Over the last couple of days, I visited a few government schools where my project champions (I like to call the scholarship holders of the Pick Me, Click Me, Educate Me! project as champions) conduct their activities. The visit served up multiple purposes. One was to get feedback from the teachers on the activities that the champions were conducting. The other was to meet the principal to ask about what further activities the Pick Me Click Me Educate Me! Project could get involved in to further improve the quality of education in these schools.
To make any assessment of the present situation it is important that one remembers the times that we came from. We are looking from the times when the school buildings had cow-shed operating in them to today where there are students. From the time when the enrollment was so poor that all the classes were held in one classroom, to a time where the enrollment is so high that the classrooms fall short.
The government claims that the enrollment in the schools for rural children is at above 90%, and in some villages it is as high as 97%. This however does not translate to the middle schools and the high schools. Moreover the regularity of attendance in schools is low. On the days when the stipend is paid out there are more students who turn up to the school than who are enrolled. The queue to collect the disbursed cash goes long. The government is trying to tackle this by ensuring a compulsory 80% attendance. The problem however in my opinion is not about the quantity as much as it is about quality.
Improving the quality of education is the mantra of the Pick Me, Click Me, Educate Me! Project, and we are doing various activities to support this.
The way we decide on the schools for our project is based on their performance in the utilization of the government available funds and the execution of the welfare schemes aimed at the rural development. Some of the schools that we also select are in this transition phase of coming up from the non-existent to having a basic presence.
One of the schools that we visited and work with on a regular basis is one of the better running schools in the area. This is in a village called Raipura.
On the outer walls of the schools in the area, just before you enter the school premise a painted sign greets us. It says that the “admissions to the schools are open.” This sign is painted permanently on the wall. It serves to welcome the parents to send in their children to the schools at any time of the year. We are talking just about the basic thing. Just send your kid to the school.
The efforts that the management of this particular school, have put in, took me by surprise. It has an enrollment of around 650 students out of which approximately 75% turn up on a regular basis.
After the initial introductions I get into a discussion with the principle of the school on the various government schemes and what it means for the students, parents and teachers.
We talk about Reading & Story telling sessions, as that is one of the activities that my champions are required to do. The officials mention that the government has also emphasized this as an activity. However, if you ask a class 5 student, to read; the trouble that they have in reading a small paragraph, is enough to give you a shock and question the quality of education.
The government has tied up with a few non-profit organizations like Pratham, and National Book Trust, to provide storybooks to the schools, who in turn are required to make them accessible to the children. The children are encouraged to read. However the fear of books being lost (and at times stolen) has resulted in many of the books being just packed up in the almirahs and cupboards.
We request the school headmaster to make these books accessible to the champions and have them conduct the activity of Book reading. They happily agree to do this.
The government encourages that the students get into the habit of reading a newspaper. It has gone into a partnership with a Hindi Newspaper, Dainik Jagran to come up with tabloids, which comprise of works from students all across Bihar. The contents of these tabloids are submissions by the students as well. It also put in the general knowledge and the current affairs into it. These are periodicals and not published daily. The nodal centers receive these papers and then distribute it to the other smaller schools.
Science Kit and Mathematics Kit
This is the thing that had me pleased the most. The middle school that we visited had students from class 1 to 8. In-order to teach Science to the students, and generate further interest in them, the government has provided with learning kits. These steel boxes contain the models that teach the basics of science to the children. The mathematics kits have various shapes to help the children recognize better.
The principal shows me how wind energy can be used to create electricity, but using a simple physical model that has a rotator, attached to a mini windmill, the energy generated being used to light LEDs. Simple but effective! Another teacher proudly shows the abacus. The teachers are encouraged to take the students out into the gardens and do practical activities. The teachers are encouraged to use demonstrations of various kinds in their classrooms.
One of the key criteria of selecting the school for us is to ensure that they maintain the basic cleanliness in the premises. The school often has a small garden of sorts and often you can spot children walking around in it. From time to time there are random checks by the senior government officials or the DM’s office. Unicef’s principles on maintaining clean premises and other facilities adorn the wall. The messages are to look into the hygiene of the toilets to the basic cleanliness of the campus. Basic information like Wash your hands before you eat, or wash your hands after a visit to the toilets are also put up in a painting on the wall, written in clear bold letters.
Teacher Training Programs
Teachers are made to go through training programs once in a while, to impart them information about newer ways of teaching. The teachers are told about the psychological aspects of education as well and how to Considering the ho-hulla that was there around the recruitment of these teachers, it is a welcome news. However the teacher quality in many of the schools still remain poor. The teachers often complain of having to do too much work for the meager salary that they receive. Often other government duties are required of the teachers, like election duty etc and that is where the teachers do not resonate well with the government plans. As a result the onus on the teachers is immense and often this results in a lack of motivation.
The element of Play
As a kid one of the thing I cherished was the access to sporting facilities. The government is trying to make this accessible at these schools as well. I spot Carrom boards, cricket bats, skipping ropes lying in one corner of the room. However the principal mentions that these bats never last for more than 15 days, the students always break it he says and the funds are not sufficient to replace them immediately.
This was another thing that had me amazed. It was heartening to see the availability of some musical instruments in these schools, encouraging the children to develop an interest in them. I spot Dholaks and the Tabla, which have been brought to encourage the students to develop an interest in extra curricular ativities.
The spirit of Competition
From time to time there is a Bal-Diwas conducted, which is a function in which children from different schools in the area compete against each other. The kids are required to take part in inter-school competitions in culture and sports. The students also exhibit the models that they make from their learnings in the science class, or participate in games and singing competitions.
Mid Day Meal Scheme
This by far is the most successful of the various government programs. The menu for the week is painted on the walls, and is for everyone to see. The school authorities have access to budget to ensure that they follow the menu anddietary plans prescribed by the government (in consultation with UNICEF) . So one day it is the Rajma Chawal, the few days it is rice, dal and vegetables. Khichadi on another. The idea is to provide nutritious meals to the children.
Having said all of the above, we know that the path ahead is challenging. There is a lot to be done. All is not so rosy however.
I ask a class 5 student to read up a story and he struggles. The struggle to have the students maintain a better and regular attendance in classes is still challenging.
Awareness on the value of education still remains low. The parents still believe that a few extra hands to take care of the households will be beneficial. Perhaps they do not see the long term benefits of the education.
So, in-spite of the students being given stipends, books, money for dress, mid day meals, one has to really question what more can be done. Our project is doing various activities to address the question above. The challenges are many. The road is tough. But there is hope.