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GAURAV SINGH

India,

Gaurav Singh intervenes with the most important stakeholders in India’s education system: students, teachers, parents, and government, to build conviction and get them to invest in the education of first generation learners from low-income families. Gaurav is setting up a network of schools that will make the entire public school system deliver quality education from within their existing infrastructure and budget.

This profile below was prepared when Gaurav Singh was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2013.

INTRODUCTION

Gaurav Singh intervenes with the most important stakeholders in India’s education system: students, teachers, parents, and government, to build conviction and get them to invest in the education of first generation learners from low-income families. Gaurav is setting up a network of schools that will make the entire public school system deliver quality education from within their existing infrastructure and budget.




THE NEW IDEA

Gaurav’s school is the first of a chain of “belief centers,” in which his model shows how with the same funding allocated by the public school system for a child’s education, it is possible for low-income students to get high quality education. Gaurav’s education model builds a framework to operationalize such a belief system by innovating on classroom systems, ensuring attentive student behavior, a curriculum focused on learning concepts rather than skills, inclusive pedagogy that ensures children with different abilities learn together, and continual assessment and evolution of teaching techniques, rather than assessments of students’ abilities.

Monthly meetings with parents to discuss the model and demonstrate the success of the students, ensures the parents’ belief in their children’s ability to learn. Through intensive teacher training, and peer learning among teachers, Gaurav is building a cadre of high caliber teachers with high student expectations. Building on this network of belief centers, Gaurav will advocate for national standards for child-level expectations.




THE PROBLEM

Every child is India is entitled to primary education, but unfortunately, not every child is getting a good education. The extensive Annual Status of Education Report study in India found that less than 50 percent of grade 5 students could read a grade 2 text. Internationally, India was placed 73/74 countries on the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) standards of public schools. The study also reveals that the average 15-year-old is behind 200 points of global toppers. A grade 8 student in India is at the level of a grade 3 South Korean student in math, and a grade 8 student is at the level of grade 2 Shanghai student in reading.

Separately, one can see a clear pattern among countries placing high in PISA assessment, such as Finland and South Korea. The assessment reflects that in these countries teachers and parents have a strong belief that all children can achieve. Most of these countries have articulated this belief and operationalized it in their processes. They have clear universal national standards of what a child should be able to do at different stages. Most importantly, they consider teachers as the most valuable resource. For instance, in Singapore teachers are seen and positioned as “nation builders” and most teachers come from the top 1/3rd of their class. Evidence across the world shows that children learn best from competent teachers.

Conversely, in India, most parents and teachers of children in government and private schools that target the millions of underprivileged children, lack faith in students’ ability to learn and perform well academically. For instance, in a recent study conducted by Wipro and Education lnitiatives (2010 to 2011), across 89 top schools in five metro cities—Mumbai, Bangalore, Delhi, Chennai, and Kolkata shows that 80 percent think that differently abled people are burdensome or unable to do well in studies. Further 40 percent of school faculty preferred boys to be educated over girls. 

India’s educational policy neither articulates this belief nor do we have a methodology to operationalize it. We also do not have any policy (like the US) on what is expected from a child at each level. Instead, quality of education is increasingly correlated to cost of education. Most schools are now economically driven. As many parents perceive education to be better in private schools, they enroll their children in private schools rather than public schools (50 percent of children from marginalized communities in Mumbai are in private schools). However, such relatively affordable private schools are only marginally better than public schools. The Dasara 2010 study reflects that only 50 percent children aged eight can read a simple paragraph, over 50 percent cannot write and 30 percent do not recognize numbers. The lack of correlation of cost per child to quality is also evidenced from the experience of the US, which has the highest education budget in the world, US$810 billion, but ranked 24 of 29 countries that took the PISA test (2003).

In the current educational system, nearly 90 percent of our 400 million children will eventually dropout—most destined to a life of poverty. India’s education problem is of a lack of quality compounded by our massive scale. In such a context, there is a need for models that prove that quality education can be delivered at low cost to children irrespective of their backgrounds, gender, or ability. 




THE STRATEGY

Through 3.2.1 Education, Gaurav intends to set up a network of schools to prove that quality education can be delivered at a low cost, to children of all backgrounds and skill levels. He believes that a network of belief centers will change teacher and parent perceptions that every child can learn and achieve. 

Conscious that to address the issue of quality at-scale or influence educational policy in India, it is important to work within the public system, Gaurav founded his first school in the slums of Mumbai under a public-private partnership with the government. Through the Public Private Partnership Act, Gaurav uses public school infrastructure and funds to operate the school. Through this strategy, he hopes to demonstrate that the public school system has, within it, the resources necessary to provide a quality education.

To ensure quality, Gaurav has designed a framework aptly titled “model of infinite excellence” which includes six factors (i.e. systems, behavior, curriculum, pedagogy, assessment, and motivation) critical to ensuring efficiency and excellence in a classroom. For instance, he has standardized classroom systems, such as passing paper and lining up, to be done in a tenth of the time they take in usual classrooms and most time can be used for learning. Student behavior is maintained by techniques like teacher radar and tracking—the teacher positions herself optimally so she can monitor every student. The curriculum is designed around cognitive and investigative skills. For example, children are not taught to read, but rather to comprehend the meaning of what they’re reading. So, while a teacher reads to them, the children are taught sequencing, cause and effect, visualization through a story.

