articles, opinions, and research about teaching and learning

Teachers Forum
June, 2001

Primary Education Initiatives
in Madhya Pradesh, India

Part 1: Interview with Rajesh Tiwari, Abhudaya Project Coordinator

conducted by
Ila Varma and
Sushmita Malaviya

The Abhyudaya Project is a coordinated effort of the Government of Madhya Pradesh supported by UNICEF, Bhopal, to bring about a qualitative change in education in Government schools in the State Capital of Bhopal.

When the project was launched, programmes were organized in different slum clusters to create awareness amongst communities to send their children to school. Activities like a large rally of 5000 children and the involvement of the State Education Minister and local MLAs on various occasions convinced the communities that they were committed to the project.

During these programmes, nearly 8000 children were enrolled in nearby Government schools on the spot. Another 2000 children were admitted to Government-supported non-formal schools. Consequently, nearly 60 percent of children thought to be out of school have thus been accounted for.

Interview with Rajesh Tiwari, Abhudaya Project Coordinator

Question: How did the project take its present shape?

A: Meetings with functionaries like anganwadi workers, mohallah samitis, municipal corporators, and about 16 non-Governmental organizations helped the special enrolment drive pick up momentum.

Most of the school headmasters, headmistresses and teachers mixed with the local community and families of children not attending school, in an honest effort to help resolve many of the community's problems. One of the most difficult problems faced by school-going children was that their examination dates overlapped with the harvesting season. Since many parents were forced to leave the city in search of work their children were unable to complete their academic sessions.

While this problem still persists, those associated with the project have tried to iron out the immediate problems that the community faced in sending children to school. If the community pointed out that the school lacked in some respect, the problem was immediately looked into. Similarly, if a family could not afford school fees, the schools waived it, on condition that the child attended school regularly. If a family said that they could not afford to send the child to school in uniform, this too was waived and the teachers tried to convince the parents that when they made clothes for children during festivals they should get uniforms stitched.

Another incentive that was offered was that if children came to school regularly, they would be given a scholarship and three kilos of wheat per month.

With the objective of making education more accessible to children, and to give them a milieu that allowed them to express their creativity, innovation was the key in the success of this programme. In Raja Bhoj Higher Secondary School of Bhopal, for example, a mock Parliament allows children a hands-on experience in the functioning of the Indian Parliament.

Q: How have you been able to involve children and motivate them to continue coming to school?

A: The experiment in the mock Parliament also encouraged students to learn to solve their own problems. For example, the Labour Ministry in the school actually mobilized students to construct a gravel pathway during the monsoons, while the Sanitation Ministry ensured that children used the school toilets properly. This commitment from all children has already allowed the school to move a step closer in the implementation of the Water and Sanitation project in the school very soon!

The lesson on accountability and a sense of ownership that the children have internalised has furthered their decision-making process. To cite an instance: The school Parliament was faced with a decision on what the school needed. After a lot of deliberation, it was decided that many needed classroom furniture, and the school, in turn, ensured that the children got their long-standing demand!

On the other hand several initiatives, like the School Empowerment Scheme, have been taken to make headmasters more accountable and interested in their schools. Apart from this, efforts are being made to make available drinking water and sanitation in schools, and children are already being trained about correct toilet habits.

Q: How do you assess a child's growth in school?

A: Schools under the project have begun to establish minimum levels of learning. Teachers have been asked to give dictations thrice a week, and to ensure that children get a minimum of half-page handwriting practice every day, and so on. A child is also expected to be aware of activities around him or her- at least till the Block level. For instance, a child in Class III is expected to know multiplication tables up to 15, be able to write a page of dictation, practise handwriting six pages a week, and have knowledge of happenings around him/her at least till the district level (for example, the child should know who the District Collector or the City Mayor is, etc.)

Q: What are the most visible changes that the project has brought about?

A: Schools under the Abhudaya Project have slowly begun to spread their wings. The change in some schools is clearly visible. While Government schools are very often brushed off as having primitive and minimal facilities, Project schools have begun to show change.

maps on walls For instance, the Raja Bhoj School has its walls painted with maps of Madhya Pradesh, neighbouring Chhattisgarh and India. This helps the teacher to actually be able to point out where the children are. On the other hand children themselves are able to have a better understanding of their immediate environment.

The school has also spruced up its immediate environment by putting up fences, which is a step towards reassuring parents that their children are safe during school hours. A school-run subsidised canteen makes sure that children are not tempted to eat outside frequently.

The activities organised for children in these schools is no less than any other school. The timetable for various classes has been designed in a manner that allows as many activities as possible in a day. Apart from regular parent-teacher meetings, children observe national holidays, there are cluster-level games, school Parliament sessions, publication of newsletters, and annual day and sports day functions.

These efforts have yielded interesting results. While the Raja Bhoj School had 1384 children on rolls during 1999-2000, it had increased to 1956 students in 2000-2001. A laudable achievement has been the increase in the number of girl students. The visible change in the milieu of the school has encouraged parents to enrol their daughters, too. Today, the school has nearly 700 girls!

Having been able to bring children back into Government schools, looking ahead the Raja Bhoj School is contemplating the idea of conducting vocational training classes for youngsters living in the school vicinity.

Now that you have read an overview, you can also see what
four teachers from the Abhudaya Project have to say about their experiences.

Would you like to read other interviews with practising teachers?

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