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This is the second in the series of project update report written by intern Jean- Baptiste.

2/ Researches: second round

Time has come for brainstormings and other idea-organizing works. Now that we are more used to these data, I have been able to sort them and list some of the major problems we face and the existing solutions. The aim after that was to distinguish where the government and NGOs are currently working, and which problems are left alone. I then identified six problems among the most importants:

1. Bad-quality teaching
2. Make school attractive
3. Reduce school’s material and financial issues
4. Involve children into their own education
5. Lack of involvement of the village’s community
6. Need to develop alternative learning

I also wrote another one, which was completely missing since the beginning. But this shows how much it is missing: there is no sexual education at school. After identifying problems, I wrote around them solutions that could basically solve them. I don’t talk about very precise things, but more global ones like “reduce uniforms to a mere scarf” to reduce the financial issue. I randomly mixed personal ideas from the moment with ideas found during research. Then, I added projects/ NGOs/ Government plans and others work that have already be done to solve the problem. At last, I wrote down the “How?” we can solve it, in a concrete way. Here is the work I did:

Workspace and work

On the same time, I have been leading some classic brainstorming, to feed my work and broaden my opportunities.

Brainstorming

After doing this appeared something. For three of the problems, we don’t have any project currently in progress to solve it. Either nobody cares about it, or people are not aware of it. These problems are to involve children into their own education, the lack of involvement of the village’s community and of course the lack of sexual education. So it seems interesting to focus on them, since they might have a significant change on today’s education.

The further we go into our discussion with Kshitiz, the more we understand that we face a wicked problem, and that we have to be very careful while trying to solve it. We don’t face one problem but several, and a problem doesn’t have a specific pre-existing solution. It is even worse, because many of these problems have common hidden roots, and by trying to solve one we can interfere with another one and make things turn bad. This is why we have to precisely identify every stakeholder involved in every scale of the problem, and determine how much he is affected, what he wants, how he would react to our solution, and so on. These stakeholders are numerous: the pupil himself, the teacher, the parents, the village community, but also NGOs who might be involved into this area, the government and other social-centered companies. By now, interactions between them are a bit archaic since parents and the government don’t care enough about education, teachers need to be more invested and powerful, and village communities are not meant to deal with education. On the contrary, in a perfect world these actors should be pupil-focused, with parents supporting and being invested into their child’s education, teachers being helped by parents and the village community and being given sufficient knowledge by the government.

Our next move will be to meet companies such as Pratham Books, Akshara Foundation, Parikrma Foundation to discover how they are trying to improve education in their own way, present them our vision and our project, and most of all exchange about our respective work. So that we would be able to have a new point of view, from people working in this field for years, and who are competent in that work. This will surely be a good test for our ideas. After that we plan to visit schools, because seeing, examining, sharing with children inside their school, inside their educational world, would provide us a more accurate view. Later we plan to go in Bihar, the poorest state in India, since our project is aimed to take place over there. We can explore ways in which the ideas from the NGOs here can be adapted.

-Jean-Baptiste Haag

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One of the challenges facing the nation today is the need to ensure a less dropout rate when the students go from the Primary level to Secondary level education. This is especially true in areas where we function the project. The quality of education at numerous primary schools across the country is still questionable and that leads to a lesser motivation amongst the students to attend school. Moreover there is a notion that the students are just doing everything by rote learning and not really getting an overall education in the true sense.

In the context of this, it is good to note that there are government schemes that ensure students get the secondary education and more funds are being pumped into it.

This could be due to the constant buzz that India is producing graduates but not employable graduates. Should the emphasis thus be at the graduate level or perhaps earlier, viz the secondary level of education.

From the article : (Source here)
“The World Bank has offered a $500 million loan to support secondary education in India. The loan will be used to finance Rashtriya Madhyamik Shiksha Abhiyan (RMSA), a government initiative to promote secondary education in the country.”

This is a good sign, but in my opinion there is a lot still to be done at the Primary education level as well.

Improve Primary Education

There is a great need to improve the quality of education in the primary level itself. The secondary education I think can come after the state of affairs in the primary level is improved.

