We want to hold ourselves accountable, achieve measureable social impact and build a detailed information vault for future educationalists and policy-makers who work to improve education and welfare of rural Indian girls.
Family database: We have compiled evidence of key socio-economic indicators for all students’ families. We procure information on parental income, occupation, caste and educational levels, instances of child marriage or alcohol abuse in the immediate family, number of gadgets owned by the family and type of dwelling the family lives in. This data is collected through admission interviews with parents, site visits to students’ houses and examination of rations cards (documents provided by the Indian government to impoverished families that require subsided food and fuel). Our database is compiled in a highly confidential and sensitive manner; it is vital to ensure that the education we offer is reaching the most underprivileged students. The database will also provide a starting point for us to measure the social mobility of our students in the future, once they graduate from school.
Academic testing: Our annual exams are set and marked externally by teachers from a leading low-income, non-profit school in the area to ensure objectivity. Academic testing is used to benchmark our students against students of a similar age in both government-run and private schools. Teachers work with the school correspondent to set quarterly goals for students’ performance, English fluency and computer literacy; they are provided constant reviews and support to ensure they reach these goals. Teachers also offer special after-school tutorials for students who require extra attention in certain areas to meet their goals.
Quantitative Research: We use the Student School Engagement Model. This survey-based research instrument has 50 questions related to students’ attachment to teachers, relationships with peers, study habits, sense of belonging, home study environment and future ambitions. Students’ school engagement levels measured through this survey accurately predict their future academic performance and wellbeing at school. We also maintain digitized student attendance and homework submission records, which are key indicators of academic performance. This allows us to intervene in a timely manner if students are observed to be highly disengaged or demotivated.
Qualitative research: Academic tests will be supplemented by qualitative research that assesses the change in students’ values, educational aspirations, career expectations and perspectives on gender norms, caste and class as they progress through our school. These results are very important to us as we hope to guide our students to become critical thinkers who are unafraid of challenging harmful customs and oppressive structures.
Qualitative research will take the form of interviews and essays based on carefully selected prompts. In the case of younger children who are less fluent in their speech, we will use visual methods such as drawing prompts to supplement oral interviews. For older students, we will use photo-ethnography, where consenting students will be given disposable cameras to record significant objects, central people and important rituals in their lives. This will permit us to understand students’ experiences through their own eyes and will allow them to play a more active and visible role in the research.
Longitudinal study: Once we have students graduating from our high school, we will track consenting participants through a longitudinal study for the first decade of their adult lives to observe how effective our education is in improving their social mobility, promoting professional achievement and preventing social malpractices like coerced marriage to maternal uncles.
Ethics: We recognize that there are unique ethical dilemmas involved in working with children. When designing the impact measurement methodology, we first asked ourselves a series of questions to ensure that we displayed sensitivity to children’s emotions and preferences. In case of conflict between our students’ interests and our research interests, we prioritized the wellbeing of our students above all else.
The questions we asked include: How does our research benefit the children who participate? Does our methodology pose any potential risk, such as the loss of privacy or embarrassment for our children? How will we ensure that children understand the purpose and procedures of our research clearly enough to give informed consent? How do we ensure that the children know that they won’t be punished or looked upon unfavorably if they refuse to participate in our research? How will we handle anonymity and confidentiality?
Sources: Hazel, Vazirabadi and Gallagher, 2013; Thomson 2008; Dell Clark 2011; Richards 2009; Christensen and Prout, 2002