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One of the things we are were curiously looking out in the Census data that is revealed once in ten years is the progress was te literacy rates across India in 2011.
The Map showing Literacy Rate in India, Census 2011

It comes as no surprise that the literacy rate for Bihar is amongst the lowest in the country. There is a lot of work to be done, and is being done. There are a lot of schemes being run by the government in this regard and the hope is that with increased attendance due to these schemes, the overall education levels would increase and literacy levels improve.

A very interesting study was done by the “Accountability Initiative” where they discuss about the relation between these schemes and the attendance in schools.

Here a table from that blog, that outlinese these schemes. It is amazing to see the level to which it has been thought through.

Government Schemes

It is also well known that the cycle schemes for girls in Bihar has been amongst the most successful schemes in the country and is being replicated by various other governments. Here’s hoping that more of the schemes are successful, so that our project can bring in more value to the education system in Bihar.

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One of the key differences that we see with the affordable private schools (APS) and the government schools where the children of really poor people go is that there is often an emphasis on the extra curricular activities in the APS. The unanimous answer to why this does not happen with the government schools, is that the parents cannot afford the money for the items required in these activities.

It set us thinking on whether we can change this. Taking the inspiration from economics and the notion of Microsavings and the ways of working in Microfinance, we started to think on the way savings can be done specifically for education.

We decided to challenge ourselves to see how this can be addressed. We asked ourselves whether a simple thing as a piggybank be redesigned to help saving for the education of the child.

We are working on a system that tries to address this. Intern Jean is working on this goal. He shares his insights on this.

We are currently developing a microsavings-inspired system using a piggybank-like product helping parents to save money for their child’s education. The saved money would be used only when a certain amount is reached, so that parents could buy or exchange for class material.

Here is why we are focusing on this: in rural areas, parents earn very less money, which is certainly not enough to allow extra expenditures. Their earnings are based on what they do, and not going to work means having less money to buy food. There’s no help of any kind, no unemployment assistance, no health insurance, no retirement plan. During our visit to these areas we observe that most of the households have a jar hidden somewhere, which is used to store a few coins for rainy days. The parents would not use this hard earned money for education. Plus, it is so easy for the father (usually the head of the family) to take this money and spend it. This is why we came with the idea of a community-based saving system (inspired from the group loan repayment of microfinance systems), using a product or a tool specifically implemented for the education purpose.

These two aspects work together to facilitate the saving process: having it community-based make the parents feel less lonely and provide them a strong support in case of a motivation drop; also, by differentiating the education piggybank and the classic one we ensure that the money will effectively be used for improving education.

In a more concrete way, each participating family will be provided with a piggybank. They are supposed to save a Rs 5 coin per day, which is small enough not to disturb their lifestyle but big enough to buy class material if repeated everyday and collected at the end of the month. To make it community-integrated as well as to ensure that the father will not steal from it, the piggybanks will move from a family to another every day or every week.

Piggy Bank Concept

This is how it would function: family A saves money and then gives the piggybank A to family B who ensures that there is the right amount of money inside. Family B saves money in piggybank B and then gives it to family C, and so on… In such a system, the transfer is feasible if and only if every family participates, so if one is encountering any problem others would have to take care of it in order to move on. When the family gets its own piggybank back -maybe after a few turns- it is time to empty it and spend the saved money.

Families would then come to the project manager or the champions; who would exchange it with new class materials that would help with the education activities. The piggybank itself will be a affordable, sustainable product allowing a constant feedback of the saved amount, so that it is easy for the families to check. The whole system, is based on trust: we believe in the power of the village’s community. If a father decides to take the money from a piggybank, he will have to face a collective anger.

Last but not least, the outside of the product will be left blank for children to decorate it: it will allow them to personalize their piggybank, recognize it when it comes back home, and encourage them to invest the collected money into their own education.

