Systemic Change in Education and the Role of Civil Society Organizations

Dhir Jhingran: I want to first do a quick recap of the education scene from the side of the government over the two decades or so that I have been associated with it. The National Policy of Education had several schemes: the DIETs (District Institute of Education and Training); PMOST (Programme of Mass Orientation of School Teachers) and SOPT (Special Orientation for Primary Teachers) – at that time huge, countrywide, very centralized training programmes for primary and secondary school teachers; distribution of maths and science kits; and Operation Blackboard, which was basically for the construction of school buildings and classrooms.

That was how it was in the late 80s. Literacy and non-formal education (NFE) were very important sectors at that time, and a lot of work in the central ministry and the states was focused around it. Then came a time when external aid started to become centre-stage. Starting with the UP Basic Education Project, the Andhra Pradesh Primary Education Project (APPEP) and, in a way, Lok Jumbish, they were sort of precursors of DPEP later. They were district plans.

I am talking more about these programmes and not policies because policies really did not get converted into anything substantial. In the late 80s-early 90s not many NGOs were working with the government system. It was not that easy. We have examples of Eklavya, HSTP, etc. and large numbers of NFE NGOs of all varieties. BGVS (Bharat Gyan Vigyan Samiti) and many others were quite active, but very few worked with the government system.

Then came the time of DPEP, from about 1994 to 2000. There was a greater openness in the system with focus on innovation and some experimentation, in a wide range of aspects – curriculum, teacher training, infrastructure, out-of-school children, and setting up of academic support centres like BRC and CRC (Block and Cluster Resource Centres). A lot of the work on school based MIS (Management Information Systems) – which is now DISE (District Information System for Education)and UDISE (Unified District Information System for Education) – started then.
There was experimentation, not necessarily based on evidence or what worked, but because the flexibility existed. In every state people experimented with things – with NGOs or as individual experts – and a lot of new school designs were initiated. There were new initiatives also for out-of-school urban deprived children. Many experiences from outside the government – for example, CINI (Children in Need Institute), Asha, Sister Cyril, NV Foundation and others – were brought into the mainstream in some ways.

Of course, like all government programmes, there were things that were centrally mandated, like Village Education Committees and MIS. I don’t know if you have heard of them because those institutions have almost died now. Some research did begin, though limited and not of very high quality. But even at that time – and it started with that time – the system was largely kept out, because the feeling was that there was an urgency for universal elementary education, and our institutions, like the Directorates and SCERTs (State Institute for Educational Research and Training), were not in a position to do things quickly.

In fact, the Joint Secretary who then headed the DPEP mission wrote an article in which he said, “Let not the dead seize the living.” His argument was that we have to work outside the system because the system is virtually dead and we have to do many things. This was also a time when many NGOs – Bodh, Digantar, Eklavya and more in North India, and many others including those that worked with children with special needs, migrant and out-of school children – were very involved and there was a lot of sharing.

But even at that stage, there was really no model of involving NGOs and other organizations, of working in a long term arrangement with organizations. In the early SSA years, some of the innovative spirit of DPEP continued for about five-six years. There was a lot of work around bridge courses, the NV Foundation was involved, certain aspects got picked up and there was infusion of new ideas from civil society. There were also a large number of quality improvement programmes at that time. Some of them were state initiated. Andhra Pradesh had CLIP, CLAP (Children’s Language Improvement Programme and Children’s Language Acceleration Programme) and more; other states had other programmes. But the defining feature was school expansion, para-teachers and the EGS (Education Guarantee Scheme) kind of schools. That was the situation in the early 2000s.

I have been a big critic of the way SSA shaped up after2006. It sort of coincided with my leaving the ministry, but it wasn’t to do with that. That was the time to break out of having a fixed set of activities with standard unit costs. But SSA didn’t reform itself at all, and just became a programme where funds were given out at the beginning of the year. In a two-hour meeting, the Approval Board decided on 20 activities, and those who were not interested in innovating simply followed those activities – a one size- fits-all approach.