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1. The current state of education in India

I have spend quite a lot of time looking for informations, figures and whatever I could find about education in India, its current problems, and people trying to improve it. The aim was to find as much information and ideas as possible, to get a point of view as close from reality as possible. With that amount of data, I will be able to define several work axis which will be the beginning of my designer job.

We can distinguish several characters into the educational pattern. The child of course, his teacher, his parents and in a wider scale, the village’s community. Each of them has a major role to play in the child’s education. The pupil has to go to school of course, but it is way better if he goes by himself, with his own will because he is aware of the benefits of a strong learning. To do so he needs support from every adult around him. His teacher must be qualified, comprehensive, and motivated by his job. His parents, who are too often illiterate, must become aware of the long-term opportunities a good scholarship provides, and don’t focus on short-term issues. They have to support their child and give him strength and confidence. Last but not least, studies shows that villages where the whole community is involved into education have better attendance rates. By managing the schools, the village community unloads a burden from the teacher’s shoulders, and give him more time to do his true mission. It also shows the children that the adults take care of them, and trust in them future.

First of all, the government has made quite a big job in the last few years to improve enrollment. Nowadays more than 90% children attend school. Too bad it was a misplaced effort, since the real problem is not about getting children forced to attend school but to give them the will to go by themselves. As a result, not that much pupils attend school regularly and around 40% of them drop-out, which leads to these poor figures: only 34% of the girls and 53% of the boys complete primary education. Girls still remain less enrolled (and when they are, they are clustered into specific schools), thanks to a widespread belief saying that it is less useful to educate a girl than a boy: since the girl will live into her husband’s family, her own will not take advantage of her knowledge.

If we choose to work on this specific topic, we will have to take care of both sides: on one hand a girl deserves education as well as a boy, but on the other hand we can’t force families to change their mind and deny their culture. Another help of the government has been the implementation of the Mid-Day Meal Program, which provides a warm meal for every child attending school. It seems to be a success because it gathers childrens, it give them a reason to go to school. However this is only a short-term solution: at one point, children will have to go to school by following their brain’s hunger, not their stomach’s.

A problem which seems to me to be one of the most important to solve as quickly as possible, is the non-attractiveness of schools, particularly government schools. Some facts: 90% don’t have toilets, 35% lack of furniture, the average teacher/pupils ratio is about 1:40 but it goes up to 1:80, 2 out of 3 children have ever reported corporal punishment at school. There is also a lack of educational kits, cultural activities, sports events which are needed to provide a wider and more colorful way of learning. At least, schools request trained teachers, and most of all women teachers, both with good pedagogical skills. Therefore, a huge amount of work has to be done on training skilled teachers before we can hope to have any interesting change in the education system.

By now, I have a more accurate look about my subject. For what I have discovered, I can see the beginning of some work ideas:

-Giving the children the will to go to school by themselves, by making them aware of what they could do, who they could become after graduating.
-Improving schools and teaching methods, by designing cheap furnitures or science kits to help the teachers in their hard task.
-Focus on one specific point of education, like improving the literacy rate or creating a sexual education class.
-Create some cultural or sports event to encourage pupils to come with their teacher and compete against others.

See you soon for the second episode :)

-Jean-Baptiste Haag

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We welcome our new Design Intern Jean-Baptiste Haag from the Lecole de Design Nantes Atlantique (France). He is presently a student at the Masters program in Transcultural Design at the India campus of the Lecole de Design Nantes Alantique. Jean will be working on create products in the realm of Design for Social Impact.

Tell us more about yourself?
My name is Jean-Baptiste Haag, and I am a young French designer currently in fourth year of a Master Degree at L’École de design Nantes Altantique. I have just entered a two-years program at Srishti school, specialized in Transcultural Design. I see this as a great chance to take in a whole new set of experiences, encounters, surprises and competencies that will enrich my personality.

I have always been looking for a way to bring together my passion for creation with a technical profession, the path towards the Product Design option at L’École de design Nantes Atlantique was only natural.

