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Bihar education minister not in favour of community college

Community Schools

PATNA: Bihar education minister P K Shahi has said that copying US experiment of community colleges in India was not practical. “It is not possible to open community colleges in India or make that provision in existing colleges which had been experimented in America,” he said.

Shahi was one of the five state education ministers who had been sent to USA by the Central government last fortnight to study the concept of community college and explore possibility of opening such colleges in India. The delegation headed by education minister of Madhya Pradesh included ministers from Bihar, Punjab, Assam and Jammu &Kashmir.

“The concept is very good. But where is the money to open such institutions,” said Shahi. It will not be possible even for the developed states to spend huge money on community college. The community colleges require very high quality of education and for that highly educated faculty is needed. The fee would also be quite high and beyond the reach of students coming from middle class society.

The education ministers visited Montgomery, Richmond Virginia, Washington and other places and attended a meeting of the American Community College at Auckland during their fortnight long visit.

Shahi said he would send his report to the central government about his experience. “My suggestion is that we should strengthen and make better and viable our IITs and polytechnic colleges and stress on skill development, infrastructure growth and better faculty. This way we can to some extent achieve the concept of community college,” said Shahi.

the Times of India, 28 April 2012


The Story of One School Why 650 children came and only 200 remained

Access to education, Community Schools, Government run schools, Right to Education, Sarva Shiksha Abhiyaan

WITH THE Right to Education Act (RTE) completing two years, HRD Minister Kapil Sibal may feel smug about the decline in dropout rates. But close to 40,000 children in the Naxal-hit districts of Chhattisgarh are yet to even enrol in schools. To them, the impressive figures of the Human Resource and Development Ministry regarding addition of classrooms matter little.

Most of these children missing from schools in these areas are actually victims of conflict. During the time of the now disbanded Salwa Judum, the state-sponsored anti-Naxal militia, and later Operation Green Hunt from 2005 to 2010, the biggest casualties apart from human lives were schools and education. Salwa Judum destroyed schools as they went on a rampage vacating villages suspected of supporting Naxals; while Naxals did the same, fearing that schools would be used as camps by the security forces.

Many schools were shut permanently, while some were shifted next to the roads along the Salwa Judum camps. The residential school in Chintalnar, around 80 km from district headquarters Sukma, was among those shut in 2005, forcing all the children to go back to their homes. “More than 650 children turned up for admission when the school reopened in 2010, but we were able to take just 370 of them. There were just too many to be accommodated with the limited infrastructure available,” recalls Jairam Sinha, an instructor in the school, pointing to the school building. The building is a small house with four rooms measuring 10 ft by 10 ft.

Since then, the number of students has come down to 200, as many have run away. Still, nearly 150 boys are crammed, often 2-3 to a bed, in an abandoned, dilapidated house nearby that serves as a temporary hostel. The girls sleep in the school itself. The irony, however, is that even the new school building, which has been under construction for the past two years, won’t be able to accommodate the sanctioned strength of more than 500 children. And Jairam Sinha says there are more than 2,000 children in a 10-km radius from Chintalnar who don’t go to school.

One big hurdle in reaching Chintalnar and constructing the new building is the 45-km long virtually non-existent road, which connects it to the nearest supply town of Dornapal. The road has seen some major blasts by Naxals in the past few years, claiming the lives of several security personnel. “Transportation is a challenge on that road as whatever little is sent has to be sent under heavy security,” says Alex VF Paul Menon, Collector of Sukma.

This, however, is by no means the most dismal scenario. Hundreds of villages scattered in the forests of south Chhattisgarh exist with no sign of administration. Due to Naxal threats and difficult terrain, neither the government nor any NGO is aware about the children left out of the formal education system. KR Pisda, school education secretary of Chhattisgarh, says, “According to our estimates, there are around 15,000 children who are yet to be enrolled in four districts of Dantewada, Bijapur, Sukma and Narayanpur.” However, the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) in 2009 estimated that there are 40,000 such children in seven districts, and the situation hasn’t improved since then.

Regular schools in these areas have rarely been successful. Residential Ashram schools and Porta Cabins (structures made of bamboo), being run by the Tribal Welfare Department and the Department of School Education under the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, are a common sight all across these districts.