Better governed states had a history of work in education – say, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and, to some extent, Madhya Pradesh. They had their own ways of doing things – reforms in recruitment, transfers, the ABL (Activity Based Learning) approach in Tamil Nadu, the Karnataka State Quality Assessment Organization… But largely, whatever was required by SSA was just being implemented.

New multilingual education programmes came up in Andhra Pradesh and Odisha around this time, starting around 2004-2006. And then, of course, there was the NCF (National Curriculum Framework). It was slow to start with, then there was a push. But it largely took the shape of the states being given NCERT (National Council of Educational Research and Training) textbooks and asked to do something similar. NCF is still a document largely not understood in most states. So I wouldn’t say there was very much imbibing of what it was about; it was more about the tangible aspects of NCERT textbooks.

In the Teacher Education Scheme, too, there was a revamp. Some, like Hardy, were associated with workshops over three or four years. There was a revised scheme, and the Justice Verma Commission Report. But somehow, there was no impact in the field, either in terms of the health of the institutions like the DIETs or SCERTs, or in the way that pre-service or teacher education was organized. So during this period – the late part of SSA – these parallel structures, which should have actually got completely abolished by 2002-3, continued. And in many states, they still do. Therefore, the SSA society, SSA structures and the departmental structures were often working at cross-purposes, and that too still continues.

The third dimension was DIETs in teacher education.Everyone had their own programmes and there was a synergy, at least in the district and below, not even at the state level. That was a big problem in the later part of SSA. Then there was the RTE (Right to Education). I feel it is very ambitious in many ways – very aspirational – and fixing time limits for things without getting the system ready for it has been a big issue. The system has seen it basically as quickly getting grants from the SSA for teacher appointment, infrastructure, etc., and then seeing how much happens with it.

The last three-four years, post RTE, have been about new schools, infrastructure, and the so-called tangible aspect of CCE (Continuous and Comprehensive Evaluation). We just completed a study, and I must tell you it is not doing too well in terms of what is happening in the states. Then, of course, teacher recruitment, the TET (Teacher Eligibility Test) model, and the open and distance learning programmes for the backlog of teachers who are untrained – that’s what has really been the thrust in the last few years, in the government system.

There has also been, in my understanding, a sense of reduced openness to civil society, not because anything has prevented it. In general, it is about two or three things. One, there are a lot of things to do: there’s a list of SSA activities, the Right to Education Act, and everything has to be done quickly. It also has to probably do with
the way SSA has shaped up. Language issues, for example, have fallen by the wayside because there are a lot of big things that have to be done in a fixed time frame.

The involvement of NGOs in civil society has become even more cumbersome if the arrangement is long-term. They are asked to do things quickly, and I am told that fund release is a big issue, as is procurement. This is not new, and happened even with DPEP. It is very common to do a base line and end line after six months and show that there have been huge increases in learning outcomes.

We have a crop of educational/administrative leaders who seem to be impatient. Many of them don’t come from the education sector – that is a problem. I think that even though we should be in the fray for the long haul because we are sort of done with the programmes hopefully – SSA is definitely on the way out – it is time to look at education with a perspective. One big hindrance is senior bureaucracy heading education departments and ministries. They are very whimsical, with changing priorities, and person dependent.The common complaint of NGOs is that you go and talk to one secretary, and six months you’ve got to re-educate a new one.

In the last few years there has also been some focus, more drummed-up, around learning outcomes. It has coincided with ASER’s reports, around which there was initially a lot of interest though they are more routine now. People are talking about outcomes, but the shape it has taken for the ministry and states is to do large-scale assessments, as if assessments are going to improve outcomes. Everywhere, states have got funds for large-scale assessments. And the same resources in the SCERTs and DIETs, which could have been used for something else, are now going into preparing tests and working with these external agencies doing assessment.

