A government incentive scheme delivered by DFID with technology support from Mastek is reducing school dropout rates among Odisha’s tribal girls
At the dot of seven every morning, nine year old Sebati rushes out of her house carrying a large, empty can for filling drinking water. Unlike most children her age who are getting ready for school, Sebati’s day begins with a string of chores -- from ensuring that she’s on time to collect her household’s quota of drinking water from the water tanker, to cleaning up utensils left over from the previous night’s meal, to cooking food for the day and tending to her ailing granddad’s needs. Her day is choc-a-bloc with activities she’d rather not do if only she had her way.
Sebati lives in a remote village in Odisha. Her mother died in child birth. Abandoned by her drunken father, this tribal girl has since lived with her older brother, his wife and an ailing grandfather. When she turned five, her brother enrolled Sebati in the only public school in the vicinity, just so they wouldn’t have to bother about her upkeep during the day. The school provided free meals too, which was an added bonus for the family, who had difficulties making ends meet.
Who Would Give Wings to her Dream?
Sebati enjoyed going to school. A top performer in her class, she was favoured by her teachers. Alas, her thirst for knowledge was abruptly squashed, as Sebati had to discontinue schooling after Class 4. Household work and the care of her grandfather had taken its toll, leaving the girl with little time to study. Now, that she was much older, her brother and his wife left Sebati in charge of the household tasks, while they worked as labourers at a nearby warehouse construction facility. Yet, all Sebati wanted to do was to go back to school.
How Technology made a Scholarship Scheme a Reality?
To reduce school dropout rates among tribal girls like Sebati, the Ministry of Social Justice & Empowerment, Government of Odisha launched a pre-matric scholarship scheme for scheduled castes and scheduled tribe (SC & ST) students. The scheme provided a cash incentive of INR 2000 every month to eligible students, on the condition that they achieve a 75% attendance. To deliver this scheme, the government partnered with the DFID (Department for International Development) UK, for technical and financial assistance. They rolled out a pilot project in Rayagada district, in September 2012.
"We knew early on that the scholarship scheme project would be challenging, given the state of infrastructure in India’s villages,” says the IT specialist at DFID. We realised that the success of the program would largely depend on operational excellence, supported by a robust information technology platform. We were aware of Mastek’s success in building large, complex, citizen-facing government projects and chose to partner them." He added.
A Robust Framework for All-Round Success
According to the DFID Programme Head, "We are quite impressed with how Mastek worked to overcome the operational challenges on the ground with technology innovation. They collaborated very well with both DFID and the Odisha government IT and operational teams to quickly deliver the pilot project in a matter of three months. Mastek used its proprietary Social Justice Framework, which served as a foundation for delivering the various components of the scholarship scheme."
In addition to ensuring quick turnaround times, the Framework supports workflow whilst providing role-based security access. It easily integrates with other systems, is flexible and configurable, enabling multiple schemes to be delivered simultaneously, based on the unique scheme attributes and requirement.
The scholarship scheme had four key components:
- Student database
- Attendance recording
- Scholarships approval
- Funds disbursement
Necessity Will Always be The Mother of Invention
“Owing to poor internet connectivity and irregular power supply in Odisha’s remote villages, we had to constantly innovate to deliver the scholarship programme goals”. Says, Arka Kanungo, Project Lead, Mastek. "While regular attendance was an important criterion to receiving the scholarship, we were at a loss on how to collate attendance records from so many different schools and disburse the incentive payment on a regular basis."
Mastek’s team initially piloted a biometric system. However, owing to lack of technical support for the biometric hardware in this remote area, they decided to take a different approach.
According to Yogesh Khandge, “We then came up with the idea of an offline application where attendance in the various schools is recorded at the local level. The attendance data is then transmitted over the internet at regular intervals, and seamlessly syncs in with the central server. The offline application has tremendously improved the efficiency of the scholarship programme.”
“The Odisha government was so pleased with the offline application, that it is replicating it in other projects which have state-wide rollout components”. He added.
A team of field officers manually collated and entered information as part of the student database creation process, for enrolment in the scholarship scheme. This was a time consuming and cumbersome procedure. Additionally, the scheme enrolment form was quite exhaustive and took time to complete.
“Mastek helped overcome this problem by rationalising the data capture process. We retained four key fields on the enrolment form that were relevant to disbursing the scholarship. As a result, the speed of delivering the disbursements was increased by around 50 percent." Says Arka. “While it took six months to build the first database batch of 200,000 students, the second database batch of 200,000 students was ready in a matter of three months”. He emphasised.
Today, Mastek manages a centralised database of 420,000 student records that is constantly growing. The programme has disbursed over INR 118 crores to 380,000 students.
Investing In a Bright Future
Sebati’s brother had just returned home from another tiring day of bricklaying. But, instead of the usual tired look and grumpy demeanour, he normally had after a hard day of toiling in the hot sun, today his face was all wreathed in smiles. He had heard from fellow labourers about the scholarship scheme that paid a good sum of money for dropouts like Sebati to re-join school.
The government’s scholarship scheme has given wings to Sebati’s hopes of an education. Today she travels to school on a bicycle. She plans to take up a vocational course once she completes her matriculation and hopes to get a good job someday.
The project has delivered several important social outcomes. Dropout rates among tribal girls in classes 9 and 10 are reduced by 40 per cent. Thousands of dropouts have been encouraged to resume their studies. In addition, attendance rates have improved by almost 10 per cent. However, the most important change has been the transformation of mind set. A survey showed a six per cent shift in household attitudes towards educating girls. It’s a small step in the overall scheme of things, but a big leap of faith for girls like Sebati.
Sebati’s story is typical of the tribal girls India, where education is a luxury that few can afford. School dropout rates are extremely high, and peaks among students of class 9 and 10. This is because the young girls are either married off early, or like Sebati, enlisted for domestic chores.“In my block alone, I have managed to get 62 girls into the program. And only one has dropped out,” says Wriddhi Saha, block co-ordinator for Raygada. “In just two months, all the families have become supportive. It has also reduced the incidence of child marriage. I believe that one educated girl in a family can transform generations to come.”
On a recent visit, DFID India head, Marshall Elliot, was impressed with outcomes of the scholarship program. “Education will help the girls achieve a greater purpose in life, uplift their community and take the nation on the road of progress." He added, “Both, the DFID and Mastek are working with the Indian government to extend the system to operate other pre-metric and post metric scholarship schemes at state level.”