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!


  1. WOW - what a wonderfully intensive overall experience!

    You shall deserve a proper rest, upon your return! I shall look forward to seeing some of your larger file size piccies - once you are back. ' hope all goes well for your return - and SO WELL DONE on such a successful, succinct, and well delivered assignment, too.

    Gute Reise - und ich freue mich jetzt sehr um alle Photos zu sehen!

    Mark x

  2. Hi Nina, I've really enjoyed reading your blog and about your Indian experiences, particularly having been there a couple of times a lot of your observations have been spot on and very entertaining. Sounds like you had a fantastic time and have also been able to 'give back' a lot to the local community - India is so massive and the challenges so significant that doing something as in-depth and practical as you and the team have done will be really worthwhile, and it's good to see your recommendations are already being implemented. Hopefully you'll be able to keep in touch and help progress it all. You'll also be pleased to know that your "safety in a can" saying has been shared on Yammer at SSE! Have a great trip back and all the best, Paula