Thursday, August 27, 2015

A week that changed my life

                                                 By Sheiladitya Kumar, Volunteer 

Around this time last year, I was trekking on glaciers in Alaska, watching grizzlies feast on salmons and cruising in the open oceans off the west coast of USA. I spent my early childhood in India, but have lived and studies abroad for the last few years and had begun to get used to my own perfect world.

This year, my mother encouraged me to spend a week with the children at Pratham Learning Centre, Trilokpuri in Mayur Vihar, Delhi and I am glad, that for once, I bowed to her wishes and lived a week that helped me rediscover my roots and appreciate, that for millions of children, life is full of imperfections, which they are battling to attain a fraction of the education many of us take for granted.

My objective was to teach English and Math to children of the age group 8-14 with the help of games and activities so that they could recall what they had learnt and put them to practical use. A week is a drop in the ocean for these children who have so much to catch up on, but their enthusiasm and eagerness is a panacea for all doubts and for one week, I gave back to the world a small part of what I have received over the past years. The children are extremely hardworking and passionate about learning. It is a far cry from the comfortable environment that many of us are used to, but when the y are in the class rooms, the sole intent of the children is to focus on learning and despite the very basic infrastructure; they ensure they make every minute count. 

The teachers who engage daily with these children are equally passionate and encourage the children to dream big about their future. Vikas wants to become an army officer, Aman a cricketer, Sunny a police officer and others want to grow up to become doctors or engineers. Together, they are slowly but surely changing the face of India. 

These are some of the ways we can make their dreams come true:-
· Encourage others to visit and volunteer to teach at some of the sites
· Start a local chapter and through group activity find novel ways of supporting the cause
· Make a donation and encourage others to do so

If, like me, you hail from a privileged background, I would implore you to spend a small part of your life and resources in giving back to the word and making a difference to the lives of those who were not as fortunate as we are. The smile it brings to their face is well worth the small sacrifice you will make.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

A People’s Global Network on Learning is Born

By Baela Raza Jamil, Founding Member PAL Network and Director of Programs Idara-e-Taleem-o-Aagahi and the Institute for Professional Learning, as well as Coordinator of the South Asian Forum for Education Development. 

While Kenya and Nairobi were at a standstill preparing for the US President Barack Obama’s Airforce I to land on July 24 for the Global Entrepreneurship Summit,  in another beautiful scenic setting, a global network on learning was born! The network will help hold countries accountable for ensuring their children are not just in school, but also learning. Committed to transparently conducting citizen-led household based assessments on learning, the network will increasingly enable communities to hold their leaders to account; it will support the call for lifelong learning for all – central to the new SDG on education.

The People’s Action for Learning (PAL), Networkwas formally established last week by nine passionate country groups who came together at Lake Naivasha Kongoni, Kenya last week. The PAL Network  is a unique brand, aspiring to become a universal movement where learning is at the centre of all education endeavours. Led by ordinary citizens, it is committed to household based assessments for each child.

The PAL Network is an organically evolved group of grounded activists and thought leaders across three continents: Asia, Africa and Latin America. They have vowed to expand the membership from nine to 25 countries by 2025. The network seeks commitment to a global fraternity that is firmly embedded in a belief in citizen led learning assessments and action, rooted in evidence that is easily understood and propagated widely.
From strong beginnings in India in 2005, the movement has expanded to South Asia, East and West Africa, and Latin America. Of the nine member countries, four are from the nine most highly populated countries of the world (India, Pakistan, Nigeria and Mexico) and all are conducting verbal ‘one to one’ assessments for each child.
“Each Child” is a unique target for the PAL network, who believe that all deserve to learn and participate actively in personal and social development. The principles of quality, equity and accountability of this citizens’ led movement and its committed leaders have resonated well at many influential forums in the run up to the finalization of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) especially SDG 4 and its targets and the recent Incheon Declaration adopted in May 2015 at the World Education Forum by global leaders.

Navigating the rich multi-cultural and multi-lingual conversations of 20 participants from this south-south initiative, debates over the two day event in Nairobi last week were rich and lively. Much was achieved: the network’s charter was finalized after fine tuning the vision and mission, capturing well the essence of the movement, as were theprinciples of practice and governance.

Sub-committees were formed to energize the network through strands of communication and advocacy, capacity building, assessment for action, research and fundraising. A non-hierarchical democratic Steering Committee was also established representing all nine countries with equal voices.
The two days were a testimony to respect for diversity, voice, dialectical consensus and coming together of countries which have jointly assessed over one million children aged 5-16 annually. The numbers of children covered are staggering, the methods robust and all findings accessible to any citizen keen to find out whether children are learning or not.

