At Atma, we address the issue of quality education in India through our daily efforts to strengthen NGOs in this field. Esther and Abhijit address the issue of quality education by taking a critical look at the effectiveness of social efforts in education. What works? What does not work? The practitioners we work with every day understand this from the reality of their experience, working in difficult social and political environments. So what do Ether and Abhijit say that reflects the insight our partners have developed from their own years in the field?
One study by Abhijit Banerjee shows that mobilizing communities to improve education is not as simple as it seems. “Pitfalls of participatory programs: evidence from a randomized evaluation in education in India” looks at the impact of a program pilotedby Pratham designed to mobilize communities in order to support the improvement of the quality of education. By providing information to communities, like the quote below, Pratham hoped to shock communities into mobilizing through Village Education Committees (VEC), who hold the power to manage educational entities, including hiring and firing local school staff.
“A 2005 nationwide rural survey on educational attainment of 7-14 year olds found that, even though most children are enrolled in school, 35 percent of primary school age children could not read a simple paragraph, and 41 percent could not do simple subtraction, competencies that should, according to government guidelines, be achieved by grade 2 (Pratham, 2005)”
What Abhijit found was that bringing together community members to discuss the educational problems prevalent in their schools was not enough. Successful mobilization efforts by NGOs only resulted in increased aptitude when the NGO facilitated the formation of a concrete action plan (ex: specific policy changes) as well as negotiated with the agents (headmasters/teachers) or if they initiated concrete interventions (ex: mobilizing community members to offer tuitions). What Pratham discovered was that creating a public discourse about the issue of the lack of quality education was in itself not enough to bring forth action by the community and that there was a distinct role for entities, either NGOs or motivated individuals, to play in coordinating change.
A question that arises from this study is why is there this need for an entity to play a coordinating role? Abhijit puts forth that one possible explanation for this lack of community driven action could be due to class differentials. Parents may feel that they cannot influence agents on their own, even if they have the authority through the VECs, because they do not feel they have the experience or training to make valid criticisms. Parents may also have the fear that teachers/headmasters will redirect criticisms and censure parents for not playing a stronger reinforcing role in their child’s education.
Atma’s graduated partner, Muktangan, helps to address this issue of disparity between educators and parents by training local community members to become teachers. Their efforts not only raise the capacity of these communities, but also create stronger linkages between the educational system and the communities within which they reside.
Atma is honoured to have supported the efforts of Muktangan and has seen them grow their programs in Mumbai from 2 schools to 7 schools and develop a train-the-trainers program that has worked with over 20 NGOs. The work of Muktangan stands as a success on its own, but we are proud that its approach directly addresses critical development issues recognized by thought leaders and shows a best practice in action in the communities of Mumbai.
By Atma Partnerships Director Summer Starr.
 Abhijit Banerjee. Pitfalls of participatory programs: evidence from a randomized evaluation in education in India. Centre for Economic Policy Research (Great Britain), World Bank Publications, 2008 http://books.google.com/books?hl=en&lr=&id=yEphwxWAFXcC&oi=fnd&pg=PA1&dq=Pitfalls+of+Participatory+Programs:+Evidence+from+a+Randomized+Evaluation+in+Education+in+India&ots=oOnyXdMuNG&sig=zDwArfKJ_ZS1pC_B9AQo_-QNglc#v=onepage&q&f=false