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A schoolteacher in India goes over an assignment with three boys

Accelerating systemic change in India’s school system

Prachi Windlass

India’s education system is a vast network, with large-scale improvements needed across the country. Our work to transform education outcomes for children in India is part of our foundation’s larger goal: each year, we will create opportunities for over three million low-income students globally to attend high-quality schools.

That’s a big goal — and we’re tackling the challenge by finding the school systems that serve many students and are ready to collaborate and commit to create change. For example, Haryana state in India has a large government school system: 15,000 schools and over 100,000 teachers and staff work to serve over two million students. Considering how many children are in the school system, here’s an alarming statistic: at the beginning of 2014, only 40-45 percent of children in Haryana state were performing at grade-level competencies.

However, recent results from competency assessments show that learning outcomes in Haryana are improving by leaps and bounds. Third party assessments conducted in 2017 and 2018 show that 60-65 percent students in Grades three, five, and seven are meeting competency goals.
How did Haryana state turn around school performance so significantly in the span of a few years?

1. Commit to a shared vision

Haryana’s Chief Minister and its Department of School Education have developed a clear vision for learning outcomes improvement, and all the associated state agencies have been empowered to deliver on this shared vision. Getting this level of inter-state collaboration required:

  • Setting clear priority goals and key performance indicators across the system
  • Restructuring project management teams to ensure all members have clear roles and responsibilities that ladder up to the larger program goals
  • Providing constant and repeated communication of these goals in the entire ecosystem

2. Solve the systemic gaps

A common myth in the education space is that classroom learning can only get better if shifts are made in curriculum development and educator training. However, the foundation’s experience with school systems shows that implementing administrative reforms is just as important as academic reforms. Our work focuses on both simultaneously, and spans across departments, government agencies, and districts in the state. Examples include:

  • Development of an integrated management information system (MIS) that captures actionable data for more than two million students and 100,000 teachers to enable data-based accountability and administrative efficiencies
  • Increased sharing of data-based school progress and monitoring, along with the addition of monthly review meetings by the directorate and the state Chief Minister’s office
  • Creation of digital channels to make communications between the administrative and academic staff comprehensive, rapid, and responsive. More than 10,000 teachers were trained via WhatsApp in less than 20 days.

Importantly, these changes are reflective of a paradigm shift in Haryana’s government systems: the focus is now on access to quality education for the two million students in the state.

3. Address the “silver bullet” myth

Large-scale reform requires coordinated interventions – there are no individual silver bullets. Taken together, these interventions create impact in the immediate ecosystem, and have the potential to create a model for other systems to adopt. The Haryana state school system is leveraging learnings from the foundation’s work on systems-level education improvement in other states in India and around the world, successful private school models, and a slew of other projects that have successfully improved student learning outcomes.

Each round of student assessments in Haryana state continues to show improved results, and the Chief Minister of Haryana state has launched a new program called Saksham Ghoshna — a declaration of competency awarded to an administrative block after third-party assessments show that 80 percent students have earned grade level competencies. This commitment to quality is an important part of our work to ensure that all students in Haryana can benefit from high-quality schools.

Our mission is to lift children and families out of urban poverty, and we believe that students in Haryana who have access to quality education have a greater chance to move on to higher education, improved employment opportunities, and eventually, increased family financial stability — improving entire communities in the state.