Interview with Mr. TS Shankar, Regional Sales Manager, India of Analog Devices and SUFI Founders Dr. Nandita Aras, Shanthi Nair, and Sangna Lakshmi.
Please tell us about the purpose of the Collaboration with Analog Devices.
In 2017, Mr. Karthik Sankaran (former GM of ADI) connected us with the CSR team of Analog Devices India and from the outset the synergies became quite evident. ADI’s CSR team was keen to leverage innovative solutions to solve community problems with a focus on creating opportunities for all. They encouraged employee engagement efforts and were proud to contribute to the causes their employees supported.
This focus of ADI CSR aligned very well with Step Up for India’s stated mission: to give every child an opportunity to live a life of dignity by enabling quality education for all. Our flagship program launched in 2013, also explicitly sought to provide opportunities for volunteers “to experience the joy that comes from using one’s strength to strengthen others.”
We identified English as an area where individual volunteer strengths could address a critical need of children in vernacular medium government schools. We developed an easy, and enjoyable “Volunteer Team Teaching” modular system that enables short-on-time volunteers to effectively teach in teams. We train the volunteers, provide teaching materials, continued support and monitoring of the program, enabling volunteers from all walks of life, including corporate volunteers to be able to contribute very effectively to a solution for a community.
When we presented this flagship volunteer program to the CSR team of ADI, they immediately identified with it as they wanted a structured way for their employees to participate in the CSR activities, but within the time constraints of their demanding jobs. Our program provided just that – an easy to implement, highly effective and enjoyable way to contribute to the development of students in the Govt schools near the office, with a clearly defined time commitment.
What are the activities of this collaboration and innovations over the years?
Every year from 2017, ADI has partnered with us for the volunteer-taught program for schools near the office. But additionally, ADI CSR team including Mr. TS Shankar, Mr Rohit Pandharipande, Guru Prasad, and ADI GM Sai Mopuri, have also supported our new innovations including our teacher taught programs (REAP & TEP) and more recently our SatH-DO (Study at Home- Digital Outreach) program that was launched last year to help low-income students who have lost a year of education due to the pandemic.
ADI CSR team has always encouraged us to use technology. So we are particularly excited about our Study at Home- Digital Outreach (SatH-DO) which helps build the Foundational English skills along with independent learning skills among low-income students of grades 3-7. Since online education is not an option for these students, we have designed and distributed books with over 10 hours of audio tracks on QRcodes printed in the books. These audio tracks and the book have bilingual instructions for games that can be played by the family and are designed to strengthen English skills, engender a love for learning and give children the confidence to become independent lifelong learners.
The enthusiasm and keen interest shown by ADI employees has also led to some unique local innovations. Prakash Kuve, with ADI CSR support, galvanized his local residential community into committing their time and effort to teach the students in the local Government schools creating a new model for implementing our corporate volunteer program. The CSR group of ADI was also one of our first corporate partners to organize volunteers that spent a whole day painting the school walls with ideas and help from students to make the school a more beautiful and inviting space for the children.
How do you build up Child Confidence?
Shanthi Nair, Sangna Lakshmi and I (Nandita), the founders of Step Up for India, chose to work to strengthen English education in govt. schools because in our initial days, when we visited these schools, all the stakeholders, the teachers, parents, the officials and of course the children, all wanted us to find a way to improve the children’s English skills. Nationally, over half of the students in 5th standard can’t read simple 3 letter English words like cat, red and sun (ASER 2016). In low-resource schools where there is an acute shortage of English teachers, our baseline test scores show that about 80% of 4th standard students can’t read these words. These huge learning gaps in English in the primary years are difficult to recover from later, making students in such schools less confident, more likely to drop out, less likely to do well in STEM streams and eventually less employable.
Step Up for India’s programs empower children in low resource schools with English skills, but more importantly, the structure and methodology of the programs give these children the confidence to become independent learners in any subject. Confidence can be seen as a belief or trust in oneself and in one’s abilities. Many students and teachers we work with have anxiety about their competency in English. All our programs are carefully designed to be easy, enjoyable and effective, providing positive reinforcement for effort and participation.
