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KAVITA ANAND

India,

Kavita is is fundamentally tranforming the way school audits can take place to become a powerful tool in the hands of every school. By placing the process of audits in the hands of ‘insiders’ in schools, she is shifting it from a process of scrutiny to that of self-evaluation and reflection.

This profile below was prepared when Kavita Anand was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2015.

INTRODUCTION

Kavita is is fundamentally tranforming the way school audits can take place to become a powerful tool in the hands of every school. By placing the process of audits in the hands of ‘insiders’ in schools, she is shifting it from a process of scrutiny to that of self-evaluation and reflection.




THE NEW IDEA

School audits- a process of studying a school against benchmarks- are a powerful tool for schools to measure and improve the quality of education they provide. Unfortunately most schools in India do not undertake such audits regularly as they are threatened at the prospect of an inspection by an external party that often also comes at a high cost.

By taking audits out of the hands of experts and placing them in the hands of ‘insiders’ and peers, Kavita is fundamentally transforming the goals and outcomes of school audits. She is shifting it from a process of scrutiny / evaluation to one of reflection.  Kavita empowers teams within schools to conduct self-reviews and complements such internal assessments with a review by leaders from peer schools. She thus brings the power of dialogue, empathic peer review and consensus to the school review space for the first time. 

This is stimulating a new pattern of teachers and principals entering each other’s classrooms, sharing and comparing notes for the first time. The review thus becomes a feedback loop and a tool for reflection. Schools are then able to take honest action from where they are to where they want to be. Each school’s team collectively chooses their priorities for improvement and draws a roadmap toward achieving the same. This practice not only allows each school, independent of its context, to chart its own journey but also instils intrinsic motivators to act and improve. The process proves enriching for both the external and internal assessors as continuous learning opens a pathway for a collaborative and self-sufficient ecosystem of schools.

There is a furore in the education sector around quality and schools are under immense pressure to take initiatives that augment quality. Kavita is seeing the opportunity to drive quality in an empathic realistically empowering way. By putting affordability together with an atmosphere of collegiality Adhyayan is paving the way for the schools ecosystem to build its own resource capital and expertise in an area that has been characterised by failure.

By enabling schools to become self-aware and capable of conducting this review at will in the future, Kavita is placing it as a powerful tool in the hands of every school. Kavita is creating a supportive, evidence based peer review pattern that is replicable because of its low cost. Over the last few years, Adhyayan has already enabled 117 schools (that serve over 1.5 lac students) from diverse backgrounds, including rural and tribal regions to undertake such audits.




THE PROBLEM

As India reaches its targets toward access to education, the question of quality of education has been confounding the sector. As the Annual Status of Education Reports reminds us, while more students enter the elementary education system, levels of learning remain low. In 2006, 53 per cent of children in the fifth standard could read, though only at a second-standard text-level. By 2014 even this figure had dropped, to 48 per cent.

The need for a baseline in the sphere of quality and milestones defining progress has driven the emergence of organisations working to improve the quality of various inputs in silos. Since learning outcomes – i.e. student scores are the easiest quantifiable indicators, interventions are often limited to inputs that seem to have an evident co-relation: teacher training, pedagogy and toolkits that haven’t brought the quality to a desirable level as is evidenced by the PISA (Program for International Student Assessment) and ASER (Annual Status of Education Report) studies in 2013.

However, as is the case with any ecosystem, the school is a macrocosm that is a complex interplay of microcosms, all impacting the bottom-line of the ecosystem – student learning. The effective utilisation of infrastructure /resources, relationship with the community, parent involvement with the school, richness in stimuli given to learning beyond the classroom, are all cogent indicators of a quality learning environment.
For schools and their leadership to improve the quality of education, they need to have feedback loops that communicate how they are performing on all these parameters. School audits (third party audits similar to company audits) provide a great opportunity to do so. Unfortunately, despite the process for audits having been in place for more than 6 years, few schools in India actually audit themselves.

