Reflections on the journey of Saksham Haryana
Harsh Garg
July 28, 2019

It was 11 AM in the morning on 26th July when I entered the event hall at Panchkula. It was packed with more than 200 district and block education officers, mentors and more than 500 best performing principals from across Haryana. They had come together to celebrate the recognition of their efforts towards improving learning levels of government school students in the state. Two large screens had been set up next to the stage so that all 22 Deputy Commissioners (DCs) and 10,000 schools across the state could be connected to the event through video conferencing. As the state’s Chief Minister Mr Manohar Lal and State Education Minister Mr Ram Bilas Sharma stepped onto the stage to begin the felicitation ceremony, I thought to myself–this truly is a celebration of the hard work each stakeholder in the government school system has put in over the last two years to translate a common vision into reality.

The event–Saksham Samaroh–was a milestone for Samagra’s  Saksham Haryana engagement, a project close to my heart. From the time I joined Samagra in June 2017, I have been part of the Saksham Haryana team. The event on Friday was significant for me–not just because of its scale but more importantly, it was a culmination of all the months of hard work that the entire state of Haryana and the Saksham team had put in to make more than 86% of elementary government school students in the state grade-level competent–a first of its kind achievement in India. I could not help but reflect on all that has happened in the last two years leading up to this moment.

The packed hall at the Saksham Samaroh event in Panchkula on 26 July, Friday.

Saksham Haryana was started in June 2017 as an initiative by the Chief Minister’s Office (CMO) in collaboration with the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation and Samagra to improve the learning levels of government school students in the state. The programme was a successor to the former Quality Improvement Program (2014-17), i.e. QIP.

Critical to Saksham Haryana’s success was the way the programme was structured right from the start. While our 5-member team worked closely with the education department, we set up a Saksham Haryana Cell in the CMO to run the programme. This ensured that we were looked upon as a ‘crack team’ for the education department to realise the Chief Minister’s vision, and not of a team of ‘consultants who don’t understand the system’. In addition to this, we adopted a ‘campaign mode’ to run the programme. This entailed generating momentum regarding learning level improvement, encouraging field officers to undertake their own initiatives (in addition to the structured state initiatives) and creating widespread publicity through the state leadership, i.e. Chief Minister and Education Minister, as the programme’s face. This both accelerated the implementation in the short run and drove a behavioural change in stakeholders in the long run. Lastly, we envisaged deep involvement of the Chief Minister’s Good Governance Associates (CMGGAs) in running Saksham Haryana. As young professionals working with the respective DCs of all 22 districts, they acted as on-ground catalysts.

We started by spending three months on diagnostics and design. During this time, we developed a comprehensive understanding of different aspects of education, specific to the context of Haryana, identified key challenges, and zeroed in on solutions. We realized we will have to employ a multi-pronged approach that covered disparate areas such as remedial classes, timely textbook delivery, emerging educational initiatives such as digital learning, and education improvement enablers such as ensuring accountability on learning outcomes. No stone was left unturned in our quest towards solving for low learning levels. During the diagnostic and design phase, we went through various state reports and tech systems, interviewed 70+ department stakeholders, analysed 25+ data sets and consulted 50+ external experts. We also conducted field visits to all 22 districts in Haryana in order to discuss probable solutions with 400+ teachers, 150+ education officers and all DCs. Finally, 11 initiatives were finalised for implementation over 2 years. This phase was a valuable learning experience for me and a cornerstone for Saksham Haryana.

