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Diganta: Towards making government schools accountable to the poor

By raj_tf - Posted on 22 December 2009

Diganta means horizon in Bengali - the horizon where the sky and the earth appear to meet with each other - otherwise they are miles apart - and it seems we have to walk a long distance to reach the horizon.

Making government schools accountable to the poor is like reaching a horizon. In normal circumstances the parents and the government schools are far apart.

On 16th December, 2009 Education Department of Kolkata Municipal Corporation (KMC) issued instructions to 5 of its schools that Tomorrow's Foundations has been entrusted to facilitate the process of organizing the mothers, improve teaching learning and make lesson plans.

Considering the educational scenario in West Bengal and the conditions of Kolkata Corporation run primary schools, the above could be termed as a historic decision. Tomorrow's Foundation has been working with KMC run Dharmadas Trust Model School since 1994, but for the first time a real joint venture has been initiated, by this instruction, for the larger section of unprivileged students of the city.

Looking Back: A survey conducted by HAQ Centre for Child Rights (West Bengal), points out that out of every 100 children enrolled in class I, 76 leave schools before class V. Out of every 100 children enrolled in class V, 51 drop out before reaching class VIII. The situation in slums like Kalighat, Lock Gate, Dhapa and Tangra is far worse.

The KMC schools have been suffering from various ills for a very long time and unfortunately, students of these schools continue to face more or less the same problems today despite large allocations under SSA. Every year KMC run schools are getting closed not because they do not have teachers or buildings - because there are no students.

Considering the problems faced by students coming from Kalighat and the Lock Gate area, TF started a collaborative intervention in 1994 - 1995 with Kolkata Municipal Corporation. The strategic partnership was based on a 'win-win model'. Under this, TF offered need-based manpower support, quality-enhancing teachers' training, and free mid-day meals for the students and increased involvement of the community to reduce drop-out rates. In return, TF sought permission for conducting evening tutorial classes for students at Dharmadas Trust Model School (DTMS), a KMC school in Kalighat. The experiment proved to be effective. In 1999 UNESCO declared Tomorrow's Foundation as a model organization in West Bengal. In 1994 DTMS had only 17 students, today it has 261 students, 95% of them regularly attending their classes.

As a result of this comprehensive intervention following positive results have been achieved:

  1. Number of enrollment has increased 15 times.
  2. Regularity of students have improved. Presently, 85% students attend school regularly.
  3. Drop out rate has been reduced to 5%
  4. Students from most under privileged backgrounds (orphan children, working children, children from pavements) have been enrolled and retained.
  5. Upward linkage of the students who are graduating from this primary school have been ensured by following them to the secondary schools and providing them the similar facilities.
  6. Hostel facilities have been arranged for the needy students.

The Other Side:

  1. The joint project has achieved a lot for the under privileged children but the whole model is based on services provided by Tomorrow’s Foundation.
  2. It has been a constant realization that unless parents take an active role in the school and take care of most of the services this model will not be sustainable.
  3. Research in different states of the country as well as in West Bengal proves that if parents are active then only schools will become accountable and if the schools are accountable then students do not need private coaching or any other services.
  4. Parents in the urban areas are not organized easily, they have many other priorities. It requires a lot of persuasion and community level mobilization to organize them.
  5. When parents start taking interest then most of the common problems like enrollment, retention, improvement in teaching hours etc happen automatically.
  6. The initiative can not be limited to DTM KMC School but change should happen in other KMC schools too.

The Present Initiative: Diganta

Project Diganta will be implemented in 5 KMC run schools - 4 in the vicinity of Kalighat and 1 in Tangra. A team of 4 personnel will has already collecting basic data from schools and catchment areas. The next step would be series of meetings with mothers of these schools to prepare detailed action plan for the next 3 years.

Deliverables under project Diganta:

  1. 60% mothers will participate in the parent teacher meetings organized by the school.
  2. Attendance will improve by 25% in the first year, 50% by the 2nd year and 75% by the 3rd year.
  3. Retention will improve by 15% in the first year, 25% by the 2nd year and 50% by the 3rd year.
  4. Mothers will take part in arranging for the mid meal.
  5. Mothers will submit quarterly report on progress made in teaching learning processes from 2nd year onwards. The reports will be directly sent to KMC.
  6. A group of selected mothers will participate in the academic planning from 2nd year onwards.
  7. A group of selected mothers will participate in the Annual Plan & Budget preparation for the respective schools.

Watch this space for update on project Diganta