Sunday, November 11, 2018

In school after 36 years!

7:15:00 PM
"Me tyanna business madhye madat karat hote, pan mala swatah kahitari karaycha hota" (I was helping my husband in the family business, but I wanted to do something on my own), Padmini begins her story in Marathi. We are at the Second Chance centre at Koregaon near Satara in Maharashtra, and it is a break from classes. Padmini emphasises that though she helped her husband in the family business, her role was confined to doing ordinary things in the office.



For Padmini Tai, the eldest in the batch, this was not an easy decision. However, there was an urge in her to establish an identity, and do something that would be her's! "My husband opposed this, but my inspiration was my children. Padmini's elder daughter works in Mumbai, while her younger daughter is a clerk in a Bank. Her son studies at Industrial Training Institute (ITI) at Patan. "I felt that I also should do something like them", she says. However, she did not know that she could get an opportunity to complete her 10th-grade examination. It was only when some members of the Pratham team came to her place, she became aware of the possibility.

But she was still sceptical about taking the next step and enrolling for the class. "My husband was not in favour of me studying again. And though I was initially excited, I felt scared at the time of taking a decision. For the first time, I was taking a decision myself. All these years people at home used to assist, and it used to be a joint decision", she says. Many women in Pratham's 'Second Chance' Program face this dilemma. But ultimately, a strong will overcomes fear and confusion and thus begins a journey that finally results in a positive transformation. Padmini has started on this journey this year, and she is excited about it.

"For the first two days, I observed the class to get used to it. However, I liked it. I immediately felt that despite my gap of 36 years, I will fit in. Since then it has been excellent. I am delighted to be here", she continues the story. Padmini spent her childhood in Pusegaon village in the Khatav block of Satara district. After marriage, she came to Koregaon and became so busy with family matters that she could not continue her studies.

"The teachers are very supportive here. My lessons started with revising basic concepts, and now I feel I am on track and I am able to understand what they teach here", she says. Padmini says she is learning a lot from the younger girls of the batch. "The young girls found it difficult to talk to me at the start of our batch. Age was a factor. But in the next few weeks, we developed a friendship, and now we talk to each other like classmates. Whatever is taught in class, they grasp quickly, while we take some time. In such a situation, they then help us understand the concept."

Padmini has opened up and now participates in group discussion and frequently asks questions. The teachers at the centre feel happy and appreciate the change in her. Group learning, they say, has ensured this change in her. In fact, Padmini feels that group learning makes us think and generate ideas, and it has helped us a lot. She is surprised that the subjects she feared in school and later, are her favourite subjects, and she is learning them without any fear.

"Math and English are my favourite subjects, and I can't believe that they used to scare me in school. In fact, I have developed a feeling in me that I can pass these exams and clear my 10th grade. I never got such a feeling when I was in school", she adds. Padmini has decided that she will pass the 10th-grade examination next year, and if her marks are good, she plans to study further and apply for a job. This, she says, will make her a contributing member of the family, and she is looking forward to this day with renewed hope and enthusiasm. We wish Padmini all the best, and we are sure she will pass her 10th-grade examination with flying colours!

Saturday, November 3, 2018

Manu's plans for his village

2:22:00 PM
Simdega district in south Jharkhand is of strategic significance. To its west lies the Jashpur district of Chhattisgarh, and to its south lies Odisha's Rourkela district. To its north and east are situated Jharkhand's Gumla and Khunti districts respectively. This region comprising all these districts is one of the most backward places of the country. As a consequence, there are minimal job opportunities for the people. In the past few years, owing to a rise in school enrollments, there is a rise in population of youth who are educated and hence want a better job to justify their qualification.  



In this background, Pratham Institute's Vocational Training Center at Thethaitangar is immensely significant. This centre imparts training in the Electrical vertical and is attracting youth from not only Simdega but the districts mentioned above as well. 18-years-old Manu Kumar Singh is one of the many youths of this region who has enrolled himself at this centre. He hails from Kalhatoli village which lies in Simdega's Kolebira's block. 

"My maternal uncle got trained here, and he now works as an Electrician. He is my inspiration", Manu begins as he shares with us what brought him here. We learn that Manu's family occupation is farming and they grow rice. While Manu studied till 12th grade, he soon began to realise that the income from agriculture was not enough to feed a family of five members. He understood that the time had come to search for a job and add income to the family. But where was the opportunity? Manu sensed a chance when he saw his maternal uncle working in the village. 

