Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan brought in by former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee boosted school enrolment and basic infrastructure of primary schools across India. But states such as Uttar Pradesh, marred with regional caste politics for the last one-and-a-half decade, where education was the last priority, were always left behind.
When the Yogi Adityanath government came to power in March 2017, along with other sectors, primary education was also in shambles. From learning levels of children — as assessed by an ASER survey — to school infrastructure, Uttar Pradesh had nothing to be proud of.
For the Adityanath government, primary education was of utmost importance and it took the challenge head-on. First, the chief minister’s team curated a list of 23 basic facilities that each of the 1.6 lakh schools of Uttar Pradesh should have under ‘Operation Kayakalp’. The government has set a time bound target to complete it. Seven of these basic facilities will be available in every school by the first half of 2020, including toilets, water facility, electricity, boundary wall, gate and additional classrooms; and 100 per cent of these facilities will be available in all schools by March 2022.
The teams under Operation Kayakalp are working on mission mode. More than 50,000 schools in Uttar Pradesh have already been refurbished. Funds are being converged from different departments like urban local bodies, gram panchayat, and district mineral funds for the scheme. Live centralised monitoring using dashboards, populated through geo-tagged photos and star-rating of schools based on the infrastructure availability, has enabled the Adityanath government to monitor even the remotest districts of Bundelkhand, sitting in Lucknow. Regular uninformed field visits by ministers and officials are adding to the rigour of Operation Kayakalp.
Improving basic learning
Targeting foundational learning of 1.8 crore children in primary grades in Hindi and mathematics is far more complex than managing infrastructure challenges. Uttar Pradesh has always been one of the poorly performing states in the ASER education survey, which measures learning levels of children in language and maths. The Adityanath government’s ‘Mission Prerna’ is geared up to solve just that. Mission Prerna is all about ensuring measurable learning outcomes for children. Any government speaking the language of ‘learning outcomes’ is music to the ears of educational policy experts.
Under Mission Prerna, grade-wise measurable learning goals or ‘Prerna Lakshya’ are established for Hindi and maths – such as word identification, reading speed, reading comprehension, number identification, basic arithmetic operations, etc. Grade-wise Prerna Soochi and Prerna Talika will be with the teachers, in which they will mark the progress of each child in the class. Once the block education officers (BEOs) are confident that students of their block are ready for the Prerna Lakshya, s/he will self-nominate the block through Prerna Ghoshna for an independent, third-party evaluation of the learning levels of the children. Once the block achieves that learning level, it will be called a Prerak Block. Once all the blocks of a district achieve the Prerna Lakshya, it will become a Prerak District, then a Prerak Division, which will roll up to a Prerak Pradesh.
By late 2021, Uttar Pradesh will start witnessing the results of this massive one-of-a-kind exercise targeting real learning among children, which will be a model for the entire country. This is much like Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s successful Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, where blocks and districts self-nominated for the open defecation free (ODF) survey, which in turn generated a very healthy competition among district and block officers.
Teachers are the backbone of any school education system. This massive drive to improve learning outcomes among children is being managed by the 5.75 lakh-strong teacher force of Uttar Pradesh. About 45,000 teacher vacancies, pending since long, have been filled in just the last three years to augment the teacher force to maintain the prescribed teacher-pupil ratio inside the classrooms. Recruitment of 70,000 more teachers is in its last phase. Teachers are being trained through the Diksha app, where there are more than 4,000 content pieces mapped to chapters through QR codes.
For the first time in the history of Uttar Pradesh, all these teachers are listed in an online database, through which the government can easily figure out school, block and district-wise vacancies and teachers can also apply for leave online, without having to make several rounds to their block offices. There is a new cadre of 4,000+ academic resource persons (ARPs) being selected among senior teachers through a robust selection process for in-class mentoring of teachers on different elements of Mission Prerna. Together, these ARPs will do more than one lakh school visits every month.
Roping in experts
In addition, initiatives like Samarth to mainstream divyang (disabled) students, Sharda drive to get ‘out of school’ children back to school have been started. Establishing well-equipped libraries with 500-1,000 books and sports facilities in all the schools in 75 districts of Uttar Pradesh are some more targets that the Adityanath government has taken upon itself.
CM Adityanath and his core team are monitoring each of this initiative on a weekly and monthly basis through centralised data-backed dashboards. India’s best experts in the areas of school governance, child assessment, teaching of numeracy and literacy are being accessed by the Adityanath government. Experts from IIT, IIM, Harvard, Yale and other premium institutions in India and around the globe are part of this mission.
Adityanath has completed three successful years in office and I hope people will see beyond his saffron robe, and start appreciating the massive governance initiatives going on in different departments of Uttar Pradesh.
Shantanu Gupta is the biographer of Uttar Pradesh CM Yogi Adityanath, titled The Monk Who Became Chief Minister. Views are personal.