What is, however, odd is the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) camps right next to most of them. During Salwa Judum days, many schools were used as camps by the CRPF and police and were vacated only in 2011 after repeated warnings by the Supreme Court. But the new camps that came up later have been constructed quite close to the schools. Many see this as a way to check ration supplies to Naxals, often siphoned off from those meant for schools. This, in turn, make the schools vulnerable as they too can come in the line of fire in case a CRPF camp is attacked by the Naxals.

It is common knowledge in these areas that the initiation process to become a Naxal starts early and sometimes children are recruited for Bal Sanghams (Naxal schools) at an early age of six. At the age of 12, these Bal Sanghams get promoted to other ranks, which also includes armed cadres.

Gopal Buddu, 20, was taken away by Naxals at the age of 13 from his village Kamkanar in Bijapur district. “I was forced to go with them as resistance would have meant trouble,” says Buddu. After six years of hardship in the jungles and working as a bodyguard of the Division Commander, one fine day in 2011 he surrendered before the Bijapur police. Buddu has now been rehabilitated in the Chhattisgarh Auxiliary Armed Police Force.

Most parents now, however, see schools as a safe haven for their kids as they also provide protection from being taken away forcibly by the Naxals. Therefore, the longer the children remain out of schools, more their chances of getting picked up by the Naxals. Shanta Sinha, Chairperson of the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) says, “It’s important to give access to education to the children and then let them decide their path after they are empowered to think.”

EVEN IF a child gets enrolled in a school, retaining and keeping track of them is a huge challenge. Recently, the NCPCR found out that around 35 tribal children had been taken to Kerala by contractors to work in brick-kilns. “We wrote to the Kerala government asking them to send these children back to their schools in Chhattisgarh,” says Sinha. The state government there was able to track 25 of them while 10 could not be traced.

Himanshu Kumar, who used to run an NGO, Vanvasi Chetna Ashram, in Dantewada district, says, “We used to work with tribal activists, who knew every student by name and village. They were quite quick in tracing them as soon as they disappeared from schools.” He has, however, now shifted to Delhi after his house was bulldozed by the police in 2009.

In places like Dantewada and Sukma, where the drop-out rate is 26 per cent at the primary level, way higher than the national average of around 7 percent, radical steps are required to retain students. “In partnership with the government, we are working on a doable Management Information System on Child Tracking, psycho-social support for children affected by violence, and a set of standards and protocols for residential institutions on child protection, which would enable tracking of children both at the community and institution level,” says Shaheen Nilofer, who heads UNICEF Chhattisgarh, which is probably the only agency with access to remote areas in Sukma, Bijapur, Narainpur and other south Bastar districts.

It’s not that the administration is not working at all, but the focus currently is on creating school infrastructure at places accessible by roads. Close to Dantewada town, a huge Education City, comprising residential schools for boys and girls, is being built at a cost of Rs 100 crore. The project, when completed, would be able to accommodate more than 2,000 children. But relocating so many children from villages would itself be a huge challenge.

OP Chaudhury, collector of Dantewada, says the aim is to send a message to people in interior areas that such kind of development is possible in their village too. “We want the community to come forward and take ownership of these projects,” he says.

The Right to Education Act (RTE) says that “the appropriate government or local authority shall undertake school mapping, and identify all children, including children in remote areas… within a period of one year from the appointed date…”

The idea seems difficult to implement in these areas, but certainly it is not impossible to accommodate children who wish to learn, by improving the infrastructure of the existing schools and restoring the ones destroyed during the conflict. Then only, in a real sense, would the strategy of winning hearts and minds work.

Prakhar Jain is a Correspondent with Tehelka.

Tehelka Magazine, Vol 9, Issue 15, 14 April 2012


On the side of the children

Access to education, Child Labour, Community Schools

Across five states, Bal Bandhus fight for child rights, often standing up to Naxals in the process.

In nine remote, conflict-ridden blocks of five states, a cadre of young people specially selected and trained for their leadership qualities and commitment to child rights are ensuring that children go to school as mandated by the Right to Education Act, anganwadi centres nurture infants, teachers actually teach and food meant for mid-day meals is not siphoned off. One of them, a 19-year-old tribal girl in Andhra Pradesh, stood up fearlessly to the Naxals when they were stopping distribution of food to children.

