Parents exploring the TCS mTop application during an orientation session

Tata Consultancy Services and Tata ClassEdge are helping transform five educational institutions with solutions sourced from the digital wellspring

He who opens a school, closes a prison,” said writer Victor Hugo, highlighting the potential of schools to make a lasting difference in the lives of children. Given the truth of Hugo’s words, efforts directed at equipping schools to perform more effectively and enhancing the overall quality of education can only be to the advantage of those who matter most, the students.

The advantage factor in the manner of teaching these students is what Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) and Tata ClassEdge have come together for while pooling their collective resources in an initiative aimed at transforming five educational institutions in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, India. Standing to benefit are Global Mission School, Global Mission International School, Laxman Gyanpith School, Shishu Mandir and Anant University, all of which are run by the Sanskardham Trust.

These four schools and one college employ a unique pedagogy that emphasises the all-round development of students. The teaching here is born of the idea TCS and Tata ClassEdge have worked on together: to reimagine the school as a place where students go beyond textbooks, where technology is a tool that enhances learning outcomes, and where the teaching is relevant to the career aspirations of those being taught.

“We felt it was important to equip teachers with better content and teaching methods, which would lead to an improvement in the students’ ability to learn.”

Hasit Kaji, head, special initiatives, TCS

The transformation journey began when a five-member TCS team, led by Hasit Kaji, head, special initiatives, and Venguswamy Ramaswamy, global head, TCS iON, visited the schools in April 2017. They met the Sanskardham trustees, teachers, parents and students, and sought to understand the philosophy and work practices of the schools, the challenges they faced and the opportunities for improvement. Their intent was to secure positive results through a set of solutions that eschewed the superficial and embraced tangible transformation.

“The foundation of the Sanskardham Trust’s activities rests on building future leaders for the country,” says Mr Kaji. “Accordingly, the pedagogy employed by the schools places greater emphasis on the inculcation of values and on extracurricular activities.” That was fine but there was a shortfall: the schools lacked the ability to fully exploit the power of digital technology to suit their needs.

THE SCALE IS BIG

With more than 3,400 students to influence and improve, the scale of the opportunity to engineer massive transformation was immense. “Any transformation starts with recognising your inner strengths,” says Mr Ramaswamy. “Sanskardham’s strength is the belief of the leadership team that it can produce leaders who are responsible, passionate, skilled and confident. We are enabling the transformation through this strength.”

Adds Mr Kaji: “We identified several initiatives that would help the schools be digitally ready for the 21st century. They included the introduction of new teaching techniques for experiential learning, ensuring collaboration between teachers within and outside the institutions, enabling greater efficiencies in everyday operations and enhancing the visibility of the school to external stakeholders.”

The Sanskardham excellence framework, as defined by the TCS team, rested on:

  • Improving the technology infrastructure and using it extensively in teaching, learning and campus administration.
  • Building the capacities of teachers.
  • Reimagining the pedagogy and curriculum to include 21st-century skills.

“We spent quality time with all the stakeholders and built strong relationships with them,” says Amit Rai, who leads the transformation effort from within the Sanskardham campus. “These interactions helped us understand the schools’ priorities, goals and challenges.”

Accordingly, the team created a set of transformational initiatives and chalked out detailed implementation plans. Care was taken to ensure that the new plans did not disrupt the academic calendar, so as to enable a smooth transition and participation by all stakeholders.

Sanskardham Trust’s Global Mission International School in Ahmedabad

TCS put in place the core infrastructure through which the digital initiatives will be launched. This infrastructure serves as the backbone for the digitisation of processes and the learning content.

The TCS iON Campus Management Solution was one of the first implementations to come to fruition. “Our solution integrates the entire set of academic and administrative processes under one platform,” says Mahadevan Venkatakrishnan, a key member of iON and the transformation team. “In doing so, it simplifies processes, digitises data and enables on-demand access to information for all stakeholders.” Thanks to the initiative, the report cards of students taking the latest exams were issued by the system and made available for online viewing in just one week. Earlier, this task was done manually and would take up to four weeks to be completed. Additionally, admissions have gone online for the first time.

It was necessary to facilitate smooth communication between parents, teachers and the institutions. Help on this front has come from iON mTop app, a single platform for accessing information on attendance, fees and hostel charges, issuing of timetable and report cards, school activities, transport and library management. The app, which also allows communication from teachers to parents, has reduced the workload of administrative staff and fostered better communication.

APPEALING LEARNING

The interactions the team had with teachers revealed that they were keen on augmenting their skills. They wanted to learn new teaching techniques and have access to best-in-class digital content that they could use to make learning more appealing to students.

