India approved its 2020 National Education Policy (NEP) in July 2020. It underscores the importance of education to the future of the country and aims to transform the education system by 2040. The 2020 NEP proposes a revamp of the education structure that would allow India to achieve the Sustainable Development Goal on education and ensure equitable access for all learners regardless of social or economic background.
In Gujarat, the fifth-largest state in India, there are around 11.48 million students, over 60 percent of whom are enrolled in public or semi-aided schools. Some 400,000 teachers are assigned to 54,000 schools. Many of these schools urgently need refurbishment and reinvestment in infrastructure to be conducive to quality teaching and learning. Enrollment rates are low, which impacts girls from vulnerable households. The pandemic made the situation even more pressing. As much as 25 to 30 percent of students had limited access to remote learning devices such as computers and tablets. School closures meant that more girls had limited access to education, their time spent on housework increased and their future career plans were disrupted. It was apparent steps had to be taken to mitigate the immediate risks and support the education system in the state to respond to these challenges.
"The Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank has partnered with the Government of Gujarat as a cofinancer together with the World Bank on a project that will strengthen decentralized management for improved education outcomes in Gujarat," said Gujarat Primary and Secondary Education Secretary Dr Vinod Rao.
AIIB approved USD250 million in sovereign financing for the Gujarat Education Infrastructure and Technology Modernization Program to add to the World Bank's USD500 million funding and the Government of Gujarat's counterpart funding of USD321.44 million.
"The partnership with AIIB will provide the necessary support for the development of the civil and digital infrastructure for the government elementary schools in Gujarat," Rao added. "This will boost teaching and learning outcomes, one of the major objectives of the program."
The program aims to improve education outcomes by focusing on improving and greening the infrastructure of existing schools, promoting gender and equity aspects, teacher development, vocational education and strengthening foundational learning for reducing learning poverty.
"The program will upgrade the physical learning environment and digital infrastructure of 9,000 schools throughout the state of Gujarat using climate-resilient designs," said AIIB Investment Operations Specialist Pratyush Mishra, who heads the project team. "Monitoring progress and achievement is certainly a big challenge but we do have strategies in place."
These measures include appointing a project management consultant to provide continuous support to the implementation entity, the Gujarat Council of Education. An independent verification agent will conduct reviews while AIIB and the World Bank will be undertaking supervision missions in addition to regular informal discussions with the Council.
"Another innovative approach under the program, one which can act as a lighthouse for other programs in the sector, is the establishment of the Command and Control Center which is now renamed as ‘Vidya Samiksha Kendra’, a central monitoring center that acts as the 'nerve center' for the digital transformation exercise," said Mishra.
The Gujarat education department has systematically collected a significant amount of data relating to areas such as student scores, and student and teacher attendance and has started to build the infrastructure to collect this information in real-time.
"The availability of real-time data, disaggregated down to the level of an individual student, will be a game-changer in the education sector. This allows the Gujarat education department to have a flexible and agile approach to any interventions that they plan and acts as a feedback mechanism so that course correction can happen ‘on the go’. What they have created with the Vidya Samiksha Kendra allows them to do things quickly," said Mishra. Because of its scale and scope, the program's impact on the future of Gujarat cannot be understated.
"By investing in school education, this program will improve learning outcomes of students through measurement and analytical work designed to galvanize the momentum around human capital growth," said Rao.
"The program's benefits include improvement in the quality of Gujarat public schools, improvement in foundational learning outcomes at the primary levels, strengthened teacher development, improvement in learning and teaching environments and development of a COVID-19-resilient system where both in-person and online teaching systems are institutionalized."
The technology components of the program align well with AIIB's thematic priority on technology-enabled infrastructure and the green components with AIIB's thematic priority on green infrastructure.
"It will cover investments in science, technology, engineering, and math labs, computer and internet facilities, technological innovations like creation and hosting of digital learning content, smart classrooms and remote learning," Mishra said.
The investments will also enhance Gujarat's preparedness for unexpected school closures in the post-COVID-19 pandemic era.
"The program will adopt the concept of green schools,” Mishra explained. "The design of green schools includes aspects such as energy efficiency, water harvesting, conservation, use of local materials for construction, multi-use spaces, kitchen gardens, reducing construction materials and tree plantation."
“To cope with the challenges of the middle-income trap, leveling-up educational standards with the latest digital technologies and learning-friendly environments is essential. This will help middle-income countries achieve a successful transformation from a low-value economy to a high-wage, higher value-added one. We expect the success of the Gujarat model to be replicated in other states of India too,” said Hun Kim, Director General, Social Infrastructure Department of AIIB.