For the success of the pilot project due to be launched in April this year, we considered some hypothesis:
1. We will choose families sensitive to education and aware of its importance, thinking that the father would be less likely to take the money for own usage.
2. We considered that they have a regular income, which is almost mandatory to be able to save little money everyday.
3. Finally, we need the child to come to school everyday, to use the class material his parents would buy him.

Right now, the development of the product is still in process. As soon as it is finished we will start communicating around the whole project, aiming to promote it as well as the methodology for social impact we built in the meantime. We will be then back in Bihar, testing the whole system in April.

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We have been working on a short video to highlight the features of the project. The aim is to reach out to more audience. The story of the champions need to be heard.

Coming Soon

Target to launch the video is February 2013.

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We have often asked this question to the students in the schools we visit.

Poster 1

Illustration by Jean-Baptiste Haag, the intern.

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Here’s a promotional poster of our project, based on one of our favorite quotes.

One of the key things in the project is that we look towards empowering women, through mentoring, scholarships, training sessions and building confidence. They then engage with the society on multiple levels.

Promo Poster

Illustration by Jean-Baptiste Haag, the intern on the project.

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We have been brainstorming on a lot more ways to improve the quality of education and the activities around it. One of the key things we have identified is the need to educate the children about life skills.

Intern Jean-Baptiste writes on this need.

School is a way to get life skills

By life skills, I mean competencies that are useful in everyday life, but not usually taught at school tough. Children have to be ready for everyday events ; and when life gives you lemons, one would better be ready for them and have some good defense tools. School is a place to get such useful stuff.

Life Skills

One could reply that parents, friends, experience shall provide these life tools. I agree it can work for some of them: a mother can teach her children (her daughters, in fact) how to cook of take care of the household ; a father can teach his children his job ; friends can experiment so many things too, be it a simple adventure in an unknown place or love. However there is that kind of knowledge that can not be learnt by itself. For some notions, concepts, ideas or process, one can’t just guess them without having a external input. Not everybody is a genius. This is why for business, sexual education, economy, politics, science and many more topics children need to be introduced by a formal teacher. To go a bit further, they need to be coached by a professional, or somebody more competent than a regular teacher.

More precisely, there are many types of life skills, that I sort in several categories: thinking skills (self-awareness, smartness, problem-solving ability…), social skills (verbal communication, body language, empathy…), general knowledge (history, art, philosophy, psychology…) and manual skills (cooking, cleaning, crafting, first aid…). Each of them can be taught, either by a qualified person of by a parent/ a friend, even if the best way to get used to them is still to experience them.

Why should children learn this? Again, to get ready. Because life isn’t easy for anyone, and especially for poor kids. Also, by having such life skills in their backpack, they are more likely to become wise adults, responsible and society-adapted. The best advantage I see in acquiring them is the enlargement of their opportunities, whatever they dream of. With them they are actually able to extend their vision of today’s world, and choose among a wider range of lifestyles.

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One of the key activities that has come about during our project is this meeting with the parents that we have.

Here is an update of schedule of the “monthly open parent-teacher meeting” on how it is being conducted and what is aimed from this exercise.

We organised the first open parent-teacher meeting with one school on International Literacy Day (September 8) then again on October 1, Sunday in another school, where approximately 55 people including some teachers and the principal gathered and attended the meeting to hear and talk to our scholars (champions) .

And we are trying to continue the process as much as possible atleast twice in a month (increase it from the earlier once a month). In these meetings, the scholars Deepika and Guriya , usually speak about the common problems due to illiteracy and benefits and importance of education, health & hygiene, girls’s early marriage or issues related to women (as there are many in those areas) .

Then, the scholars do an open discussion there itself as question and answer period for almost around 40 minutes as then the parents keep their querries of the issues related to their children regarding their lifestyle, their studies, mid-day meal in the school and similar questions for themselves also, related to their daily life.