Ten years of citizen-led assessments prior to the formal launch of the PAL Network are testament to an authentic demand led process thus far. The voluntary membership of the network is the soul of this movement: it is run with people’s energy and ideas on the most fundamental of human entitlements: “the right to learn”.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Discovering the World of Pratham

                                                        By Mallika Kishore, Intern

The first day I stepped into a 10x12 ft classroom at a ‘Balwadi’ in Mayur Vihar, Delhi with 16 enthusiastic children between the ages of 6-14 years- my perception of what could be achieved in educating the under-privileged children of India, was changed forever. 

The environment was inspiring, stimulating and superbly impressive!

All around the class, walls had been decorated with lovely creative charts of Alphabets, Numbers, Animals, Body Parts and many more. The floors were covered with clean, colourful woven mats. What an energetic and attractive surrounding!

The teacher: Rekha Maám was clearly a skilled educator, who took a deep interest in each of her pupils. She treated them like her own... often pulling them out of their homes and firmly walking them to class!  

The lessons: I was amazed to see such a wonderful, structured curriculum being followed and so committedly. In fact, it closely resembled the one at the ‘privileged’ school I had attended. Rekha Maám enabled this by engaging the children through a dynamic style of teaching, mixing the concepts with games to keep their interest alive and a very firm hand on discipline.   

The challenge here was to ensure that the children thrived in this environment- so much so that they were drawn to attend day after day, and absorb the learning as well. The ‘balwadi’ was clearly succeeding in it’s mission.

I was witnessing a remarkable, organised education program in action.

Elements I Brought to the Classroom
In this scenario, I was puzzled as to how I could contribute to this ‘replete’ classroom. My assigned role was as a support to the teacher in running the curriculum. This I found to be an easy task and extremely enjoyable. But, I was searching for how I could enhance the learning experience for the children. Over the first few days, I realized that I could add:

  • Creativity to enhance understanding of the lessons
  • Increased activities to build interest and attendanc
  • Introduce a moral compass to build on value systems
  • Reward system to motivate

The mission for my class at Pratham was to work to re-introduce the children (who had fallen out of the curriculum due to inconsistent attendance or parental will to send them) back to the mainstream.

I set about to make creative learning modules and an array of activities ranging from “Alphabet Caterpillars”, “Shape Building”, ‘’Number Cube” and many more.  I decided to introduce the children to the simple lessons from the short stories of ’Aesop’s Fables’ which had left such an impact in my childhood.

Days Assigned
Moral Lessons
Aesop’s Fables
Values:   Lies, Common Sense, Hard Work
Group Discussion- All
Vocabulary building:   English and Hindi
Summary of the Lesson- Students
Consolidate Alphabets, Numbers
Caterpillar of Alphabets, Number Cube
Logic Skills
Drawing/Cutting Shapes & Creating Images
Alphabets, numbers
Illustrate each Alphabet
3 Digit nos.
Addition & Subtraction with carry over
Ice- cream sticks activity
Learning is fun
Selective Awarding: Quick learners, Top 3, Best effort
Reassurance & Caring

I Believe I Left Behind...
The children had a spectrum of traits which were unusual to their respective ages (6-9) and displayed highly developed motor skills and an infectious enthusiasm. They took to the different creativity based exercises with zest! I found that with my creative approach the attendance in the class as well as the joy for learning, multiplied. I first used the system of rewards, to motivate those who were slower to pick up taught concepts and often brought prizes to class to further hone their desire for learning. Then, to accelerate the keenness of the performers. The moral stories re-enforced their feelings towards right and wrong.

I believe I left behind love, fun and a new dimension for the learning in the classroom and for life.

In Conclusion
With this experience I saw how the right education, especially at a primary stage helped children blossom across their many facets.

All the children that I interacted with through Pratham impacted my life as well. They gave me many laughs, warm moments, a huge sense of satisfaction and memories to last a lifetime.

I came away with a grass-root understanding of the education system for the children of India and a true desire to educate those less fortunate, in every opportunity that I can.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

An Exciting Experience

By Surendra Kumar, Uttar Pradesh, Science program Master Trainer, Pratham Education Foundation

I was at the Harriyapur, a small village in Kaushambi  district of Uttar Pradesh  to conduct mobilization for Science workshop which was to be held at our science exploratory situated one and half kilometres away . There, I spoke with some of the community members about our program. Soon, group of children gathered around. That is when I met Sumit, who was also a part of the group.