It was at this point that TCS invited Tata ClassEdge to reinforce the Tata value proposition with its offerings. Says Mr Kaji: “We felt it was important to strengthen the teachers, to equip them with better content and better teaching methods, both of which would lead to an improvement in the students’ ability to learn, and consequently their performance.”

Adds Anil Mammen, chief, learning design and social impact, at Tata ClassEdge: “Sanskardham is significant in terms of scale and the tremendous opportunity it offers us to make a real impact on teachers and students alike. The Sanskardham Trust has given us the necessary freedom and we are working closely with TCS to measure the impact that we are making through our association with the project.”

To begin with, Sanskardham initiated the use of Tata ClassEdge content for mathematics, science and social science in nine classrooms across standards 6, 7 and 8. The infrastructure required was put in place and this includes interactive ‘smartboards’ and teacher-learning terminals. Tata ClassEdge has also trained the teachers to explain class material effectively.

Besides receiving detailed lesson plans, teachers benefit from the guidance offered by a trained onsite coordinator, who personally guides them on the best way to teach a particular topic, and on ways to supplement the teaching with classroom activities, projects, worksheets, multimedia animations, simulations and other digital assets. The combination of multiple assets, with the lesson plan at the core, helps the students imbibe the learning in a multi-sensory environment.

BETTER PARTICIPATION

The new learning content has been well received by teachers, students and parents. Thanks to the step-by-step visual guides, teachers are able to explain the content better, enabling students to participate more actively in the class. In addition, Tata ClassEdge has also provided content to teachers in the primary section to enable them to familiarise themselves with it before it is formally introduced in the forthcoming academic year.

“Tata ClassEdge does not just offer content that can be used in classrooms; it is also a teacher development tool,” says Mr Mammen. “We have a skilled team of academics who will train the teachers beyond the basic content, offering training on pedagogy, and designing and executing formative and summative assessments in mathematics and science.”

TCS and Tata ClassEdge understand the need to build a robust culture of learning within the school and outside. The training of teachers is facilitated through collaborations between teachers that extend beyond the classroom. The iON digital learning platform provides for a network, enabling inter- and intra-collaboration between teachers and students. Besides, Tata ClassEdge has a system in which certain teachers, designated as champions, fuel a continuous learning process for their colleagues.

TCS has partnered with CSpathshala, an initiative of the Association for Computing Machinery India, to modernise the computing curriculum and help students get more creative, curious and collaborative.“CSpathshala helps in developing a child’s logical and analytical thinking capabilities,” explains Mr Kaji. It helps a child look at a problem, break it down into smaller, manageable problems, see patterns that exist and devise a solution that addresses the pattern. It moulds students to be the creators and innovators of the digital age.”

CSpathshala is an initiative of the Association for Computing Machinery India to modernise the computing curriculum and help students get more creative, curious and collaborative with their learning efforts

The website of the Sanskardham institutions serves as the link to external stakeholders. It was important that the website reflect the best that the institutions had to offer. Realising this, Kanal Chhajed, design lead of the team, set up an initiative council, a governing body made up of the representatives of all the schools. Together, they came to an understanding about which facets needed to be highlighted and worked accordingly.

The redesigned website offers a seamless user experience, is mobile-responsive and reflects the brand and the values of the institutions. The site, redesigned from the perspectives of teachers, students and parents, showcases the schools’ uniqueness in pedagogy, and highlights their achievements and activities.

HONING SKILLS

Ms Chhajed also set up a website club, with a team of students and staff members responsible for updating the website regularly with information about school activities. Students now have the opportunity to hone their collaborative skills in written communication and design under the guidance of their teachers. The school website can be accessed at www.gmisschool.org.

TCS has requested Sanskardham to apply to the Government of India for the setting up of an Atal Tinkering Lab within one of its schools. Equipped with Internet of Things, 3D printers and the like, it enables students to benefit from a multidisciplinary format of learning. They can be creative and work in teams to find novel solutions to the challenges they face. They can create tangible solutions derived from their academic learning as well as from real-world applications.

Besides these interventions, the TCS and Tata ClassEdge teams have suggested small ways in which the functioning of the schools can be improved. These include a change in working hours so that teachers don’t feel burdened. “We need to help them balance their time in such a way that they have time to learn something new,” says Mr Kaji. “Only if they spend quality time on the content will they be able to incorporate it into their teaching.” Also recommended is the introduction of a reward and recognition system for teachers.

TCS and Tata ClassEdge, experts in the fields of technology and education, have committed themselves to the Sanskardham growth story for the long haul. They have put their best resources together to bring the transformation story together. This is a goal that stretches into the far distance, but the two companies are confident that their efforts will empower and inspire the Sanskardham Trust’s institutions on their journey towards educational excellence.

— Cynthia Rodrigues