The plan ahead is to go with it every month on a regular basis, apart from the regular sessions of reading, story-telling, quiz sessions, games and all other activities that we have been doing since the past 6 months.
Inviting parents to the meetings

One problem we face is the time of conducting of these activities. They cannot be done during the class hours. So we are trying to do it mostly after the schools’s periods in the week days or on Sundays as more of the people especially children (from schools) and women/mothers get some
free time on Sundays. Meetings are conducted mostly at any public place very near to any of the three schools, that we are covering at present. So, its also comfortable, for the people to come over directly just by knowing the school’s name as when and wherever it happens.

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In the past few years there has been a growing number of workers in the rural areas who take care of the pregnant mothers and children when they are young. These are the Anganwadi workers and their role is very critical in the ecosystem presently. They are supposed to be traveling across the villages, where they take spot and identity the pregnant mothers, take them under their vigilance, and monitor their health progress.

The responsibility of these workers is that they keep on track of the mothers health, assist during child birth, keep track of the new born child’s health and vaccinations, ensure that the child is getting nutritious diet and then look into it that the child gets into school and attains primary education.

We too believe that these Anganwadi workers can be engaged in a lot more education related activities as well. We are trying to see how we can leverage the potential of this network of people to assist us in our project too.

We have been speaking to people on their roles. We will be visiting Bihar again in November, where we get to observe and engage in discussions with these workers too.

Anganwadi workers

Our intern Jean Baptiste adds on how we can look to engaging with these workers.

“Anganwadi workers: a new target for engaging in education activities?”

While talking to Arvind from Akshara Foundation he told us about Anganwadi workers, saying that we could think about them in our work. So we did, and it seems that we now have discovered a new stakeholder involved into our problem.

Anganwadi means “courtyard shelter” in Hindi. These workers belong to a government-initiated program, part of a larger one aiming to reduce child hunger, malnutrition, disease, and death rate.
They are a kind of nurses, who take care about the child and his mother from the time she is pregnant until the kid is about 5 years old. Their job covers wide areas such as feeding, regularly checking-up health and taking care of vaccines. They do that for the child as well as the mother. Finally, they also provide pre-school education for children between 3-5 years old.

An interesting point is that they work in their own village: they grew up in it. They are not strangers who come into you house to take care of your weak pregnant wife, that worker is your neighbour, your friend, a member of your family. As a consequence it is easier for everybody to trust them and allow them to come into one’s home and join that intimate bubble. It is said that they usually have better social skills that well-educated doctor and nurses, because of that.

Government train them for only four months in very various fields, before sending them to work. It is so little, compared with the numerous and various fields they have to be skilled in. There is no way they can be competent enough, but I guess experience helps to fill in the blank, at on point.

Since they follow every child in the village, from their first footsteps and even before, and so know the parents, their problems and aspirations, they have a great power. They do have the ability to convince them to send their child to school, or at least make parents aware of opportunities provided by education.

Our challenge, if we choose to focus on them, would be to extend their role of pre-school teachers. We could make them educate parents on the importance of sending their child to school. Or we could use them to take the place of regular teachers, so that they could come to school and make class. Or at least support them, to make up when teachers drop out. But first of all we have to get to know them, and figure out their knowledge level. They work in rural areas, meaning that we have no clue about their english level, but also about their job skills.

To talk a little about news, a group of them demonstrated on October, 13th to demand the government an increase of their minimum wage of Rs 10,000 per month (now it is about Rs 3,000) ; maternity and retirement benefits, meeting allowance, and so on.

A very good article summing up who Anganwadi workers are, and what their job here

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When we speak of Wicked problems in Design, we understand the challenges it comes with. As a designer it is often difficult to separate out the problems and tackle only one of them. In our discussions that happen about the kind of things we wish to work on, we often face this issue. We start with discussing one thing, and invariably come to a point where we have diverted onto another problem. The interesting thing is that this happens unknowingly.

Which Problem do you solve

In a typical Product Design exercise, where the problem is well defined, in the case of Design for Social Impact, the defining of the problem is itself challenging. Getting to the core of your design process takes time and at times it can get frustrating.