The non-adoption of ‘voluntary’ audits can be attributed primarily to the element of ‘inspection’ in the process. The assessors/auditors are typically external people who the assessment organisations train for the purpose of “evaluation” arming them with skills to probe and analyse various parameters. The process brings along with it an element of scrutiny that results in schools feeling threatened and consequently being resistant.

Furthermore, the audits are currently geared to act more as a rating, rather than a feedback loop for improvement. The improvement recommendations are often unrealistic and there is lack of knowledge and guidance for the minor course corrections schools can make to achieve up-gradation. As a result, even the few schools who do undertake audits typically use the ratings as a mere marketing gimmick and the aspect of reflection and improvement in quality is lost.

Assessment organisations also invariably demand a fee that is beyond the reach of remote/rural/low income schools that has resulted in the perpetuation of the belief that quality goes with privilege which is clearly irreconcilable with a vision of participatory democracy.

Given the critical moment of stress on quality in education, pressure from stakeholders and school leaders recognising the importance of undertaking quality augmentation initiatives, there exists a need to revisit the process of school assessments and to ensure that it provides schools with the agency to make incremental improvements across parameters, at any given level of infrastructure or resources to realise the dream of quality education.




THE STRATEGY

In order to make school assessment an improvement process owned by schools and used consistently as a means to give feedback to engender continuous improvement mechanisms Kavita Anand founded Adhyayan in 2011.

Kavita’s perceptive innovation has been to incorporate an element of School Self-Review (SSR) into the existing process. This mitigates the aspect of scrutiny and threat as well as promotes ownership. The school is asked to put together an inclusive SSR team that can bring in diverse standpoints, including – teachers, school leaders, school board members, parents, students, alumni as well the caretaker staff (cleaners, watchmen etc.) Adhyayan trains the SSR team in the processes of making observations, gathering evidence (through learning walks, classroom observations, stakeholder interviews and book looks) and arriving at conclusions using collective constructive dialogue resulting in consensus. Understanding the process used, and self-administering it enables the school to drop apprehensions and own the rubric.

To ensure that the process is not erudite and evidence collection makes sense, Kavita has unpacked each Key Performance Area (KPA) into simple observable statements resulting in 162 statements across six KPAs. Each KPA, such as leadership and management or community and partnerships, becomes granular, non-ominous and actionable if prioritised as an area of improvement or strength. Further, Adhyayan gives the authority of the ‘choice of standard’ they wish to pitch for, to the school. The decision whether to assess and be assessed at International, National, State or Local levels is based on the schools’ context and resource base. Every school is awarded the Platinum, Gold, Silver or Star Standard and can use this as an internal motivator to reach the next rung.

After completing the SSR and seeing their school on the metrics, schools are willing to open doors for the Adhyayan team as partners to validate their observations. So, to complement the SSR, Kavita has also creatively determined the composition of the ‘external review team’ to include only peers. She brings on board school leaders of existing institutions that have implemented the Adhyayan Quality Standard (AQS) to act as lead reviewers (paid a token amount as appreciation), associates and interns (assisted by an Adhyayan team member). Adhyayan facilitates a “quality dialogue” between the SSR team and the external review team, to share similarities and differences between the self and external reviews. The composition of the two committees with peers allows the discussion to be empathetic and also ensures that the roadmap to prioritised improvement standards is adoption friendly and realistic.

Together, they create ‘The School’s Action Plan’ or a shared route map for action across collectively chosen priorities from amongst the 162 statements. This practice on the concluding day plugs another critical gap between knowledge and action for most schools. The schools are now not just aware of “what good looks like” but also of the granular everyday steps to be taken to achieve that picture and the periodic evidence that can be collected to validate progress.

