|IKEA Chief Executive Officer Mikael Ohlsson visits Butt primary school in Sonbhadra district in Uttar Pradesh state, India.|
By Angela Walker
UTTAR PRADESH STATE, India, 22 September 2010 – Saroja Prajupati plans to become Minister of Education when she grows up.
“I want all children to go to school,” she explains.
She’s already on track to meet her career goal serving as ‘Education Minister’ in the Child Cabinet at her primary school in Sonbhadra district in India’s most populous state, Uttar Pradesh. Seven girls, including the school’s ‘Prime Minister’ and five boys, make up the child cabinet.
Expanding quality education
Saroja says that some children in her community don’t go to school because their parents want them to stay home and work. But she believes that education makes all the difference in a child’s life. “When you grow up, you can make something of yourself,” she said.
The Child Cabinet is part of the activity-based learning and quality education package being promoted by UNICEF in 11 districts of Uttar Pradesh.
|Students who were formerly child labourers and UNICEF's Ritesh Mehta (second from right) speak to IKEA Chief Executive Officer Mikael Ohlsson in Dungarpur district, Rajasthan, India.|
“Child-friendly schools make learning more attractive to children so they stay in school for a longer period of time to complete their basic education,” said Chief of UNICEF’s Uttar Pradesh field office Adele Khudr.
The IKEA Social Initiative – the corporate philanthropy arm of the international home-furnishings retailer – is providing funds so that activity-based learning and quality education can be expanded to all elementary schools in Mirzapur, Jaunpur and Sonbhadra districts in the eastern part of the state.
IKEA tackles child labour
IKEA CEO Mikael Ohlsson is on a two-week visit to India to see IKEA-supported projects in Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Maharashtra to see how his company’s $167 million investment is making a difference for India’s children.
In the 1990s, media reports surfaced that several multi-national corporations were sourcing their products through companies in the developing world that used child labourers. In response, IKEA approached Save the Children and UNICEF to develop a code of conduct and began working with UNICEF to tackle the issue of child labour in the carpet belt of Uttar Pradesh in 2000.
|IKEA Chief Executive Officer Mikael Ohlsson (white shirt) and UNICEF Representative in India Karin Hulshof (right) sit with village child protection committee members in Dungarpur district, Rajasthan, India.|
“What once started as IKEA’s fight against child labour in Uttar Pradesh has now grown into a commitment to improve the lives of 100 million children and women, primarily in India,” said Marianne Barner, head of the IKEA Social Initiative.
During his visit to Uttar Pradesh, Mr. Ohlsson met with the Child Cabinet and saw classrooms in Butt and Bahura towns magically transformed with grids of string festooned with stars made of coloured paper cut-outs. Flashcards with letters in English and Hindi and math tables hung from the grid so that children could more easily see them closer to their eye-level.
Class visit ‘inspirational’
Murals of the Indian flag, tigers, peacocks and lotus blossoms decorated the walls. New blackboards allowed children to write and compute math across the room.
Mr. Ohlsson joined the first and second graders on the floor as they sat in a circle in their uniform blue shirts with grey trousers for the boys and grey skirts for girls. The children played with flashcards, identifying both letters and words aloud.
|IKEA Chief Executive Officer Mikael Ohlsson visits the Facility Based Newborn Care Unit (FBNCU) at the Medical College of Udaipur where he met premature babies and their families.|
The IKEA CEO was delighted as the children sang songs and recited poetry to him. “Thank you so much for welcoming me into your class,” he told the students. “I hope you will continue to learn. You are an inspiration to me.”
“This technique is very interactive and is much more interesting with children learning at their own pace,” said Sunita Devi, a teacher at the Bahura primary school. “Before there was only a blackboard with just me writing, and the children watching.”
Targeting the neediest
Ms. Devi became a teacher because she wanted to do something for her village. “If even two of the 45 students go through with their education and make a better life for themselves that my work will be worth it,” she said.
UNICEF’s education programme aims to increase enrolment, retention and completion rates for elementary school students. Special emphasis is placed on promoting quality education for girls and children from socially disadvantaged groups.
Sonbhadra has a population of 1.46 million and is one of the largest districts in Uttar Pradesh. Almost 65 per cent of the population live below the poverty line and 42 per cent are of the Scheduled Caste. Fourteen per cent of children between the ages of 6 and 14 are out of school.
Part of the child-friendly activity-based learning approach involves working with the community and getting them actively involved in school management. Having parents, teachers and children evaluate their work and make positive changes gives them a stake in ensuring quality education for all students.
Making a difference
Gyanesh Shankar Pandey left his sales job two years ago to follow his true passion of teaching at the Butt school. He uses fun toys like puppets, masks and straws to teach the six and seven-year-olds in his class. The students squeal and giggle with delight when Mr. Pandey uses a dinosaur puppet to teach a lesson, fleeing from him in mock fright as he comes closer.
Mr. Pandey’s dynamic approach – part entertainer, part educator – has the children enthusiastically following along as they learn counting, singing and dancing. They pull on their ears, mimicking their teacher happily.
“This has really accelerated their learning,” said Mr. Pandey. “They are more engaged and their attention span has increased and they have greater concentration.”