The content is taught through songs and games. Our books and posters are colorful. The instructions are bilingual and reading is taught using phonics which is a more familiar way for vernacular medium students to learn to read. The games are designed to enable every child to participate in each session. Overall, we want the students to love to learn even as they learn to learn and become confident independent learners.
Our programs also take a gender-transformative approach, with content and implementation methods designed to avoid and where possible reverse or challenge gender-biased stereotypes common in our culture. At the start of the program implementation, many students, especially girls, in the Govt. schools typically are diffident about speaking in English (and sometimes even about speaking in their native language). However, we have seen many of the students, especially the girl children, gaining in self-confidence as the program progresses, blossoming into positive, confident young students.
Please discuss the categories of building confidence.
1. Our flagship Primary English Program (PEP) is for government school students studying in grades 4 and 5. This program is taught by trained volunteer teams and takes students to their textbook level in 120 hours.
2. Our Remedial English Accelerated Program (REAP) for students in grades 6 to 8, trains teachers to teach students and get them close to their textbook level in a span of 3-4 months
3. Our Teacher Empowerment program (TEP) trains and equips 3rd to 7th grade teachers to teach more effectively from the Govt. issued textbooks. We have signed an MOU with the Dept of Education, Govt. Of Karnataka (DoE GoK) to scale both these teacher-taught programs in 22,000 schools across Karnataka.
4. Our Study at Home- Digital Outreach (SatH-DO) was developed to help low resource students restricted to their homes due to COVID without access to engaging educational material. Over 15,000 students in 125 schools around Bangalore are part of this program and are being supported over mobile phones by over 460 student volunteers from Christ University as part of their Social Responsibility Program.
All students in our PEP and REAP programs are administered a baseline and endline (ASER) test and we provide impact reports to our partners. Broadly, our baseline test scores show that at the start of the programs about 80% of the students can’t read 3 letter English words like cat, bus or red. But at the end of the programs over 80% can read such words, about 70% can read at the simple sentence level, 50% can at the paragraph level and 25% at the story level. This is the first year of implementation of our SatH-DO program and we haven’t completed academic impact assessment yet.
The improvement in student confidence level and interest in pursuing higher education is very clearly evident in our focus group discussions and testimonials from teachers. But the improvement is most strikingly in the difference we and the volunteers experience in the way the students, especially the girls, confidently interact with us and fearlessly try to communicate with us in English as the programs progress. We are also developing a formal study to measure the impact of our programs on these very important aspects.
Number of Beneficiaries:
Step Up for India’s PEP was launched in 2013 in 3 Kannada medium govt. schools taught by a small team of 30 volunteers from a resident welfare association, teaching about 180+ students.
Over the years volunteers and teachers have helped over 47,900 students improve their English skills through our programs. Volunteers have spent more than 105,680 hours teaching students and we have trained 3,375 government school teachers to teach English. The trained teachers will continue to impact the English skills and the lives of lakhs of children every year.
Today we are at the threshold of scaling massively and our intent is to reach every child who needs English support across India. Our SatH-DO book, for instance, is available for all students studying in Hindi, Urdu, Kannada and Marathi medium schools and we are working to make it available in other languages as well. We would like to enable as many interested organizations and individuals to help enhance the foundational English skills of millions of low resource students restricted to their homes without access to engaging educational material.
Highlight the Role of Analog Devices and Impact through SUFI.
We do not have the figures for the number of students who, with better English skills would have joined STEM programs, performed better in STEM programs or would have progressed further in these careers. But over the years we have had innumerable adults who have seen our program, share with us how a program like this would have made a world of difference if they had had it when they were children. One police inspector for instance shared with me how he was a very bright government school student, fascinated with science but did not go to the science stream because his English was weak. Our Executive Director, Shyla Reddy, with 25 years of experience in the education sector at senior levels in the govt. and outside, joined our team because as a high school science teacher in her early years she had seen numerous brilliant students completely lose confidence because they could not follow the STEM classes being taught in English. This is a loss to the sector and the country.