Dr. Nirupam Bajpai, Director, Columbia Global Centers | South Asia in Mumbai and Senior Development Advisor, Earth Institute at Columbia University, New York will serve as the principal investigator and the director of the project. Dr. Denise Burnette, Professor, Columbia University School of Social Work and Dr. Monisha Bajaj, Assistant Professor, Columbia University Teachers College, Department of International and Transcultural Education will be co-PIs and key members of the project team. The project will bring together faculty and students from Teachers College; School of Social Work; the Earth Institute, Medical school's Department of Nutrition and the Dental School.
The United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) call for universal completion of a full course of education for all children by 2015. There have been significant strides in terms of access. Numbers of out-of-school children worldwide dropped from 106 million in 1999 to 69 million in 2008 (MDG Report, 2010). In 2001, the 86th amendment to the Constitution of India declared education for all children ages 6-14 a basic right and on 1 April, 2010, the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act was enacted into law. Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA), the current scheme for universal education, also reports striking gains in access. With the opening of 288,000 schools and the establishment of primary schools within one kilometer of 98 percent of all habitations, nearly 20 million children have now been enrolled and the number out-of-school declined from 25 million in 2003 to 8.1 million in 2009. Gender and social gaps in enrollment have also narrowed. The ratio of girls to boys is 96 per 100, compared to 90 per 100 a decade ago; enrollment of Scheduled Caste (SC) and Scheduled Tribe (ST) children now better reflects their share of the population, with SCs constituting 21 percent and STs 11 percent of enrollments; and, by 2006, 2.18 million of the 2.5 million children with disabilities had enrolled in primary school.
Notwithstanding these gains in expanding education facilities and increasing enrollment and equity, fully one quarter (18 million) of all children still out-of-school worldwide are in South Asia and retention rates and achievement scores remain stagnated at very low levels. India’s National Policy on Education and its Programme of Action acknowledge SSA’s progress and endorse its continuation; but they also note that the root problem in systemic failures of rural primary education in the country is weak accountability in the management of learning performance. Their primary focus has thus shifted from ‘equity in access’ to ‘equity in achievement. To realize the promise of the Right to Free and Compulsory Education Act for India’s future, the imperative going forward is to improve achievement, or quality, in education.
Purpose and Aims
The purpose of the proposed project is to help improve the quality of teaching and learning outcomes in public primary schools in rural India by developing and testing an evidence-based model of primary education that is “locally owned and operated” yet readily adaptable for other locales. There are two specific aims, each with discrete, measureable outcomes: (1) to improve the quality of student learning and (2) to lower grade repetition and dropout rates. We seek to demonstrate that a relatively modest, targeted program of innovations and resources that is geared toward community building, teaching and learning, and educational programming, coordination, monitoring, and evaluation will significantly improve the two outcomes of interest, will be cost-effective and will be readily scalable. The project is thus also expected to facilitate India’s progress towards MDGs 1, 2 and 3 which address issues of universal access to primary education and related outcomes by 2015.
The project will undertake research and make recommendations on relevant curriculum development; teacher training; ICT as a tool for distance learning; student testing; school infrastructure; health and hygiene in schools; and a schools breakfast program.