Some of the older members of the group pointed at Sumit and told me to take him along with me .
Hearing this the other children started laughing. Although it was meant as a joke, this comment piqued my curiosity because nobody had made any such comments about any other child from the group.
According to the villagers, Sumit is mischievous. He heads the gang of similarly mischievous children. Even though he goes to school, he studies only when he wants to and usually spends his time playing games, loitering around, making mischief or picking up fights. The next day at Harriyapur, I invited him to join the other children in the science exploratory.

Sumit  heeded my request and was present the next day along with other children. I asked the children to sit so that I could talk with them. All the children followed my instruction except for Sumit who was examining his surroundings very carefully.

When I asked him to sit again he replied by saying that he will do so very soon and continued to stare at one of the models. The model was that of a magnetic train which had a pencil floating mid-air. I pretended not to take notice.

I asked Sumit to sit once again and told him that the model will still be there after we finish talking.  On hearing this, Sumit finally sat down. However, while the other children were listening to what I had to say, Sumit still seemed to be thinking about the train.

After speaking with the children, I decided to show them some films about scientific toys and experiments by Arvind Gupta. This was the first time that the children were seeing a film on the projector. The children watched 7 to 8 films attentively. The films were about making paper caps, paper houses, a small book with 14 pages, magical match sticks and dancing man. All the children enjoyed watching the films but Sumit seemed to enjoy them the most.

When the children were tasked with making the same scientific toys, Sumit was the first one to finish making the paper cap and was soon helping other children with it. Eventually, Sumit saw a paper crocodile that was sitting right next to the model that had caught Sumit's fancy initially. Sumit picked the paper crocodile and looked at it closely.

At the end of the day, Sumit had spent 3 hours with the rest of the children and had not picked up fights, loitered around or indulged in any mischief. When it was time to go home Sumit came to me and said that he can make the magnetic train if he gets the magnets. I gave him the magnets and with little guidance he made the model which he was so fascinated about. His joy new no bounds  

The next day, the students brought some of the scientific toys that they had created at home. Each child had made one or two other models, Sumit, however, had made them all.

“Look! Magical matchstick”, he said as he entered the classroom, ”A crocodile!”

He even started reading Arvind Gupta's book on scientific toys and experiments.

Perhaps Sumit truly enjoyed participating in the activities of the science exploratory. Perhaps this is what he wants to do. His desire to learn and achieve something different is hard to miss.

Sumit is now participating in the summer camp at the science exploratory.

This experience is reminiscent of my childhood. The only difference is that Sumit found his purpose in life at the age of 14 and I found mine at the age of 22, which I am pursuing now.

Monday, June 22, 2015

A New Experience 

by Tanay Kothari,volunteer

            I never imagined that the lifestyles of people could be so diverse, even in modern metros like Delhi. My recent visit to rural schooling centres run by Pratham, India’s largest NGO, gave me a new perspective of the world around me.

            I started working with Pratham Books in April ’14, after I wanted to use my skills to give back to the society. Pratham Books is an organization with the aim of putting a book in every child’s hands. They publish high quality story books for children at low prices to make them accessible to children in rural areas. 

Their books reached far and wide through collaborative hard work, yet there were children in remote areas which could not get access to their physical library. Cut-off from the world by major modes of transportation, there was one mode of transportation which connected these areas to the rest of the world, namely, the Internet. I, along with Pratham Books, decided to use this abundant facility to provide access to children all over the world, even in remote areas, access to these books. And that was how I started my journey with Pratham Books; a journey which I never thought could have changed the way I look at life around me.

            After months of meetings, hard work and night-outs, the seemingly ginormous task was finally complete. I had created a framework, and used it to digitize our first book. This framework would allow for future expansion, and further digitisation of books with incremental effort. Using this, even a ten year-old can do so, the process being as simple as drag-n-drop.

            Our first book - Too Much Noise - was finally developed by Dec ’14, following which we planned a visit to the centres in rural areas to get feedback on our new product and if it could really make a difference. Go to a school. Showcase the app. Get the questionnaire filled by the children. Go to the next center. Repeat. A process that seemed so simple was just about to change my life. On 20 Jan, I packed my bag, printed the questionnaires, ready for my first visit. Taking the metro, a rickshaw and then walking for 20 mins through narrow winding streets, got me to my destination - a small rural schooling centre in East Delhi.