They are the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights’ (NCPCR) defenders of child rights or Bal Bandhus (BB) and their work is supported by the Prime Minister’s Office. A three-year pilot programme, the Bal Bandhu scheme was launched in December 2010 in Naxal affected blocks of Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Bihar, Chhattisgarh and Maharashtra. In charge of the 20 Bal Bandhus in each block are their mentors — two resource persons, who have worked in Naxal affected areas on child rights issues or with the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan.

Just 19 to 30 years of age, BBs work closely with the community and have been able to form groups of Bal Mitras (friends of the child) as well as mahila sangathans (women’s groups) to help them reach the community. It is this collective of people from the community who are able to talk to headmasters when schools don’t function properly or uniform money is not distributed to students. They are able to cut through the corruption and red tape to get admissions and procure transfer certificates without paying a bribe.

They have an awesome range of responsibilities and maybe just a cycle to take them around from village to village. It is they and their supporters who are able to persuade parents to allow their children to study and not be pushed into work. They get the community to write letters to the mukhia for allotment of land for school buildings and ensure that caste and community barriers are overcome and children eat midday meals together.

Different challenges

For Ashok Singh, 19, Bal Bandhu of Rohtasgarh panchayat in the heart of Naxal affected territory in Bihar, the biggest challenge was in providing a school for girls. Ashok met community members and created awareness on child rights. When Sunita Kumari, a 14-year-old who had never been to school, met Ashok and expressed interest in education, he met her parents and tried to persuade them to send her to the Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidyalaya which had residential school facilities. They, however, were keen to get her married. Along with Bal Mitras and influential members of the community, the parents were told about the illegality and hazards of an early marriage. After persuasion, the parents relented and she was sent to a Residential Bridge Course facility for upgrading her knowledge so that she can join a regular school. Though just 19 years, after just 13 months as a Bal Bandhu, Ashok is confident and loves the new respect and status he has in the community.

The 177 Bal Bandhus have so far been able to enrol 8,633 children into schools, made 594 schools and 458 anganwadis functional, and registered 1,797 children into residential bridge courses and Kasturba Gandhi Ballika Vidyalayas. In addition, 7,539 academically weak children have been provided coaching support.

There are innumerable examples of the efficacy of the Bal Bandhus. There is the story of the seven children from Chhattisgarh who were working in a juice factory in Andhra Pradesh and were reunited with their families thanks to the sarpanch who became proactive after interaction with the Bal Bandhus. Mohammed Wazir Ansari, another Bal Bandhu of Nunpharwa panchayat, was also able to rescue a dozen children from child labour and send them to school. Five of them were employed by a shopkeeper for packing tobacco. When Mohammed spoke to the shopkeeper, he maintained the children were all members of his family and he was merely utilising their services. The children would hide every time he approached the shop. Finally he managed to speak to the children and got the names of their parents and their villages. He then spoke to the parents and rescued the children.

Improving the system

Even while motivating parents to send their children to school, the Bal Bandhus have directed their attention to making schools fully functional and ensuring all teachers took classes. In Khaira block, Jamui, Bihar, an informal teachers’ forum has been formed and meets every month to discuss how to take the programme forward. According to Sunil Kumar, assistant teacher at Goli Primary School, Goli panchayat, “It always helps to discuss the problems. When I joined, only 24 of the 75 students enrolled would attend school. Now with the help of the Bal Bandhus, this number has increased to 50.”

Another equally important benefit of the Bal Bandhu Scheme is that in an area where Naxals are active, these young and highly motivated defenders of child rights are preventing children from going astray and joining the Naxals. Understanding the power of education, many of them are opting for higher education. Others, encouraged by the respect they are getting as Bal Bandhus, want to become teachers!

The Hindu, 04 February 2012


Steering education revolution from Azamgarh shacks

Budget Private Schools, Community Schools

Azamgarh (Uttar Pradesh): A single bamboo stick holds the thatched roof together, the discoloured floor serves as both bench and chair, the kids sit in neat rows and a man sits on a printed mattress. It is from humble rooms like this that a quiet education revolution is unravelling in this eastern Uttar Pradesh district that was associated in public memory not long ago for alleged involvement of some of its youth in extremist activities.

Tanzeem Al-Farooq, an NGO formed in 1987 with just Rs.10 as initial capital by some youngsters, has set up at least 300 such primary schools in villages in Azamgarh, about 220 km from the state capital Lucknow, and nearby areas that have a substantial number of Muslims.

