What works in Affordable Private Schools?

I work in an organisation called STiR Education which believes that if we need to solve the Educational problems in our schools then we need to work on the most important link in this puzzle i.e. teachers and before we think of bringing any change in their classroom – we need to do work on their motivation, as currently teachers in general remain quite demotivated because of the present state of teaching profession and the negative social perception built around it.
I have been associated with STiR from the past 3 years and during this duration, we have worked with more than 200 affordable private schools and one experience I have is that every time lot of schools would sign up for the programme but over the time their interest falls, they are not willing to work in their classrooms and eventually few of the schools exit the programme. On an average we have seen this attrition to be in the range of 20% - however, the next 20% is also not so much interested and committed to the program.
So, one of the tasks of every member at STiR is to try to motivate these schools to keep improving (We also colour code the schools for our understanding i.e. Green, Amber and Red) whereby Green means –Good schools (easy to work), Amber – On the borderline(There is issue but we can manage) and red – Difficult to work (We are not able to see any result in these schools).
Moreover, we also understand that to make this programme sustainable and to actually solve the Educational Problems in affordable private schools, we need to work with these difficult schools, as we are aware that we will find these kinds of schools in large numbers in comparison to committed schools. StiR doesn’t charge any fees for its programme from the schools – so schools just need to give their time and a commitment to practice and implement what we train them on.
Strategies to get the schools back on Track
Irrespective of all the problems, it’s one of our primary tasks to make sure that all the schools get back on track i.e. many of the amber and red schools turn to green. For the same we do try lot of strategies:
  • School Level Report: In this we provide every school with a report on five parameters i.e. their cooperation in the Network, their implementation in their classroom, portfolio filling, meeting attendance and support from the principal. Moreover, we also provide them with a comparison sheet pertaining to other schools i.e. where they stood in comparison to school in nearby areas.
  • Senior Team Member: We try to make sure that these schools are able to get a chance to interact with someone senior at STiR and hear the model from them and also share their problem with someone who is in a position to take a call on the same.
  • Peer Pressure: Through this we try to make the red schools visit some of the schools which are doing amazingly well or make some of the good principals visit the schools of other principals(Red Schools)
  • Newsletter: We started publishing a newsletter for the schools, which helps to give them a bigger picture about STiR but we also put up the pictures of the teachers and schools who have been doing a great job.
  • Foreign Visitor Visit: While it’s funny, but somehow a foreign face does work in Delhi Affordable Private schools (it can be because of our old traditions of ‘Atthithi Devo Bhava’ but I guess the other reason is that with foreign face they are able to understand that our organization is actually global that’s why foreign people are also associated with us.

While all these strategies do work to some extent and sometimes it’s a combination of activities, but I would also like to state that with few schools "nothing works".

One learning from our implementation

Recently, I was doing a review with my team the schools the team is associated with, and we also reviewed whether we were able to convert few of the schools based on the above strategies and it was interesting to note that one factor did really stand out i.e. Peer Pressure.

While if you see all the strategies i.e. ‘School Report Card’, ‘Newsletter’ and ‘Peer pressure’ all have the components of Peer Pressure but their is one main distinction between them as ‘Report Card’, ‘Newsletter’ both of these do lie in the control of STiR i.e. it’s based on us, how we prepare the report card and also the newsletter though ‘Interaction with Principals’ do depends upon the other principal and how has his/her experience been with STiR Education.

Few other factors pertaining to why we believe ‘Peer Pressure’ works are:

  1. Trusting becomes easy - For the schools we still are outsiders and they don’t know much about us though for them, the other principal or the teacher is someone who can trust and would not say something which can harm them.
  2. It’s easy to catch hold of them: As most of these schools are in the vicinity they actually can get a hold of the principal or teacher if they feel that they told something, which is not true.
  3. Real examples: - It’s definitively easier for them to trust someone who is in a similar position as them, moreover it also gives them a space to visit the schools to see the real impact.
  4. Afraid to try something new: Moreover, they sometimes are afraid to participate in something, which is new, and they haven’t tried previously(in this case STiR programme and STiR meetings) however when someone else who is in a similar position as them actually convinces them that they have tried it and it’s actually quite beneficial then it’s easier for them to implement the same.

Looking forward:

Now, when we do know that peer pressure actually works like magic, in future one approach which we may try is to make groups of teachers and give them recognition based on the group performance rather than any one of them. We think with this approach the motivated teachers would push the other teachers more as their rewards are also linked to the other teachers and the other teachers would be more eager to implement/try due to the peer pressure of the other teachers.

To read more articles on our work and my thoughts, refer to www.stiraps.blogspot.in
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