Friday, 6 September 2013

Thank you India!

What a week and it has literally flown by.

We were able to complete our final report and presented our findings to the Essar Foundation on Wednesday and Thursday. For those of you interested, I have included a high level summary of our report in the below – for the rest of you; simply jump to the next section :-)

Despite the implementation of the Right to Education Act and significant Government investments in primary education, around 44 million Indian children do not go to school, and many who are starting school, drop out at an early age. Essar Foundation has particularly taken note of the poor quality of teaching and learning of English. English is becoming necessary for participation in the digitized world and good employment. The lack in English education puts the government school-educated students at a double disadvantage.

To start addressing this, a project between the Essar Foundation and the IBM Corporate Services Corps was initiated to develop recommendations on how to improve the quality of English education in the government schools. The primary objective is to improve the English language capability levels of students in 17 government schools surrounding the Essar Refinery in Vadinar within the next 2 years. Also, four secondary objectives in support of the primary objective were defined, i.e. those specifically focused on Manpower (the resources involved in the education process), Platform (the learning infrastructure), Methods and Tools (the interventions used to address the primary objective) and External Stakeholders.

Working with the Essar Foundation we visited each government school in the vicinity of the Vadinar refinery, spending time with the principal, teachers and the students. In addition, further stakeholders (such as government representatives, private school teachers and other experts) were interviewed. The data collected was then analysed to provide short, medium, and long-term recommendations for improving English language capability.

We had initially envisaged differentiating the schools based on the students’ and teachers’ grasp of English and wanted to develop different programs depending on the school’s level of English. While English capability does vary slightly across the 17 schools, it is generally very poor though. There are however significant differences in the schools’ learning environments (for example, the approach and attitude towards learning, the receptiveness for change and openness to new ideas) and their appetite to get involved in a program to improve English language capability. Based on these observations, the schools were therefore clustered as follows:
*          A cluster: Five schools that stand out in terms of their achievements to date and/or positive attitude towards the programme in particular and improving the quality of education general. This can for example be evidenced by the use of positive reinforcement, having very capable and motivated English teachers, and/or having already implemented innovative ways to teaching.
*          B Cluster: Six schools which are open and interested to improve English language capability and have the fundamentals in place to get involved in the program (but did not stand out in a particular way, either in terms of the quality of their education or their passion for improving this) are grouped in the B-cluster. These schools will typically have expressed a general interest in getting involved in programs with the Foundation and will be equipped with the essentials to run the school.
*          C Cluster: Seven schools in which a reluctance to engage in the program and/or lack the fundamentals to provide education was observed, were grouped in the C cluster.  .

To derive recommendations “fit for purpose”, a SWOT analysis was conducted, revealing a number of more general issues with the learning environment that prevents learning from occurring – irrespective of the subject that is being taught. These need to be addressed in conjunction with the recommendations of our study as to not derail this effort.

All of the 40+ recommendations specific to improving English capability were mapped to the objectives and program categories, i.e.:
* Providing more English learning interventions to the students with/without a dependency on the teacher/principal,
Up-skilling the language teachers,
*  Introducing activity-based learning and earlier exposure to English within the school’s infrastructure as a complement to the existing curricula
* Reward, recognition and positive re-enforcement
* Improvements to the IT infrastructure
* Leveraging Essar volunteers, and
* Programme management

Due to the different environments at each school, a one-size-fits-all program of activities is likely to fail. Instead, a catalogue of options, ideas and recommendations is available which needs to be tailored for each participating school:

Must have
Must have one-of’s
- New Hire
- Program Logo and Motto
- Advisory Board
- Projects
- English Olympics

- Teacher Forums
- Mentoring
External Volunteers:
- Gap year students
- Teaching students
- English teachers
- Field trips
- Adopt a school
- Adopt a student
- English Club
- Conversation Clubs
- English posters
- Bal Vividha
- IT Infrastructure

- Computer access
- English murals
- Schools connect (VC)
- Viral books
Methods & Tools
- Storytelling
- Task-based learning
- Teaching Aides
- Monetary Incentives
- Non-monetary Incentives
- Teacher incentives
- English learning software
- Motivational videos
- Movie night
- Online books
- Puppeteering
- Debate clubs
- Schools connect (pen pals)
- Teacher newspaper share
- Games playbook
- Quizzes
- Songbook

A roadmap for implementing the recommendations has been provided and the first step will be to test the programme with two pilot schools in the villages of Timdi and Vadinar.

The presentation went well (and one of the fun bits was that we actually included a quick “energiser” and taught our audience the “heads shoulders knees and toes” song which everyone loved :-) and we got really good feedback on our report.

One of the best bits of feedback is that the Essar Foundation has started to recruit a new member of staff who will solely focus on the English improvement programme and the recommendations we provided! We are all thrilled by this and it feels so good to know that we were able to leave a legacy and that there will be initiatives in place soon to benefit the children and teachers we met!!!

