A parent is trying to decide whether to send her child to the preschool at the end of her street, or the one in a nearby neighbourhood. She’s heard the faraway preschool is better, but it also has higher fees, and she’s not quite sure what “better” means.
An NGO is planning a large-scale feeding scheme. It knows government enrolment data for schools can be wildly inaccurate and wants to be sure it is budgeting enough to feed all children.
A corporate wants to use its CSI budget to upgrade school buildings in the community where most of its employees live, but it doesn’t know which schools are most in need.
In each of these situations, the Karnataka Learning Partnership (KLP), an open online platform that tracks the state of education in Karnataka, India, is a game-changing resource.
It’s premised on the idea that if we pull together “everything we know” about education in one place, and make all that information publicly available, we’ll be more equipped to make factual assessments, galvanise community action, and ultimately improve school quality and learning outcomes.
The KLP was established in 2006 by the Akshara Foundation, an education non-profit based in the state of Karnataka, India. Initially, it was an exercise to tie all of Akshara’s programmes together and share its data openly with stakeholders. The KLP team however soon realised that to truly make a difference, it should open the platform for anyone to contribute, and build partnerships to ensure data is credible, helpful and widely used.
The entire platform is open-source – the database code can even be downloaded on the KLP website – so that other Indian states or countries can build on or replicate it.
Its online database has mapped every public primary and pre-primary school in Karnataka – that’s 46 000 primary schools and 64 000 preschools. It tracks a variety of data, including: basic info (address and landmarks, language of instruction); demographics (including both government and independently-verified enrolment data); infrastructure (including whether schools have drinking water, electricity, toilets, libraries and computer labs, whether they offer mid-day meals, and whether they are accessible to children with disabilities); finances and budgets; programmes run, and outcomes at an aggregate level (individual learner performance is not made public).
The data above is from an English intervention that 28 learners attended in 2010-11. Between the pre-test (bottom) and post-test (top), the average score improved by 23 percentage points, from 58% (below city and area averages) to 81% (above city and area averages). Girls – previously 10 percentage points behind boys – came out 9 percentage points ahead.
It’s also possible to compare two schools:
Anyone can contribute information – NGOs, parents, government – and data is collected in a number of ways.
Akshara’s field staff, who support library and maths programmes in more than 10 000 schools across Karnataka, collect observations each time they visit a school: Is the principal present? Are all teachers present and teaching? Does each classroom have a blackboard?
Information is collected as Yes/No binaries, without quality gradients (“Good”, “Moderate”, “Poor”). The KLP has found that such gradients are not used consistently and don’t work at scale.
Data on Akshara’s programme outcomes is also uploaded, and a few other NGOs share their data, including Akshaya Patra, which provides mid-day meals to 1.4 million children in India each day – so nutrition and health can be cross-referenced with education. (The KLP would love to get more NGOs involved, but despite interest and goodwill, most NGOs’ data collection is still not very strong.)
A new feature called “Share Your Story” allows anyone to enter a set of school observations – via interactive voice response system (IRVS), the website or community surveys. To date, the KLP has collected 157 989 of these stories, the majority from parents. They expect at least 300 000 entries this school year.
I often go on site visits to schools, where I notice things that aren’t working well: a library that’s always locked; blocked toilets; crumbling netball fields. I also see good things: passionate teaching; humming feeding schemes; volunteers helping in classrooms or after school. I’d love a way to report those things as I see them, so my observations become part of a larger body of evidence that can be used to strengthen schools.
Developing and maintaining the platform is no small task: The Akshara Foundation’s fieldworkers do a lot of data collection. KLP has 6 staff who work on programming, and contracts people part-time to enter reams of paper-based data.
The KLP data-entry room in Bangalore – where all the magic happens.
But it has the potential to truly pay off. Here’s one example I loved: in India, local politicians – Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs) – have small discretionary budgets to spend on their districts, which are often opaquely spent or unused. A few times each year, the KLP team compiles and delivers hard-copy reports to each MLA, highlighting schools with infrastructure shortfalls and suggesting how politicians could spend their budgets.
