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Update on The Ragi Project

The ‘Nai Talim’  project at Poorna school saw a healthy harvest  as well as some  media publicity.
Here is an article about it:
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Development and Social Change: India versus China

The gap between the human-development rankings of India and China is well known. According to the latest data-set compiled by the UNDP[i], India’s rank is 131 whereas that of China is 90. This difference is not merely due to the per-capita income.

Men and women, on an average, live 8 years longer in China. On an average, a woman in China has 7.2 years of schooling whereas that figure is only 4.8 in India. Regarding per-capita income, what is striking is the contribution of women between India and China. On an average, the contribution of a Chinese woman to the monetised economy is 5 times that of an Indian woman. The difference between the males of India and China is not that substantial (and it is less than 2 times.) An Indian woman on an average contributes only less than one-fourth of that of an Indian man to the economy. (Yes, women contribute a lot to the non-monetised part of the economy but such a contribution is there in China too).

These highlight the role of the under-achievements in education and the lower rate of work-participation of females in India in making its human development indicators significantly inferior to those of China.

India and China are comparable

Historically, China and India had, what can be called `intense’ patriarchy. There were forces that prevented the education and employment of women in China. Feudalism was strong, and the majority survived as tenants with small sizes of land or as agricultural workers. Given this situation in the past, it is interesting to see the current difference between India and China, especially when the latter could overcome some of these constraints over time.

What has contributed to the improvement of human-development in China?

An immediate response would be that China had followed a socialist model of development and that could have made the difference. Rather than accepting this fully, we may try to unpack this argument.

Have those economic policies followed in China during the period of central planning (until 1970s) contributed to a higher level of welfare in China? There is no clear evidence. Economic development and the growth of employment in industrial sector were not remarkable during that period. China has changed these economic policies afterwards and adopted a market economy. For all these reasons, it may be incorrect to argue that the economic policies of the socialist state have created a substantial difference between India and China.

In order to accelerate economic and human development, economists and political scientists may prescribe the adoption of the type of governance and institutions of the western developed world. Though this may be a plausible argument in other cases, it is not valid in the comparison between India and China. India has relatively more open and transparent institutions which are closer to those in the western developed world but that has not helped in enhancing the welfare of its people compared to that in China.

A similar situation can be seen in the role of the private sector. Despite the prevalence of different levels of control by the government until 1980s, India had allowed private enterprises throughout its modern history. That was helpful in developing a culture of private entrepreneurship and a set of professional business people. Moreover, there has been a reasonable distance between the state and capitalists (despite instances of crony capitalism now and then) in the post-independent period of India. None of these is valid in the case of China, but that has not prevented it from achieving higher levels of human development compared to that in India.

It is somewhat obvious that the social policies of China have enabled the schooling of boys and girls, and the employment of women in industrial or modern economy. The state was willing to work against those social norms which discouraged the education and employment of girls. There was an opposition to the participation of women in literacy classes and to the enrolment of girls in schools immediately after the socialist revolution. However, the communist party played an important role in persuading and sometimes coercing people to accept the importance of education and paid employment for women.

This experience may encourage some people to infer the following: China could do these since it was a totalitarian state, and India could not afford to follow such an approach as it was a budding democracy after its independence. It is true that almost all countries which have had a socialist state in the past could improve its HDI compared to that in India. However, the argument that India has failed in this regard because of its democracy seems to be incorrect empirically.

If we take a look at the list of developing countries which have higher levels of human development than that in India, one can see countries which have been both democratic and those which have experienced different levels and types of dictatorship. South Korea, Malaysia, Taiwan, Thailand, and Singapore, which were poorer or under-developed like India and China in 1950s, could achieve higher levels of HDI than that of both India and China, through different degrees of democracy (and dictatorships). The cases of Sri Lanka (HDI rank: 73) and Costa Rica (HDI rank: 66) which have experienced democratic competition for longer periods, and have been successful in enhancing the human development to a level higher than that of China, are well known. Relatively less developed Latin American countries like Peru, Ecuador and Uruguay have achieved HDI ranks which are higher than that of China (and India).

Indonesia and Philippines (in Asia), Botswana (Africa) and Paraguay, Nicaragua, Guyana and others (in Latin America) could enhance HDI to a level better than that of India (with different levels of democracy). This achievement is notable since they too face other issues of underdevelopment.

Hence the argument that China could improve its human development compared to that of India primarily because the former was a socialist totalitarian state, would be incorrect. Though the need to preserve democracy and the integrity of the state may have encouraged post-independent governments in India to avoid certain strategies (like the taxation of farmers), I don’t see this as a strong reason for not encouraging the education and industrial employment of girls.

