Founder, RightWalk Foundation
An alumna of the College of Engineering, Pune and IIM-Bangalore, Samina Bano gave up a rewarding corporate career with Deloitte Consulting, USA to return to India in 2012 and promote Bharat Abhyudaya Foundation, now known as the RightWalk Foundation (RWF). Since then, this Lucknow-based NGO has succeeded in facilitating the admission of 151,000 children from economically disadvantaged households into 12,000 private schools in Uttar Pradesh as mandated by s.12 (1) (c) of the RTE Act.
How has RightWalk Foundation responded to the Covid-19 disruption?
At RWF, we are well aware that provision of basic needs such as food, shelter and clothing is the precondition of accessing education. Therefore, with the national lockdown causing huge job losses and unemployment, RWF’s first priority was to distribute meals to the poor. This was followed by providing uniforms and stationery to underprivileged children and upgrading our PALS (post admission learning support) programme — an online learning app run in collaboration with Pratham. To encourage children to use the app and continue learning, we have linked its usage with provision of the next ration food kit.
What are the major challenges confronting K-12 education in the new Covid-19 era?
Teacher-pupil interaction has gone online. But the extent to which this switch will benefit students and teachers is not clear as yet. Most underprivileged children don’t have access to laptops, tablets and smartphones, so online learning isn’t a universal panacea. Therefore, a concerted national strategy is required to ensure continuity of education for all children after the lockdown ends.
Several state governments have issued fees waiver/deferment circulars to private school managements. What’s your comment?
It’s in the public interest to ease the financial burden of parents, and it’s important to note that there are different categories of private schools. While elite schools may be able to keep going for the next few months without fees, budget private schools (BPS) don’t have enough cash flow to sustain them through the lockdown. Simultaneously, parents must be protected. Therefore, it is imperative for government to provide relief to BPS schools to avoid mass dropout of children. If government financial support is not available, an alternative solution could be for elite schools to support BPS through resource sharing and optimisation.
What are your Top 3 proposals for reviving K-12 education in India?
First, we need a systemic change in public education, moving from teacher-centric to student-centric education. This requires bold policy changes such as abolition of teacher unions in education and devising a trust and incentives-based governance model through School Management Committees mandated by the RTE Act. Second, we need to create a collaborative ecosystem in which government and private schools work together. Third, we need to increase student body diversity of private schools and make them more inclusive.
What are your future plans for RightWalk Foundation?
Our primary goal is to ensure the implementation of the RTE Act’s s.12 (1) (c) in Uttar Pradesh. For this, we are enhancing our online portal to speed up financial reimbursement to private schools, enable grievance redressal and child tracking, and scale our PALS programme to cover more children. This apart, we are also exploring how the foundation can provide vocational education to support livelihoods post-lockdown.