Saturday, August 20, 2016

Building ways to school

4:40:00 PM

Building ways to school Blog by Adina Mistry, Blog for Pratham India
Kavya at the Balwadi with her teacher
By Adina Mistry

It is rare for someone like me, living in a privileged suburb of New York, to have the opportunity to experience life outside my bubble. On my first day volunteering at Pratham Mumbai, I was to go to the Four Seasons Hotel in Mumbai. When I got there everything was as it would be in a five star hotel - clean and polished with the scent of aromatic candles in the air. Outside the gates of the Hotel, I met with Annapurna Beldor and Sylvia Correia of Pratham who walked me across the street to a community. What I did not know at the time was that the community on other side of the street is known across Mumbai as the Worli Slum area. There was nothing shining, nothing clean and only interesting smells filled the air. As I walked through the slum I noticed that the people made the most of what they have and they seemed content. In the Balwadi, a pre-primary school, I was amazed to see the children always smiling, playful, happy to be in class, and not let their living conditions bother them or dampen their spirit.

I decided to volunteer at Pratham to learn and see first hand how the organization reaches out to underprivileged children and more importantly how it gets the children interested in attending school and getting an education. Not only did I learn the answers to my questions but I experienced much more than I had bargained for. I was educated by little children, one third my age, to be so very thankful for everything I have (and at times take for granted), and to stop and always think about what I need versus what I want when I ask for more. Spending just a few hours each day with the children in the Balwadi has taught me an invaluable life lesson, one that I could have never learnt living in my bubble.

In the process of my visit I met many children. Here are two stories that moved me and made my journey memorable:
Aniket Anant Ruke- Coming from a dysfunctional family, Aniket has faced problems that no five year old should have to endure. Aniket is the youngest of three brothers and has suffered the most. His father is an alcoholic and suffers from T.B. He uses his illness as an excuse to not work. The responsibility of supporting their family falls entirely on Aniket’s mother. She works all day as a maid but is unable to provide for her three sons. She sent her two elder sons to Ratnagiri Boarding School. Aniket suffered from severe malnutrition and stayed home with her. He was very weak and found it hard focus during class. During his first year in a Pratham Balwadi he would sleep through the entire class. Now, his nutrition has improved and as a result, he is able to increasingly participate in the program’s activities.

Building ways to school Blog by Adina Mistry, Blog for Pratham India
Kavaya Sadanand Jaiswala- Before entering the Pratham Balwadi program in June 2015, Kavaya was a very shy little girl who would not speak with anyone outside her family. Her parents enrolled her in the Balwadi program because they could not afford a private school. Her father works for a respectable company but all his income goes towards supporting their family of five. Her mother is a housewife responsible for taking care of the children and domestic chores for their family. Now, a year later, Kavaya interacts with the rest of her class, fully participates in all class activities and responds when asked a question. She is actually enjoying the program and puts all her energy towards learning and retaining what the teacher is saying. When the teacher pointed to certain fruits and vegetables Kavaya was the first to answer with the correct English name. Kavaya is no longer a timid little girl – she has made many friends in the program and enjoys talking to people.


Friday, August 19, 2016

Building self-sustainability

12:03:00 PM
Building self-sustainability in education, by Sherin Shabu, Pratham India



