Give us a little background for Mantra4Change.
The genesis of Mantra4Change was in 2013. It was founded by Khushboo Awasthi and Santosh More. Mantra4Change is located at Bangalore currently.
At Mantra, we work with schools to help and deliver quality education to every child that they cater to. The way we go about doing this is via the Whole School Transformation process. We work with government schools and budget private schools in Bangalore too through Cluster Transformation. That is how our journey began.
To give you a brief background about Khushboo and Santosh – Santosh was the first to promote the Teach for India programme in 2009 and was previously employed with the Infosys. He left Infosys to pursue his passion for teaching and joined Teach for India fellowship.
Upon graduation from that fellowship, he worked with Janaagraha. Santosh always wanted to continue his passion towards education and that is when the idea of Mantra was conceived.
Khushboo has worked in various cottage setups and she also completed her Sociology from Tata Institute of Social Sciences. Mantra was formed jointly by Khushboo and Santosh.
When we started off, we were working with two schools, and today we are working with over 100 schools in 2 geographies.
What exactly is it that you do?
We work with all key stakeholders of schools, empowering them with the current task that they have at hand, given that they are educational functionaries in the government space. We focus on how to empower them and use the existing structure to be more effective. This is focused on finally leading to a delivery of quality education inside the classroom. There are two approaches to this:
1. The government space approach: We directly work with the government functionaries and leverage existing structures like the camps which is a cluster academic meet mandated by the department of education already. We help build the capacity of the cluster resource person and enable these spaces to reach out to the teachers in these government schools.
2. In the private school space, we look at the whole system as a single unit. We work closely with all the stakeholders, starting from the management to the HMs, coordinators, principals, teachers and the community. The idea of our program is to bring everyone in alignment towards a cause which ensures the best interest of the students.
When we say we are building capacity, we mean we conduct professional development sessions for the leadership team – system leaders, school leaders within the school, teacher leaders – or, even guiding the teachers in their professional journey. We, along with the instructional leaders or school leadership team, mentor teachers.
The key to Mantra’s work is that we don’t work with students alone. When we talk about improving education, we realise that to improve the education of every child, we need to synchronize the entire system so that every part of the system works in harmony. Every stakeholder needs to lessen the communication gap that they currently have with each other.
We also look at the professional gaps that exist in the education system in India, today. We try to create a sense of collaboration among the stakeholders and we help them work with each other while also building their own capacities steadily. So, whether we interact with students or other stakeholders, the aim is to ultimately improve the quality of education for each and every child.
Going with the lens of sustainability, we don’t directly jump into teaching. We build the capacity of all the stakeholders so that we can drive sustainability. Everything that we do is co-created. Any session that we conduct is co -created with all the stakeholders involved.
Speaking of sustainability, we are looking at structures and processes that can sustain irrespective of the people in it. The aim is that a person leaving the system should not affect the continuous improvement process of the school. It is about creating a larger ecosystem or a school environment, or ecosystem that promotes student outcomes. It is not dependent on an individual person but it is about individuals helping us set these processes/culture where even if we have 4 teachers leaving, we have 6 teachers guiding the change and keeping it going.
Can we have one or two examples that illustrate this?
I can share a school transformation project. This was a low budget private school. It is a 2 year intervention that we do in a budget private school. This is a school that has shared a 2 year journey with us. Most low budget private schools are run by the management themselves. The notion of distributed leadership and letting go of responsibilities is really hard for these schools. They are very sceptical of giving teachers the ownership to take decisions. Today, irrespective of whether the school leader is present or not, the parent-teacher meetings happen because it is led by the teaching body. Those are some changes that we see in terms of the school leaders’ mindset of saying that they are not solely responsible for leading improvement practices in the school; but, there is a larger team striving towards the same purpose. The school leaders having invested in building the capacities of these teacher leaders, they are the ones taking it forward. This is an example of how sustainable these efforts prove to be on the field. It is an example of one of our schools that has graduated, and the school runs without the day to day sightings that the school leader has to do on a regular basis.
