From chalk-and-talk to doing-and-learning, how Bangalore's Mantra4Change is transforming education in under-resourced schools

From chalk-and-talk to doing-and-learning, how Bangalore’s Mantra4Change is transforming education in under-resourced schools

From chalk-and-talk to doing-and-learning, how Mantra4Change is transforming education in under-resourced schools NGO 30 stades

In November 2019, students from a cluster of under-resourced schools in Anekal, Bangalore, showcased models of windmills, hydroelectric power generation, eco-village and more at an event, called Tinkerer Mela, attended by their teachers, parents and other community members.

Two months before that, their teachers had exhibited their handmade teaching innovations, shifting education away from rote learning and chalk-and-talk to practical application and conversation.

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This transformation is the result of efforts by non-profit Mantra4Change, which is working with 4 lakh under-resourced schools to ensure quality and equitable education.

The NGO’s work has resulted in higher student enrolment at these schools besides increasing the involvement of their families in various activities.

Quality education

Providing quality education in under-resourced schools facing a crunch of financial, physical and human resources and poor learning outcomes is a challenge across India. It was to address such systemic issues that Bengaluru-based Santosh More along with Khushboo Awasthi started Mantra4Change in 2013 to bring about a qualitative change in education.

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“We realised that education is the key to bring about a transformation in an individual’s life that can help break the cycle of intergenerational poverty. That propelled Khusboo and me towards the social sector,” says Santosh, who worked from 2006 to 2009 as a software engineer with Infosys.

Mantra4Change trains teachers to improve teaching methodology and in the use of aids to make subjects more interesting and immersive instead of focusing on completion of syllabus.

They share resources between schools for optimum utilisation of physical and human resources.

A teachers' training workshop being conducted by Mantra4Change. Pic: Mantra4Change 30 stades
A teachers’ training workshop being conducted by Mantra4Change. Pic: Mantra4Change

“We focus on developing the core competencies of teachers in three to five sessions spread over a month,” says Rizwana, a block resource person at Mantra4Change.

Also Read: Bharti Foundation provides zero-cost education to over 40,000 underprivileged kids

The NGO also helped teachers tide over the challenges of online teaching during the pandemic by providing them with laptops and projectors, she points out.

Mantra4Change works with two types of under-resourced schools. One, the low-budget private schools where the fee is around Rs1000-Rs 1500 a month and two, schools in the public education system, Santosh says.

It is currently working with the government schools in Bihar, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, and Andhra Pradesh through state partnerships.

In Karnataka, we are doing only prototypes; so we are present in one block and Tumkur district,” he adds.

An important aim is to check high school dropout rate, which stood at 17 percent at the secondary school level in India, as per the 2019-20 report by Unified District Information System for Education (UDISE).

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“The first major dropouts happen at the end of grade 8 when the child doesn’t perform well in school and the parents find no point for them to continue, which we don’t subscribe to because we believe that every child has a potential,” says Santosh.

Mantra4Change founders Santosh More (left) and Khushboo Awasthi (right). Pic: Mantra4Change 30 stades
Mantra4Change founders Santosh More (left) and Khushboo Awasthi (right). Pic: Mantra4Change

Another reason is that many children, especially during the pandemic, are getting married at an early age. Marriage of girl children during the pandemic has increased, says Santosh who entered the education sector by securing a Teach for India Fellowship in 2009.

Thereafter, he worked with the Bengaluru-based NGO Janaagraha before co-founding Mantra4Change with Khusboo, who has masters from the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai. 

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Cracking the school education system

“We started with the idea that quality education is the right of every child. But to ensure that it is available on a large scale, we need to work with the system. In the initial phases, we tried to understand the education system right from the block to the district and state levels. We started work with two schools in Bangalore,” says Santosh.

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“School as a system is not merely teacher-student interaction. It’s an entire network of students, teachers, parents and the community who come together to support a child’s education.”

“We work within the system because if we try to bring change, it will be short-lived but if we work with actors in the system, they can design their own change solutions,” he adds.

Mantra4Change focuses on quality education instead of rote-learning. Pic: Facebook/@mantra4change
Mantra4Change focuses on quality education instead of rote-learning. Pic: Facebook/@mantra4change

So Mantra4Change tries to disseminate the ability among the stakeholders to solve problems. “And that, I would say, is where Mantra4Change stands out,” says Santosh.

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The projects of change

Mantra4Change has several projects to bring about change at the grassroots level. School Transformation and Empowerment Project (STEP) works with school leaders, teachers, students and the community to improve learning, attendance and results in under-resourced schools over a period of two years.

In 2017, the Project for Active Cluster Engagement (PACE) was started that looked at education clusters or administrative units comprising 10-15 schools, creating a platform for teachers to work together and share resources and competencies. This had enhanced the quality of all the schools in a cluster.

Also Read: Kerala: How Sobha’s CSR arm shifted underprivileged students to online education

While STEP and PACE are prototype programmes, Systemic Transformation for Resilience, Innovation, and Developing Education Ecosystem (STRIDE) is its state programme.

STRIDE involves designing interventions for education with the government and developing partnerships with civil society organisations. They leverage technology platforms, enable data-driven decision making and increase the reusability of assets to offer solutions.

Mantra4Change providing training to block education officers at a BEO workshop. Pic: Mantra4Change
Mantra4Change providing training to block education officers at a BEO workshop. Pic: Mantra4Change

Apart from these programmes, Mantra also trains teachers, focusing both on pedagogy and content.

“There are two aspects to teacher training we work on — one is how the teacher teaches and the second is what they teach,” says Santosh.

“We learnt a lot from Azim Premji University on how to create more effective content that could be given to the teachers. And they should be able to then design and develop their own way of teaching,” he says.

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Teachers are always in a rush to finish the curriculum.

“One of the shifts we try to bring about is not to focus on finishing the syllabus but whether children can grasp what they are being taught.”

For the public good

Most of Mantra4Change’s programmes are on DIKSHA (Digital Infrastructure for School Education), which is an initiative of the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT).

This helps meet the requirements of scalability.

“As an organisation we don’t believe that our pedagogy is our intellectual property and hence whatever we create, we offer it to the market.”

“We also try to identify and incubate more organisations that can work within their geographies on systemic issues,” he adds.

Also Read: Sakhi for Girls’ Education: 100% pass, zero dropouts among girls in Mumbai slums

Their EduMentem programme identifies, incubates and trains organisations and gets them to understand education transformation. Mantra then works with those organisations for three years so that they can improve the education systems in their respective geographies.

Mantra4Change's work has helped improve enrolment and check dropout rates. Pic: Facebook/@mantra4change
Mantra4Change’s work has helped improve enrolment and check dropout rates. Pic: Facebook/@mantra4change

Partnerships all the way

Rucha Pande, Chief Operating Officer, Mantra4Change, says: “We engage with stakeholders in the field – whether that’s a school, or a state education department; planning and designing programmes or developing new ideas, and engaging in cross-learning – both within the organisation as well as outside.”

For funding, Mantra4Change sends out proposals to organisations and looks out for people who would like to invest in their work.

“We are currently supported by philanthropic funding, most notably by Shibulal Family Philanthropic Initiatives as well as through CSR funding,” Rucha says.

“Through our work, we have not only seen an improvement in certain practices like supporting teachers and involving the community but also how stakeholders reclaim their agency, feel more confident and recognise their potential. And that is the true impact – when all of us feel empowered to care about our children, and supported enough to do something for them,” she says.

(Sravasti Datta is a Bengaluru-based independent journalist, who writes art, culture and human interest stories)

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