            I stepped into the first classroom. These weren’t like normal class rooms. Children of different classes sat in groups of 5-6 on mats, each group being taught by a teacher. As soon as I walked into the classroom, I was greeted with a resounding “Good Morning Sir!” as all the children welcomed me in. Getting them all into a circle, I showed them what the app had - a multilingual story with play-along text, in-story quizzes and interesting facts about objects and people in the book. I could sense pure delight on their faces as every tap on the screen surprised them. Even simple things as swiping to turn the page left them awestruck. 

All the different actions which happened on the screen created a magical aura, and the children’s happiness knew no bounds. I realized these were children who had never had access to technology. To them this was magic; and I, the magician, bringing to them this joy. This was a different kind of happiness that started to bud inside me. Not the transient kind, but one that was destined to leave me with a smile of satisfaction for time to come.  For two days, we went from one centre to another, meeting children of all ages and every one of them was as excited as the rest. 

At one centre, a group of little girls decided to repay me for telling them a wonderful story, and wrote a story with me as the main character - a brave warrior prince. However small an incident, this was one of the things I will never forget.

 These kids learnt a lot from the app and me, but I learnt a lot more. The most important of them being appreciation for every small thing in life. Most students from well-off families hate to go to school and view it as a burden. When I asked the same question to these children from rural parts of the country whose parents could barely afford to send them to school, the response was totally unexpected. “I love going to school”. “Because you can meet your friends there?”. “Yes, but mainly because I love to learn new things”. I was surprised to hear this. 

They thank god and their parents for every day that they are able to go to school, every new thing they learn, every book they are able to read, and every small gesture done towards them. This is one thing I could never have learned in school or in textbooks, and neither could anyone else. It’s time today’s generation goes and visits these places, broaden their horizons, and develop a sense of appreciation for their life. 

Friday, November 7, 2014

Shubham Ghorpade: Case Study

In Warud in Amravati district, Maharashtra, Vigyan Mitras (VM) conducted science clubs in schools. After the conclusion of each session, VMs were expected to visit children’s homes to discuss their progress with their parents and raise awareness about the program.  

Besides science clubs in schools, every Sunday, VMs also conducted workshops at the Warud block office for children. One child who attended these workshops was Shubham Ghorpade who was a Std. 7 student. Every Sunday, Shubham, along with 5-7 friends, would cycle 5 km from their homes in Karli village to attend the science workshops. The Karli children’s eagerness and their families’ concern about the long, tedious commute prompted the Warud VMs to organize workshops every Saturday in Karli itself.  Of all the children in Karlin, Shubham was the one who was really thrilled by this development because it meant resting his feet—a botched surgery had left him limp in one leg. 

Snehal Suphale, the Warud VM, decided to visit Shubham’s home to speak to his family. On seeing her, Shubham ran home immediately and emerged with a box. He had collected a rat’s skeleton which he took out to show her. She had many questions which Shubham answered articulately.
Every day, on his way to school, he and the other children would see a rat carcass by the side of the road. One day, they noticed that the flesh had decomposed only to leave behind the rat skeleton.
Shubham took the initiative to collect the entire skeleton to take home. He took pictures of the skeleton on a relative’s mobile phone. Thereafter, he tried to clean the bones using Detol soap and hot water but ended up damaging a few bones instead.

To salvage the remnants, he separated each and every bone and decided to reconstruct the skeleton by referring to the pictures he had taken on the mobile. The smaller bones were fragile and Shubham handled the fragments with extreme care. He demonstrated the entire reconstruction process to Snehal.

Impressed by his initiative, she asked him why he had gone to such great lengths to preserve the skeleton. Shubham replied that he had seen a human skeleton during the Nurture the Talent camps at the C.V. Raman Science Center in Nagpur and wanted to keep a similar exhibit at the Warud center. He donated the rat’s skeleton to Snehal to exhibit alongside the other models at the office. Snehal was left awestruck by the child’s foresight.

After this incident, Snehal realized that children today are thinking differently and are not afraid or offended by anything. Their scientific curiosity helps them perceive the world and question everything around them. Shubham also had a few questions: Did rat’s bones also have names like human bones? How many bones did rats’ have? Snehal did not know the answers to these questions but said she would read up and let him know. Shubham’s courage, determination and thought deserved commendation.  We should strive to help them to realize their fullest potential.