UNICEF’s ‘School Excellence Programme’ in Mumbai: Leveraging Private Sector Partnerships for Results in Urban Education

Mumbai has been described as India’s ‘financial powerhouse’, full of glistening skyscrapers and home to the country’s fashion, film, and television industries. However, it is also a city of stark contrasts as it is home to the largest slums in India, faces a homelessness problem, and is overburdened by migration from other parts of the country.

The city of Mumbai poses unique challenges to delivering quality education to the urban poor. 40 per cent of the children enrolled in the school system in Mumbai are attending private schools, and the remaining 60 per cent belong to poorer families who cannot afford to pay tuition.  As a result, the public school system is filled with the most marginalized children. Most are first generation learners who speak a wide variety of languages,  and live in poverty in informal settlements.

Other issues include absence of support to children before and after school, overcrowded classrooms, lack of basic infrastructure , ineffectiveness of the teaching learning process, dropouts and poor learning environment in schools. Generating accountability and interest of teachers in the education process and changing their approaches, building trust and ownership amongst parents and communities and providing education with quality and equity for all the children of Mumbai poses a real challenge.

To address these issues and improve learning outcomes, The Municipal Corporation of Mumbai (MCGM)—one of the largest systems working to improve outcomes for urban children—and UNICEF have entered into a partnership to implement the School Excellence Programme (SEP).

The SEP programme strives to introduce activity based pedagogy and build capacities of educators, and increase management efficacy of headmasters. The programme also aspires to increase student’s attendance from the present estimated 70 per cent to 90+ per cent, and  ensure that the pass percentage in MCGM’s class 4 scholarship examinations is increased from the present 39 per cent to 90 per cent. Finally, it also seeks to  reduce the drop-out rate in MCGM schools to less than 5 per cent. Overall it is expected that the programme will enhance the learning levels of children by 25 per cent from the baseline study.

The multi-stakeholder and public private partnership model has been a unique feature of this programme, with MCGM as the key civic body responsible for the school transformation process, UNICEF as the technical partner and McKinsey & Co. providing management support. Currently, UNICEF is working in 148 MCGM schools, Child Centred Learning Pedagogy has been introduced in 148 schools, and over 2000 teachers have been trained on activity-based learning.

During the next two years the partnership will focus on: developing pedagogy for Hindi medium schools, examining the situation of children with special needs, introducing English as a second language of instruction , analysis of children who are lagging behind and introducing extra support for improving their learning outcomes, and creating a SEP Think Tank within the MCGM.

Adapted from SEP Background Note, UNICEF India