On another positive note, we got really good feedback from senior leaders at Essar on the IBM Corporate Social Responsibility programme and - seeing what IBM does in this space - they are thinking to expand their current programme into something bigger and more impactful which is also great news as many of the Essar employees we met were very keen to get involved in CSR activities and the more options they have, the better.

On our final day with Essar we also had the chance to get involved in some volunteering ourselves and were engaged to paint some murals at one of the local schools. Luckily though, the school had very wisely picked one of the more remote walls for us to decorate as our efforts were – due to some paint thinner issues – not as beautiful as we had hoped for… But as you can see, the butterfly Paula did is amazing and will hopefully make the children smile!

After another great meal at the “OilClub” and some (almost) final pictures at the office

we headed back to Jamnagar and after a very good programme-review and –feedback session went for dinner in the hotel garden (sadly, the roof terrace was closed due to renovations but if you ever are in Jamnagar, the Aram restaurant is a very good place for some nice Indian food – and the chef even knows how to cook it without chillies!).

After some battles (and cursing), I managed to get all my “belongings” into my luggage and we headed off for Mumbai on the only flight of the day. As a wonderful surprise our clients actually came to the hotel to say “good bye” (or make sure we were really gone?!) and it was very sad to leave after what was a very intense and wonderful time!

Today we had some “down time” in Mumbai before we all head off – either for some holidays or back to work. I’ll head back to the UK around lunchtime tomorrow, eta 6pm UK time in London.

Having been on the Corporate Services Corps is an amazing experience and has really opened a whole new world for me. If you ever get the chance to do something similar, I can not recommend it highly enough.

I look forward to catching up with you all very soon (brace yourselves for a lot of pictures and stories... :-) and can also again highly recommend my wonderful colleague’s blogs for additional insight and some great stories about our experience:

Thank you India for a wonderful time – I’ll miss you!

Sunday, 1 September 2013

Going native

The weekend was mostly spend working on our final deliverables but we’ve made good progress and were in for a little treat yesterday as we were invited to an event celebrating 1 year of volunteering at Essar.

To honour the occasion we decided to wear some of the typical Indian clothes we had bought over the recent weeks. Paula & Katrin were even brave enough to wear their saris for the first time! Don't we look great?

Apparently, saris are very comfortable and our hosts were very impressed by the efforts we’d gone through. Funnily though, most of the guests had decided on “European clothes” (trousers, sweaters/shirts,..) for the evening as this is apparently considered most appropriate for company events :-)

Sadly, today’s planned volunteering activity was cancelled on short notice, so no pictures of me painting schools :-(

But instead I thought I’d show you some of the signs and advertisements we’ve seen during our time here:

In case you are wondering. bug problems here are not typically fixed by IT experts…
… and this book shop was indeed unique (I can’t comment on their books but have never seen a shop as full of books as this one in my life).

Every morning on our way to work we have to go through a toll road and they make it very clear what happens to your car, if you try to tailgate (or are too slow)… 

…most people (including our driver) have a particular liking for chewing tobacco and with it comes the very unattractive habit of spitting… it’s not allowed in most places but not even the signs are able to deter anyone it seems…

In general, people don't seem to take signs too serious (all of the bikes & cars/rikshas in the picture were stationary but maybe that's not considered parking?!)....

In case you are hoping to get a job as “sign-writer”, being able to actually write, does not seem to be a requirement…

(the sign is supposed to say “Horn please” which in itself I find quite interesting…). If you ever come to India, one of the most common noises you will hear is the sound of car or truck horns. They are everywhere!

Going to Essar for a 2 hour round trip each day we have in our time here learned to differentiate the various ways to sound the horn, so here is my “translation”:

  •  Two quick tut-tuts: “I’m overtaking you” (usually used while you are already well next to the vehicle you want to overtake… no difference in horn-sound could be detected whether you overtake on the right or left of the car in front of you…)
  • One long tuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuut (angry): “No, you can NOT decide to change lane while I’m overtaking you…!!!!”
  • Multiple long “tuuuuuuts” (very angry): “Who do you think you are – this is MY lane; move!”
  • Three to four tut-tuts (medium length, friendly): “Holy cow; move out of the way please” (most cows do eventually react to this and will – very slowly – move to another part of the road…)
  • One quick tut (friendly): “Hello, nice to see you here” (used also as occasional unmotivated tut when the driver hasn’t been able to use the horn for a while – probably just to test if it still works…)

There are probably many more combinations and nuances, but I’m at beginner level only… Must ask our driver to explain in more detail…

And finally for signs in India – wheather you are able to read, does not seem to be a requirement for the person posting them…

This sign was up in front of our hotel and I think it took a good 3 days before it was replaced with another (non-upside down) version :-)

Hope you all have had a great weekend – next week will be busy for us with presentations and deliverables before we head back to Mumbai on Friday. Wish me luck!