So here is what Â Meeta Sengupta who is an educator and advisor specializing in business Â education has to say about The Innovation Workshops organized by Read Alliance in Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore:
“Beyond the din of theÂ electionsÂ andÂ teachersÂ being sent off onÂ pollingÂ duty some quiet but solid work has been going on in educationÂ circles. Two trends haveemergedÂ – one, the ability of the government to work closely withÂ non governmentÂ organisations at the grassroots forÂ targeted learningÂ outcomes, and two, the platforms and alliances that are being created for greater impact. Both together, I do believe will transform the face of learning in India.
IÂ willÂ take the case of reading – and base it (this time) on primary observations in the field. One of the things that I work on is observing the back end of creating networks and clusters for shared learning. This last week the Reading Alliance invited me to observe their foray into creating one such. Having built and supported such networks in the past, I am convinced that many of the solutions in India will come through such platforms. Here I share what I think was done well by the Read Alliance teams that could work as a guide to other alliance platforms as they start up. (The challenge of sustaining and growing alliances are different, and I will add those another time.)
- There was a clear purpose to coming together : Most of the participants were from organisations that support schools to enhance outcomes along theÂ reading spectrum. It was interesting that they self selected in terms of operational model but not geography orÂ business model. Some had traveled across states to join in, some from rural areas, others from hi-tech enclaves. They came together because they were the creators of solutions. And the magnet of grant funding did help. However, they could apply for the funding even if they did not join the workshops. This was bigger than mere money – the opportunity to seek and share in other solutions that defined their universe of improving reading. Without platforms like these it is impossible to figure out what others are doing, what is going well, what succeeded or failed and most importantly – who are the people who are active in the sector and can become partners, mentors or employees. Failures too are lessons to models – and the stories of those one meets here are guides to tactics and models. They came together not because they were called to form a pack, or a pact as a loose alliance, but because they shared common cause.
- The resources were accessible to all: The resources that were available including the application for the grant and the resource workshops were available to all. Equality of access and of opportunity build trust inÂ networksÂ and must be visibly demonstrated from the very beginning. ThoseÂ building networksÂ must be seen to be fair to all even if they have very little to share. The Read Alliance had built their model – the 7 Steps to Reading that not only formed the basis of the discussions but was also a shared resource to organising initiatives and ideas in the present and the future. During the workshops there was enough opportunity for all to get their share of attention, to talk about their organisation and of course to seek support for their solutions to poor learning outcomes. Such egalitarian access fosters partnerships and breaks through cliques and clustered empires. Going forward, this is something that needs sustained effort for alliances to work.
- There was generosity in theÂ spiritÂ of sharing: Most people who set out to give grants – in this case the USAID – donâ€™t do more than send out an advertisement or the usual publicity materials. Starting the alliance by reaching out across cities and taking the time to help the smaller and less experienced participants in applying for the grants shows that the alliance is keen on bringing all on board. Everyone benefits – those who write the grants and those who receive more professional applications. The spirit of sharing, once started, extended to theÂ grant writing workshopsÂ too -Â experienced participants shared their learning with those who would compete for the same funds. And shared ideas, comments and research liberally, supporting each other in the same quest.
- There was adequate back end support: Setting up alliances and networks is hard work. Not tough, but tricky and needs a constantÂ drip feedÂ ofÂ administrative support. It cannot be built without a strong secretariat or operational team. Many networks have floundered for lack of dedicated and sustained operational support. The operational support has at least four functions (i)Â Relationship managementÂ (ii)Content management, including structured outreach, and (iii) Resource Management, including shared resources, resource generation and accountability, and (iv) Event management -essential to mark milestones and gather the forces. The Read Alliance is new, and it has made a good beginning in marking all four of these in its efforts. What remains to be seen is how this effort is sustained if a vibrant reading support community is to be established.
- There was a way forward for all:Â Great job. Workshop done. Time to go home feeling virtuous. Next? What is that? Sustaining the momentum that is generated initially in a network is hard hard work. An uphill struggle if the purpose of the alliance is to continuously share and grow together. In that sense the Read Alliance has an easier job – it is currently tasked with finding and supporting projects. For the participants there were clear and defined paths forward with an open invitation for more people to join the cause. The first path – to apply for the grant, the second path – to join others in seeking and using the grant aid, third path – to come together regularly, or online to share and connect on progress and failures on the path to reading. How the last proceeds remains to be seen, but a great start has been made. With a concerted effort, there will be a dent made in the poor reading levels seen in India – reflected in the ASER reports and others.
A larger question looms – how much can a ReadÂ AllianceÂ achieve? Even Â Â Â if they got the start right, andÂ thank goodnessÂ they did, what can such Â an alliance really achieve? What are realistic targets for such a group. Â Not having discussed it with them, and knowing that you can find them online, I have a set of asks that I would like to see as success.
First, I would like to see their projects successfully executed and Â mentored by alliance partners. Second, I would like to see a community Â Â that gathers around the platform willingly sharing their resources and partnering with each other through stages of their growth. Third, it would be wonderful to see this encourage a groundswell of initiatives that either create and grow their own reading support models, or build on successful models and take them to scale. If the Read Alliance canÂ fosterÂ such momentum that it leads to a reading movement amongst providers.”
Â Disclaimer: The content of this blog and thoughtsÂ are the express opinions and or the property of the author only. It does not reflect any views of Read Alliance (Centre for Knowledge Societies) and U.S.Agency Of International Development.