Monday, 24 September 2012

Implementing Locally: Assam

Working on the central team of a project that will launch simultaneously in different corners of the country, it is difficult not to overlook certain specificities of each location. Assam is the most unique of the five main locations where we are launching phase 1. More specifically:
  • We are launching 10 schools each in two different districts, Kamrup and Dibrugarh.
  • Each location only has one team member, a regional program associate, and is supported by other Pratham teams. There is no regional manager for the project locally, but instead the central team (Mumbai) carries out these functions.
  • Almost all of the schools participating in the project are located in very rural areas.

Over the last week I have visited schools in both the project districts in Assam. The schools range in size from small to medium with as little as 7 students in some classes, and as many as 28 in others. The majority are private, English-medium schools with a monthly fee of approximately Rs. 100-150. The infrastructure of most schools is minimal, with many affected by the heavy rains in the monsoon.

Principals and teachers alike are very excited about the WebBox – in part because it is a completely new way of teaching in many of the schools, offering a combination of audiovisual resources and activity based learning. In fact, a few of the teachers we trained had never used a computer or accessed the internet before. Moreover, teachers are very willing to learn; many said they wanted to spend time after school practicing on the WebBox and would be interested in receiving further training to improve their lesson delivery.

In spite of the high levels of enthusiasm and interest in the project, implementation in Assam has seen a unique set of unforeseen challenges. Some examples include:
  • Timing: The calendar year in Assam is different to many of the other Indian states in that it begins in January with final exams in November. Therefore the program launch in August-September was very close to final exams, allowing students little time with the WebBox.
  • Teacher Turnover: This is extremely high in private schools in Assam. Within the two months between teacher training and now, at least 4 teachers have changed jobs. This requires re-training of the new teachers and has delayed the launch in a few schools. High teacher turnover will continue to cause challenges in developing a high level of comfort and proficiency with the WebBox in the classroom.
  • Weather: There has been continuous, heavy rain in many parts of the state causing flooding in some areas. As a result we have seen delays in hardware delivery both by the supplier as well as to schools. Additionally, some schools have been having sudden problems with WebBox connectivity during the monsoons.
  • Electricity: Almost all the schools I visited have daily power cuts, making it difficult to use the WebBox regularly.
Understanding the challenges faced in each location will be important in strengthening the program, particularly as we expand into Phase 2. Moreover, in order to be more impactful, we will need to adapt our program structure to each local context.