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Education for all: a small district in Odisha builds hope

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education system in india, classroom coaching, equitable education, WASH pogram, TATA STEEL foundation, Aanganwadi centres, zero hour, Home Bhabha National Institute and learning houreducation system in india, classroom coaching, equitable education, WASH pogram, TATA STEEL foundation, Aanganwadi centres, zero hour, Home Bhabha National Institute and learning hourThe primary goal is to set aside various developmental challenges to equitable education

Dr Yatharth Kachiar

As a rising power in global affairs, India’s most potent tool is its demographic dividend. However, optimizing this force would require investing in building a robust education system for all. In this regard, vital for advancing India’s journey towards quality education is the role played by various district administrations in translating policies into action at the grassroots level. In one such endeavour, the district administration in Jajpur, Odisha, is working to overhaul the public schools to improve education. The primary goal is to set aside various developmental challenges to equitable education and ensure that every child has high-quality education competing the best private schools in the country.

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In line with the overall scheme of transformation of schools under the ‘Mo sarkaar’ program of the Government of Odisha, the Jajpur administration is developing and upgrading the quality of existing infrastructure in all the government schools. The walls are painted with colourful schemes and learning materials while playgrounds, toilets and drinking water facilities are being facelifted. Further, in step with Odisha government’s vision in the education sector, the Jajpur administration is building world-class interactive and smart classrooms that will focus on developing critical thinking and experiential learning among students in all government schools. The objective is to instil a sense of pride and aspiration among students regarding their school campus and motivate them to attend school regularly.

To maximize the utilisation of the infrastructure, the education department in Jajpur has collaborated with UNICEF to implement the WASH program in all the schools and Aanganwadi centres. The primary objective is to create an enabling environment to improve the health and learning potential of school children, and by extension, their families. By investing in hygiene infrastructure, the district administration is also aiming at reducing water and sanitation-related diseases. In this regard, the district administration is installing sustainable, safe water supply points, hand washing stands, and sanitation facilities in all the government schools. Further, through a firm resolve and concerted effort, the district administration is outreaching to families and the wider community to impart key hygiene behaviour.

Also, to build social and emotional awareness among students, the district education department is working in collaboration with TATA Steel Foundation to introduce ‘Zero hour’ in all government schools. The core aim is to raise conscious and public-spirited citizens through education to impact society positively. School education ensures not only the cognitive development of students but also their social and emotional growth. During ‘Zero hour’, teachers will introduce new concepts to students through various classroom activities. The key feature of the program is its focus on developing creativity, sensitivity, diversity, plurality and critical thinking without the use of textbooks. The teachers will encourage students to think, express and reflect by facilitating discussion on various themes. The ‘zero hours’ program is already running successfully in all the government schools of the Ganjam district in Odisha for the past three months.

Further, understanding the need to invest in teacher training and assessment, the education department of Jajpur district is putting special emphasis on the capacity building of government schoolteachers and head of schools. In collaboration with TATA Steel Foundation, the administration will initiate a cycle of training, assessment, and recognition of teachers in all government schools. The district’s education department is also planning to organize exposure visits and immersive learning programs for government Teachers and Head of Schools in the best national and international institutions. The district administration will also provide technology-based training to all government schoolteachers to make them accustomed to digital tools used in smart classes. It will also provide continuous support to teachers, disseminate pedagogical skills and creative teaching practices. In this regard, technical support from leading institutes like Homi Bhabha National Institute and Learning indicators from Finland’s Education System is embedded.

Lastly, to make these reforms sustainable, it is critical to ensure the cooperation and accountability of various stakeholders. In this regard, the Jajpur administration is ensuring the capability building of the school management committees through various activities. The idea is to invest in the frontline stakeholders, earn their commitment, and share power with them to deliver the vision of ‘education for all’. The district’s education department has introduced the concept of Village Education Register (VER) at the panchayat level to track the development of each child. The initiative will also prove crucial in transforming Jajpur into a Child Labour Free zone.

At present, when the COVID-19 pandemic has severely disrupted the education system throughout the country, the tremendous resilience displayed by the Jajpur administration in adopting and launching unique innovations in education builds hope. Nevertheless, it will require constant rigorous efforts and synergy among various stakeholders to transform this vision into reality. The pandemic also brought various developmental roadblocks regarding digital connectivity to the forefront. Overcoming the developmental roadblocks and ensuring digital connectivity in the remotest villages would be imperative to achieve the vision of high-quality, equitable education for all. Simultaneously, familiarising teachers with the digital education tools and successfully leveraging technology, community participation, and private partnership will be critical for the district administration to deliver on its vision. However, since the schools are closed due to COVID, it remains to be seen whether what is planned will be actually implemented or not? And, if implemented, whether it will bring about any change?

(The author is an independent researcher. She is also a Doctorate from JNU, New Delhi. Views are personal.)

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