Missing Competencies In Children Must Be Assessed Regularly: Mamta Saikia, CEO, Bharti Foundation

Foundational literacy and numeracy skills are the areas where remedial programmes are most needed with a focus on holistic education, informs Mamta Saikia, CEO, Bharti Foundation reflecting on the past year and plans moving forward into 2023.

Mamta Saikia, CEO, Bharti Foundation

Mamta Saikia is the Chief Executive Officer of Bharti Foundation, the philanthropic arm of Bharti Enterprises. Under Saikia’s leadership, the foundation has begun its flagship initiative, Satya Bharti School Program, to provide quality education to children from marginalised groups in rural areas. The program has been launched in 173 schools across five states in the country, impacting more than 38,000 students to date.

Looking back on the year 2022, Saikia reflects on the major developments in education, its impact on rural areas and key learnings to carry forward into the new year. Excerpts:

What kind of growth opportunities are you looking forward to in 2023?

Bharti Foundation’s flagship initiative, Satya Bharti School Program, was set up in 2006 to provide free quality education to underprivileged children in rural India. We have been working on the ground for nearly 16 years and have now implemented many education programs for children. It is our belief that today, we have sufficient learnings on the ground to contribute towards NEP’s vision of holistic quality education. In 2013, we took the learnings from our rural Satya Bharti Schools to government schools under Satya Bharti Quality Support Program (QSP) for a wider impact. It was reassuring to see the acceptance of our program among govt. school principals and teachers as our processes were found to be practical and relevant to the challenges they were facing in schools. govt. school principals also appreciated the fact that our interventions synergised with their calendars and priorities thus providing a much-needed boost while fitting into the existing timetables. This helped in establishing our work amongst the education administrators on the ground as well as state education departments, leading to our strategy of creating impact through quality education at a large scale across the country. Thus, the Large Scale Initiatives (LSI) program was conceptualised in 2018-19 covering schools in an entire block or district with targeted interventions.

Through our various education programs, we have been able to reach 1 million children in a meaningful manner from April - Oct 2022. Currently, we are working extensively in three Indian states under LSI and 11 states under QSP. Our hope is to deepen the impact through the programs. In the coming year, we are keen to work extensively with a few more states through LSI and partner with many more government schools under QSP. 

What learning losses are we still recovering from? What areas require more attention in the upcoming year?

Learning loss in the two years of Covid calls for a holistic action plan to bridge the academics and skills gaps in children with a consistent focus over the next two-three years. This gap, while being prominently talked about in the learning levels, has also impacted socio-emotional aspects and life skills among children, affecting their overall performance in school. Remedial classes focusing on Foundational Literacy & Numeracy skills are being implemented in schools and one can see that teachers are working with students to bridge the gaps and make up for the lost time. It is critical that we assess the missing competencies in children regularly so that child-centric remedial plans can be implemented. It is also important that their holistic development remains a key focus area, as envisaged in the National Education Policy 2020. Also, during the last two years of Covid, we have seen technology taking the center stage in education and finding ways for schools to continue incorporating digital content in the teaching-learning processes while upskilling the teachers. 

Now that schools have completely reopened, what role will EdTech play in the classroom, especially in rural education?

Education, like any other sector, has seen technology playing a pivotal role during Covid. Technology adaptation in teaching learning needs to get institutionalised for larger exposure and better learning outcomes. The speed with which it has been accepted by teachers, parents and students even in rural underprivileged segments, has not been previously seen. Teachers are also now employing digital tools in their everyday teaching. Personalised learning, thanks to many free online apps such as Diksha and digital content will help in bridging learning gaps. Also, thanks to technology, education will expand beyond schools with students and parents using it more frequently at home. We should encourage corporates to come forward and actively support schools in rural India with EdTech interventions, especially devices.

How can we better embed regional languages in the education structure?

Embedding regional languages in daily classrooms ensures better participation, learning retention and application. A few ways that can ensure regional languages are a part of the everyday curriculum are school assemblies, creative writing opportunities, at least one library session involving book reading, concept-based activities/projects in regional languages and encouraging teachers to use regional language as a mode of interaction with children for better concept building.

The government has taken many education initiatives this year, what other initiatives would you like to see happen? What kind of policies can better assist in creating education outreach?

In NEP 2020, there are some inspirational ideas that could ensure holistic quality education in schools. We are particularly enthused by the idea of No Bag Day and have already partnered with the Govt. of Rajasthan to create a program around it in Jodhpur, Pali and Barmer districts, and will further scale up to Sirohi, Jaisalmer and Jalore. Under various themes, impactful No Bag Day initiatives are planned which are multifaceted and aid in improving the learning levels of children as they acquire knowledge, life skills, critical thinking, creativity and much more. Such initiatives also help in grooming children to be responsible and contributing citizens of the country as they grow.  Focus on holistic quality education, especially life skills as well as pre-vocational skills in the elementary classes are also game changers. Bharti Foundation is working with the education Department in Jammu and has created a program to build life skills through the House system. Government has a very robust approach towards partnerships with NGOs as well as other institutions that can partner with them in achieving the vision as per NEP2020 and these partnerships would bring in a sustainable change to ensure holistic quality education in our country.

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