It is not often that a municipal corporation, a software and hardware institution and the CSR (corporate social responsibility) arm of a leading infrastructure development and finance company join hands to look at something as basic as good education. But this is exactly what the Pimpri-Chinchwad Municipal Corporation (PCMC), the Science and Technology Park and the IL&FS Education and Technology Services (IETS), the CSR wing of IL&FS, have done, implementing a project—Project Prakash–that seeks to bring global standards to 152 municipal schools, impacting over 60,000 students.
Conceived as an ‘integrated project’, Project Prakash is all set to change the way teaching-learning takes place. Goals and interventions in the transformation process seek to make learning an experience-led, interactive, insight-based and stimulating journey. And, for this journey to be truly meaningful, the various components identified under Project Prakash include improvement of physical infrastructure in schools under PCMC; upgradation of information technology infrastructure and content; enhancement in the quality of education and classroom teaching-learning processes; capacity building of teachers and educational functionaries; and special interventions for children with special needs and early childhood education.
Says Uday Nirgudkar, IETS business head, Project Prakash focuses on providing quality education from the Balwadi to students of Class 10. “It highlights a marriage between a public system, PCMC, and a private entity, IETS, creating a PPP (public-private partnership) model that looks at an integrated use of IT in education.”
For IETS, such integrated use of IT in teaching began in Pimpri-Chinchwad, the twin towns located in the Pune district of Maharashtra. Governed by a common municipal body (the Pimpri-Chinchwad Municipal Corporation, PCMC). The towns of Pimpri-Chinchwad form a major industrial hub and host one of the biggest industrial zones in Asia. Constantly striving to improve educational and institutional reforms, PCMC has, in association with its knowledge partner, the Science and Technology Park (STP), focused on enhancing every aspect of school education to meet global standards. It was in this context that the two bodies decided to rope in the services of IETS to give an IT edge to education programme in the townships.
Project Prakash was conceived with four clear goals -setting up IT Laboratories, changes to be brought about in classroom learning-teaching interaction, improvement in physical infrastructure and capacity building
To begin the transformation and develop suitable multimedia lessons, a workshop involving some teachers from all classes and for all subjects was conducted in February 2008 where ‘challenge spots’ were identified by the PCMC teachers. Based on the inputs received from the workshop, suitable learning objects were developed by IETS for the syllabus to be covered during June-July 2008
In June 2008, when the first phase of Project Prakash was rolled out, training for all primary and secondary school teachers, the principals of these schools, and other concerned staff was conducted on various identified multimedia learning objects. The objective was to share and familiarise all participants on the IT content and its use in the classroom as also on the use of K-Yan, a proprietary software tool developed by IETS that features an easy-to-use, compact unit that combines a high-end multimedia computer, a television, a projector and Internet connectivity. The training was attended by approximately 983 primary school teachers and 150 secondary school teachers where an opportunity was given for hands-on practice on using the multimedia content and K-Yan.
The workshops were interactive and served to erase fear of using technology in teaching and opened doors to new possibilities in school education. The creation of multimedia lessons as e-books was appreciated by teachers and PCMC officials. The feedback of the training sessions is being used to guide the transformation process and make it stakeholder-relevant. The next phase of the roll-out will include setting up of IT labs, MIS, systems, soft skills training and teacher training.
Says Asheesh Sharma, Commissioner, PCMC, “the reason behind PCMC joining hands with IETS was that while all schools under the PCMC were getting the required inputs under Sarv Shiksha Abhiyaan and various other government schemes, there were some quality inputs that were perceived to be missing when compared to the education being provided in various private schools in the townships. It was then that we decided to join hands with an experienced body like the IETS to ensure that multimedia kits actually became an integral part of the teaching process in all municipal schools.”
Adds IETS’ Nirgudkar, “the idea here is not to let technology over-ride the concept of face-to-face teacher-student interaction. It is a sort of reverse engineering process. Technology is only being used to enhance the learning and understanding of the students: it is using technology at the right moment, in a right dose so that the real impact starts coming in the classrooms.”
The PCMC expects the project will ensure that all the 152 schools under its care meet global standards in all aspects of education, such as the learning environment, quality improvement in classroom processes and providing blended learning solutions through the innovative use of ICT tools. Accordingly, the 152 schools under the PCMC are undergoing transformation to meet global standards in all aspects of education such as:
- Creating multimedia content based on syllabus;
- Introducing IT kits in different subjects;
- Introducing computer-aided learning for students and teachers;
- Training teachers in English, IT, classroom management, behaviour modification techniques and care of special needs children;
- Setting up state-of-art IT infrastructure;
- Linking of all schools through WAN; and,
- MIS systems for all administration-related work.
But, if 152 schools represent a small number, consider this: the initial phase of the project covered 1,800 teachers, 60,000 students, 101 school infrastructures, with the farthest distance between two schools being about 38 km, schools running in two shifts–morning and afternoon—with the class groups of students varying from those in the 1st standard to those in the 10th standard. It is diversity similar to one that the country itself represents and one that PCMC expected to bridge with multimedia and IT. While implementing the project nowhere were the teachers taken out from their schedule. In fact, PCMC and IETS adjusted its delivery mechanism and training sessions to avoid affecting school timings, leading to project management skills that can be compared with the best in the world.
Points out Arun Nigavekar, Software Technology Park, Project Prakash was conceived with four clear goals. The first one being changes to be brought about the classroom learning-teaching interaction. The second is setting up the IT Laboratories, which would change the way the school system is managed. The third being the physical infrastructure and the last being the capacity building of teachers. “To achieve this, we conceived a monthly deliverable programme that all stakeholders agreed to, becoming part of the value chain system.”
By now it is understood by all that use of ICT in government and public systems is not just about buying the machines and that the key stakeholders, namely, government, businesses and citizens must work together
In fact, this value chain was itself divided into various verticals. There was the IT vertical, which involves setting up of IT labs, data centres and the communication centre to address any IT-related complaints. The next vertical involved capacity building where IETS imparted training to the teachers on how to use its K-Yan multimedia unit, the other learning units, and classroom management. Yet another vertical sought to create the right multimedia learning unit for this diverse set of students, teachers and schools. “It is this coordinated action that saw everyone come on board and implement the process of change, all thinking in the same direction, all wanting to be a part of the change,” says Nigavekar.
But wanting to be a part of such change was the result of focussed attention by all the three main stakeholders: the primary body being the PCMS, its main partner being the Science and Technology Park and its private partner being the IETS. Project Prakash saw its foundations being laid after a formalised joint review mission was undertaken by all the three stakeholders. The objectives of the mission were: to assess the present status of schools under PCMC; to ascertain the shortcomings and define the areas in need of improvement; and, to recommend methods and action points for improvement.
Such improvement, says Sharma, is evident from the fact that today children feel encouraged to come to schools, even if the teaching there takes the help of multimedia kits. “Once the environment is interactive, attendance of students in schools improve. It encourages teachers to innovate, to improvise, and to become more motivated to teach students beyond a specified course.”
Adds Nigavekar, “the quality of student-teacher interaction in the classrooms has gone up tremendously. As a result, parents prefer to put their wards into municipal schools rather than the private schools, because the word has spread that the municipal schools too give quality education than what was available earlier.”