The founding members, who were then working in the Gulf region, have managed to educate over 50,000 kids who would have otherwise forever remained illiterate. Some of these members came back to India while some pledged their support sitting abroad.

One of the founders of Tanzeem Al-Farooq, Asrar Ahmed, embarked on the idea of identifying micro-rural, small and unknown villages of the district that don’t have schools or any other arrangement for primary education. These villages sometimes have as few as 15 houses.

The modus operandi is something like this: the NGO identifies a village, convinces the locals for the need of an educational institute, builds a school and then hands it over to a village committee.

Only those villages where government-run schools are rare and people hesitate to send their children to schools due to lack of quality and different medium of instructions are chosen.

“It was hard to manage it all, especially in the beginning,” Tanzeem Al-Farooq president Maulana Obaidullah told IANS.

“We start schools with our own expenses but try to educate and spread awareness among locals to take the responsibility further. We have established 300 such schools,” he added.

Though the project started with just Rs.10 investment, close to Rs.1 million is collected through public donations every year.

Sixty-year-old Islam Ahmed, a Class 4 pass-out and one of the founder members of the organisation, thinks it was the need of the hour.

“It is not mere building schools, it is an educational movement. Our aim is to motivate the villagers to teach their children and build schools to preserve their historical inheritance,” Ahmad told IANS.

Mohammed Sadique, a teacher in such a school in Azamgarh’s Aamgaon village, said: “It is hard to be here and survive on a small salary, but I am happy to teach these children.”

Sitting in an open one-room hut of a school on a chilly, foggy morning while wearing a white kurta and lungi with skull cap, Sadique teaches the Quran, Urdu, Hindi, Mathematics and basic English to 30 students — half of them girls.

“If I am not here, then who will teach them? I have been here for three years. Earlier, only 10 percent of the kids in the village would study as the government school was two km away. Now, 50 percent of the village children study,” said Sadique, who hails from Bihar’s Araria district.

The chief motive of the NGO is to provide quality education in micro-rural areas.

“We have lit a small lamp of knowledge and hope for a bright future,” said Obaidullah, who thinks there’s a need for collaboration among primary schools to design a joint mechanism to fight illiteracy and ignorance.

Mohammed Rashid, a farmer and resident of Aamgaon village, sends his two children to the shack school.

“I am an illiterate man, can’t even write my name. I was worried about the future of my children. I thought they would have to follow my footsteps. But thanks to god, the situation has changed,” he says with a smile.

Efforts like these in a place like Azamgarh make a difference in a state where the literacy rate is 69.72 percent as compared to the national average of 74.04 percent.

Azamgarh was in the news some years ago for the wrong reasons as police claimed that diaffected Muslim youth from this distrcit were associated with militant grups and a large number of Azamgarh Muslim were arrested for suspected association with serial bombings in many cities in India. Because of the association, Muslims from Azamgarh, who tried to find rental houses and apartments in other cities in India, found it very difficult do so. But things are now changing for the better.

ummid.com, 05 January 2012


‘28,000 labourers’ children getting free education’

Access to education, Community Schools, Global news

LAHORE: A delegation of students and teachers from private schools called upon the Provincial Minister for Labour Haji Ehsanuddin Qureshi at his office on Tuesday.

Ehsanuddin urged the teachers to promote leadership qualities within the students as well as hone their talents, transforming them into confident and energetic youth leaders.

He said that 28,000 labourers’ children were being provided free-of-cost standardised education at 46 workers’ welfare schools while 8,000 schools had also been established that were providing education to the adults.

He added that public-private partnership could pave way for eradication of poverty and illiteracy by promoting qualitative education, especially among the underprivileged segment of society that was unable to afford quality education in expensive educational institutions due to lack of financial resources.

Ehsanuddin said that one of the priorities of the Punjab government was to set up universities for women in Bahawalpur, Multan, Sialkot and Faisalabad so that they too could acquire higher education in their own hometowns. Separately, stipends of one billion rupees were also being distributed among the girl students belonging to remote and deprived areas to encourage female education in these areas.

The minister further elaborated that the provincial government had provided a sum of Rs 10,000,000 for the promotion of education in the marginalised strata, mainly through introducing public-private partnership. 1.5 million deserving students across the province would be benefiting from these measures during the current educational year, he said, adding that a sum of Rs 46 billion would also be spent on the school education sector to elevate it to the international standards.

