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. 

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Sushmita Biswas - A PACE Training Center Success Story!

Sushmita Sushil Biswas a 19 year old girl belongs to a small village in the southern part of Maharashtra, Gadchiroli district. Sushmita lives with her family; her father is a farmer, mother a housewife and a brother who studies in school.  She passed Grade 10th and 12th with good marks and wanted to study further. But staying in Gadchiroli, gave her no scope and opportunities of further studies. As economically her father could not afford to support the cost for her further studies.

One day a mobilizer from District Skill Development Organization met her father and informed him about Pratham’s Hospitality training program and how it was benefitting many young adults like Sushmita. After learning about the program Sushmita’s father went home and told Sushmita. 

She was very happy and excited to know about the program and so Sushmita and her parents decided to send her to PACE Hospitality Training in Satara.

                       When she first arrived at PACE Hospitality Training Centre, Satara. She was very happy; she made new friends and, decided to train in Food and Beverage Service Specialisation. Sushmita learned Computer and English. During her training Sushmita actively participated in all activities, competition and assignments. She passed her final exam with excellent marks; her teachers at the training centre were very much impressed by her hard work and calibre.

Her hard work paid off as she got selected by Hotel Leonia Holistic, a five star hotel in Hyderabad and is currently earning an income of Rs 9000/-per month. Due to her hard work, she recently nominated and awarded Best Employee of the month (September 2014). When we asked her what is her future plan. She said “ to open her own restaurant in future at her native place”. 

Monday, September 8, 2014

My Time At Pratham

      By Shikhir Goel, Volunteer, PMG Team

My name is Shikhir, and I started working at Pratham in July 2013. Now, precisely 1 year down the line I am leaving the organization to pursue my MBA. Looking back, it has been one of the most interesting periods of my life. The friendships I have forged and things I learned in this short space of time have made the experience unlike any other in my previous career. 

Before joining Pratham I had worked in finance for 8 years. I was looking for a new challenge, and the prospect of working at Pratham was exciting because it was an opportunity to apply my skills toward helping people in a way that would have a clear and noticeable impact. I came for my interview prepared with ideas to improve coverage of the Urban Program because I had noticed in my research that it was significantly smaller than their Rural Program. Of course it did not take long for me to realize that I had taken on a far greater challenge than originally anticipated! As the months progressed, I began to grasp the complexity of the task I had taken on as I was regularly hit with data issues, lack of uniformity in program structures across states, and a general lack of knowledge about the Urban Program as a whole. 

As a result however I learned a great deal about perseverance, patience, managing relationships, and generating meaningful analysis from a limited amount of data. The thing I will remember and miss the most from my time here is the people trying to take this wonderful organization forward. Everyday they seek to overcome new challenges, spending days on end conducting trainings in remote villages, all with an infectious enthusiasm that is truly inspiring. It is this innate drive that everybody I have worked with at Pratham possesses that kept me motivated and interested throughout my time here. This is truly a unique group of people throughout the organization, and I wish them all the very best for the future.