Jean-Baptiste Haag

Into all kinds of DIY (Do-it-yourself), I consider contact with materials to be essential. I particularly enjoy molding, and feeling curves and lines appear as I am working, modeling being an important stage for me in any project. I especially like the contact with raw materials and to reveal the product hidden in the mass, little by little, step by step, a tool after the other one.

Besides, the learnings I took in as a boy scout, and then as a scout leader became an entire state of mind, which shows through in my projects. With scouting, I discovered community life, how to adapt instinctively to everyday life problems, but also learnt about supervising by helping the younger ones to carry out projects. This progressively brought me to think about social design, and user centered objects.

Why are you interested in Social Design?
What I particularly like about social design, is to work with what is at our disposal to create a new use and solve an everyday life problem. Or to design cheap and eco-friendly products that people really need, such as innovative ways to clear water. I consider as priorities to promote values like sustainable development, recycling but also community life, mutual aid and probity.

I would also like to encourage what people do by themselves thanks to their own culture, even while not being a designer. I think about this culture of crafting, carving, sewing that India has, which could be used in industrial and social designs.

Welcome Jean-Baptiste!

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We believe strongly in the fact that parents should definitely take more interest in the education of their children. Often when we have discussed with the teachers of the schools on what problems they face when it comes to teaching the kids, they invariably mention that the support from the parents is missing.

The parents are an important stake holder in the whole schema of things and we are striving to ensure that they take interest in the education of the children.

Parent Support

As a part of the activities of the scholars, we have made it a point to meet the parents of villages at least once a month. The activity involves, the champion visiting the village and interacting with the mothers of the children who go to the school. We reach out to the school teachers too to get their support.

Today on the occassion of the World literacy Day, Guriya, conducted one such parent gathering in the village of Raipura-Bhaura. She was accompanied by a teacher of the Madhya Vidyalaya Raipura and they spoke at length to the parents. The session which had around 75-80 people attending it.

The one question that the parents always have is, “Padhane se kya hota hai?” (What will happen with the education?) Now that is a difficult question to answer in a society where the parents are often happier in having an extra pair of hands in the field work or to work as a child labor in the neighboring town and help in running the family. We ask, whether “Bacchon ko padhane chahte hain ?” They all say yes. But still a few are not entirely convinced. While many have now started to send their children to the schools, it is often only when the child is small and not capable of much of doing manual labor. This results in a lot of dropout when the child reaches a larger age and is capable of taking up work somewhere.

For many of the parents, the education is too much of a long time investment. Making them realize it’s value, is a challenge.

The government’s initiatives (as outlined in an earlier post) tries to ensure that the children attend schools regularly. Often to many families, the mid day meal scheme is a meal for the entire family. Everyone, including the teachers know it. They do not oppose it. Atleast the meals ensures the child to school.

Guriya asks whether the parents send their kids to the schools regularly. She emphasizes on the need to send the kids regularly and not just once or twice a week.

She then spoke about the project, and what we are trying to do. She also talked about the process, and how all of this connects together.

Empowering Women
It is amazing to note the confidence that she has developed since her engagement with the project. Empowering her to become a responsible and successful woman will also be our aim. One thing that the project is doing is, is reaching out to the villages. The parents connect with the scholars because they are from the same locality and area.

While we get the project update here in Bangalore, Guriya apologizes for not being able to update yesterday (on the day the activity was conducted) . She says innocently, “Tower nahi pakad raha thha”
From being a simple matric passout to being able to run a project interacting with strangers. We can already see the empowerment happening.

-Kshitiz

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In our visit to the schools, we often ask the teachers on where the loopholes is in the education system according to them. Being closely associated with the students, they are able to give attention only to a certain extent and it thus becomes important that the students get attention beyond the classrooms.

The teachers, always mention that there has to be a certain amount of involvement from the parents side in terms of giving some time to the students. Often the parents of the children are illiterate and hence do not see how they can assist their children in the education.

This is a misconception. Often the support from the parents can come from something as simple as just ensuring that the children go to school daily. Or to just ask students on what was taught in the school daily.

While we understand that both the parents of the child may not be able to give the proper attention, it is often the mothers who are more conscious of the child’s education.

