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November 02, 2020 Monday 10:34:29 AM IST

Equity, Access and Success!

Cover Story

Inclusive learning concept is quite new to India and the passage of Right to Education Act along with the Constitutional provisions have paved the way for ensuring access for a large community of marginalised people. With active participation of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) working hand-in-hand with government schools, quality education is now reaching the remotest corners of the country. But much more needs to be done in the context of the digital divide that has emerged in the Covid lockdown phase.

Striving for More Inclusivity

There is an urgent need to ensure that blended learning becomes more inclusive so that marginalized children don’t get sidelined in education and NGOs are ready to collaborate with government schools to make it happen.

India will have the largest number of young people in the world by 2030 and this can be a boon only if they are properly skill to join the workforce. However, large section of children especially in rural areas are unable to go to school and among those who attend school, the dropout rates are quite high. 

With government expenditure on education remaining at 3%  of Gross Domestic Product (GDP)  for a long time and the effort  to raise it to 6% not yet achieved, it remains doubtful how the nation would be able to take advantage of the demographic dividend.  The Covid-19 pandemic worsened the crisis in education sector as large numbers of disadvantaged or marginalised families were unable to provide education for children as they didn't have digital gadgets or internet connectivity.

Inclusive Education
Inclusive education is a relatively new concept in India and the ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of People with Disability (UNCRPD) by India and the Right to Education Act (RTE),2009 has given new hope for enabling large sections of people denied the right to education so far.  Over the years, India had several programmes such as Sarva Shiksa Abhiyan and National Literacy Mission to expand elementary education in the country.

Notably several rural schools and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) played a stellar role using limited technology and providing more activity based learning. But the NGO's face a major crisis as corporate social responsibility (CSR) funding is being donated to PM Cares.

"With changes in Foreign Contributions Regulation Act (FCRA) and CSR funds committed to other larger projects of the government, securing funding at this point of time is very difficult. Partnerships are what can really sustain us whether it is with universities or schools. We need more support in setting up online education and running it," according to Manjusmita Bagchi of Ektara, a Calcutta based NGO working for empowerment of the girl child and women in slums in Kolkatta.

NGO’s and Govt Schools

“Millions of NGOs are there in India and many of them are not doing something great and hence the need to bring them under FCRA. But if we can go hand in hand with the Government, then results can happen. Most of the government schools teachers are paid well compared to private school teachers but they aren't trained enough,” said Savitha Ranganathan, Secretary, Mitraz Foundation.  She felt that if government schools improved in quality of education imparted then rural sector would be benefited. At the end of the day funding is the most important requirement for NGOs as parental participation, community participation and the need to fill gaps in formal education are always there, she added.

“There are large number of NGO's who have worked on Public Private Participation (PPP) models with government and they could scale up their activities with the result that government is taking them seriously. Government schools are located in the best places in urban areas and the best infrastructure. We need to look at working hand-in-hand with the government and not create a parallel system,” Manjusmita Bagchi said.

A Niti Aayog report on educational activities in Siliguri in Sikkim, mentioned NGOs handholding the efforts of teachers in government schools and using innovative techniques such as role play to foster learning.

“Our focus is on providing high quality English medium education to girls living in the slums in Calcutta. Pre-Covid pandemic we had our own education facility and we ran programs from early childhood to pre-primary to middle school. We also facilitated sending high school students to other schools in the city, taking care of finance aid and taking remedial classes. Our emphasis is to provide high quality education to those who can't afford and to enhance the capacity of the families to sustain the learning of the child. Capacity building of families is also a very important part. We work with first generation learners and most of them are migrant minorities or those who have come from neighbouring states. We never imagined doing remote classes with these children. But the pandemic forced us to work with new options,” according Manjusmita Bagchi.

NGOs should find a niche area to work on. They are already working in rural areas, for dropouts or some specific purposes. These purposes may define these NGOs.  It is perhaps time for NGOs to reinvent themselves and  overcome funding and technology problems, according to Dr Varghese Panthalookaran, Professor of Engineering at Rajagiri School of Engineering and Technology (RSET).

Unicef India has also underscored the need to bring literacy to large sections of underprivileged  and has already done some outstanding work in the lockdown period. 
Policy Interventions
The Union Government has launched the Strengthening Teaching-Learning and Results for States (STARS) with a project cost of Rs 5718 cr of and funded by World Bank funding to the extent of Rs 3700 cr. The project covers 6 states namely, Himachal Pradesh, Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Kerala and Odisha. The STARS project seeks to support the states in developing, implementing, evaluating and improving interventions with direct linkages to improved education outcomes and school to work transition strategies for improved labour market outcomes. The overall focus and components of the STARS project are aligned with the objectives of National Education Policy (NEP) 2020 of Quality Based Learning Outcomes.
At a global level, in early September, government leaders, business executives and heads of United Nations organizations and multilateral agencies renewed their commitment to connect every school and community to the internet by 2030.

At a high-level virtual meeting, Generation Unlimited: Connecting Half the World to Opportunities, they pledged to also reach 3.5 billion children and young people with quality education, including world-class digital solutions, distance learning and relevant skilling