Now, assessments are not a problem in themselves. But if they are seen as the answer for everything to improve learning outcomes, that is a problem. I see every state being consumed by this. The last point I want to make here in terms of the scenario in the last five-seven years is that we’ve got bigger NGOs like Pratham, Azim Premji Foundation and, to some extent, even Vidya Bhavan. They have more influence and are able to engage with state governments around curriculum and pedagogy issues, textbook renewal, etc. Some of them have actually started to set up state teams housed in the SCERTs or state offices. Many of them now have leverage because they are also providing man- or woman-power to the state SSA societies.

That is useful for state education departments because when they say, “We want to do this – how do we do it?” there is someone available who can respond and take it forward. UNICEF, of course, has been promoting initiatives in some states – MLE (Multilingual Education), early childhood, subject forum in Karnataka, etc. Some of the smaller NGOs are, however, finding it difficult because the space outside the government system has contracted, also because of RTE (Right to Education). The last development which I want to mention is CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility). It is definitely out there. Corporates follow a different way of doing things, and it is an interesting mix. They have come into curriculum and pedagogy issues in certain states, and it is a good time to understand how different kinds of organizations with different orientations work together.

If I have to say one thing about these 20 years, I would say education has been very centrally driven in terms of priorities. States that were not thinking on their own fell in line doing exactly what was required for those funds and activities. That is a defining feature – whether for SSA, RTE, and to some extent even NCF. All of it was flowing from the centre. Civil society space and possibilities also changed with these different priorities. During this process, systemic change really fell by the wayside because everyone was busy implementing programmes. Again, I am talking of states that I have visited more often, not so much in South India but Chhattisgarh, Odisha, Jharkhand, Assam, West Bengal, UP, Bihar and Rajasthan.

A few other points:

  • Curriculum and textbooks: There has been some tinkering with them after NCF, in many states. But some weren’t clear as to what the change was about, why the textbooks were different, what was different about them, what the difference meant, and if teacher preparation was required for them.
  • Teacher education: I mean not just institutions like SCERTs and DIETs, but what it means to work with teachers on a continuous basis from the pre-service stage until when they are teaching on a regular basis. That hasn’t seen much of a change.
  • School supervision and academic support: We have BRCs and CRCs. Today the ministry actually says CRC is a failed model. It is so unfortunate to hear that it has been given up. But in the government school system also, the whole BEO/SI (Block Education Officer/ School Inspector) machinery has never kept up with the expansion of schools, and academic support has got dissolved in other tasks.
  • Assessment reform: We have CCE but, as all of you know, studies show that it is very formulaic and procedural. It is not about what happens in classrooms and how you help improve learning. Examinations still continue – there is very little reform there. If you say that you want to shift from rote memorization and content to skills and concepts and knowledge, the exams haven’t been reformed in that manner. There has been no serious work around assessment reforms but we are doing large-scale assessments.
  • Teacher recruitment: There is the TET. Transfers: Some states, if very few, have good policies. But ten per cent of schools are single-teacher schools, 40 per cent are twoteacher schools. So obviously, we have not been able to work well on this.
  • Educational administration: Whether at the district or block level, this is left out completely from programmes and new things that come into the system. RTE, of course, has a whole set of reforms that have been implemented in some manner.

So in these 20 years, systemic change somehow fell by the wayside. For anything like the RTE or even learning outcome to happen effectively we need to have a rights or entitlements orientation in the system, which is completely missing. Right now, it is as if because something is mandatory, we have the funds for it and implement it. There is a focus on outcomes, but people don’t really talk about who is or isn’t learning, and how we can ensure that all children learn. That is not a priority focus. I call this systemic – this transformation that is required in the teaching-learning process. We have imposed CCE on something that is not CCE-friendly at all So what is probably needed is a focus on the teaching-learning process and how it can be changed. Much of it is in the realm of beliefs and attitudes. I have a few random ideas on what civil society can do, and I hope it will trigger thoughts and discussions.

