Back in 2021, I got the opportunity to work as a teacher in an all girls government school in Mandawali, Delhi. Working in a government school helped me understand the systemic flaws present in the education sector. Having studied in a private school, as soon as I entered my classroom as an educator, I could see the inequality between the learning levels of students in private and government schools. My students were in grade two on paper but exhibited the reading competency of a kindergartener. Soon I experienced many other challenges at multiple levels; volatility regarding curriculums, policies, and expected outcomes made it difficult to lift the academic standard of each and every student. To add on to these challenges, I realised how a teacher had to cater to multiple rigours in a single classroom, making it almost impossible to ensure every student gets the learning experience they deserve. Having had a chance to interact with older female students in my school, I knew the devastating consequences lack of education can have- drop out of schools, lack of independence and respect in the society, and in many cases- increased chance of domestic violence.

Shifting gears: Moving from planning for a single classroom to strategizing for 3000+

After spending two years in my classroom, the desire to address challenges on a broader scale within the education system led me to explore new opportunities. The chance to make a meaningful impact presented itself through Mission Buniyaad, an endeavour in the education sector that GDi has been actively engaged in for the past three years.

For those unfamiliar with this initiative, Mission Buniyaad aims to improve the learning outcomes of 6 lakh girl students in government schools by implementing individualised learning using personalised adaptive learning software (PAL). As a former teacher, the potential of PAL excited me, offering a solution to a significant problem faced in the classroom by me and many other teachers I knew. As I embarked on the journey of working on Mission Buniyaad, I got exposed to the complexities and possibilities inherent in the education system. This experience highlighted the significance of involving stakeholders and the government to achieve impactful, large-scale outcomes. Here are some key insights from my journey so far:

1) Effective scalable solutions may arise not from novelty but from efficiently utilising overlooked existing resources within the system

Mission Buniyaad distinguished itself by utilising the pre-existing government infrastructure, specifically ICT labs, as a catalyst for the adoption of PAL. Prior to the intervention, a considerable number of the present labs within Mission Buniyaad were not functional. Through the refurbishment of these non-functional labs and the integration of PAL, the initiative effectively optimised the utilisation of government resources that had already incurred substantial financial investment. This approach not only improved cost-efficiency but also created incentives for schools and officials to actively engage with and leverage these revamped resources. This demonstrates that impactful solutions may not always be groundbreaking but can stem from simple measures, such as efficiently utilising overlooked resources within the system.

2) The importance of effective storyboarding and communication

Through my interactions with diverse stakeholders, I've come to recognize the varying priorities placed by stakeholders at different levels. It's crucial to pinpoint the specific needs of stakeholders and tailor the narrative accordingly. For instance, a teacher in the field may be keen on understanding how PAL can enhance classroom teaching, making their daily responsibilities more manageable. On the other hand, district or block-level officials are typically more concerned with gaining visibility into the usage status of ICT labs. Customising the narrative to address these specific concerns is key to developing a communication strategy that is not only impactful but also resonates effectively with the intended audience.

3) Building trust: A gradual yet essential process

Mission Buniyaad stands out due to the diverse array of stakeholders one must engage and collaborate with. This underscores the critical importance of cultivating trustworthy relationships. Even when faced with differing opinions, the key lies in how ideas are communicated. As the saying goes, 'it’s often not what you say but how you say it.'

A noteworthy experience was when a GDi team member joined the Program Management Unit (PMU) team of the Secretary (Education) to the government of Rajasthan. Despite initial concerns about work extending beyond the project domain, close collaboration and delivering quality work not only improved relations but also provided a platform to transparently present on-ground challenges. This resulted in immediate action, such as the Secretary instructing Deputy Director of ICT to issue a notification withholding payments to AMC vendors (Annual Maintenance Contract) if the ICT labs under their purview were not functional. This showcases the power of clear communication and collaboration in addressing challenges within Mission Buniyaad

4) Data collection is important, but so is knowing how to use that data effectively

In our daily project routine, we received data on diverse parameters like school status, school usage, and fellows' activities. Establishing systematic structures for data collection was imperative. Equally crucial was the analysis of this data to derive relevant insights for informed decision-making. This process not only helped identify implementation gaps but also enabled prompt action steps to address emerging challenges.

5) Balancing macro strategies with micro realities: The imperative of ground-level awareness in systemic decision-making

While formulating strategies on a macro level, it's easy to overlook the micro perspective. However, maintaining a connection with the ground reality is crucial to understanding on-the-ground challenges and stakeholder perspectives. Simple actions such as conducting field visits and directly engaging with stakeholders become invaluable in assessing the program's perception and identifying opportunities for improvement.

Furthermore, observing the tangible results of one's efforts significantly contributes to motivation and purpose. For example, during a field visit to Karauli, I personally witnessed 20 girls actively using the MB PAL software for studying. Conversations with them regarding the positive impact of PAL not only reinforced my belief in the project but also provided a meaningful context for the time and energy invested in it.

6) Creating impact requires exceptional hard work, patience, and agility

In moments when the project didn't unfold as anticipated, despite immense effort, it's easy to feel disheartened. However, it's crucial to recognize that this journey is a marathon, not a sprint. While keeping the ultimate goal in perspective is essential, acknowledging the achieved milestones, no matter how small, is of equal importance. This approach not only sustains diligence and motivation but also fosters a commitment to continuous improvement.

Concluding Reflections

Mission Buniyaad has provided me with a firsthand understanding of managing a large-scale project across an entire state. It has shed light on the intricacies of operating on a larger scale and prompted me to question my initial assumptions. Along the way, I've encountered diverse challenges at various levels. This experience has highlighted how implementation challenges can impact the execution of a well-thought-out plan and emphasised the importance of adaptability and agility in overcoming these hurdles. Most importantly, it has revealed that individuals at various levels are committed to improving systems. Sometimes, all it takes is the right push and solution to address some of our country's most significant challenges.

In the future, my aim is to apply the insights gained from these experiences in diverse contexts. In the meantime, our current focus is on working towards achieving our goals in the remaining months of the project. We are dedicated to ensuring that these 6 lakh girls have access to high-quality education, with the ultimate goal of enhancing their learning outcomes and providing them a brighter future.