Hailing the launch of School Reforms Programme, Ehsanuddin said that as many as one million new students belonging to the age group of 5 to 9 had been enrolled in schools during the last two years across Punjab.

He also highlighted the distribution of 60,000 education vouchers among deserving students by the Punjab government, the aim being to provide an opportunity to the students to study in their choice of educational institution.

Ehsanuddin said that the government also carried out an education survey across 19 districts so as to expand the scope of the Education Vouchers Scheme in the new and underdeveloped districts. He maintained that all these facilities were being distributed equally among the male and female students as well as among the general public, adding that the process of distribution was completely transparent.

Daily Times, 04 January 2012


Govt shuts down mobile schools for slum kids

Access to education, Community Schools, Right to Education

BANGALORE: The Right to Education (RTE) which is aimed at providing compulsory education to children below 14 has actually spelt a doom for 421 children in Bangalore’s slums.

Even as the government is citing financial constraints in implementing the RTE, it has scrapped the system of mobile schools simply because the RTE does not have the provision.

The school on wheels provided basic learning for slum children in seven areas in the city.

“We were taught at the mobile school which was informative and interesting. Although we have a tent school in place now as an alternative, there is a lot of distraction. We are out of the classroom most of the time to attend to household chores,” said seven-year-old Babita of Kothanur Dinne slum, who once enjoyed her lessons imparted at mobile schools and is currently attending classes at the tent school, located in the slum area.

She is not alone. The move to scrap the doorstep-learning has deprived many a children like her of basic learning. Eight-year-old Chenamma also spends most of her time out of the tent school. There is no serious teaching at the tent school,” said Chenamma.

The lessons at the tent school are elementary in nature. I would attend mobile school every day, but from June, the vehicles stopped coming into our slum. Whatever is taught in the tent is something that we have already learnt. So what is the point in attending the class?” asked 10-year-old Guruprasad.

The scene is worse in other slums where there are no tent schools.


CM Rajendra, director, (Programmes) at Sarva Shiksha Abhiyana (SSA), Bangalore, told TOI: “There is no provision for the concept of mobile schools in the RTE. The project was brought to a halt from June 2011 after it did not get approval from the ministry of human resource development. We had seven mobile schools that used to conduct seven hour classes for slum children and followed the state syllabus.”

A S Seetharamu, consultant, SSA, Bangalore, said mobile schools have felicitated regular schooling among slum children. “These schools were set up owing to a demand for non-formal schools. Government has introduced many schemes to compensate for mobile schools. But it will take time to implement.”

What has angered educationists is the government’s move to scrap the system even before the RTE has come into force. “The concept of mobile school might not fall in the same nomenclature as mainstream schools, but could have been a fantastic platform that would have eased the implementation process of RTE. Although the act talks about the bridge course, it still remains a gray area as nothing is prescribed yet. Mobile schools could have been used as bridge schools covering the gap. Now It will be difficult to bring back those children as they are the most vulnerable group and tend to go back to work. The step will result in many children coming back on street, which is violation of fundamental rights,” said Niranjanaradhya VP, Centre for child and the law, NLSUI.

What were mobile schools?

The mobile school project was started under the SSA education-for-all policy in 2001. This project was aimed at providing education to the underprivileged children in slums. It was aimed at bringing children to regular schools after providing a year of mobile schooling.

Under this project, old buses were converted into mobile classrooms and Bangalore Metropolitan Transport Corporation contributed buses. The mobile schools in the city were catering to the slum areas of HSR Layout, Vinayaka Layout, Kothanur Dinne, Rajarajeshwarinagar, Shambhavinagar, Banaswadi and Yelahanka. The children were picked up from their homes, taught in these schools from 8.30 am to 3.30 pm and dropped back home after classes. The project was scrapped in June 2011.

The Times of India, 04 January 2012


A progressive madrassa in the heart of UP

Access to education, Budget Private Schools, Community Schools, Girl Child Education

Bilariyaganj: Breaking the stereotypes associated with madrassas, a 50-year-old Islamic seminary here teaches subjects like personality development and home science, runs an elaborate teacher training programme, has a higher girl enrolment ratio and has students who are no less active on social networking websites than their counterparts in the metros.