A lot of training is happening, but what is the gap there? Understanding the classroom and how it functions; inclusion of all children; working with teachers about basic beliefs, or specific subjects, or about science and maths; getting into things that haven’t been discussed earlier. Can all children learn? How does early literacy develop? In the last ten years, these haven’t got that much importance. So we need to focus more on that than just helping with a maths or science programme that a state is doing. Many organizations have been trying to create classrooms that are different. You can see how assessment can happen during the course of teaching. What is the feedback from there? How do children get different learning experiences in a multilevel  situation? Those from the government system can go to these classrooms to see clearly how different the system is.

Many organizations are engaging with institution building, and it requires a lot of preparation. But some have not been ready to work with the SCERTs and DIETs. Of course, there is the huge issue about the administrative reforms required for it. You can’t do much if there are no people there, or they are just waiting for the next posting, or they have no interest in teacher education. But this is an important area to focus on for systemic change. We have created the institution of BRC/CRC and there are some good people there. Can there be some rationalization in the documentation and data collection work that happens?

Are there other ways in which teachers can be supported in an on-going basis inside the school – as a place where they come and think together – or at meetings, or through materials that go out to them, or through participation in programmes that are not directly in-service workshops? Can we look at areas where the government doesn’t do very much? It does an annual round of training programmes. But if it is a maths training session, can we support teachers with more activities around mathematics, and get them to dialogue with us in some ways, like, for example, the forums in Karnataka – a reform of the way in-service training is done in a workshop?

These are the priorities. I always think educational administrators – BEO (Block Education Officer) level people – are left out. Can we try and loop these people into programmes, and get them to understand quality issues? Government programmes often neglect what happens outside the school. And we know that education and learning is an ecosystem – there is a lot that happens outside. Can we therefore work a little more with mothers/parents? We talk about reading and literacy in a classroom, but if there is absolutely nothing that a child gets after going out of school – like a community library or reading room – then that is a problem. These are things that are really not the target of government programmes. And then, of course, there are migrant and street children, who have language issues – the government system does not focus on them.

We could push for medium-term kind of arrangements of working with governments. In fact, we circulated MoUs that Assam had with the NV Foundation, and that other states had with other organizations. Can we also try and have a vision, and longer term agreements with state agencies? It is easier said than done but we should try and move in that direction. NGOs, among themselves, need to work together more, collaborate more, with a sense of common purpose. I have been to states where different NGOs do their own thing. They don’t actually sit together and create a forum for themselves at the state level – the country is too wide a base – to look at priorities, at what others are doing, and try to then take some positions. For example, we know that many governments are trying to push through things to do with large-scale assessments that may not be the most appropriate. So can there be a sort of ethical group that looks at what we stand for and will not compromise on – even if state governments are ready to involve us – on certain thematic issues? For example, if there is a demand to do a census in a particular state to assess all children as a part of a large-scale assessment, maybe an organization could have a stand on why census based assessments are required when you want to understand the problems and trends in learning across a few years.

Hriday Kant Dewan (Hardy): There are a lot of interesting points that Dhir has made, aligned with what I was going to say. But I will probably put them in a different framework and state them in a different manner because I am looking at it from a different perspective – more from the perspective of civil society.

So it will help look at the whole picture. The first question is, what is the system? The second is, what is civil society? We also need to see how the term ‘civil society’ has changed over the last 25-30 years. The last question is, what can be, should be, is allowed to be, the role of civil society? These three are distinct issues.

We are talking about the public system. There is this confusion about what is public. In a democracy, it is anything in the public space. In that sense, private schools are also public. Many of them are called public schools. But here we are looking at public as government run and government controlled. In fact, RTE goes a long way in trying to define what it wants to control – government schools and the government aided schools. But the public system also has influences on what is called private, because the curriculum, the textbooks and the assessment are in the domain of public education. Public is therefore a larger space. We need to recognize that because we often forget that the private school is also governed by the public system in some manner. When we are talking about change, we mean it in the positive sense. So there is a need to define what is positive. In education, as in agriculture and technology, we often realize that things that we were talking about 50 years ago come back after a lot of exercise in some direction. System change, therefore, has to be seen as something that goes and comes back, and we need to unpack the term within that process.