"I am one of the youngest students in this batch. Yet, I have adjusted very well. I like the schedule and the work culture over here", he says. "Back in my village, we used to work only during rice cultivation. The rest of the days were spent doing nothing", he further recalls. Did he feel shy on his first day here? Did he take a few weeks to open up and start talking to everyone else? His answer to these questions was a firm No. "I wanted to work, and hence I was keen to learn things and get a job", he says. "In fact, I have many friends here. Some of them are from villages near to mine, whereas some are from Gumla district. Some of them are also from Chhattisgarh and Odisha", he further adds. Manu further adds that he likes the schedule here, and it has made him organised, and he also has understood the importance of planning the work. 

Manu is happy that he could learn practical stuff and hence he is now ready to work as an electrician. "I also like the theory session. But practicals is more fun. I like the way of teaching here. The teachers are very polite, and they make us understand everything that is required", he says. We then ask Manu what his plans for the future are. 

"I want to work for my village. There are no electricians, and I can contribute to solving the problem. But before that, I want to work in Mumbai once", he says with a smile. And when we ask him why Mumbai, he replies with a shy smile, "I am fond of watching Hindi movies. Shahrukh Khan and Kajol are my favourite film artists. Many films talk of Mumbai."  

Manu also wants to buy a mobile phone, and that will top his agenda after getting the first salary. However, as resolved, he will also give a part of his salary income home and ensure that his parents now work less and take rest. 

Friday, November 2, 2018

Learning at PACE really is learning at pace

3:29:00 PM
Reflections from a field trip with Pratham Education Foundation in Lucknow, India.
Pratham Arora Center for Education

“You can't go back and change the beginning, but you can start where you are and change the ending.”
- C. S. Lewis

In an inauspicious location, at the entrance to a residential vocational school fashioned creatively and sustainably from old containers, I received one of the most genuine and unexpected arrival greetings - it wouldn’t have felt out of place at the best 5* hotel; scented warmed towels, a refreshing juice drink and a tika on my forehead. The welcoming group were all students on the vocational hospitality course - giving a hotel style welcome to guests as part of the training to be work-ready for a potential employer.



The programme’s success is based on a simple but powerful formula; of interactive learning, breaking knowledge down into manageable chunks, group work, learning by doing, role play and  “real-life” settings including a hotel bedroom with ensuite and a restaurant and bar.

To appreciate the huge value of this programme - I needed to suspend my British expectation of what’s normal...this vocational training is so essential to provide employment opportunities, as of course for these students their world view is totally different...a hotel bedroom with an en suite is alien to them - expecting them to secure employment straight from a village context is a little bit like asking me tomorrow to get in a space craft and fly to Mars (the planet - not the company!)

Grow a little each and every day

Our tour took us to the newest group of new intakes (10 days new) – even within this context we saw how the journey of growth had already started. We met the self-confessed shy one - yet the first to speak up to respond to the question of what has been the most challenging parts of the programme (learning to communicate with people apparently), and another whose ambition to work in Bangalore or even the United States. Life transforming stuff! We ended the tour with the most experienced students – after only a matter of a few months they welcomed us to their “restaurant”, where they demonstrated their communication skills, expertly took a napkin from the table and placed on my lap with a flourish or poured water deftly.
What an impact – learning really at a fast pace!

Leaving a little mark

Working for Mars, it’s so important to exemplify mutuality in every setting  so interrupting the students’ programme (and being late to arrive!) felt a little like we were taking more than we were giving. On reflection though…whilst I was gifted a tika – or a small red mark on the forehead - I hope our visit left a small mark in the form of an opportunity to practice their skills on real-life friendly but none the less intimidating overseas visitors.
Picking a favourite moment from a visit like this is always a challenge – but just before departing and taking the all-important group photograph – we just used one word and instantly the serious looking young adults were transformed before my eyes into excitable teenagers by the power of a single word….Selfie! They took many with us!

Better moments really do make the world smile!

Alison Berry
Celebrate Innovation Manager – Mars Wrigley Confectionery UK

Monday, October 29, 2018

"...Now they call me Ma'am!"

11:55:00 AM

"The job of a teacher is a prestigious job. I have gained respect. Now I can roam anywhere in the community, and there is no fear in me."

When we meet Nirmalaben Javadekar at Laxmi Nagar in Baroda, she greets us with a smile and says this. Her husband works in a cement agency, and she is an integral part of Pratham's Urban Program at Baroda. She is delighted to meet us and has insisted that we should not leave her house without a cup of tea. After we agree to her request, she begins narrating her story.



"Till 2015, I was working as a peon in a Municipal school. No one knew me except for my neighbours. Pratham was looking for volunteers for the 'Lakhon Mein Ek' campaign, and I also wanted to do something for the Basti", she begins her narration. Gayatri ben from Pratham's team spotted her, and soon she was selected to work. She quit her job and decided to make full use of the opportunity. "I was shy and lacked confidence. However, conducting a survey was a good exercise, and it helped me gain confidence. In a matter of a few months, I could talk to people around me, ask them questions and update my leader about the findings." She was a part of Pratham's 'Bal Vachan' program, and the same is now a learning camp pattern.