Another program of Mantra, for example, is the active cluster engagement. Here’s where we worked with clusters of government schools. We started off with the Annekkal education block. Cluster is a small geographical unit which comprises of about anywhere between 10-15 schools, and when we enter the education cluster of Bommasandra in the Annekal block itself, we realise that some schools were doing much better than others. We are talking about schools just about a km or 2 away from each other. We realised a motivated school leader is very important to drive that kind of change as well. So, we started working with the cluster as a whole. When we got into each of these clusters we started creating spaces called Cluster Resource Centres which is a departmental mandated concept. In many places, it fails to take shape. So, our role over there is to recreate these spaces and bring them back into existence, and help our stakeholders understand the value of these collaborated spaces itself which they can use to conduct their meetings and workshops. If you have 10 schools in a cluster, teachers from all these schools come together in this shared space, discuss with each other the problems that they face at their respective schools. If one school is able to get a water purifier at their school, while others don’t – contacts can be shared using which other schools can also avail of this facility.
These clusters basically create collaborative spirit so that you can improve all of the schools within the cluster.
Another example is there is this space called Janatha Colony in Bommasandra, where we have one of the schools we were working with. The school had an issue with compound walls which was destroyed due to climatic conditions a few months ago. The schools came together and raised their concern within the community and the community aided the school. The school also had infrastructural facilities available. This is the kind of synergy that we are trying to create while we work with government schools as well. One of the most important concepts here is building school community partnerships. How can we get the community involved in the child’s education following the famous line which says that ‘it takes a village to raise a child’? That is the kind of spirit that we are trying to create through our intervention with government schools in all of the clusters that we are working in.
Something that we hold very important across all our programs is we strongly believe in the agency of the stakeholders. All that they need is a little bit of guidance and support. They will have higher ownership, when they have plans that they have created and need execution. We are only catalysts in this entire process. The people leading the movement and bringing about a change are the stakeholders themselves.
How do you get invited to these schools?
Initially when we started in 2013, we had to reach out to these schools, and a lot of times we told what they had to do because we look at things holistically. Back then it was a struggle. Right now, most of the schools we work with are referrals from other schools. So the word of mouth is doing its rounds. We are reaching out to a few schools – yes. But, in terms of on-boarding schools, it is mostly through references and their connects, and the larger community finding about our work and wanting to know more about it, perhaps witnessing us visiting a few schools that we visit as part of the on boarding programs etc.
We give a lot of importance to the collaboration model not only among our stakeholders but also within the ecosystem of NGOs itself. When we work in the educational space, it makes no sense for us to work in silos. Mantra actively partners with a lot of grass root NGOs in and outside the city, across states and across the country. We try to engage with them at different levels, and even through these collaborations the work of Mantra spreads on its own. In fact, we have our blog, Facebook page, all other social media pages which are on a daily basis is being updated by different kinds of work that we are doing because there is a lot happening across these schools and in the clusters that we are working in. Besides this, through partnerships across the country, Mantra’s work is being replicated in some way or the other by our partner NGOs. So, in the perspective, Mantra’s work is in reality spread across the country even though we are located in Bangalore.
How big is the team at Mantra now?
We are a team of 65 as of this year. Every year we have about 10 new members joining our team on an average.
Does an inspired teacher in your team go in and make the change?
The team at Mantra is a mixed bag. We do have a majority of us coming from the Teach for India fellowship and also from Azim Premji University. So, they come with a mixed array of knowledge and expertise while many of them have worked in schools with teachers with the Teach for India fellowship. When they go to the schools as well, they go with that experience of what it looks like to have an engaging classroom. They are able to take those experiences and build the professional development of the teachers.
These are the two main phases where we recruit much of our teams from. But apart from that, Mantra also has other areas of work. I, for instance, work with the communications team. I do not come from a teaching background or from Azim Premji University for that matter. I have a journalism background. But, it is mainly the passion for education that drives all of us equally and that is the shared passion that all of us have at Mantra. So, even if we have these specific demographics, we are linked with the passion for quality education.
If someone is interested in making a change for the good, can they get in touch with Mantra?
Definitely! In fact we are always on the lookout for new and young people who are trying to make a difference in the education field. Mantra itself is an extremely young team – a majority of us are within the age group of 22 – 27 and our founders are also very young. They are about 35. We are also highly driven by the pool of mentors that we are given at Mantra. We have Mr Sanjay Purohit who is a strategic advisor for Scalechange network. He is a pioneer in the platform space and he is also the Executive VP of Infosys. We also have Mr SP Shibulal, the cofounder of Infosys, who is our chief patron. All of their hunger for creating a difference in the education space trickles down to each of us team members as well. The access that has been given to us to this pool of mentors also makes a huge difference in our day to day work as well.