Welcome to Jamiatul Falah, a madrassa in Bilariyaganj town of Uttar Pradesh’s Azamgarh’s district that has kept pace with modern education. The 4,300 students who come here from across the country are taught subjects like personality development, economics, political science and home science — subjects which are rarely taught in Islamic institutions.

Jamiatul Falah, which means University of Eternal Success, also started a mini Industrial Training Institute (ITI) and a public hospital earlier this year.

The institution now wants to start paramedical courses for students.

“Now the madrassa people across the country recognize that there is a need to train teachers because they play a key role in any educational system,” Falah manager Mohammad Tahir Madani told reporters.

“The modern subjects are helpful to understand the religious commandments and create confidence among our students,” he said.

“If our students don’t know other languages, then they won’t know other cultures. Nowadays, if they don’t know English they may feel an inferiority complex,” he explained.

More than 50 percent of the students in the institution in higher classes are comfortable with the Internet and most have a Facebook account.

Shahid Habib, a student, has 425 Facebook friends. “I access the internet easily, send e-mails and get information,” he said.

Of the 4,300 students, around 2,600 are girls and most of the outstation students are from Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, West Bengal, Uttarakhand, Maharashtra and Nepal. The girls’ enrolment ratio in higher classes is even more.

“Educating the girl child is necessary to empower them. The ratio of educated girls has increased now. The poor girls can also get education here,” Falah headmistress Salma Jaleel said.

“If someone is poor, then they don’t have to pay. We will educate them as it is our responsibility,” Madani said.

Falah, which has a monthly fee of less than Rs.100, provides free education, accommodation and meals to at least 30 percent of its students.

The institution’s alumni are pursuing research in various universities in India and abroad.

Its hospital, Al-Falah Hospital, offers allopathy, Ayurveda, Homeopathy and Unani treatment.

It serves at least 100 patients daily and provides free service to poor irrespective of race, cast and religion.

Azam Beg, an alumni of Falah hailing from Rajasthan, went on to study Unani medicine from the Aligarh Muslim University and was twice elected students’ union president.

“Falah is a junction of both curricula, old divine and modern education. I have learnt a lot from here and it is enough to open my heart and mind,” said Beg, who now runs 12 schools and colleges and four madrassas in different parts of Rajasthan.

Stressing on the necessary changes in the educational system of the madrassas, Madani said: “There is an old style of teaching in madrassa system and certain changes are needed in the syllabus.”

“The teaching pattern in madrassas depends on books, not subjects; we have to change it now,” he pointed out.

Falah has a panel to check the quality of education and also conducts a parent-teacher meeting every three months, a rare practice in madrassas.
With Google on your phone, get restaurants instantly.

One can see several wall magazines in different languages like Arabic, Urdu and also English at Jamiatul Falah.

Mohammad Arif, a doctor of Unani medicine in Al-Falah Hospital, thinks that the madrassas should provide the lead to the community in every field. “There are large numbers of people who follow the madrassa teaching. If the madrassas play such kind of role, then the thinking of people about madrassas would be changed,” Arif said.

Madani states there is a misconception that only Muslim students can study in madrassas. “Our doors are open for students of every religion, cast and area. Hindu students have been part of Falah in the past.”

ZEENEWS.com 30-12-2011


“Rural India has so much to teach”

Community Schools, Edupreneurship

From an engineer to a social entrepreneur, Srikrishna Mamidipudi was able to track this change after being a Grassroutes Fellow. Social entrepreneurship is for people with great ideas who can make an impact in the developmental sector. An engineer can bring in a lot of innovations in terms of technology and his analytical skills, he says. Mamidipudi sought the Grassroutes Fellowship when a friend recommended he apply for one. I am an engineer only by qualification, but Ive always been passionate about business and consulting. Social entrepreneurship is exciting because there are a lot of challenges that entrepreneurs face in the rural sector. The fellowship mapped me to work with Vayali Folklore Group.

Vayali Folklore Group based in Arangottukara, Kerala, aims to preserve the traditional knowledge prevalent in the banks of river Nila by encouraging the youth to learn traditional art forms and craft. What did the one month fellowship entail for Mamidipudi? I had been assigned to the Eco Bazaar marketing project. The idea was to expand the market and not limit the products to just exhibitions. My role was to identify eco-stores around India who has similar beliefs to that of Vayalis and connect the two of them. The artisans need to be aware of new trends in the market and be thoroughly trained for the testing conditions of the competitive world.