The power of dialogue and mutual consensus, makes the schools self-aware and capable of conducting this review at will (without any external agency) in order to act as an effective feedback loop. The SSR, composition of external review team, and Adhyayan’s affordable / pro-bono charges also makes the process cost effective.
So far, Adhyayan has worked with 117 schools (that serve over 1.5 lac students) across various socio economic strata and reached schools in tribal, rural as well as conflict ridden zones. Improvement initiatives taken by schools range from small adjustments in classroom furniture (replacing benches with chairs to enable quick transitions between independent and group work) to larger initiatives like improving the teaching and learning process, increasing participation and ownership of students in the school’s functioning through student committees. Schools often take up projects to heighten students’ participation in decision making or incentives like commendation badges to promote constructive student involvement.

Kavita also leverages the network to build capacities within schools and uses the cross subsidy model to ensure that schools in the network with specific strengths assist others in developing the same. The program known as Adhyayan School Improvement Support and Training (ASIST)  trains  teachers and school leaders to be facilitators so that they roll out performance management, school leadership or teacher training initiatives and enables Adhyayan to ensure schools have the agency to walk the path of improvements without incurring unrealistic costs. Kavita envisions scaling the idea and taking ownership and “non – threatening environment” to a whole new level by taking the AQS platform online where best practices on each of the 162 statements are illustrated by videos and pictures. The schools would need to pay a minor fee for the platform to gain access and benchmark themselves at will calling for external validation from Adhyayan as when they deem necessary. Kavita plans to scale the idea to government schools using a PPP model whereby cluster officers and block education officers can be trained to work as validators. She has already taken her first few steps to gain access to the government machinery by thought partnering with the National University of Educational Planning and Administration (NUEPA) toward creating the process for Government school assessments.

Going forward Kavita envisages a revolution where schools are a collaborative community of peers and every school that desires to commit to quality can find access to it from within the network.




THE PERSON

As a post-graduate in counselling and education psychology, Kavita began her professional career at Aga Khan Education Services with the School Development Program and went onto being the Program Officer for education grants at Sir Ratan Tata Trust for the next seven years. It is in these early years that Kavita was exposed to multiple models, critiques of the schools system as well as some best practices.

Kavita became more acutely cognizant of the inadequacies of the existing system to deliver, when she became a mother and sought to educate her children. So she single handedly set up a playschool that practiced experiential, hands on explorations, for children between the ages of one and four, that was also intended as a demonstration unit for other schools.

In the year 2000, a member of the Savla Boarding of Matunga, contacted her to set up an exemplary English medium school for the children of the KVO Jain community. Kavita got the autonomy to autonomy to run the school as per her ideals. The school-Shishuvan set up in 2001 thrived under her leadership. She gave her creativity full play by conceiving a democracy curriculum, a mental health curriculum and instituting a student led governance of the school replete with ministries mirroring the State and Union Cabinet structures. Student ownership of the school created the climate for a similar parent ownership through the parent Sabha. Shishuvan was one of the first few schools to bring in student voice and autonomy as a concept to schools.

Large scale adoption of inventive and effective leadership and teaching methodologies had always been a key driver for Kavita. She set up Shishuvan as an open source platform where other schools could observe, learn and implement some of the pioneering practices. While she acknowledges that substantial “observation” took place, there was scarce translation of any of the learning into practice at educational institutions.

She recognized the gap between the knowledge of “what good looks like” and the ability of schools to chart a path to getting there.

It was around this time that, Kavita started working with, Spokey Wheeler, an international consultant at ARK (Absolute Return for Kids), to set up tribal schools in Jharkhand. Here, she had the opportunity to first notice the use of a rubric/metric that gave the teachers a common language and translated in amplified outcomes with respect to teacher competence.

An early adopter of imaginative processes, Kavita decided to pilot and fine tune the rubric within Shishuvan and used it as a tool to engineer her exit strategy seamlessly.

Kavita transitioned out of active leadership at Shishuvan in 2011 to establish Adhyayan with an objective to make the journey from knowledge to implementation of quality educational practices possible for all schools across the country.




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