Jean-Baptiste, our intern shares his experience with the project so far and why he thinks that this experience of working in the Social Design space is different.

Design for social impact is not industrial design
Designing for social issues is so different from the method I have learnt at school. I am used to design something because the client have an unsolved problem and he wants a specific product to solve it, be it an eco-friendly laptop, a toothbrush or anything else. While now, I have to chose which problem to solve among many of them, all part of the same big issue (see the post 2/ Researches : second round). I also don’t know yet what form will have my design proposal, since it depends on what problem I focus on, and through which lens I decide to attack it.

Right now, I am supposed to design my product without being in contact with my final target, government schools in Bihar. So the current problem I am facing is to find a way to get closer to it, to experience it, and design regarding what I learnt from my meetings with the target. Oh and by the way, I still don’t know who it precisely is: pupil, parents, teacher, other? That is why I must spend as much time as possible close to local schools, whether I go to government schools, private schools or NGO powered schools. The aim is to get immersed into this world, truly understand what make them different from each other and how each of them try to solve the main issues I explained in my second post. Then, I would be able to design something viable for this environment, schools in Bangalore. The challenge at that point will be to extract elements that define the concept, and redesign something new especially for Bihar’s background using these key elements.

What is hard for me is to project myself, to imagine what I have to do, because I am walking in the dark. Consequently, I will soon need to narrow my research in order to be efficient and not get lost. It is time to adapt!

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3/ Parikrma Foundation

We visited the different Parikrma schools in the city Bangalore to get to know about the activities they are conducting and to understand the way the schools are run. This small report is based on the visit to the Sahakarnagar school.

Parikrma foundation is a private school where its founders asked themselves this question at first: is education just about sending a child to school? Of course not, but this is how are run government schools. So they wanted to propose a great education for slum children, basically they set up a private school with all its advantages, but it is completely free. So that is a unique opportunity for these children to get educated and enhance their status in the social hierarchy.

They have managed to build 4 schools, equip them with good facilities and pupils. Apart from this and they run other projects in the same time. The school is sponsored by some from different corporate sponsors. I asked if the government was part of them, but they do not receive anything from it, which was a bit surprising to us. They also have donors, but companies give them most of the huge amount of financial support necessary to educate children, and they later recruit pupils, once they are old enough to get a job.

This is a good example of partnership, between two worlds. Parikrma currently have more than 1,300 children enrolled, with almost no drop-out. It is that last fact that is so motivating.

Parikrama students

A few things that make Parikrma’s education stand out. Once a child is enrolled, he and his parents have a kind of contract with the school, saying that the child can’t leave to work instead. He can before and after schooldays, but only if it is not interfering with school work. This contract is from kindergarten until the he gets a job. One of the first learnings is English, since everything is taught in that language. The teacher/pupils rate is about 1:20 or 1:25, which allows good teaching communication. This school also deals with parents, using parents/teachers meetings to inform them about what is done here, about progress, problems or wishes. No religion is promoted at school, even if all are respected ; Parikrma Foundation prefers making children aware of them. There is only a little prayer before the midday meal, more like an universal benediction for having warm food and friends to share it. Also, cultural and artistic classes are proposed, as well as sports events between schools, where pupils meet children from government schools as well as private schools. What a good way to make them aware of their world’s disparities.

Since these children come for very poor and difficult background, Parikrma Foundation provides a very sensitive approach with them, and has its people trained to listen and understand. As a result children are happy to come, and they feel confident here. When listening to their life dreams, many of them talked about becoming astronaut or dancer, making their parents happy, but also helping the school or decreasing poverty. They were not thinking only about their own happiness or their family’s, but also a more universal one. I do believe these children will make good adults later.

By now, we have to focus on these NGOs and innovative schools, and figure out how they manage to solve problems I mentioned in my last post. The idea is to work with them to find universal solutions to improve education, and then adapt them to Bihar’s background, our final target.

-Jean-Baptiste Haag