Who are the participants in the process? If you look at system change in terms of teacher change, it is important to recognize that many civil society organizations work with the teacher as a unit. So you have a voluntary group of teachers organized in different ways to come together to discuss and share, and in that process, change their own classrooms to whatever extent they can. So when we think about the role of civil society, we can’t ignore these groups. They may not have influence in defining what the state SCERT should be doing, but they do on what the teacher should be doing.

Then we can look at the school as a unit. Many new processes came up as civil society worked with and people set up individual schools. So there we are looking at the school as an aspect of system change. Why is it important? Because all these teachers as individuals and schools as systems also will, in the long run, change the discourse in education and have some effect on the larger system. What the impact is of these small explorations into making things meaningful and then merging into a mainstream, on the experiments and on the mainstream, is something we need to think about.

So it is a larger issue, but part of the question when we discuss systemic change. We could also look at a cluster and a block as a unit. So we keep coming back to this: what should be the unit of change? In many instances that Dhir talked about, we have constantly been exploring this idea of a reasonable size of a change group. Can it be a cluster? The school is influenced by a lot of pressures it cannot withstand. So can a cluster withstand those pressures? Can the cluster define itself as autonomous? Can the block define itself as autonomous? Does the change have to be for a state or country? Or can change happen in the country, state, block, cluster and school, all together?

We can say that the process of change includes all of them separately, and also together. So in understanding the process, all these elements need to be thought about because, eventually, what has to change is in the classroom where teachers must have a key role. There are stakeholders in each of these things. As they grow bigger and bigger, their relative role and their power become very different. The nature of intervention that is possible also becomes different. If you are a teacher, yourself the change agent, then the kind of intervention you can do is a lot more. But if the state the Education Secretary, is a change agent, the kind of change is different.

The most important question about change is the space for the agency, flexibility and exploration – what somebody called ‘creative engagement’ yesterday. This is very important. Unless there is creative engagement of a person, there cannot be a meaningful process. If you say that we want meaningfully engaged classrooms, you need a space for the teacher to be creatively engaged. Whether that comes from a state driven, or a cluster organized, or a school based programme is something we need to explore.

The other challenge would be consistency of underlying principles. In the kind of programmes we talked about – DPEP, SSA – which are large programmes, there are many competing terms that you need to use, like summative and formative assessment, CCE, child centred, and competence based, with competence defined in a certain manner. These terms are not always consistent with the underlying philosophy they come from. So if you are talking about inclusion, you cannot talk about summative and formative. Diversity can’t be about everything happening in the same manner in every classroom. The questions we are talking about have to therefore have a certain consistency in the underlying principles. And then there has to be alignment across the system with those principles for the process of change to be actually reflected where it should.

These are the constraints, the necessary elements. As far as NCF is concerned, I don’t think we have even reached where we need to, to try and have an understanding of what underlying principles it is talking about, leave alone alignment at each level. That process of change therefore requires a time-span – far more than three-five years. But we are becoming more and more impatient for reasons not necessarily to do with children or the need for hurry to improve the system, but from a different perspective. We need to be aware of them – not just from the outside but also inside – when we talk about intervening in the system.

The second big point is civil society. What is it? What constitutes it? Why is it needed? We say that civil society, in some sense, is non-government. So anything that is non-government then becomes civil society. At the moment, there is no other definition of civil society. So you would have a widely different spectrum of people, and what one particular group may think of as civil, others may not. Yet they form the same set of civil society intervening in the public education system. For the purpose of education, we are limiting this set to a certain category in this room, and similar people outside.

Like Dhir, let us start with how the structure and the nature of these organizations have changed over the last 30 years. The nature of who can be the external support has also changed. An interesting example is the Kishore Bharati and Friends Rural Centre, which went into school education by accident. They wanted to do social mobilization along the idea of development and inequity. One wanted to promote development and distribute the largesse from development to more people; the other wanted to organize questions around development and hand over control to the people. They came together to start what is called the Hoshangabad Science Teaching Programme, with the idea to improve the teaching of science. The properties of these institutions were aligned but different. This is to show how civil society often comes together with many different purposes and objectives in mind.

