, those in charge choose a dark colour. There is a science behind choosing a colour in a school, and we hope to come up with a manual that will advise on what the school building should be like, or what the colour of the walls or the toilets should be.
Apart from that, if anyone wants to implement school mental health programmes, we will help them.
(Edited by Teja Lele Desai)