There was a time when describing young Arjunbhai Nanjibhai Maheshwari as the ‘teacher’s favourite’ would have been considered as nothing but an act of sarcasm, and dismissed instantly. Because Arjun, a student of Standard 5 in the government-run Layja primary school in Mota Layja village located in the Mandvi Taluka of Kutch district in Gujarat, was branded by every teacher who worked with him as the naughtiest boy in the class. Not only was he unmindful and restless during lessons, he disturbed his neighbours and generally created chaos. He would have remained a disruptive element or met with more serious consequences if an enterprising educationist had not intervened and made Arjun an active partner in a Learning Camp, organised as a part of the Shiksha Sarthi initiative. Today Arjun, as a class monitor, shoulders more responsibilities than his classmates. And yes, as one of the most dependable students in the school, his popularity among the faculty members has soared too. Arjun’s new avatar is indeed a ‘teacher’s favourite and proud to be one.
So what is this Learning Camp that has, like a magic wand, transformed Arjun from a confused, erratic young person to a confident, surefooted leader? It is important to find out because Arjun is not the only one with a remarkable progress report in this neighbourhood. Almost every household with school going children has benefitted from the fresh, new initiatives introduced in classrooms during the past couple of years. So have the communities living in Tunda, Mota Kandagra of Mundra; Nanabhadia, Tragadi and Modva of Mandvi Taluka of Kutch. All these villages lie within the project site of the Ultra Mega Power Project (UMPP), flagship scheme of the Coastal Gujarat Power Limited (CGPL), the wholly owned subsidiary of Tata Power Company.
Shiksha Sarthi is an ambitious programme launched in 2012 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 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. Focused on mathematics and language subjects, these camps are held especially for students like Arjun who need to be prodded a little harder than the rest to move ahead.
Arjun was first spotted by a Cluster Resource Leader (CRL) from Pratham, who had come as a Shiksha Sarthi spokesperson, to meet the school principal and set dates for the next three-day camp. Struck by the sullen looks and unruly behaviour, he decided to delve deeper for more information. All reports were unfailingly negative. Besides being a noted trouble maker, Arjun never completed his assignments or take part in any activity. His parents, daily wage earners, were extremely anxious but could do very little beyond reprimanding him constantly.
Arjun needed help, and he must get it at the Learning Camp, decided the Shiksha Sarthi team. So when the young boy began the day in a rebellious mode no one resisted him. Instead, he was asked to take over as a group monitor, and plan all the activities. Then lead the pack, while finding innovative ways of performing them. After initial hesitations Arjun got into the act with gusto. It was evident that playing the leader was a skill he was born with, and he enjoyed the role so much that he forgot to sulk or play truant. At the end of the three ‘camping days, his transformation was complete. It was as if Arjun had been born again as a nicer, pleasanter person, remarked one of his many newly acquired friends.
More hearteningly, the change seems to have been an irreversible one. At least it shows no signs of wearing off yet. “He brings all his assignments home now, and completes them on his own,” beams Arjun’s visibly delighted mother.
Can the most die-hard skeptic challenge a testimonial such as this?