Mon. Dec 6th, 2021
Daan Utsav: Helping Under-Resourced Schools Leapfrog

This #DaanUtsav, BloombergQuint brings you a series of NGO startup stories, on how organisations across India are bringing about significant transformation, and are looking to scale up. These startups are participating in ‘Dolphin Tank’, a ‘Shark Tank’ format event with pitches made to #LivingMyPromise’s ‘dolphin’ signatories, for their support.

Bringing about transformative change is difficult, even when people welcome the change. That is where Barefoot Edu Foundation comes in. We help school leaders (most often, principals) set creative paths to climb, circumvent, and knock down obstacles that stand in their path. Sometimes it involves a simple nudge and sometimes it involves deep-diving into the school with a lot of resources. At every point during this spectrum, school principals learn to be entrepreneurial and creative and make the change that they want to see.

According to the Education Commission, nine out of ten children in low-income countries are projected to reach adulthood without the skills that they need to thrive in the 21st century. Why should we even talk about 21st-century skills in India when approximately half the children in Grade V are unable to read Grade II level text? Because they are no longer mutually exclusive. Children, especially those from low-income families, rely on school for a lot more than academics. Schools are often the only support system that they have access to in order to navigate a world that was designed without them. What motivation can children have when they see friends from their community jobless even after attending school? How can they see the value in collaborating when it is called ‘copying’ and forbidden within a school? And if not for school, who is going to teach them to problem solve and overcome the social and economic barriers that their families currently face?

Unfortunately, with the current rate at which schools are improving it will take approximately a century for children in poor countries to catch up to today’s education levels in rich countries. We do not have a century and must rapidly transform or leapfrog schools.

What Is The Current State Of Our School Leaders In India?

Ample international evidence suggests that school improvement can rarely occur without effective leadership, and that school principals account for 27% of students’ learning achievement. However, a national survey found that no principal completed leadership-focused training in 10 states in India, and Indian school leaders have substantially lower skills than their peers in seven countries. How can children be agile learners when the leaders of their schools aren’t?

Entrepreneurship For School Principals – Barefoot Edu’s Rehnuma

Barefoot Edu Foundation is on a mission to create a movement of empowered educators who can meaningfully make education better for children now. Since principals lead complex organisations (schools), we develop entrepreneurial skills in principals so that they can effectively use the resources at their disposal and provide 21st-century learning to children in under-resourced schools. Through regular workshops, fortnightly coaching support, and monthly peer learning circles we encourage principals to leverage their strengths and community knowledge in order to implement and institutionalise two 21st-century projects in school: one at the school level and at the student level. Principals have the autonomy to choose projects that are relevant to their needs and shape them depending on their capacity and resources to implement. Some projects led by principals include improving digital learning, community kitchen, and financial sustainability projects such as crowdfunding to set up an alternate source of income for the school.

We document these projects driven by the principal and amplified their impact at a peer learning platform called the School Leaders’ Sammelan. Let us consider crowdfunding, for instance.

Crowdfunding works differently at the community level in comparison to what large organisations are used to. He further united 21 schools from the slums of Mumbai, coached them in community crowdfunding, and they collectively launched a ‘mega-fundraiser’ targeting $100,000. Successful practices like these which have been tested and proved to be within the capacity of such school leaders are being scaled to principals of a similar profile across the country with the help of partner organisations. In a survey conducted with 74 principals across India, nearly all found our interventions to be practical and relevant to their context. 90% believed that their team had the capacity to implement them and 61% intended to implement between 5-10 such practices within their school.

The increasing demand for better schooling and the need to prepare children for the 21st-century has grown the role of school leaders far beyond that of an administrator to that of an institutional entrepreneur. If we expect learning to be meaningful to students then principals need to be equipped with the skillset to drive education at the grassroots and view schools at much more than principals, teachers, and students, and leverage abundant community resources such as self-help groups, grandparents, local businesses, NGOs, local governments, and community channels. We believe that the bar for the quality of education can be significantly raised and ask you to reach out to us and help create a platform for principals so that the voice, values, and goals of their communities at the grassroots shape education.

Jonathan Mendonca is the co-founder and Director of Strategy at Barefoot Edu Foundation, a non-profit focused on school improvement and educational leadership. He has served as an educator, educator trainer, institute builder, and policy advocate for decentralising education systems. Jonathan is a New World Social Innovation Fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School and a student of International Education Policy at Harvard University.

The views expressed here are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views of BloombergQuint or its editorial team.

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