This Mumbai non-profit is upskilling teachers to provide quality education to underprivileged children in India
Hailing from the village of Sangameshwar in Maharashtra, 8-year-old Gandharv is used to awaiting internet access to download unit tests sent by his teachers. By the evening, Gandharv then sends the answers to his teacher Purva Sakpal, who is situated about 300 kilometres away in the slums of Kamraj Nagar.
This reflects the everyday struggles of most students living and studying in rural areas. But teachers like Purva are trying to make classes more engaging and interesting for their students, especially for those who’ve migrated back to their villages.
To further empower remote learning, Dr Anju Saigal founded the non-profit CEQUE to improve the quality of education provided to rural students.
“The teacher in a classroom is the biggest lever that fundamentally makes a difference to the child's learning. And that's where we wanted to focus on when we began our journey in 2012,” Anju tells SocialStory.
CEQUE stands for Centre for Equity and Quality in Universal Education, and aims to improve education by improving the teaching potential of educators.
Its programmes focus on building teacher support and teacher capacity, coaching them, and helping them navigate the area of pedagogy and teaching.
Some of the students learning with CEQUE's workbooks
CEQUE or ‘Seekhe’
“During my experience working in rural India, and working in slum communities. I realised that you can create great teachers sitting under a banyan tree, with only locally-sourced resources and without a brick-and-mortar classroom,” Anju shares.
So, in 2012, CEQUE decided to create a repository of teaching innovations so that the teachers could learn and implement them in their classrooms. After observing the results for two to three years, it started the Teacher Innovator Programme to create a mechanism where teachers could be coached.
The three-year programme helps teachers to learn innovative teaching methods and impact student learning. It works in partnership with the local education departments. With that basic understanding, the teachers, too, continued to make their own innovations.
For instance, Kunda Bachhav opened a mobile library of 200 books for her students in Anadavalli village in Nashik. On the other hand, Pramod Khandekar used the walls of the village houses to paint blackboards to teach children in open classroom formats following social distancing in Adapalli village in Gadchiroli. These are only a few of the innovations that the teachers of CEQUE are working on.
One of the teachers taking classes pre-pandemic
The programme focuses on teaching reading, writing, and math skills in grades I-VIII. Over 400 teachers and 8,000 students in seven different districts have been impacted by the programme so far.
“We also focus on coaching the school system leaders, helping them become better academic leaders. These heads are called Kendra Pramukhs (KPs) or Cluster Resource Coordinators, who have about 15 schools under their leadership. They are responsible for supporting teachers and the other resources needed for better education,” says Anju.
This programme is called the Kendra Pramukh Academic Leadership Programme, which has impacted over 2,500 KPs, 1.2 lakh teachers, and 2.5 lakh students in 34 districts in Maharashtra.
CEQUE’s efforts have been strongly supported by various organisations, including Bank of America, HT Parekh Foundation, and JLL – all of whom have been big donors for their programme. The Kendra Pramukh initiative has been supported by UNICEF and the state of Maharashtra.
A pandemic shift
Anju says that during the pandemic, like others, they had to face a lot of challenges because they were not able to reach the teachers.
“But we also realised that the teachers themselves were not able to reach the children. We’re working with about 300 teachers, and these teachers were able to reach only about 35 percent of the students who were enrolled with them,” she says.
During the pandemic, the teachers reached out directly to a few students who did not have access to technology
“We collected a huge amount of data, down to the number of communities. We realised that many of the families had actually not migrated, But yet, because of the digital divide, children either didn't have access to devices, or didn’t have the money to recharge the devices, or their parents would be out at work,” she adds.
So, while the team was focused on supporting the teachers to go forward with these ideas, they also had to ensure that they had certain low tech resources at their disposal.
CEQUE created about 160 low-tech resources like audio resources and workbooks for the students, designed keeping in mind the curriculum around reading, writing, foundational mathematics, etc.
This way, even if the teacher was able to only reach these children once or twice a week, they had material with them all through the lockdown.
“This took a lot of monitoring of both the teachers and the students, but we were able to garner support for them through other villagers and gram panchayat members,” Anju says.
They grouped children who had access to smartphones, and for others who had uneven access, the teacher had to then individually devise a schedule.
In other cases, teachers decided to go physically and teach while maintaining social distancing wherever they found community support.
Challenges and the way forward
The biggest challenge has been enabling teachers and students to adapt to modern educational solutions like online learning.
“Moreover, the financial conditions of students and their families also played a key challenge in the pandemic, since not everyone had access to proper technology,” says Anju.
In the year 2021-22, Anju says that they are going to work with 1800 teachers across 6 districts.
“Not only are we helping them improve, but we are also helping them evolve as leaders in the days to come, who can then help and coach other teachers in the district and become a resource group for that district,” she says.