For the past ten years the Annual Status of Education Report (ASER), a mammoth household survey that covers every district in India, has been diligently monitoring learning levels of children in primary schools. Its findings are quite shocking. About 50 per cent of our children in the fifth grade leave school or are pushed upto senior school, without learning how to read or write! In other words, they are unable to pick up these basic skills even after five years of ‘formal schooling’. While the intellectual capacity of a student is certainly a factor in this fiasco, the bursting ranks of these so-called ‘failures’ point at an even larger problem, say experts. A flawed system of teaching.
The good news is that faults that had largely remained unheeded are now being identified and ‘dealt with’. In fact, repair works are on in full swing in various parts of the country. Some players like Shiksha Saarthi are ahead of the others in the game. Shiksha Saarthi is a joint initiative between Coastal Gujarat Power Limited (CGPL), a wholly owned subsidiary of Tata Power Company, and Pratham Education Foundation, a front-runner in the field of education. Shiksha Saarthi has come up with a full-fledged strategy, albeit at its own scale, on how to provide quality elementary education to the 8000 children who live and go to school in its area of operations–CGPL’s project site in coastal Kutch, enveloping Mandvi and Mundra talukas, with the catchment villages that lay within.
The Shiksha Saarthi gameplan has several components, central one being a new learning technique that the group has adopted. Methodology of Combined Activities for Maximized Learning (CAMaL – meaning maximum or wonder). But the most popular among them all are the Learning Camps.
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. They provide an ‘activity based learning experience’, that require a range of resource materials, that are distributed by Shiksha Saarthi team 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.
The process of setting up the camps is meticulous. It goes like this:
- Shiksha Saarthi team 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 endline, 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 the villages, are trained by Pratham to conduct special sessions.
- After the camp concludes, Shiksha Saarthi 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 Saarthi team to conduct camps in their schools, too.
“We are constantly reminded by the CGPL team to focus on documentation, review reports and constantly interact with the relevant stakeholders to assess the desired impact”, says a Pratham staff member.
Has it worked so far?
Going by sheer numbers the programme is a resounding hit. Every child records a healthy hike in awareness level after a camping session. But glowing testimonials from stake holders on the ground reflect the real impact SS has had on the lives of the local people.
Here are some samples:
“Through Shiksha Sarthi’s activities the children who need support, are improving in learning levels – please continue these efforts and reach in more schools” – School Principal, Mandavi Mundra
“We are very thankful to Project Shiksha Sarthi Project, through this project we are getting additional support – specially children, teachers and the education sector is benefiting greatly by the project activity” – Mamtaben, Mandvi-Kutch