It also leads to processes which, over a period of time, lead to separation and divergence in ways. In this case, it led to a common child – Eklavya – committed to the idea of intervention in school education. The first document that was created for Eklavya was called ‘Micro-level Experimentation to Macro-level Change’. This was the concept of Eklavya, of which I was also a member. Today I speak against this fundamental idea of micro-level exploration to macro-level change. I say that macro-level expansion and effort is a different exploration – it has nothing to do with micro-level experimentation. You can learn some things from it, but it has to be conceived, constructed, visualized and organized very differently.

Before Eklavya – there are similar organizations in other areas, like Pradhan, not for education but for professional assistance for rural development action – there was this criticism that voluntary agencies or civil society organizations were largely Gandhian. The emphasis was on sacrifice and voluntarism, no salary and no professionalism. Eklavya and Pradhan, starting around the same time, started the idea of bringing professional competence into social intervention in education and development. Pradhan was about livelihoods and Eklavya was for education. This, over a period of time, has converted the sector of development into a development sector. We have issues of rural management and programmes now in social work. So what started as a voluntary professional choice has become a profession. We need to recognize this also in the matrix of thinking about system change. Now we also have organizations working for profit, providing technical expertise in all sectors of rural and urban development. So it is no longer left to funded organizations but also to professional organizations that charge fees.

In a sense, we are now acknowledging the worth of technical expertise and inputs. Therefore the language
of dialogue of working with the state has also changed. The reason why people who think differently, who have a very sincere commitment to make a change in school education, may find it difficult to intervene is because the language and conversation would be around topics on which they disagree. They may realize that, but the state would want those terms to be part of the conversation in starting a programme. So something that is not technical, more related to changing the way the teacher thinks about her job, becomes a less possible way of intervening.

What is the role of civil society? We have a government system that has funds, expertise, and a lot of people with salaries – in fact, it has more qualified people than are sitting in this room. So why is this sector needed? We need to understand that to help clarify our own role. We are concerned in a long term sense. We bring in the concern of the people, of different kinds of stakeholders. We act as a watchdog because the government system has a tendency – as do large NGOs – to say that they make no mistakes, whatever the situation. To accept “I don’t know what to do” is not possible for it. And if NGOs and civil society, which are outside, can’t also say, “I don’t know. I have to think about it,” then what they can bring in becomes that much less.

We are also able to act as bridges for stakeholders. There is a very strong sense of hierarchy in the government system. At each level, the officer – with exceptions – believes that the person below him doesn’t know anything. The Education Secretary believes that teachers don’t want to teach, and that they look for teacher-proof learning material or technical aids rather than invest in teachers or teacher training. So there is no forum or possibility for listening to the teachers’ voices.

One of the things done in HSTP was to try and create these structures of communication across hierarchies – from the teacher to the Commissioner of Education, sometimes also the Education Secretary. There were many people who helped in that. The fact is that we are able to talk to teachers as well as to the Education Secretary and the SCERT Director and the Director of Education as friends. If we can’t do that, then we are failing in our role. As Dhir said, if we are only doing what the Director is saying, then we are no better – only better qualified – than subordinates in the government system. The role of the civil society has to be to tell this system what it ought to be doing, listening to people at different levels. To me, this is central to the purpose of civil society being in the system.

Then there are the changes in the bureaucratic system, as Dhir pointed out. One Secretary goes, one Director goes, and the next one comes in wanting to do something totally different. As one Chattisgarh Education Secretary – a friend of mine – told me: “You do what you want to about this textbook development. You have a ten-year project. I am here for two years. I want something in my CV.”

So the idea of continuity and holding across political formations and bureaucratic changes is one of the things that civil society participating in state programmes can do. It needs to have an independent stand and vision against which it can then match the programme of the state government. It must have its own plan on education or whatever its chosen area of intervention, constantly try to negotiate with the state government to bring it in alignment, and have a consistent input process for that.