I started my journey with Pratham in 2006. Like any other student I came in the organization with one goal “To learn and get experience”. My first field visit was in the Urban slum communities of Ahmedabad. The day was tiring walking in the communities that had small lanes with dirty water and garbage all around you. People were staring at me to know who I was and my purpose for coming in their community. Initially I hesitated a bit to ask where Pratham centers were running and was trying to reach out to the teachers who were supposed to show me how Pratham teaches children. Then I heard somebody calling me from a distance asking “Have you come to see Pratham center”. I was so happy to see her coming towards me with a big smile on her face. While we were moving towards the learning center I found her talking with mothers, children and elderly people sitting outside their house. She was talking to everyone as if she knew them personally.... This connect between teacher and different stakeholders in the community makes Pratham urban program a success among them. Strong marketing and communication skills have been able to create community ownership for the learning centers. Community ownership is a process, people have to see what is being offered, and that identifies with their needs. Then community participation takes place leading to sustained contact helping Pratham to cater to different educational needs of children.
The uniqueness of the learning centre is coming out as a resource centre for the child and community - where the child is encouraged to learn by self and in groups (Peer learning) with experiential learning. The role of the centre head is to be a facilitator rather than being teacher. Children understand concepts and learn beyond ‘just completing homework’. This distinctiveness is not found in conventional centers.   Urban learning center is a help desk for many stakeholders especially parents who find their motivation from us to take a front seat in their children education….today parents ask us which school to keep their children and what to ask school teachers when they attend parent’s meeting in school.
The learning centres have achieved the status of sustaining children’s learning levels, keeping to an effective teacher child ratio and a continued capacity building of the community teachers towards ownership of the model.One of Pratham’s biggest achievements has been its ability to mobilize thousands of community women, across these centers. Coming from traditional, conservative homes, they initially lacked the confidence and strength to fill these roles. But due to the undivided support offered by Pratham through ongoing capacity building initiatives, these women have been empowered to rise up to the challenge of becoming teachers to these community children.
Pratham has found this to be a practical approach since as each community takes ownership of its educational needs; the change that happens is bottom-up, democratic and more likely to be sustainable.
My experience working in urban program has made me always look for practical solutions talking with community at large. It has been an enriching experience for me working in Pratham Urban program. You have the opportunity to think and explore various ways to do programs that help children learn. You are not in a structured format wherein someone’s else plans and you are just implementing…..This monotony is what Pratham culture breaks and gives each individual to bring in the best from the learning’s we get from our field visits. As a leader, I have been given the freedom to express my concerns, thoughts and solutions which gets transferred to the leaders in field. This cycle has kept Pratham moving with people working for years …adopting organizational goals as their personal goals to fulfill various educational needs of children.


Friday, August 12, 2016

A day at PACE center

3:35:00 PM
day at PACE, Education, Blog for Pratham India, By Stephen



It was morning when Ben and I arrived at the PACE construction center in Ahmadnagar. The center was nestled comfortably in the hills on the outskirts of the small city.

Soon after arrival, we were led around the center by the center head, Divakar-ji. We stepped outside to the practical yard where students concentrated on their work: bending support bars, laying lime foundation, placing bricks in proper formation. Eyes casually gazed at the foreign visitors before returning to the work at hand. Ben and I followed Divakar-ji out of the yard and into some classrooms as he explained the history of the center, the particulars of the construction course, and the students’ backgrounds and goals. All the while, the overcast sky hung like a grey blanket above us, never revealing any patches of blue, only occasionally allowing a peep of sunshine to burst through.

day at PACE, Education, Blog for Pratham India, By Stephen
After lunch, Ben and I left to see some of the other PACE centers around the area. When we returned to the construction center in the afternoon, the students had finished their instruction for the day and were self-studying, lounging in the dormitory, working out, or otherwise milling around. Ben and I introduced ourselves to the students, shook hands all around. After some small talk, a group of students who were planning to walk up a local hill invited us to tag along.
day at PACE, Education, Blog for Pratham India, By Stephen

As we walked up the hill, we filled the air with excited chattering. One student promised to teach me Marathi if I taught him English, so as we hiked up we pointed to random things and named them in our respective languages. Others told me about their backgrounds: some had finished eighth standard, one actually had a bachelor’s in civil engineering but did not receive any practical training in college, another was already a 40-year-old construction worker but had come to improve his skills. Despite their differences in background, all the students were comfortable friends, even horsing around as we walked up the hill.

For some time, we all stood as the students were told me about their plans for the future: to move together to Pune or Mumbai; to work their way up to become contractors; to become successful in the big city.

After some time, we stood. As dusk deepened, our guides walked Ben and I back to our lodgings, located only a three-minute walk from the rest of the center. I was surprised by how quickly the darkness settled; by the time we crossed the threshold of the illuminated center, the path had become almost completely black.

As we stepped our way through the darkness, one of the students in our group invited Ben and me to go out walking with them tomorrow morning at 6 a.m. I declined, but observed that the surrounding area must be beautiful to explore.

He took a deep breath and agreed. “The air is clean out here, and I like walking around the hills when everything is still quiet.”

