Opinion

Assam's Darrang district is transforming last mile delivery in education

Anmol Narain | Updated on January 22, 2020 Published on January 22, 2020

The adoption of schools by teachers from district colleges, who are designated as mentors, is one of the initiatives towards this

Nestled in a narrow strip of fertile plains, between the mighty Bramhaputra and the breathtaking Himalayas, lies the bustling town of Mangaldoi, at the heart of Darrang district in Assam. A mere hour and a half by road from Guwahati Airport, the town, distinct with its robust workforce and newly paved roads, represents the aspirations of a growing population of nine lakh people.

Spanning 1,585 square kilometres and 600 villages, Darrang is interspersed with rural settlements, few small towns, and vast stretches of paddy fields. The district was included within the ambit of the Aspirational Districts Programme on the basis of its poverty and performance on a range of indicators for human development. Indeed, as recently as 2011, about 30 per cent of landless households in the district derived a major part of their income from manual casual labour as per the Socio-economic Caste Census (SECC 2011).

While the provision of quality services remains the responsibility of the government, the onus of availing these facilities also falls on community demand and awareness. One such step to fostering a bottom-up, informed citizenship is holistic education of quality. Yet, Darrang faces significant challenges to the provision of quality education.

The percentage of children in classes 5-8 who could read a standard two text was 28.4 in 2016 (ASER 2016), while the percentage of elementary schools with three WASH facilities (toilet, drinking water and hand-washing) was only 54.

With 30.5 per cent of the population in 2015 below the age of 15 years (NFHS-4), Darrang faces the unique challenge of harnessing the coming decades to ensure quality schooling and creating a strong network of public service delivery. Identifying the urgency of the situation, the district administration has drawn out a district transformation map across sectors, significant parts of which are their innovations to improve learning outcomes, and to track improvements at the school level within the larger umbrella of the ‘Gunotsav’ Campaign for quality education initiated by the Government of Assam in 2017.

During a visit to the district as part of NITI Aayog’s endeavour to understand grassroots challenges in Aspirational Districts, one witnessed some of these innovations. The adoption of schools by teachers from 100 district colleges is one such initiative.

These teachers, designated as ‘mentors’ have adopted 100 schools (up to Class VIII) to support teaching learning practices, especially for mathematics and science to address the needs of about 6,000 students.

Another such initiative is the identification of children according to grade level competencies, and regular remedial classes for them in 1,157 elementary schools to close the gap between what a student knows and what she’s expected to know. The existing school teachers facilitate the classes in their respective schools.

In addition to these, the district has partnered with Piramal Foundation to create a ‘jan andolan’ for volunteers from within the district to conduct remedial classes for students of grades two to five in learning centres.

Darrang displays a high potential for delivering quality quality. If it sustainably replicates its innovations to saturate the entire district, especially in ‘Char’ areas that currently remains inaccessible due to the Bramhaputra and its tributaries, then it may serve as a model of last mile delivery for replication in similar areas across the country.

The writer is a Young Professional with NITI Aayog. Views are personal

Published on January 22, 2020
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