Stakeholder consensus is very important. How do you get the bureaucratic machinery at the higher level, even the State Education Officer, to listen to the concerns and the problems of the teachers? How do you make the teachers listen to the concerns of the system? In building bridges across different hierarchies, you need to know
where consensus is possible. Then there is the question of being self-reflective and critical. If the government system could itself be so, it would be ideal. But we hope that civil society will be self-reflective and critical and therefore also help the government system to become so. Civil society should recognize this. There are dangers and constraints, however, in being self-reflective and critical because your funding support is critically linked to your saying “I did not make any mistakes”! The point about critical change centres on the ability to recognize mistakes, experiments that did not work, that we don’t know, and that we need to know every moment of our work in our system.

The last important thing is bringing in fresh ideas of explorations and allowing the same to everybody in the system. So it is not that I, as a civil society agent, have the responsibility of translating my ideas, my programmes, my materials, and saying that teachers must use it. To me, the role of civil society is essentially to ensure that teachers are empowered to find their own strategies and materials, and whatever we give is to empower them to do that. There need to be a conscious process of building that in the system, in our own minds and in our interactions.

I will do a brief sketch of the organizations and the extent of their adherence to these principles. HSTP started as the first major experiment which led to other programmes of Eklavya and the Lok Jumbish programme, and subsequently the Bihar education programme which was informed by Lok Jumbish. Many Eklavya members were part of the drafting design of Lok Jumbish. There were stiff battles even there, and Lok Jumbish compromised on what was considered to be pragmatically possible and what some of these people, who were a part of the process, wanted to do. HSTP was just one civil society organization group interacting with the state government. It tried to bring out people from the state government and make them participants in that process.

So the team of all the Eklavya programmes included teachers – college teachers from Madhya Pradesh, the District Inspector of Schools, and higher secondary school teachers. It was a joint effort of a lot of people from within the system, yet the system never recognized it as a programme. The Government of Madhya Pradesh issued a manual, and had a Sanchayan Samiti officially organized which was supposed to have regular meetings chaired by the Director of Public Instruction or the Commissioner. Once when we forced a meeting, the Chairman, Public Instruction said, “I have come for a war meeting.” The meeting was part of the government structure, the invitation had been issued them, yet the notion was that it was a programme of civil society organizations.

So we need to live with this – that there will be always this fact of change being associated with an outsider. In the Lok Jumbish programme, since there was no Eklavya, Lok Jumbish became the outsider. The subsequent backlash was that Lok Jumbish took the best officers and the best people, and used the best resources, and so on. But Lok Jumbish was not government, and what it did the government could not do. The desire of the system is to protect itself on any process that it wants to change. We need to be aware of this as we think and hear about each other’s work. It is easy to be influenced by what somebody says about somebody else’s work – because the system is trying to protect itself from that change and from you, simultaneously.

So there needs to be an independent assessment for each civil society organization about the worth of the other’s work. You should not base your judgement on what the system is telling you. Lok Jumbish was later looked at as something that had to be destroyed from the root, because it had settled so deep. And a lot of the effort of DPEP, which was subsequent to Lok Jumbish, was aimed at trying to remove the vestiges of Lok Jumbish from the system. What was important about Lok Jumbish, as far as civil society was concerned, was that it defined two kinds of roles for it. One was resource organizations, and the other was implementing partners. Resource organizations were recognized as those who would be exploring, helping to design materials and building the intellectual understanding. Implementing partners would build bridges with the community, and work with them in order for these ideas to be shared with teachers, parents and schools. At the pace at which Lok Jumbish worked, in the years of its existence it did a lot of development work but did not move beyond implementation in two blocks – something which was not acceptable to anyone. As a result, DPEP, which followed Lok Jumbish in Rajasthan, was paced
much better.