Even if the team at Mantra is young, we are working at a leadership level creating a huge difference in every space. Speaking of mentors, I would also like to draw your attention to this particular program that we have here at Mantra called EduMentum. EduMentum is an education incubator for early stage start-ups for those who want to work in the space of school transformation or systemic education transformation. We have organizations coming in from across the country – Assam, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Himachal Pradesh, etc. We are spread across 16 states through EduMentum. These mentors are provided to each of these organisations. This also helps them in navigating their own operations with regard to systemic education transformation, building their organisation, creating a program design which is similar to what Mantra follows over here. It is also loaded with conceptual experiences from their geographies as well. This 3 year incubation program gives Mantra the opportunity to spread its work in these geographies. We have a lot of success stories coming in from different states wherein these organisations that have been part of EduMentum for the last two years have started signing Momentum of Understanding (MoUs) with the government, developing their own programs, etc. while also addressing very specific contextual issues that they have like anganvaadis, girls’ education, Kasturba Baalika Vidyalaya etc. They are really trying to adjust these contextual issues as well while working towards systemic education transformation.
Do the schools that approach you pay for any of this?
We do not demand fees from the schools because we do not really provide them with any financial resources. Mantra doesn’t believe in pooling money into the school or investing into the school to develop the school. We follow a process wherein we try to empower and enable the stakeholders itself to make the schools well-functioning and sustain continuous improvement. If we have to achieve that, making them independent is inevitable. We have to allow them to believe that they are the drivers of that school – the drivers of quality education and they have it in them to improve their schools. We are just a support system for them. So, when we say that be it networking with the right people or giving their children opportunities to participate in various programs, conducting exposure trips for their teachers so that they can go to different schools and witness their practices, etc. we do not fund them in any manner. We do not ask them for funds either. It happens in a very mutual manner.
Do you see projects starting off at a high note and then wither away with time?
What we do initially even before sitting with the program, we have a progression to the program. We have certain modules that we develop. But, before we begin our program we try and understand the school. That is the USP for the organization that we study these schools and the cluster completely for about a month. This can be very different from the demand of the school. That is where the alignment happens in the mission. They might want to prioritize and give us a plan on what comes first in the set of activities that we set out to do. We carry on a need assessment where we diagnose some of the needs in collaboration with the school completely. In this program the ownership of the school is as much as that shared by the team.
If a motivated teacher wants to approach you – what is the best way?
One way in which we work is by being in touch with the school leadership itself. Everything that Mantra does – if you go through our website, Facebook page etc. is an open source knowledge available to everybody. If they want to learn about what exactly we are doing in the schools, and how our interventions pan out in the schools or in the clusters – it is all available. Everything is available on social media. Mantra’s doors are always open for anybody who wants to reach out to us and want to collaborate with us at any capacity.
We also actively try seeking out activities wherein we can explore such collaboration. We have in some way or the other ended up collaborating with the people who have reached out to us. For example, INTACH is one such organisation. When they reached out to us to understand how we work, we realised that it was a huge opportunity for our children in government schools to learn more about the inherited city of Bangalore. Bangalore is currently called the cosmopolitan city/garden city/former garden city etc. But nobody really talks about the Tipu Summer Palace that we have over here. Or, nobody really talks about how Bangalore came to be and how it developed into what it is today.
When INTACH reached out to us, we decided to take them to our schools and introduce them to our children. That has been such a fruitful collaboration so far and we have always been finding new ways to keeping it going. All of these things finally fit the bill when we talk about whole school transformation and delivering quality education.
What is your background?
I did a Teach for India fellowship in the year 2013 in Mumbai, where I was working with an under-resourced school which motivated me to continue my education in this specific sector. I completed my education from Azim Premji University and then I started my internship at Mantra and that is how I got connected to the entire approach and how Mantra functions. I have been with the organization for two years now.
I come from a Journalism background and I never really visualized joining the social sector. I was well in tune to working with newspapers and writing stories. I started covering education when I was working with the Times of India for 2 years in 2016. That is when I really got interested in the field of education itself and school education to prioritize.
I realised that I could make a lot of difference working to improve communications for an NGO itself. Mantra happened to me while I was speaking to a few of my PR colleagues trying to understand what was there in the universe that I can join, etc. I joined Mantra last July and since then I have been working with the communications team here.
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