But just diagnosing the problem and designing the solution wasn’t enough. We had to set up a strong and robust support system to implement the 11 chosen initiatives. Between October and December 2017, we worked on this. First, a robust, cascaded data-backed review mechanism focused on learning outcomes was set up. To this date, every month the state education leadership reviews the work of Saksham initiative owners, the CM Office reviews the on-ground implementation of Saksham initiatives through video-conferencing with DCs/Sub-Divisional Magistrates (SDMs), the DCs review the implementation in districts & SDMs in blocks. District/block reviews are facilitated by CMGGAs and driven by education officers. Second, to ensure that reviews are organised seamlessly, information systems were put in place. For each Saksham initiative, we defined KPIs and mechanisms for monitoring them. For instance, with respect to assessments, the number of days taken to upload data, the usage of assessment dashboard, and several other parameters are tracked. Third, communication channels were created to efficiently transmit information. Cascaded WhatsApp groups were created at the state, district, block and teacher level. These groups are used to disseminate information regarding Saksham initiatives, share infographics on implementing them and running ‘mini-campaigns’ to drive compliance. The state already had an e-SMS portal, which we leveraged. Fourth, to encourage on-ground competition and truly run the programme in campaign mode, Saksham Ghoshna was conceptualised. Saksham Ghoshna allows blocks to ‘nominate’ themselves if they believe they have achieved the target of Saksham Haryana, which was set as 80% students in a block being grade-competent. Nominated blocks are then assessed by a third-party (Hindi and Math are tested in grades 3, 5 and 7 on a sample basis) to check the validity of the claim. In case it is found that 80% students are at grade-level, the blocks are declared ‘Saksham’ and the relevant officers and teachers are felicitated and celebrated as ‘heroes’ in the system.

Now that the enablers were in place, we started working on implementing the initiatives. Each initiative went through a standard impact cycle. First, the high-level design of the initiative was converted into a practical roadmap. For example, creating the roadmap for ‘state-led assessment reforms’ involved planning for exact frequency and structure of exams, granularity and mechanics of data collection, driving engagement and actions based on the data, etc. The second stage involved actioning the roadmap. For state-led assessments, this involved steps such as releasing an order to align the state exam frequency with CCE, driving data collection of class-wise, question-wise marks for classes 1st to 8th through a revamped portal, making data insights from the newly created learning-outcome-based Saksham Adhyapak Assessment Dashboard available to principals and officials in an easy-to-understand manner, and so on. In the third stage, a mini-campaign was launched to drive compliance and generate momentum. Infographics and instructional videos were shared with teachers on around 150 teacher WhatsApp groups. Articles on the usefulness of the Saksham Adhyapak Dashboard were also published in local media newspapers. Further, data on  number of views and users accessing the dashboard was shared regularly with everyone to drive uptake. Today, the dashboard receives more than 2,00,000 views and has more than 17,000 users (14,000 schools) based on the exam cycle. In the last stage, a cascaded review mechanism was leveraged to overcome state inertia. For assessments, this involved DC and SDM-led discussions on key insights from the assessment dashboard in district and block education reviews respectively, reviewing action taken on the basis of issues recorded in the dashboard, and so on. Following this approach, we implemented a combination of academic and administrative interventions.

The result was phenomenal. Two years of systemic reforms, significant on-ground momentum because of Saksham Ghoshna and razor-sharp accountability on learning outcomes have resulted in palpable on-ground change. The teachers and officers in Haryana not only support the Saksham Haryana programme but own it as theirs. There has been a behavioural shift from focussing only on specific administrative issues to talking about learning outcomes and taking action to drive them.

The results are also apparent in data. When the Saksham Ghoshna campaign was started, only 2 of 9 blocks assessed could be declared Saksham. As of May 2019, after the latest round of assessment, 107 of the 119 blocks in the state have been declared Saksham.

Coming back to Friday, when all of this work culminated in front of my eyes in the best way possible–stakeholders were recognised, reflections were made and impact was celebrated. For me and the Saksham team sitting with me, this is not just a project, but a journey, and what happened in Panchkula was not just an event, but a milestone.

Building on the success of the last two years, we are committed to aspiring higher and achieving the next milestone. The next phase of Saksham Haryana will focus on improving learning levels in grades 9th–12th, solving key administrative issues and rewarding meritorious students. Saksham Ghoshna will, of course, continue to motivate students to successfully achieve higher learning levels.