“When you return to the city,” I said, turning towards his dark silhouette, “it won’t be like that. There’s certainly not that much open space, or quietness, or clean air.” I couldn’t see his face in the gloom, but I could hear the ambivalence in his sigh. We walked the rest of the way in silence.

When we reached the room, all of us said our goodbyes, shook hands all around. Ben and I watched the students disappear into the night before turning into our room. And as the silent night settled, we made our ways to our respective beds: to sleep, to dream, to wait expectantly for a new day.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Education for me is..

1:51:00 PM
Education for me is Blog for Pratham India By Priyanka Shertukde
Mandodari and Shindu (From right to left)
Education for me is Blog for Pratham India By Priyanka Shertukde
Kalpana




















It is a hot summer afternoon. Frequent power cuts have made life in the small village of Ankurli in Solapur quite unbearable. Exams are over for POSE students but some women from this center meet up again under the tree in Kalpana’s verandah to cool off and share their experiences over the past year.

Kalpana is in her late 20s while Mandodari and Shindu are proud grandparents. The common factor that brought them together was their time at POSE. Today the discussion is not about the issues at home or some gossip about that girl who is still unmarried. These women, quite unknowingly slipped into a debate about what will education mean to them in the future. Mandodari is an Asha Sevika and hopes to retire in a few years. Kalpana has been coaxing her to enroll in a college with her but Mandodari is content with her role of helping out with her grandchildren at home. She believes that she got this opportunity to study and now she wants to devote her time in taking lessons at home. Shindu has been unusually quiet today. Her days at Anganwadi have been a bit tough with all the POSE classes and coping up with exams. She is constantly at war in her marital home. Her whereabouts during classes were questioned by her neighbors and in-laws. Her husband kept asking her to stop this ‘education business’. But in her mind she is sure about studying further and graduating. Her dream of becoming a college teacher has been mocked by many. She says, “There must be a reason that our village was included in the list for POSE centers. I will take that as my cue and make the most of it.”

Kalpana has been brimming with energy. “My son’s teachers told me that he is doing exceptionally well in Math now. He told his teachers that I inspired him when I relentlessly struggled to get my lessons right and now he wants to do the same,” she said. Education has made her the pride of her household.

Shindu was always the accepting one. But today she has voiced her opinion and demands for an opportunity to continue studying till she is alive. She enjoyed taking care of her children and grandchildren but now she enjoys something more. She likes the feel of books in her hands. She likes the challenge of sitting through an examination. “I am happy working at the Anganwadi”, she says. “I don’t know why I want to study more. But I just want to”.

For some education is a luxury provided by their parents or in-laws in some cases, some hope to turn their lives around and fight their past while some look at it as a beginning of a whole new chapter that can lead to infinite possibilities. Their future is undecided but for now they have managed to initiate a cycle of change that may mean hope and progress for the entire community.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Little world of creativity

12:30:00 PM


Little world of creativity Education Blog for Pratham India  Written by Priyanka Shertukde

Holding a flash card with a photo of an Octopus on it Pooja questioned her tiny students, “What is this?” A chorus of ‘Octopus’ resonated through the room but one boy yelled out, “Yeh bhoot hai (This is a ghost)!” We looked at each other and burst out laughing. This 4 year old boy decided to disagree with the entire class and stretched his imagination to guess the creature. He was promptly corrected but he surely gave us a good laugh.
As the flash card activity continued other children tried to interpret the pictures in their own way which turned it into a new game altogether.
This Balwadi is one of the many Pratham Balwadis that function in Pune city of Maharashtra. It is a delight to see a bunch of kids reciting poems and indulging in interactive sessions like puppet shows and storytelling. The children are full of surprises. Nishka is another five year old who avoided any eye contact with visitors but loved to show off her talent of reciting stories. She would start off by introducing herself and narrate a story without any pause or confusion. She recited three long stories in the same organized manner and did not show any sign of exhaustion. Her teacher informed us that she started telling stories in one of the Balwadi’s puppet show activities. Nishka would go ahead and create her own versions as well.
Some say pre-schools are unnecessary, some say they turn out to be an added burden on children while some look at it as a waste of effort. But as we see kids get along, play, draw, sing, talk and indulge in so many creative activities we wonder is it truly unnecessary?
The little ones prove an interesting fact: It is never too late to educate yourself and it is never too early to begin learning as well.

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