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Need for more foucs

Rama Kant Agnihotri, Jul 3 2017, 22:43 IST
It has now become imperative to focus on secondary and senior secondary schools - on children who are in the age group of 15-18 years. Now that 18 year olds have a right to vote, their rationally driven and socially committed participation in the democratic processes is of crucial importance.

Even though the government is withdrawing from the public education systems and has also nearly stopped support to the voluntary interventions in schools, the past few decades did witness an engagement with the primary and middle schools both by the government and non-government agencies.

Increasing enrolment in primary schools, the right to education till the age of 14 as a fundamental right and some landmark non-government innovations in the domains of primary and middle school education are some obvious gains. The senior school education, on the other hand, has remained largely neglected.

Some examples may help. During the 1990s, the District Primary Education Programme (DPEP), in spite of its major limitations of being a programme driven by external resources, did engage teachers in conceptually-driven workshops, often produced useful materials and created such structures as the cluster, block, district and state-level resource centres.

In the non-governmental sector, the experiment and inquiry-based Hoshangabad Science Teaching Programme (HSTP), started by Kishore Bharati and later taken over by Eklavya during the early 1980s, targeted the middle schools. Swaliram, a system in which any child from anywhere could write her/his question on a post card and send it to HSTP was a roaring success and was ultimately handled on the national television by no less a person than legendary educationist Yash Pal.

Standing on HSTP’s shoulders, Eklavya’s Prathmik Shiksha Karyakram (Prashika) targeted at the primary school children and Social Science Teaching Programme (SSTP) meant for the middle school were significant innovative interventions in school education.

Digantar in Jaipur also started some innovative schools in the 1970s-80s that raised questions about the assumptions and implications of different educational theories and tried to spell out what education could really mean. That philosophical discourse continues since. More recent interventions such as that of Pratham and Gyanshala have also catered to early school education.

Started in 2008, the Shiksha Sambal Project is a unique attempt at addressing the issue of providing education to rural children at the senior school level. It may involve a lasting partnership between a corporate agency, civil society and the government. Started by the Hindustan Zinc Limited (HZL), the project really picked up momentum when it joined hands with Vidya Bhawan Society (VBS), Udaipur, along with the Rajasthan Education Department in 2016.

In most comparable cases of such partnerships, the focus has invariably been on deliverables; in this case, the focus is on sustained appreciation of each partner’s work, levels of conceptual understanding of children, training of Field Instructors (FIs) and continuous on-site and online support. Though HZL insists on improvement in the board results, it does not in any way minimise conceptual clarity among teachers, FIs and children.

Located in 57 government secondary and senior secondary schools in five districts (Udaipur, Rajsamand, Chittorgarh, Bhilwara and Ajmer) of Rajasthan, Shiksha Sambal engages with about 6,000 children, 150 teachers, 80 FIs, 50 HZL employee-volunteers and resource persons from VBS in strengthening the quality of education.

This may be a model for multiplying similar programmes on a large scale, given that there is not much hope from the government. The focus of the project is conceptual clarity in science, mathematics and English and improvement in board results. The effort is to ensure that underprivileged children do not lag behind in society because of lack of infrastructure and academic support.

The Education Resource Centre of VBS provides on-site and online support to teachers and FIs in addition to conducting orientation and subject-specific workshops. The VBS teams visit the schools and interact with children, teachers and FIs trying to resolve their problems; they also observe classroom processes and collect feedback on the use of worksheets and other materials.

Academic growth

Thanks to HZL, schools have libraries and book banks and all children have access to materials necessary for their academic growth; these include teacher geometry boxes, basic science kits and microscopes. Intensive summer camps are a special feature of the Shiksha Sambal project. In these camps, children come from all the project schools.

Facilitators from across the country volunteer to help. The Udaipur camps lasting over a month have a demanding schedule; mornings starting at 5.30 am are devoted to physical exercise and yoga; the academic work is undertaken during 8.30 am to 1.30 pm. Followed by a rest period of two hours post-lunch, the evenings are devoted to reading, story-telling, sports and cultural activities.

The programme is beginning to show results in just over a year. The school results have improved almost in all schools. However, some schools showed a marked improvement. Kanpur school (Zawar) which last year had a pass percentage of only 11%, had a pass percentage of 91% in 2016-17. However, what is more significant is the conceptual issues children are beginning to raise, often sending the resource persons back home thinking.

Watching objects under the microscope opens a new world of wonders and questions. Children are no longer happy with the rote-learnt definitions of a triangle or a verb, noun or a preposition. When they were being introduced to the English word order of Subject-Verb-Object, one child turned to the sentence: ‘I want to go’ asking which is the verb in it?

Given that education is the fundamental right of every child and the government is constitutionally bound to do so, such partnerships may not be the best thing to happen. However, in the event of government’s increasing withdrawal from education, this may be a ray of hope. It is the positive, inquisitive and enthusiastic response from children that has been the most reassuring aspect of Shiksha Sambal.

(The writer is Professor Emeritus at Vidya Bhawan Society, Udaipur)

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