Community involvement is important to help develop a structured learning process both, within a formal setup like schools and institutions as well as in the outside environment. Researchers and educators have long agreed that when parents and the community gets involved in education, children try harder and achieve more at school (e.g., Epstein, 1995) resulting in higher academic successes. Support and encouragement from parents and community garners a positive attitudes toward school and education as a whole.
In the long run, a strong support structure has a positive impact on children and community at large. Civic participation in schools helps to ensure the relevance of the curriculum with the real world. It can also be an effective component in monitoring the process and outcomes of education at multiple levels. In resource-constrained settings such as India, community participation also serves as an effective means of advocating and mobilizing the resources needed to aid a high-quality education system. Policymakers and educators have created several approaches to maximize parent’s involvement in the education for their children.
These approaches have several features in common: programs that focus on parenting skills and the development of home conditions that support learning; school-to-home and home-to-school communication about school programs and children’s progress; the use of volunteers at school or in other locations to support the school and students; and participation by families in decision-making, governance, and advocacy (Bauch, 1994; Davies, 1991). These approaches, however, were not developed in the early years within the rural communities.
Rural communities differ from urban and suburban ones, and they also differ from one another (Flora, Spears, & Swanson, 1992). Parent involvement programs for rural communities work best when they respond to particular features of the communities they serve. This is exactly how Bharti Foundation, the philanthropic arm of Bharti Enterprises addressed the situation when the Satya Bharti School Program was initiated in 2006.
Community involvement, participation and their sustained support towards the Satya Bharti Schools have been a key component of the program over the years. Aiming to build the trust and ownership of parents and community members, the program format ensures that there is enough opportunity for the community to understand and be engaged with the schools. Community members regularly come forward and actively engage in the functioning of the school, either through participation in events or contribution of land, time, skills, knowledge, material and funds.
Bharti Foundation follows an integrated approach on community engagement that includes: School’s Connect with the Community: – Regular home visits by teachers: The Satya Bharti School teachers go an extra mile to keep the parents informed on how their wards are progressing. Most students are first generation learners and come from underprivileged sections of rural India. Parents here need a lot of motivation and teacher’s counseling keeps the education system functioning smoothly. The teachers keep the parents involved by participating in the assignment that are given to their children. This not only builds a bond but also motivates them to take interest in their child.
This activity has helped in establishing parent connect quickly during the COVID-19 induced lockdown. Thereby helping parents to actively involve in their child’s learning process at home and support teachers by sharing pictures of their children’s homework and reports via WhatsApp groups on a regular basis. – Structured Parent-Teacher Meetings: The regular PTMs are the backbone of Satya Bharti Schools. This is one platform where the parents get to know the functioning of the school, initiatives are undertaken, student’s progress graph etc. PTMs also acts as a platform for discussion on social issues, queries and grievances. In 2018/2019 our schools introduced phone PTMs to educate parents to help their children to use mobile for educational purposes using various apps and digital resources.
This helped us in switching over to virtual education sooner than expected during the COVID-19 induced lockdown. – Home Mentoring: All our schools are in the rural areas and we have been promoting “home mentoring”. These sessions have been felicitated by the school team and representative of the Foundation. Parents are briefed to help encourage their child to dedicate a specific amount of time towards studies every day while taking out some time to play as well. The session covers various topics like the importance of creating a timetable, how to be an effective mentor, have positive conversations amongst others.
Parents were told to inform the teachers and the school authorities if they find that their child is facing any issue or had a problem – Community Development Campaigns: The Satya Bharti Schools not only provide free quality education to underprivileged children, with a special focus on girl child education, in the rural pockets of India. It also transforms students into educated, confident, responsible and self-reliant employable citizens of the country with a deep sense of commitment to their society. The students are encouraged to actively organize and participate in community development campaigns, making a lasting and sustainable impact on the community where schools are present, inciting community education. The students find innovative solutions to address the social issues, seeking the help of the community at large, thereby involving community participation.
Here are two such examples amongst many: The Road Safety Project by Satya Bharti School Chimna, Punjab, won the Design for Change Award 2019-2020. A student lost her uncle due to fog and absence of lights on the village roads. Determined to find a solution, she along with a group of students, pasted ‘reflectors’ on roadside poles and trees, fixed broken poles and installed convex mirrors on turns and blind spots and crossings. Another campaign was run by Satya Elementary School Balliyewal, Punjab where students undertook rallies in the village to raise awareness on menace caused by using polythene bags. They stitched hundreds of cloth bags in a span of 2-3 months with unused pieces of cloth, which they collected from the village households. The villagers supported this initiative whole heartedly and switched to using cloth bags. – Community Volunteering Week: In Satya Bharti Schools spread across rural India, community volunteering is a must for one week. During this tenure the community members takes charge of the school with help from the Head Teachers (HT) and teachers. They work together to connect students to their culture, heritage and history. Teaching them local art and craft forms, introducing them to folklores, folk music etc. This helps in keeping the students connected to their roots. – Corporate Partner support though Employee Volunteers: Satya Bharti School program is supported by various corporates though employee volunteering. Their support builds confidence amongst Parents and community members as it showcases commitment from the corporate partners to go beyond financial support. Employees are encouraged to engage with students at various times during the year.
They contribute in terms of their time, skills and knowledge. With the pandemic, virtual volunteering was initiated and these strategy contributed in keeping the students busy and also enhanced their skills like: self-confidence, communication skills, creativity, writing skills, and public speaking – Teachers Training and Development: As all our teachers are from local villages, the training and development that is undertaken by the Foundation helps build confidence among the community members as this showcases our commitment and involvement in enhancing our teacher’s skill.
Learning Management System is being put in place to enable teachers to learn through self-paced learning modules. It will also address the issue of creating batches for subject specific teachers scattered over a large geographical space. – Ensuring Child Safety & Nutrition: The community is also a part of the Transport Safety Committee and Mid- Day- Meal–Check Committee. Parents and nearest relatives manage the Mid-Day-Meal given to the students in the schools, this ensures the child’s nutrition. Parents and community involvement helps ensure child safety. Community involvement is more effective when people are given specific tasks and training: Training of school committees improved how these committees handled teachers accountable to them. In India a program that trained local volunteers to directly intervene in child learning was very successful.
- Community participation in school events: Participation in school events provides a first-hand experience to the community. They not only feel involved, it also gives them a sense of pride seeing the children from their community prospering both in formal education as well as in co-scholastic areas.
- Economic Empowerment of Communities by Schools – Recruitment of teachers and staff: Satya Bharti School Teachers are recruited locally. They are not only sensitive towards the circumstances of students, but their bonding with parents and the community has ensured that parents are fully supportive. Foundation gives special emphasis on regular trainings for an overall development; to improve in their subject knowledge as well as teaching skills. Once a year Teachers Skill & Knowledge Test (TSKT) is conducted to assess the teachers’ level of understanding of subject knowledge to identify the gaps and the training needs.
- Employing community members, especially mothers as mid-day meal vendors: Most of our Mid-Day meal vendors are from the local community. This not only keeps them aware of what their children are consuming but also helps in keeping the process functioning.
Whenever parents and community have a visible presence in classroom life, students are more likely to see a meaningful connection between their studies and their eventual success in the workplace. We at Bharti Foundation are working with the communities, to provide quality education to the underprivileged section of the society.