Soon children began coming to her house, and her home became a place for reading and learning. This, she says, is the best thing to happen. "Children often come here, read a book or solve something, and then go to school. Their parents know about it, and they too are happy", she says. However, though children now stay at her place for a long time, the same was not the case at the beginning. She had to work hard to create awareness in the community. She was a known face because of the survey, as that meant talking to almost every household around her. However, the process was gradual, and after a lot of efforts and patience, she could convince community members the importance of learning. "It helped the children. They began to talk and began to express themselves freely. The participation of parents also increased. Now they ask me, is my child progressing, is he/she able to read properly?"

Nirmalaben conducts weekly meetings with parents, and she is happy stating that she gets a good response. "My younger son Darshan, who is in 1st grade has been keenly observing these activities at home. He demands the learning material from me and is keen to solve them", she smiles. "I am sure it will help him perform well in school."

"Cleanliness was a big issue in the other community where I work and visit quite often. I developed a checklist for children. Combing their hair would fetch them 1 star, having a bath would imply 2 stars and brushing teeth would give 3 stars. The child who earned maximum stars every week was declared a winner. It motivated the children and soon cleanliness in the community improved", she says, beaming with pride. "Every time I met them, they used to come closer and show their teeth to me."

Nirmalaben is extremely happy about this job with Pratham. "Earlier I had no recognition. I did not know my value. However, as I am now a teacher, people have understood my value. I have got an identity. Earlier they used to call me a Bai, but now they call me Madam."

Monday, October 22, 2018

The Library at Odisha's Lunahar village

11:42:00 AM
Lunahar is a small village, located in the Gop block of Odisha's Puri district. Apart from growing coconut trees and banana trees, the people here indulge in cultivating rice, which also forms their staple food. Four years ago, Pratham implemented the 'Read India' learning camp in this village. Not only the learning camps were well received, but they also inspired three women to implement the library program in their village.

The three women - Rashmita Pradhan, Amita Pradhan and Basanti Pradhan - are convinced that the learning levels of children in the village should improve. Rashmita and Amita have a farm of their own, where they grow rice, whereas Basanti's husband is in Gujarat for work. Rashmita recalls that they had experienced the door-to-door visit of Pratham volunteers during the 'Read India' direct intervention in their village. It had made them aware of what learning levels are and why should they be improved. However, last year they came to know of Pratham's library, and they were happy that it involved their participation.
"During the intervention, they had tested the children, and we became aware that children should learn better. But with this program (library), we also can participate", begins Amita. "With an improvement in learning levels, children can progress ahead in life", she says.

Rashmita Pradhan, Amita Pradhan and Basanti Pradhan (From Left to Right)

The three of them underwent an orientation where they were told about the content and activities of the program. "We found the activities engaging, and we liked them. We agreed that we should implement this program in our village", says Amita, the most talkative of the three. "We also felt that the content was related to the school textbook and when children will use it, they will progress", says Basanti, as she joins the conversation.


The three of them discuss the library every week and plan things for the coming week. They also ensure that children complete all activities that are assigned to them. "We are relatively free during the evening, and hence this is the right time for us to monitor the children. They now sit in one place and learn. It makes us very happy", says Rashmita.
As we continue the conversation, we are greeted by Rakesh Pradhan who wants to be a volunteer for this program next year. He is a part of the library program, and also was a part of the Read India direct intervention in his village four years back. Now in the eighth grade, he was in the fourth grade during the intervention. He likes to read difficult words, and his favourite activity is writing a story after seeing a picture. We try to talk to him, but Rakesh feels shy and refuses to say anything. We tell him to speak in Oriya so that the others can translate it for us in Hindi. "I like to learn in a group", he begins. "Two of us are weak in solving a division problem, whereas the other three struggle in reading. We help each other", he says. Rashmita tells us that Rakesh was at a lower level in Math and these group activities have helped him improve. We ask Rakesh about his other favourite activities, and after an initial hesitation he opens up!

Rakesh Pradhan 
"I love the colouring activity on the tablet. Before filling the colour, I imagine the object, and it helps me enjoy the activity."
Next year Rakesh will be in the ninth grade, and hence won't be a part of the library program. However, he wants to volunteer with us and ensure that his juniors also improve their learning levels like him. 

We wish the villagers all the best for the present and future initiatives in education! 

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Pratham India is the official blog of non-for-profit organization Pratham Education Foundation showcasing exciting stories throughout India.

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