The importance of family support in education is very important. We make it a point to interact with the parents of the champions too.
Family support

One of the activities that the champions are required to do is to visit the villages and conduct sessions with the parents of the children going to the school. In most of the cases these are mothers, since the fathers are away on work.

The mother of one of our champion Guriya has herself studied only till class 5 but when it comes to her child’s education, she is very concerned and hopes that the children will finish college atleast. These are the real stories of inspiration.

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In a recent visit to one of the primary schools in Ranginia, I asked a student who was in class 3 to read a paragraph from the a new book that I had just got from Pratham.

He had immense difficulty in reading a small paragraph also. I then asked him to read a paragraph from his class book. That he was able to read with less difficulty.

I wondered why and thought about it. It told me that the students were actually not developing the art of reading as much as they were developing the art of rote learning. They were able to remember the entire story.

To which I asked myself, why was this even happening. Shouldn’t a child in class 3 atleast know how to read properly? That was the trigger for one of the activities that our project champions end up doing on almost every visit to the schools.

Book reading sessions being conducted

The key however is not just to have the people from our project read a story to the children and go, but to also have the children come in front of the class and read aloud. Reading aloud enables then to improve their reading capacities, which would in the end be a beneficial part of their education.

Book Reading

The project champions were provided the necessary training on how to conduct a book reading session. The points that they had to remember were to engage the children in the readings and story telling

Demonstrating a book reading activity

So far there have been numerous of these book reading and story-telling sessions that have been conducted by the champions Deepika and Guriya, and they have become experts at it. We are hopeful that they will create an impact, that the children would cherish forever.

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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.

Reading Habits
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.

Newspapers
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.

Clean Campuses
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.

Music
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.

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While there may be many people lauding the efforts of the various central and state governments in creating various schemes for the success of education, it is a known fact by now that the quality of education is not there upto the mark yet. While we pride on the fact that a lot of children from the the rural population, most from the below the poverty line strata, enter the schools, there is enough evidence to prove that their being in the schools is merely a formality.

More than formality, it is an incentive, because amongst the many students of primary students in Rural Bihar I spoke to, they mention that they come to school because they get the mid day meals. These meals are often not just for them (which is what the government scheme says so) but also for their families.

I personally believe that one of the challenges facing primary education in India is the quality of education. In my visits to the primary schools in Rural India, I have always interacted with the students and the teachers found a huge gap in the quality that should be and quality that it.
While there is a good enrollment percentage in the primary and rural schools amongst the rural population, (at times as good as 90%) , the motivation attend the schools often remains the just the meals.

What could be the reason to this?
There are many if you ask. One is the interest and motivation level of the various stakeholders involved here. They would be the teachers, parents, and the students.

The teachers often are not very well qualified and hence not really able to understand the way a proper education needs to be imparted. There are numerous Youtube videos of schools in Bihar, where the teacher themselves are wrong on many things, and they end up teaching the students the same thing.

The parents often are not aware about the benefits that a proper basic education would empower their children with.

The children on the other hand do not see a motivation to attend schools beyond the mid day meals. This is true to the extent that there is a huge difference in the number of students that you see in classes versus the ones that end up taking the meals.

There has to be a systemic change. Change on different levels. But this change has to come from the primary level. That would pave the path for the students to be better aware about education and having studied their primary classes with more amount of interests.

How are we trying to address this?
In order to facilitate the improvement in the quality of education, as a part of this project, we have got in touch with primary governments schools and have senior students (whom we have awarded with a scholarship) to conduct carious activities. They do these sessions on a regular basis and it involves conducting book reading sessions, game based learnings, fun activities etc.

We are hopeful that the students in the primary schools see more value in their attending schools.

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After a lot of interactions and deliberations we are in the process of launching the new website. It is a time consuming process and we are trying the

The need for the website.
Of course the first thing that comes to the mind is why do we need it. We needed it because we wanted to show the new developments in the work. But apart from that we also needed the n

The goals of this website is to enable a regular update on the project, and also share images and stories.

Amongst the drivers of this change was the newly launched Scholarship scheme for the students, that aims to empower the local students and communities.

In the days to come you would be hearing more about these exciting new developments on the project.