So while firmly putting one foot on the rural ground, Mamidipudi had to seek fertile urban grounds with the other free foot. I spent the first fifteen days in Vayali interacting with the artisans and observing the operations of Eco Bazaar. The key here was to understand how the handicraft sector in India works despite all the challenges. I came up with a list of potential clients and began engagement with a couple of eco-shops across India. While working in specific roles the fellows are also cajoled into capturing the village life. We were made to understand the essence of the rural living through writing human stories and photo essays. This gave me an opportunity to travel along the banks of river Nila where I interacted with a lot of village folks and gained an in-depth knowledge of the ground reality. I was also involved in community based activities like the green plantation drive and the plastic-free drive.

Started in 2008, Grassroutes is a Fellowship Program that enables outstanding and passionate youth to travel across rural India on a 30 day road trip. They discover and work with changemakers, do their bit to change the world and inspire more youth into social action.

Does a rural setting have any scope for learning? I thought rural India was poor, uneducated and backward in their outlook. This has completely changed and I have a lot of respect for the rural community who are far more advanced in ways well ever know. While urban setting is a place to exchange Indian culture around the world, the rural setting preserves the culture. Rural setting allows a person to be in touch with the rawness of a culture which he is then able to effectively share it with people across boundaries. I guess this is what truly means to be local, think global

Did Mamidipudis efforts make a contribution to the Vayalis community? I may not have greatly impacted the project due to time constraints. I was however able to make a few changes in my capacity. With my interaction with the youth I was able to inspire them to dream big and work towards their goals. Im still in touch with most of them and recently one guy phoned saying he had given up smoking and started computer classes.

The Times of India, 24 December 2011


Indian street kids work at dawn, then dream of school

Access to education, Child Labour, Community Schools

NEW DELHI, May 31, 2011 (AFP) – Fourteen-year-old Deepchand should be learning but instead he lies sprawled fast asleep on the floor of an Indian school — exhausted by his early morning labours finding rubbish to sell.

Abandoned by his mother, his father dead, he works as a trash collector on the streets of New Delhi, starting two hours before dawn collecting plastic bottles, drink cans and metal — anything that will earn him a little cash.

Deepchand, who like many street kids has only one name, uses the plastic bag in which he collects garbage as his sleeping bag when he beds down on the pavement at night.

But there is hope for Deepchand, and countless others like him, through the Aviva Street to School Centre, a programme run by Save the Children that targets street kids to try to prepare them for entry into mainstream schools.

“It’s hard to teach them at times — they’re so exhausted,” said Save the Children programme worker Pradeep Kumar, gazing down at the sleeping Deepchand, whose hands are calloused from work.

Getting India’s millions of street children into schools is just one of the big challenges facing the government as it seeks to implement its landmark Right to Education Act which is just over a year old.

That’s where transition institutions like Aviva come in — helping children learn the most basic social skills such as sharing, and allowing them to catch up on lost school years so that they can one day attend full-time classes.

But many impoverished parents, who rely on income from the children to support the family, see no point in education.

“My father says, ‘Do rag picking’ but I want to go to school,” says nine-year-old Suleiman in the brightly decorated classroom that lies up a flight of narrow stairs in a bustling market.

“The parents are so fixated on getting enough money to survive, the value of an education falls,” says teacher Nivedita Chopra.

“But if they see their child doing well and feel it could eventually translate into a better life for them, it can change their minds,” Chopra says, as she busily puts stars on drawings thrust at her by pupils.

A few of the children at the school, which is part of a global network funded by the Aviva insurance group, have had a bit of formal schooling, others none.

“Some of them we have to teach the very basics — like how to hold a pencil,” says another teacher, Rekha, who goes by one name.

Deepchand — by now awake — says he wishes for only one thing: to obtain training that would give him a skill and get him off the streets.

“These children are like any other children, they want to go to school, wear a school uniform, but most of the time they don’t get the chance,” says Kumar.

India’s education act means all states must now provide free schooling for every child between the age of six and 14 but its implementation is badly bogged down.

State governments, which are in charge of education, oppose any change that the federal government will not fund.

Just five of India’s 29 states — Andhra Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Orissa, Sikkim and Manipur — have taken preliminary steps to implement the law, which aims to get 10 million unschooled children into the education system.