In South Africa, cutting edge work with data is also taking place. The Data Driven Districts Dashboard initiative (spearheaded by the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation, the New Leaders Foundation and the Department of Basic Education) consolidates information about attendance, grade progression and learning outcomes. It’s now up and running in nearly 25 districts in 3 provinces. For now, the platform is only open to education officials – although long-term, plans for a public version are in the works.
The KLP’s approach is deeply democratic at its core: the team believes that the locus of control in education needs to shift from the supply side to the demand side. Instead of waiting to receive services, and sighing and shrugging their shoulders when things don’t work out, citizens – and public accountability – should drive education provision.
Imagine what that kind of demand for education could do for South Africa.
via Head & Heart, by Katie Huston
One of the key tenets of Akshara Foundation’s work in primary education is sharing – all our projects, be it KLP or Together We Can stand on our willingness to share. In one such effort, we spent two days with officials from Punjab Education Department (Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan & SCERT) and Sampark Foundation sharing our teaching methodology, training mechanisms, assessment guides and teaching-learning material, for their consideration for replication in Punjab.
|Team from Punjab education department |
inspecting a math class
Sampark Foundation has been working with the Punjab Education Department helping primary schools deliver better education for school children. While considering support for English learning, Sampark visited Karnataka to see Akshara’s successfully functioning model.
On Wednesday, the 5th of March 2014, Mr. Satwant Singh – Pravesh, SSA, Mr. Kanwaldeep Singh – ASPD Teacher Training, Darshan Singh – Pravesh Dist. Coordinator – Sangrur and Ms. Baljeet Kaur – English Subject Expert – SCERT, Venkatesh Malur and Sandeep Chauhan from Sampark Foundation came to Akshara Foundation. With special focus on our swalpa English Thumba fun programme, Kanchan Bannerjee of Akshara Foundation made a presentation and demonstrated our English kit which is used by Primary School teachers as supplementary material to help better learning.
|Learning material in a nail-kali class|
To see our work in action, we set off on a field trip the next day, to visit nearby schools in Hoskote for an interaction with children and teachers to demonstrate our contribution. We first reached the Government Higher Primary School in Sir M. V. Nagar in Hoskote to meet Esther Rani and her class. Esther’s nali-kali class of 1st to 3rd standard students demonstrated incredible reading ability.
Singing English rhymes, reading long sentences, recognizing names of animals and things, the class set a positive tone for the visitors. The enthusiasm in the classroom was bountiful and all students were eager to demonstrate their English skills which was a joy to experience. The team visited two more primary schools in Banamakanahalli and Marasandahalli with around 30 children each and saw the program in action. The children in all the three schools were very eager to show off their English skills and were able to recite rhymes, read out stories and speak out a few sentences. The teachers were making a difference since they had been able to take out their fear of English through the training and practice.
|Team from Punjab education department |
inspecting a reading lesson
From there, we went to a remote school, rather far from public transport connectivity, with pre-school, primary and higher primary classes. Here was a quick demonstration of our Math kit, which helps children learn through experience. From there, we visited another school close by for a good sample, before we walked off to meet the Block Education Officer.
Hoskote is among the districts identified as backward in parameters of quality education, with the education department working consistently to make the situation better. The Block Education Officer discussed with his contemporaries from a different state, issues of training and management. The officials see the fruits of the English program and have made provision for refresher training of teachers without a budget allocation since it is helpful to teachers and children.
|Students from Akshara supported schools demonstrating English reading and math comprehension ability.|
The Education Department from Punjab takes back with them Akshara’s know-how and experiences from the ground illustrating the impact of the work we’ve done. There is, of course, a long way to go – further meetings, conversations and plans – before this is implemented in Punjab as a demonstration project. Until then, let’s work harder and share more.
With inputs from and pictures courtesy of Venkatesh Malur from Sampark Foundation.