The RightToRead program’s reach has expanded explosively in the last 5 years. From 100 schools spread across 6 states in 2013, it covers more than 25,000 schools spread across continents impacting over 8 million students today. The RightToRead footprint covers 27 states and 5 Union Territories in India and 9 countries across Asia, Latin America and Africa.
At each stage of this expansion, we have brought in new partners while strengthening existing partnerships. Communicating with all stakeholders, especially teachers and relevant government agencies, is a necessary challenge when operating at scale. EnglishHelper has responded by constantly evolving the ways and means by which we communicate across the RightToRead stakeholder network.
The trend in the change in methods of communication is clear and unmistakable. A very heavy ground-presence and intensive manual effort are giving way to a more virtual environment. A one-size-fits-all training and outreach programme is morphing into one driven by data and customized to individual requirements. Backed by affordable, ubiquitous high-speed internet and using the latest in technology, the RightToRead program is scaling to continents and impacting millions.
In the initial phases of the RightToRead program, members of the team would visit each of the schools regularly to train teachers and gather feedback on ReadToMe, the reading comprehension software powering the RightToRead program. We communicated with an intent to educate stakeholders and convey the benefits technology could bring to teachers and students in a classroom.
Regular school visits and teacher interactions yielded valuable insights into teachers’ expectations from a software aimed at improving reading and comprehension. We realized that this tech-based intervention, with the ultimate aim of solving India’s reading crisis, had demonstrated impact at the first 100 schools. Importantly, it could be scaled in environments that were consuming computing in any form. (https://assets.englishhelper.com/website/v188.8.131.5290916/assets/Improving_Learning_Outcomes_Evidence_from_a_Large_Scale_Educational_Technology_Intervention_in_India_v6.pdf )
The expansion of the RightToRead program to 5000 schools spread over 8 states and covering a million students was supported by our communication strategy adapted for the next level of scale. Our training methods and outreach to schools were more selective. With support from our partners, we trained ‘master trainers’ who would then train teachers and other stakeholders in a cascading model.
Our physical outreach was more selective. With a view to building a scalable program characterised by cost and operating efficiency, we selected schools using statistical techniques to ensure our samples reasonably represented the population. A variety of innovations were designed and implemented. For instance, we implemented a ‘missed-call’ system where school coordinators were required to give a certain number a missed call, once a week. An IVR system would then return the call and ask a few basic questions that coordinators could answer by pressing an appropriate number on their phones, capturing important information about the health of the program at the school level. Alternatively, it was also used to identify schools where teachers needed to be encouraged and those where they needed to be lauded for their efforts.
In 2020, buoyed by the success of the RightToRead program in 5000 schools (https://assets.englishhelper.com/website/v184.108.40.20690916/assets/report_on_learning_outcomes_2017.pdf), EnglishHelper is expanding the program to 65,000 schools in Maharashtra (from an initial pilot across 3720 schools), all schools in Sri Lanka (10,000 schools) and many more in countries from Nicaragua to Cambodia. As the program expands towards massive scale our communication and tracking methods have continued to evolve. Increasing virtualization, of training and communication and cloud-based tracking, are the hallmarks of this new approach.
Availability of affordable internet plans and use of platforms like Zoom and Skype have been instrumental in helping us communicate with schools. Maharashtra deserves special focus, not just because it is home to a large part of the RightToRead network but also for the public education system’s willingness and ability to innovate on multiple fronts. The Regional Academic Authority (RAA), based in Aurangabad, has established a very effective cascade model for training and communication.
RightToRead in Maharashtra is establishing many ‘firsts’ which, hopefully, will be replicated across other regions. EnglishHelper and Schoolnet (strategic partners) have worked closely with RAA to support the training of Block Resource Coordinators (BRC) leveraging video technology. Almost 1000 BRC were trained remotely by partners leading to immediate benefits on the ground. This exercise using technology saved time, money and has created confidence for replication across the state.
Virtual or otherwise, training has to be followed up by communication. A steady stream of messages delivered to smartphones via WhatsApp and SMS has ensured teachers are constantly reminded of essential ReadToMe® features that can aid the delivery of English lessons in the classroom.
In locations from Nicaragua to Sri Lanka and from Nigeria to Assam, virtualization has helped solve technical issues in hours that would otherwise have taken months of emails and back-and-forth exchanges.
What does the future hold? With smartphones and high-speed internet moving from ‘luxury’ to basic need, our training and communications will also move from a one-size-fits-all to a more targeted intervention. This has already started. Schools’ ReadToMe® usage is recorded and automatically synced with EnglishHelper’s servers (the internet being available) where they are analyzed for usage patterns. Schools whose usage does not show up are called and encouraged to integrate ReadToMe® in their classrooms.
Smart, usage-based notifications can also enable targeted interventions. Schools that have not been using the picture dictionary function, for instance, can have notifications (Whatsapp, SMS or phone notifications) encouraging and educating teachers on specific features within ReadToMe®. Such micro-interventions can make a huge difference to engagement and the success of the RightToRead program.
For a long time now children in underserved government schools have regularly made headlines – for all the wrong reasons. Not being able to read textbooks from several grades below is a cardinal sin in a ‘knowledge economy’. RightToRead is an initiative that continues to deliver impact at scale. We believe, intensive communications, increasingly backed by data and virtualization, will help deliver the fruits of technology-based intervention, to not just India, but the world.
— Sriram Shankar
This article is written by Sriram Shankar, Chief Technology Officer at EnglishHelper.
To know how to use ReadToMe® pronunciation tool please click here.
Click here for our innovative spoken English program – EnglishBolo™, a joint initiative of EnglishHelper and Schoolnet. To know more about EnglishBolo™ connect with us on YouTube, Instagram, and Facebook.