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Beyond Chalk and Talk –Imparting Vocation to the Young

© UNICEF India/2012/Deepthy Menon
Apart from fixing fans, Rakesh Kumar Erol leads residents of Bijapur Porta in planting saplings that they had grown as part of ‘Introduction to Basic Technology'. The district administration supported by UNICEF initiated ‘IBT' in five schools of district.

BIJAPUR, India, 11 October 2012 - In about three years’ time, young Rakesh Kumar Erol’s life has shifted directions twice. The young boy of fourteen had hardly completed two years of formal education when his family migrated out of Pamgal, their village near Madhed when civil strife turned their lives topsy-turvy.

As a result, Rakesh had to drop out of school. He could restart his education only in 2009, when he was enrolled into the residential schooling facilities called Porta Cabins, set up by the government for displaced children like him in the Bijapur district.

The schooling experience of most children is characterised usually by ‘chalk and talk’ or rote learning methods. The residential school at Bijapur, where Rakesh studies, is no different.

But last year, something happened which he wholeheartedly embraced. The district administration of Bijapur, supported by UNICEF initiated the ‘Introduction to Basic Technology’ (IBT) programme in five schools in the district.

As part of the work centred education imparted through this programme, Rakesh’s class was taught electrical work. Today, he says he has found his vocation. He proudly points to the fans he helped assemble and fix in his school’s premises as he says, “I put together three fans by myself. Now I am confident that I will be able to do it without anyone’s help”.

He feels his newly acquired skill set will also help improve the living conditions of his family. “I would like to study further after I finish Class 8 this year. Even if I don’t, I will take up an apprenticeship or set up a small electrical business of my own in Bijapur town. I’m confident I can earn at least fifty rupees a day”, says a beaming Rakesh.

This ‘learning by doing’, an idea that is at the core of Gandhian thought on education, has transformed Rakesh’s schooling experience, making it more meaningful and relevant.

Fuelling Aspirations through IBT
The IBT Programme (also known as the Parivartan Shiksha Abhiyan, to signal the changes that education needs) was started in 2011 to promote work-centred education.

“The success of the initiative and the interest of children in the subjects taught has resulted in expansion of this programme from five schools to five more, taking the total to ten schools,” says Sheshagiri Madhusudhan, the Education Officer working with UNICEF Chhattisgarh.

“The Rashtriya Madhyamik Shiksha Abhiyan, which is a Government of India scheme to universalise secondary education across the country, has taken interest in the Bijapur initiative. Adequate resources have been budgeted at the state level for scaling up this promising initiative to 100 secondary schools in 10 districts of the state in 2012-13.“ she adds.
    
Thirty young unemployed men and women from the villages of Bijapur identified as Parivartaks(change makers) were sent to Vigyan Ashram, a centre of the Indian Institute of Education, Pune for a month long intensive course designed to introduce work related elements in school curricula and routines.

The Parivartaks learnt over 30 different skills, ranging from dry cleaning, phenyl preparation, hand pump repair, soldering, to fixing electrical circuits, growing vegetables and doing screenprinting.
Teachers and Parivartaks say that the IBT classes have been so popular that a few students ask for more classes to reinforce what they learnt in the previous academic year.

Students like Rakesh are learning new skills that had so far never been imparted during the course of formal school education. Complex theories of physics and chemistry have begun making better sense to the children introduced to IBT.

“Earlier we could see how the students were not really following the theoretical aspects of science like circuits and switches. Today thanks to curriculum related practical training, they relate better to these topics”, reveals Arun Singh, a science teacher at the Bijapur Government Girls School.

His words are proven true by a student of his, Puja Gog, who says “While creating our own pocket torches in IBT class, we realised how current flows and the importance of positive and negative terminals in a battery. Science is actually not very complicated”.

© © UNICEF India/2012/Deepthy Menon
A student at the Bijapur Government Girls High School making a battery-operated torch during 'Introduction to Basic Technology’ class. The district administration supported by UNICEF initiated ‘IBT' in five schools of district.

Imparting Practical Livelihood Skills

The Porta Cabin at Maatwada shows the results of the attention lavished upon its premises by the trained Parivartaks and the students. The electrical and wiring jobs and fixing hand pumps apart, the agricultural patch tended to by the 421 students of the this Porta Cabin yielded an astonishing Rs.15,960 rupees worth of vegetables – nearly 215 kgs of tomatoes and around 500kgs of gourds.

The yield went into the kitchens of the school and was used to feed the children who grew them.

“Since the Parivartaks stay on the premises themselves, they are more hands-on and available to train the students. Working closely helps create positive role models in the minds of the children studying here”, says Bijapur CEO, Deva Senapathi.

The school then becomes a productive centre that in the long run can not only generate some income to meet its running costs, but also a centre where children are taught to identify and address the myriad day to day problems they encounter in their living spaces.

‘Parivartan’ Through Parivartaks

It is not just children that are benefitting from the introduction of IBT sessions into their curriculum, but also the trained parivartaks, who are finding the opportunity a life-changing one. Rama Krishna Kavre was at a crossroad in life when the opportunity to train as a Parivartak came his way.

After having had a close brush with violence during a period of heightened civil strife, he had fled along with his family to Bhopalpatnam and was struggling to eke out a living as a daily wage labourer. Despite misgivings, he decided to seize the opportunity to train as a Parivartak. Today, he says it was the best decision he ever took. “I love being a teacher. I never thought I’d get a chance like this. Today I also have a new trade that I’m good at”, says Kavre.

What the Future Holds

After the success of training the first batch of thirty three Parivartaks, an additional thirty have now undergone training at the Vigyan Ashram’s campus at Pabal, near Pune in Maharashtra. The district administration says that the idea is to increase employment opportunities for those youth who have a minimum qualification of Std X-XII pass.

With the district schools and ashramsalas requiring more teaching staff, these initiatives are expected to feed in to a pool of quality teachers who could take work centred education for children forward.

The government is hoping that the Parivartaks prove to be a positive role model for the youth back in their villages too and help to disseminate positive messages of development. Another idea is to encourage Parivartaks to form self-help groups which can then be linked with banks for setting up small enterprises.

While the immediate goal could be to create a self-sustaining model where capable Parivartaks could turn trainers themselves and thus increase the number of trained hands available to work at schools, the penetration of the scheme into more schools across the state could help in empowering and encouraging youth to take up vocational opportunities.

Perhaps the first step in working out such a policy is the decision taken by the Rashtriya Madhyamik Shiksha Abhiyan, to introduce Parivartan Shiksha in 100 schools in the state.

“Youth in this part of the world are at crossroads today. It was important that constructive investment was made on them. It was also about giving opportunities and access to children in areas that are geographically isolated and affected by civil strife. We provided the opportunity and the children proved that they could be no less than the brightest in the country”, says Shaheen Nilofer, UNICEF State Representative.

The enthusiastic response seen in the first year could also translate in attracting more youngsters, who have quit school to resume studies and acquire valuable skills of a new trade. At a community level too, the training could help improve the quality of life and promote self-reliance in far flung villages which remain cut-off from the bigger towns of the state due to complex geographical reasons as well as civil strife. The journey has just begun.

 

 
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