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Kruti Bharucha

Founder and CEO of Peepul India

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From Possibility To Plausibility

A chance for social entrepreneurs to reimagine education

“Loss” would be an apposite word to recount the past one and a half years. From the loss of life to a regular flow of income, all individuals have experienced losses during the pandemic. However, perhaps one of the losses whose impact will reverberate for generations to come is the learning loss among students. Prolonged school closure has paralyzed the education system that caters to ~250 million students in India, thereby widening the inequality between the privileged and the socially and economically vulnerable. Various studies around the world and in India are throwing light on the alarming proportions of learning losses in the current curricular context, and more worryingly also note a regression in previously acquired foundational and conceptual learning abilities. Based on a survey we conducted among ~1,000 low-income families in April 2020 in South Delhi, our team at Peepul found that only 55 percent of the school-going children in low-income families we support, had access to a smartphone to receive lesson content and to stay in touch with their teachers[i] – such limited access to online learning infrastructure along with limited interaction avenues with teachers, undoes decades of work that has gone into improving access to education to children from underprivileged communities. 

There are many challenges that the attempt to continue learning despite school closures has thrown up – from the easy-to-expect difficulty of access for many (from issues of no electricity to limited data packs), to the did-not-see-that-coming (issues of privacy and cyber-harassment of female teachers by their personal numbers being available WhatsApp groups with parents). While the current period may be rife with gloom and unnerving challenges, it may also be ripe for entrepreneurs to step in with some novel ideas to ameliorate the situation. Social entrepreneurs, in particular, have a significant role to play in the present quandary, as the success parameters for their interventions are not purely pecuniary but also include social welfare and impact. Social entrepreneurs can leverage the disruption of the status quo to catalyze systemic changes in education. These solutions have the potential to impact all the key players that are involved in the learning ecosystem. For instance, they can advocate and work on implementing a flexible curriculum for self-paced learning. Or perhaps, design teacher training modules that help teachers understand a way of imparting learning that goes beyond books and classrooms. [In  Madhya Pradesh, we are guiding this behaviour change in our partnership with the state government, through a digital course series on Home-Based Learning that ~200,000 government teachers  are engaging with.] Social entrepreneurs can also help children develop essential social and emotional learning skills, such as empathy and preparedness for uncertainty in a post-COVID world. 

There is a cornucopia of possibilities that can turn into plausible theories of change. Social entrepreneurs must find humane, equitable, and innovative solutions to the myriad problems at hand. Although passion, rigour, and creativity are vital ingredients in the recipe to trailblazing entrepreneurial ideas, it may be essential to have a few things in order. First, testing for impact is fundamental to declaring the success of any solution. This process clarifies the levers of change, and bolsters belief with the proof of concept – remember, what may seem intuitive may not always be true. By developing a rigorous impact tracking framework for mapping teachers’ competencies to the objective of the trainings conducted in CM Rise, the Impact Monitoring team at Peepul is offering perspicacious findings on the impact of interventions for course correction and codification of best practices – learnings that can inform not just our future programs, but that of other social enterprises and governments. 

Second, remember the circumstances we are in are unusual: inspecting the implicit assumptions your solutions make will be essential. Understand the present behavior of beneficiaries: on the one hand, they are imbibing new habits, learning new behaviors, and donning new roles – and this is changing the rules of the game. On the other hand, don’t underestimate the magnitude of inertia in systems, that tend to yawn back to what they used to be. Be open to listening carefully to what the user groups/target population has to say, no matter how counter-intuitive or inconvenient it may be to the design of your solution. 

Third, consciously find your mentors and believers, who can help ferment your entrepreneurial ideas. They may provide alternate perspectives, keep you grounded with an objective understanding of the intervention, and point out overseen elements. We cannot emphasise just how eye-opening conversations with our mentors have been, as we navigated our journey to designing and scaling our solutions at Peepul in the last year and a half.

Arriving at fresh ideas that will improve lives and society is an exacting yet exciting journey that social entrepreneurs traverse – and with hope, we will find the creativity and collective leadership to imagine a new alternative to the pre-existing equilibrium of education systems, and the entrepreneurial energy to walk that hazy path to a new, better equilibrium.

[i] A recent blog by UNESCO covered the findings of this survey and Peepul’s on-ground experiences with children and families of some of the poorest communities.https://gemreportunesco.wordpress.com/2020/05/13/why-non-state-education-requires-support-in-the-current-pandemic/ 

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house


Tags assigned to this article:
education startup pandemic school social entrepreneurship

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