Ellora Mubashir, PhD, and Navneet Narwal
A place of study has a profound and direct effect on children’s lives, which must be nurtured by society for students’ all round development. The Transform Lives (TL) one school at a time program of S M Sehgal Foundation improves multiple aspects of rural government schools to create a safe and productive environment for learning. This is undertaken within the ambit of the village community and councils, whose contribution for the maintenance of the school in the future demonstrates their involvement. The TL program is in complete alignment with the country’s Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act or Right to Education Act (RTE) 2009, and the New Education Policy 2020 (NEP 2020).
Transformation of schoolchildren’s lives here involves improving the infrastructure of schools, imparting digital awareness and life skills education (DA-LSE) to the students, and building the capacities of the School Management Committee (SMC) for continuously maintaining high standards in their school.
Infrastructure is directly linked to quality education, as equally emphasized by NEP. The program’s impact was evaluated in 2022, along the indicator framework of the Unified District Information System for Education (UDISE). This showed that the transformed schools fulfilled all criteria, including 100 percent functional toilets, drinking water stations, and secure boundary walls. Soon after renovation, the transformed schools revealed a significant incline of 6 percent in enrollment, and qualitative insights from key stakeholders (students, teachers, and community members) reinforced this positive trend. A higher proportion of students of transformed schools (51.6%) demonstrated self confidence and appreciation of gender-related issues when compared with students enrolled in non-TL schools (23.9%). A 49 percent difference was shown in digital awareness, and the beneficiary students demonstrated a shift in career aspirations toward those involving computer and internet use. On a scale of 1 to 5, the surveyed teachers of the transformed schools, who had previously ranked their schools at 1 or 2, subsequently ranked them at 3 and 4, stating that the basic amenities were now available. Improved community involvement was evident, with 57 percent of parents in the beneficiary schools being aware of responsibilities assigned to the school development and management committee.
“Student absenteeism had been a major issue. Now the students have become more regular and enthusiastic about studies. They do not want to go back home even after the school timings.” —Surendra Singh Yadav, schoolteacher, Khareda, Alwar, Rajasthan
“Now, I use computer and internet for study, online submission of applications, surfing internet to gather information on various government programs, net banking/online money transfer, and online ticket booking and shopping.” — Varsha, student, Government Senior Secondary School, Diwakari, Alwar, Rajasthan
Three TL schools have been upgraded by the government, which includes provision of additional funding. Two schools, one in Maharashtra and the other in Rajasthan, have received the government’s District Level Swachhata Award and State Level Swachhata Award, respectively. Also, the school at Chhapra Dharampur village, Muzaffarpur, Bihar, has been declared as Model School by the district administration.
S M Sehgal Foundation received the Bhamashah Award from the Department of Education, State Government of Rajasthan, for the past five consecutive years, (2018 to 2022) and is categorized as Shikhsa Vibhushan, to acknowledge its work in the schools of Rajasthan.
The digital awareness courses are an effort to diminish the urban rural digital divide, with 11,160 students having completed the DA-LSE course as of 2022. The TL program is continuously evolving, with the latest enhancement in 2022, of setting up a Digital Library in the Government Senior Secondary School, Sahodi village, Alwar, Rajasthan. This study resource center caters to 449 students.
The TL program has been successfully scaled up from just one school in Santhawadi village, Nuh district, Haryana, in 2016, to 117 schools in 2022 in seven states, impacting 36,554 students and their families so far. The scale up has also taken place in terms of partnerships, starting only with funds from Sehgal Foundation in the USA to now also having obtained funds from eight CSR partners and others.
The program’s vision for the future involves further integration with the national education policies, maintaining TL’s innovative approach, enhancing partnerships, and further geographic scaling up across India.
(Ellora is project documentation specialist and Navneet is associate lead, Transform Lives one school at a time with S M Sehgal Foundation)