To ensure that the framework will cater to the differing backgrounds and needs of students, the pedagogy uses different methods (i.e. audio, visual, experiential, group, and individual). The 3.2.1 School has an inclusive environment reflecting Gaurav’s philosophy that every child can learn. Students in 3.2.1 include children from slums, children with learning disabilities, and physical disabilities. This not only ensures that the child learns in the method they prefer, but also factors in varying learning curves and children’s disabilities. Gaurav is also building a culture that values assessments. He continually collects data by videoing ongoing classes and archives what techniques work and what do not, then evaluates and reevaluates his methods. 

To strengthen the capacity of teachers, recruited from Teach For India alumni as well as Bachelors in Education graduates from across the country, Gaurav has designed teacher training courses, and has built a knowledge platform in the form of shared content for teachers to talk about learning experiences, share lesson plans and engage in peer learning. An average of three posts are blogged every day, and a teacher may search for any difficult situation she/he faces in the classroom, and will likely find assistance from a post. By enabling the success of one teacher and his/her students, inspires other teachers as well.

Gaurav employs creative techniques to enable parents from low-income families believe that their children can learn as well as those from high-income families. He organizes monthly parent meetings, in which parents’ play the role of students. They are introduced to some of the modules taught to children in the previous weeks. As parents learn something new, they believe their children are learning too. This creates a more conducive environment at home for their children to learn, and increases parents academic expectations from their children. As a result, parents become important stakeholders in the school; they spread the word within the community and help bring more children into the school. 

Gaurav is building his schools as research and development centers. Using technology, he is documenting their experiments, learning, and practices. This allows him to capture and codify his methodology, which in a few years, he will modularize and share with the larger education system, in the form of trainings, curriculum, and books. By doing this, Gaurav will impact 5,000 schools, 50,000 educators, and 5,000,000 students in the next 15 years. 




THE PERSON

After Gaurav’s father passed away when he was a year old, Gaurav grew up with extended family in Lucknow, including his mother, maternal grandparents, five pairs of uncles and aunts and ten first cousins. They owned a farm and the income of the entire family came from the produce of their land. There was no culture of education in his family. However, his mother, a doctor, was the exception. Gaurav’s family struggled with education and many dropped out of school. 

Gaurav was a very bright student and involved in extracurricular activities. He was at the top of his class every year and the sports captain. But after grade 7, Gaurav went through a difficult time trying to find something that interested him and challenged him. He rebelled against the education system by not writing examinations, not even opening the exam paper, although he knew the answers. Gaurav remembers his life from the ages of 13 to 20 as a constant struggle. He had limited exposure to opportunity in the small town of Lucknow.

Gaurav went to engineering college; driven by his mother’s expectations, but realized early on that it did not interest him. Not finding inspiration in academics, he stayed occupied by posing creative challenges for himself: “How can I redesign my room door? How can I redesign a car so the steering wheel is in the middle and would solve the left/right hand drive dichotomy?” He realized his strength lay in problem-solving.

After finishing engineering, Gaurav worked at Accenture, but he found writing software extremely mechanical. He saw a recruitment advertisement for Teach For India and applied. Gaurav valued the experience of meeting people who thought similar to himself, and for the first time he felt like there were people in the world who understood him. Gaurav became the first Teach For India Fellow in 2009. The two years at public schools in Mumbai (2009) and Pune (2010) taught him that teachers in the public school system did not believe in their poor students. This painful reality showed him all the gaps in the public education system. By the end of his fellowship, Gaurav decided to design an education model to change the face of public education in India. 

Needing to learn more Gaurav participated in the Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP), a one-year program that prepares Fellows to found and lead a new school in an underserved community. However, KIPP is an American program, and only awards Americans. Determined, Gaurav wrote the KIPP board of  

directors and convinced them to make him their first international fellow. Asking everyone he knew to support his endeavor, Gaurav raised the funds to attend the KIPP fellowship for six months (2011).

Returning to India, Gaurav traveled to education programs across the country, many of them Ashoka Fellows, like Kiran Bir Sethi’s Riverside School, Aditya Natraj’s Kaivalya, and Shaheen Mistri’s Akanksha, learning and adapting from their models, until he arrived at his own, to reinstate stakeholders faith in the education system and in all children’s ability to learn.

Dealing with the Indian bureaucracy and red tape was his next big challenge. Gaurav spent days sitting at government offices to get permission to use public school buildings, and didn’t have permission till the morning of the day school was supposed to be in session. But he had faith in his idea and himself, and he recruited children for admission, going door to door in Mumbai’s slums. On June 15, 2012, Gaurav started 3.2.1 Education’s first school with 5 teachers and 65 students, and concluded the academic year with 9 teachers and 120 students. The next year began with 10 teachers and 240 students.




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