The role of NGOs – their partnership – was nixed, in the sense that while there was a lot of freedom to explore, the framework was defined by Lok Jumbish and it had to be around MLL (Minimum Levels of Learning). You could not work with Lok Jumbish and question the idea. MLL and competence based learning were the critical factors, so some of us who did not believe in this approach had to struggle. We were not able to intervene with them in the upper primary stages, which was only a pilot. Because of Eklavya’s extreme competence in that area, and there being no alternative – there was no MLL available in upper primary – Eklavya was accepted as the group who would produce the upper primary programme in science and the social sciences. In mathematics, where they thought that they had a capability to produce the competency/MLL based programme, they thought they would do that.

What I am trying to say is that even with Lok Jumbish, Eklavya did not have the kind of freedom it had in working with the state – and this kind of freedom has progressively become less and less, in terms of the scope. The interesting thing about Mahila Samakhya is that it started along with Lok Jumbish but it has not expanded to the extent that DPEP has. We need to think about why the state was not so keen on making it a DPEP. Or were the people involved in Mahila Samakhya themselves of a nature which did not allow it to become a DPEP? It was also not organized like Lok Jumbish. Like we were told yesterday, Mahila Samakhya only had a framework of ‘we can’t do’, not what was possible to be done.

Therefore, there was a lot of possibility for individual states and individual districts to explore around. Basically, as we go forward, we are looking at less government support for programmes. For example, Eklavya was supported by MHRD (Ministry of Human Resource Development) and the state government. MHRD created a scheme to fund experimental organizations working in education, which ended around 2003.

Then support came from corporates, who have also now started to move out and set up their own organizations.
Therefore, the support for organizations wanting to intervene in the public education space – also in the public development space – has decreased. The increasing emphasis as far as the state is concerned is that support should bring its own money, not only for itself, but if possible, also for the state, even though the state keeps claiming that there is no lack of funds. There are no funds available for making this support possible because there are a lot of competing voices that are raised when money is spent. The process therefore has to be so complicated that either the one who is most technical or who can manage the most is able to compete. So the support for these organizations across the board is shrinking.

The last thing which I think is important – Dhir also mentioned it – is that in the last 20 years, and increasingly in the last ten years, there is more machine-mode intervention. We are in a hurry to improve education in the next six months. And we are reading increasing prescriptions – all of us. We talked about why NGOs can’t work together. Why do they work as competitors? The fact of the matter is the lack of clarity in support funding. The need to ensure our future makes us competitive, makes us follow the diktats of the Director, and say that things will change in six months’ time when we know it will not happen. We do a lot of things that are not necessary because it is the only way we can persuade somebody to support us. And we hope in doing that we are at the same time also doing something positive and helpful in the direction in which we want to move.

The nature of civil society has changed because the number of players has increased, because the nature of people in it has changed, and because the need for it has grown. But the support for making this possible, and the mechanism to ensure that it stays around some definite tracks, is not there.

So when we think about civil society, we have these three basic questions. Each of these requires deliberation and thinking, and the recognition that we need to make the system respond to the teacher, the community and all the stakeholders – not just to the wishes and whims of the Secretary and the Director of Education.

DHIR JHINGRAN has over 20 years of experience in primary education – with the government as well as NGOs. He has been Mission Director of the District Primary Education Programme (DPEP) and Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA), Secretary (Education) with the Government of Assam, and Director in the Ministry of Human Resource Development in the Government of India among other things. His areas of work include development and management of education programmes focused on improving the quality of education and enhancing student
learning, early grade literacy, multilingual education and so on.

HRIDAYKANT DEWAN (Hardy) has a long and distinguished record in the field of education. He started his academic career in Delhi University as a professor of physics. He then became a full-time member for the Hoshangabad Science Teaching Programme (HSTP). He was also a key member of Eklavya, and was associated with Lok Jumbish and DPEP programs as well. In the mid-90s, he was a key driving force for the setting up of the Vidya Bhavan Education Resource Centre, and is currently associated with the Azim Premji Foundation.

This is an edited transcript of a talk delivered by Dhir Jhingran and Hridaykant Dewan in April 2015 at Bangalore.

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