Camping out in classrooms

Puriben’s face glows with pride as she watches Priyal, her nine year old daughter, run out of school with a group of friends, laughing and chattering in her sweet voice. Bhavna has come to fetch Priyal, who studies in the only government-run primary school in Vandh, a village tucked away in a corner of the Kutch region in Gujarat. “Look at her smile, Ba!,” she whispers to Vijuben, her mother -in-law, who had decided to come along, too.  “She used to look so unhappy and lonely. And the teacher would keep complaining about her not uttering a word in class. Thank god for the Learning Camp she made her attend! It changed everything.”

Puriben is not the only happy parent around. Almost every household with school going children in Vandh has benefitted from the fresh, new initiatives introduced in classrooms during the past couple of years. So have the communities of fifty villages in Mandvi and Mundra District including communities of Tunda, Tunda, Mota Kandagra of Mundra; Nanabhadia, Tragadi and Modhva of Mandvi Taluka of Kutch that are located within the project site of the Ultra Mega Power Project (UMPP), flagship scheme of the Coastal Gujarat Private Limited (CGPL), the wholly owned subsidiary of Tata Power Company.

The Learning Camp, which has transformed Varun from a tongue tied, shy child to a confident young man is one component of an ambitious plan drawn up by CGPL in partnership with Pratham Education Foundation, considered to be the largest and most experienced NGO working to provide quality education to the underprivileged children of India.

And together they have created Shiksha Sarthi, a programme that is potent enough to transform the profile of school education in Kutch, Gujarat. The Learning Camp is one of the most popular products of Shiksha Sarthi.

Focussed on mathematics and language subjects, these camps are held specially for students like Varun who need to be prodded a little harder than the rest to move ahead. They provide an ‘activity based learning experience’, that require a range of resource materials, that are distributed by CGPL among the student participants.

Each participant spends a total of 22 days in a year, attending the camps. Not at a stretch but broken into several slots. Until now, 79 learning camps have been conducted in 83 schools across Mandvi and Mundra. 1,524 Class 3-5 children were covered in this phase.

The process of setting up the camps is meticulous. It goes like this: Untitled

  • CGPL spokesperson meets school principals and teachers to set dates and fix schedules for the three day camp.
  • Each camp commences with a baseline and concludes with an end line, used to gauge whether the process has benefitted at all or not.
  • Usually there are 3 groups of children in the camp.
  • Volunteers, hailing from CGPL staff base, are trained by Pratham to conduct special sessions.
  • After the camp concludes, CGPL provides detailed worksheets to practice on till the next session.

School teachers, principals, school management committee members, Sarpanchs and other members of the community routinely visit the learning camps to motivate the volunteers and children.

Interestingly, in Sirwa and Kathada in Mandvi, principals of schools which were located outside the project area also participated in the learning camps and requested the Shiksha Sarthi team to conduct camps in their schools, too.

“We are constantly reminded by the CGPL team to focus on documentation and review reports to assess the desired impact”, says a Pratham staff member.

Has it worked so far?

The data shows that at the baseline of the camp, there were 23% children at story level in language, and after the completion of 22 days camps, 62.1% children could read a story level text, fluently.

At the beginning of camps there were 28.8 % children who could recognize numbers (more than 100) in mathematics, and after the completion of 22 days the number had risen to 64.3%.

So yes, the camps seem to have worked out the correct formula.

“Now it’s time to set new goals, to take up new challenges,” declares a CGPL volunteer, “Such as–at the end of the year, all target group children would be able to do subtraction sums and write dictated sentences.”

Well, she and her team are certainly on the right track


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