The Making of Mehfooja

Even a month ago Mehfooja Mohammad Hussein Kumbhar was treated like an outcast by her classmates. No one wanted to sit next to this student of Standard 4, who lives with her parents and siblings in the interiors of village Maska in Kutch district of Gujarat. Neither was she included in any of their groups. No, the children were not being deliberately cruel. They were scared of her quick temper and unreasonably hostile behavior. The fact that she was not faring too well in academics made matters worse. “She was not being able to cope with Mathematics and seemed angry all the time!” confides Mohammad Hussain, Mehfooja’s father. He and his wife Jenaben were in despair

Then this glowering, unhappy child was spotted by Dhara Maheta, an educator and leader of the Shiksha Saarthi (SS) team, which was conducting a summer learning camp in Mehfooja’s school. The vacations had just begun.

Shiksha Saarthi, is a joint initiative between Coastal Gujarat Private Limited (CGPL), a wholly owned subsidiary of Tata Power Company, and Pratham Education Foundation, a front-runner in the field of education. Its area of operations is CGPL’s project site in coastal Kutch, spanning the catchment villages that lay within.

The Learning Camp is one of SS’s most successful initiatives. Focused on mathematics and language subjects, these camps are held especially for students who need to be prodded a little harder than the rest to move ahead.

Dhara first met with the parents, discussing the background, and issues related to it.  She then approached Mehfooja. Her demeanor was that of a friend’s, gently probing her to talk about her favorite games, food, places etc. To Dhara’s delight, the child’s response was instant and very positive. She readily agreed to join the summer session of the Learning camp. And as an incentive, Dhara inducted her as a monitor of one of the camp groups. Rumbling of protests could be heard after that, but was silenced by Mehfooja’s excellent performance. She has turned out to be a natural born leader who works well with all the children in the group.

Hussein’s face glows with pride as he watches Mehfooja enter the school with a group of friends, laughing and chattering. “I can see the change in my daughter. She was very poor in Mathematics, but now it is her favourite subject.

Mehfooja can now solve subtraction sums with borrowing numbers. But most importantly, she has stopped being angry, ”he says.  And he is grateful to Shiksha Saarthi for the transformation.

He is not the only one. Launched in 2012, Shiksha Saarthi has been able to position itself right on the centrestage, thanks to the sheer range of issues it addresses, and the efficiency with which it has been able to execute its plans, so far. Education pundits today consider it to be a programme that is potent enough to transform the profile of school education in Kutch.

So what is its success formula? Meticulous monitoring; regular assessment; willingness and ability to change route midway, say experts.

In the first year the partners used this tool sparingly, focusing instead on visiting the weaker learners at home. The strategy was revised as the partners realized that more time was needed to be spent in schools in order to improve the learning levels.

Now Pratham tracks the learning levels of the children before, during and after learning camps. The learning levels were measured through an assessment tool.

The Measurement, Monitoring and Evaluation (MME) unit of Pratham is responsible for conducting timely assessments and data entry. A Management Information System (MIS) has set up on Salesforce (a web-based cloud platform) for data collection and analysis.

Have the efforts paid dividends? Yes indeed they have. Learning levels of each participant have moved upwards. There is meticulously analysed data to prove that. And then there are stories, like that of Mehfooja’s that lend the dry numbers that unmistaken-ably authentic flavour.

From a pariah to a popular monitor—Mehfooja has truly walked the Shiksha Saarthi talk. And her journey has only just begun.

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