The initiatives of Tata Trusts in the field of education are concentrated on ensuring that children and adolescents gain access to quality learning. There’s an allied objective here: to serve marginalised communities. A crucial component in these initiatives is to improve the quality of pedagogy by building teacher competence, engaging the community, working on research and policy and introducing curricular innovations that help children maximise their learning.
Tata Trusts supports and implements projects in villages and districts across 12 Indian states. These are aimed at improving the quality of education from preschool to high schools, bringing dropout adolescents back into the system and driving women’s literacy. The education interventions are part of a multithematic engagement with the community and it includes livelihood enhancement, water and sanitation, and nutrition.
Tata Trusts has undertaken three thematic initiatives to help plug some of the large gaps in India’s education sector. The Parag project supports educational development and dissemination through children’s books in Indian languages, the intent being to promote the reading habit among children.
Over the next two years, Parag is looking to help 45,000 children from urban and rural areas by supporting school libraries; developing 280 new children’s titles in Indian languages, including books in braille; building capacity through library educators and illustrators, with blended courses; and by using technology to promote reading.
Tata Trusts is also working, within this space, on improving teacher training. It now has a plan for a nodal centre and regional hubs to manage the task, which entails providing preservice training to 1,600 prospective teachers and in-service training to 100,000 teachers. The goal here is to build a cadre of good teachers and good teacher educators.
Technology has become an important piece in Tata Trusts’ approach to education. “We are quite clear that technology can only be a tool, not an end in itself,” says Tara Sabavala, head of programme design at the Trusts. “The attempt is to see how we can use technology to make learning and teaching more enjoyable and productive.”
There are currently three key interventions in the technology and education space:
Young children at schools in the Khunti district of Jharkhand are beneficiaries of the ‘Khunti District Initiative’ undertaken by Tata Trusts. The objective is to tackle the problems afflicting formal learning in large parts of India: non-functioning schools, inadequate secondary education, lack of quality reading material, rampant teacher absenteeism and high drop-out rates for girl students. On a larger scale, the Trusts’ educational interventions in central India address quality issues in elementary school education, provide ‘remedial coaching’ to support high school students in clearing exams, bring educational innovation and research into the picture, and give academic support to girl students.
Children study at a centre in Mizoram, one of the four states — Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan and Telangana are the others — where Tata Trusts has launched its ‘Connected Learning Initiative’ in association with the Tata Institute of Social Sciences and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. An innovative effort to improve the academic and professional prospects of high school students from underserved communities, the programme incorporates design and technology in its teaching methodology to deliver quality educational content in different subjects. This initiative aims to reach 1,100 schools and 165,000 students in the four targeted states by 2018, while also conducting professional development courses for about 4,500 teachers.
A student reads a story to her classmates at a government-run school in Yadgir district of Karnataka. This is a component of the ‘Parag Initiative’, which supports the development of children’s literature in Indian languages. The intent is to promote reading among the young, and one critical way the programme works to accomplish the task is by setting up libraries where they are most needed. Approximately 100 libraries have been established in Yadgir under the Parag Initiative, 30 in Bali in Rajasthan and 25 in the southern parts of Odisha. On the programme’s agenda are the development of quality children’s literature, ensuring improved access to books and capacity building among key stakeholders.
A class in progress at a centre in Lalitpur in the Bundelkhand region of Uttar Pradesh that operates under the ‘Functional Literacy for Women’ initiative of Tata Trusts. Some 10,700 rural women in the states of Uttar Pradesh and Jharkhand have become functionally literate thanks to the programme, which is geared to develop literacy and numeracy skills. Empowerment is the central theme of the initiative that also involves informing the participants of the welfare schemes they are entitled to, providing access to computers and, generally speaking, enabling these adult students to engage more deeply with all aspects of their immediate and everyday lives.