Knowledge creation and transmission is integral to being human. Schools, as we know them, are agents involved in the transmission of certain disciplines of knowledge and the development of students who can contribute to the creation of knowledge. However, many schools do not live up to this promise. Among other reasons, their failure may be related to a lack of strong leadership, resource constraints, poor infrastructure, curricular concerns, community participation or socio-economic aspects of the region. Nevertheless, systematic support from organizations, having expertise in specific areas within education, has the potential to help schools live up to their expectations.
Many small, rural private schools, started in response to felt needs of their community, suffer from some of the concerns mentioned above. Some of these schools want to be supported in their journey towards becoming high-quality educational institutions. A comprehensive Rural Small Schools Program (RSSP) has the potential to address this need. Shriram Foundation (SF), with its resources and expertise in education, is positioned to execute such a program that not only improves a schools quality, but also transforms it into a significant community space (SCS) that is integral to critical social transformation. Furthermore, this kind of engagement with small schools can generate maximum social value and impact for each rupee spent through the creation of intellectual and social capital. In the process, SF continues to fulfil its mandate of empowering individuals and communities.
The RSSP entails the creation of a team that will a) conceptualize the notion of small schools; b) identify, evaluate and select schools and c) devise engagement strategies
A working notion of a small school has already been conceptualized.
Notion of a Small School
The notion of 'small' in small schools encompasses the three dimensions of services provided, spaces utilized and the populations served. As such, the school will seek to be 'small'
- in the services provided by prioritizing and providing only the essentials
- in the spaces utilized by optimizing the built-up area; conserving water, energy and natural resources; and increasing the services offered per unit area
- in the populations served by maintaining high teacher student ratio (1:15), limiting enrolment (maximum 200 students), and serving a maximum geographical radius of 8 km.
To put it broadly, the notion of 'small' will be informed by several factors such as terrain; ecological constraints; local architecture; location of the school; the demography of the region; culture; the expectations of the community; the livelihoods of its members; and accessibility and availability of other educational services (e.g., government schools).
Identification and Evaluation of Schools
The identification of the schools will be facilitated by word-of-mouth. A protocol will enable communication between the RSSP team and the group seeking support. An Evaluation Framework will be utilized to place the school on its journey towards becoming SCS. Consequently, this will determine SF's decision to engage with the schools and the nature of engagement. It is proposed that the following seven core areas be evaluated:
- Community engagement
To ensure that the team evaluate each and every request in a robust manner, it is important to keep the number of requests low. To support this, it is strongly recommended that the RSSP not be advertised (print and online).
The Engagement Strategy rests on prioritizing the problem areas identified in the Evaluation Framework and on offering 'lean' and 'intelligent' solutions. The prioritization will be based on discussions among the stakeholders (Trustees/School Management, Students, Staff, Parents and SF) moderated by the RSSP teams expertise in education and management. This exercise will result in creating and mapping a continuum for each aspect within the seven core areas. The continuum will include timelines and phases of engagement. Throughout the phases of engagement, RSSP will build the schools capacity to ensure self-sustainability in the seven core areas.
The overall objective of the RSSP is to support small schools in their journey towards becoming significant community spaces. The nature of the support will be guided by an understanding of the needs of the school and will vary from school-to-school. Evaluation and Engagement Frameworks will be designed to ensure that the solutions are high-impact, low-waste and sustainable
RSSP has the potential to become an alternative model to other organizations for effective engagement with rural schools. The success of this program can also lead to the creation of an advocacy strategy for promotion of small schools in the country.