“The education act so far has all been cosmetic. Nothing has really changed on the ground,” said child advocacy coordinator Umesh Kumar Gupta of the volunteer National Coalition for Education.

Even when children such as Deepchand and Suleiman do get into school, their chances of getting a proper education are bleak.

The shortage of teachers is estimated to be 1.4 million so classes are overcrowded. States like India’s most populous Uttar Pradesh have more than 200,000 teacher vacancies, according to the volunteer Right to Education Forum.

“Who will train that many teachers?” asks Krishna Kumar, professor of education at Delhi University, who adds many teachers are appointed without “any attention to basic qualifications.”

Teacher absenteeism is estimated at 25 percent and even when there are teachers in class, many children do not “learn anything substantial,” says Kumar.

“It matters to no-one whether they make tangible progress,” he says.

Critics also point to legislation banning child labour that is routinely flouted with millions of children regularly putting in 12 hour days as household help, in restaurants, factories, mines and other jobs.

“If a child is working how can they be in school?” says Bhuwan Ribhu, a New Delhi lawyer who works with Bachpan Bachao Andolan, or Save the Childhood Movement.

Experts say India’s “youth bulge” could drive economic development or be a demographic disaster, threatening social cohesion if the government fails to provide education for its brimming young population.

Already, over half of India’s population of 1.2 billion is below 25 and the country has a literacy rate of just 65 percent, lagging far behind many other developing countries. Neighbouring China’s literacy rate is 90.9 percent.

However, 13-year-old Deepak at the Aviva school, whose parents are rubbish pickers, says he is determined to make a better life for himself.

“I want to be a teacher,” he says, flashing a dimpled grin.

MySinchew.com, May 31, 2011


Don’t trust the Conservative education policy – they want to implement our Swedish failures

Charter Schools, Community Schools, School Choice

Sweden has had the free school system that the UK Conservative party are advocating for some 15 years now. And during this time a number of serious problems have become evident that mean urgent reform is now necessary. In fact, it is exactly those parts of the system the Tories want to implement in Britain that we are proposing to put an end to in Sweden.

The reforms will not work without extra investment. The Labour party and the Swedish Social Democrats propose rising schools spending when the Conservatives in the UK and Sweden propose less. Spending alone won’t always improve standards, but creating surplus places like this without providing the funding to allow for the surplus capacity you need could seriously harm standards.

A country’s future lies in how well we educate and take care of our children. Every parent knows that special blend of excitement, pride and worry that you feel when your child goes to school for the first time. How will it go? Will they make friends? Will there be a teacher who sees the potential within every child?

Yet the Swedish authorities’ own research has concluded that over the last fifteen years since the free schools were introduced, the number of low performing pupils has increased in Sweden, while the high performing pupils have neither increased in numbers nor have they become more successful.

That is why it is worrisome when the Tories want to copy our system by picking out the bad apples of the basket.

The free school system, implemented without imposing clear standards, has seen schools opening with sub-standard facilities, often without libraries, and with a far greater number of unqualified teachers.

What’s more, the introduction of free schools has led to increased segregation where pupils from the same social background increasingly concentrate in certain attractive free schools.

This matters because segregation and poorer facilities serve no-one but the Conservatives seem to specifically think that these “freedoms” are positive aspects of the policy. This is a serious mistake.

To some extent, there is an irony in the fact that the British Tories are looking towards Sweden as an example for educational policies, when at the same time Swedish politicians – progressives as well as liberals and conservatives – are finding answers to some of our challenges in Britain. I am not only thinking about the British universities, but also the primary school system. We are deeply impressed by the one-to-one tuition and catch-up support, but also how you have been able to raise attraction to society’s most important profession: the teacher, by the Teach first-program, which now is investigated and advocated both by us in the red-green opposition and by the conservative government. These and other Labour-initiated programs serves as examples for us.

If we win the Swedish general election in September, we won’t prevent parents from choosing free schools for their children. But we will reform the system in order to reverse the serious problems that have become evident over in this system, increasing spending on schools. Spending alone won’t always improve standards, but creating a free market as the Conservative proposals do without providing the funding to allow for the surplus capacity you need will certainly harm standards.

I sincerely hope there are aspects of the Swedish school system – especially how a system aiming at cohesion and equality in the system raises the performing results – that you can learn from us. But implement our successes – do not repeat our mistakes.

Mona Sahlin, The Guardian, 2 May 2010


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