‘Bal Utsav’: A Bengaluru NGO that is working to make govt schools ‘smarter’
- Aided by the technology and an inclusive and interacting approach to education, it is revitalising over 200+ govt schools in Karnataka. Impacting nearly 800,000 students and counting, this couple-led NGO has an engaging story.
As per the Census 2011, India has an estimated child (0-18 years) population of 472 million. Every day 67,385 new babies are born in the country, amounting to one-sixth of the world’s childbirths. With such a rapidly increasing child population, what should the govt or society be doing to make this population productive?
According to Binu Verma and Ramesh Balasundaram, the answer is an affordable and quality education.
The pandemic has caused irreparable damage to the education sector in the last two years, with the shutdown of schools and a switch to online education. The latter, obviously, is harder for people with limited resources.
Amid this challenge, this Bengaluru-based NGO strives to make a holistic impact on public education in India and reverse the effects of the pandemic. Aided by the technology and an inclusive and interacting approach to education, it is revitalising over 200+ govt schools in Karnataka. Impacting nearly 800,000 students and counting, this couple-led NGO has an engaging story.
After successful corporate careers, Ms. Binu Verma and Mr. Ramesh Balasundaram moved into the social development sector to follow their shared passion for empowering children and providing a better future for them. They laid the foundation stone of their NGO, Bal Utsav, in 2009.
“When you google Indian children’s pictures, you usually see the images of children with torn clothes, with their ribs showing, looking deep into the camera. Although I agree that such children exist, we do not believe that is the only way of showcasing our children. If we all look back, our happiest times would be our childhoods. So, the idea was to go out and celebrate childhood and take a celebratory approach to problem-solving. That’s how the name comes from Bal means children and Utsav means celebration,” said Ramesh Balasundaram, Co-founder of Bal Utsav.
The duo started with a concept of a museum school or ‘a bridge school’ in the backdrop of the Right to Education Act, inside a well-known museum, for children from lower-income households that had dropped out of Govt schools. The children learned reading, maths & science and had free meals and a travel facility.
60% of children attend government schools. The couple realised that to fulfill their dream of providing access to quality education to every single child in the country, an immediate overhaul of the existing government school education is of prime importance. In 2012, Bal Ustav began to adopt Govt schools across Karnataka.
Four key areas of intervention
Bal Utsav developed a 360-degree school revitalisation program focusing on School infrastructure, WASH (Water, Sanitation & Hygiene), teacher development, and scholarship for students. All students have access to a quality learning environment with smart classes, state-of-the-art infrastructure, clean water, private bathrooms, and good hygiene practices. They also strive to create age-appropriate materials to enhance teaching, providing teacher training and interventions through innovative, interactive methodologies.
Post the first wave, Bal Utsav’s government schools in Shivamogga district and neighbouring villages saw approx. 15% increase in enrolment.
“We equipped these schools in smaller towns like Kallahalli, Dummalli, and Nidige with Smart TVs that came with pre-loaded educational content, empowered the teachers with tablets to conduct classes within the community, while some children learned via mobile phones at home. Families that owned smartphones had permission/license to download portions of their child’s respective academic year curriculum. The ‘smart infrastructure’ developed with help of smart devices and content led to continued learning in Bal Utsav-supported rural schools either on their respective school campuses or remotely at home or in the form of community learning. Due to this convenience in learning, some of the schools witnessed a reduced number of dropouts and a significant increase in reverse migration where the kids in the district moved to Govt schools from private institutions,” says Mr. Balasundaram.
With the pandemic disrupting the education system, Bal Utsav understood the urgent need to ensure continuity of education in its government schools and with the help of its corporate partner, has rolled out its iShaala program in December 2020. The program is a blended learning model that brings e-learning and teacher-led classrooms to these rural schools.
Currently, Bal Utsav has implemented the blended learning model in more than 100 government schools in Karnataka. According to Ms. Soumya G L, a teacher at Government Higher Primary School in Dummalli (Shivamogga District) she, as well as her six colleagues use an e-learning program to ensure the 130 students in their village continue their education in their respective community/homes.
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