What do all these indicate?  

India’s situation would have been much better, if it were following a `minimal’ set of social policies that enable the schooling for all, especially girls, and their participation in jobs in industrial and service sectors. China and East Asian countries had followed different approaches to achieve these outcomes since the social norms in these countries were also not that conducive for the education and employment of females.    India could have followed these social policies. That does not require a totalitarian state.

India had followed certain approaches of the socialist state, especially that of an import-substituting industrialisation, until 1980s. However these did not contribute much to the economic development of the country and hence were discarded afterwards.  However the country had not used the social policies of either socialist-countries or social-democratic regimes in different parts of the world. In my view, India’s embrace of (limited) socialism was least useful.  It did not aid either economic or social/human development. This fact is overlooked by those left-of-centre commentators who are still nostalgic about `Nehru’vian socialism.

There may be factors somewhat unique to India and these may have encouraged the liberal socialists and centrists of the country to neglect the importance of education and employment of girls. The caste system could be an issue, as noted by Myron Weiner while explaining the persistence of child labour in the country. India’s `liberal’ policies in education[ii] – which provide schooling to those who demand it and neglect others – may have roots in its caste fragmentation.

Mahatma Gandhi’s idea of providing a different kind of education was not well received by elites and non-elites. Elites and the middle-class or upper castes wanted modern education, and non-elites did not want to use formal schools, if the purpose of schooling was to keep them engaged in the same kind of livelihoods which they were familiar with[iii]. Though the liberals of India, saw the problems in the approach of Gandhi, they did not do much to spread the formal schooling to the majority.

This failure is not due to the interests of capitalism, as some Marxist educationists think. On the other hand, the interest of capitalists to get industrial workers, have enabled the schooling and employment of girls in a number of countries. It was those pre-capitalist and pre-modern forces which were disabling the spread of education, and the liberal modernists of India have failed to work against such forces. It could be that India’s liberalism is rooted in its pre-modern social structure. This is reflected in the psyche and attitude of intellectuals, policy-makers, academics and so on.

It is in this regard that we can see differences in other societies. May be due to the interest of socialist parties or of capitalist-friendly rulers and dictators, or due to the endogenous demand of people at large, governments have worked towards spreading formal schooling to the majority, and enabling industrial employment.  That has not happened yet in India, and how fast we can catch up with others in this regard is unpredictable.

[i] http://hdr.undp.org/en/composite/GDI

[ii] This is discussed in Santhakumar, V., et al (2016), Schooling For All: Can We Neglect the Demand, Oxford University Press, Delhi

[iii] For details of this argument, see http://azimpremjiuniversity.edu.in/SitePages/pdf/APU-Working-Paper-Series-3-Work-in-Education-and-Skill-Dev.pdf

source: https://vsanthakumar.wordpress.com/2017/12/04/development-and-social-change-india-versus-china/

Under Graduate Addmissions 2018 @ Azim Premji University

For more information visit: http://azimpremjiuniversity.edu.in/SitePages/admissions-programme-ug-overview.aspx

 

 

Internet and WhatsApp are revolutionising Uttarakhand’s schools, giving teachers a forum for self-development

S Giridhar

The Azim Premji Foundation has been working to contribute to improving quality of government schools through its field institutes across a number of districts in six states. The author visited nine schools in the Ganga Valley blocks of Uttarkashi district between 21 and 24 August and ten schools in Yamuna Valley between 11 and 15 September.

On a rainy Sunday evening in the hill town of Uttarkashi, while most people were sitting snug and warm inside their homes, 105 teachers travelled several kilometres to attend a lecture by Devendra Mewadi, a philosopher of science from Kumaon. Mewadi had drawn a full house the previous evening as well, in Chinyalisaur, a small town in the same district, where over 130 people listened to his talk titled ‘Shikshan Mein Vaigyanik Chintan’.

To understand the significance of such enthusiastic participation by teachers in academic meetings, perhaps a short background would help. Over the past few years, the concept of a voluntary forum where teachers get together periodically, either on holidays or in the evenings after school, to discuss academic and pedagogic issues has taken root in every district where the Azim Premji Foundation has introduced it.

In these districts, the foundation has also established a number of “teaching learning centres” that serve as hubs for teachers to meet informally, browse books, access material on the internet, and so on. The attendance for these voluntary forums is usually around 20, depending on the subject or the topic being discussed (themes such as the aim of education, school leadership, or the Constitution of India have been discussed).

Representational image. AFP

The teachers invest their personal time and their own money for transport to attend these forums. It is well recognised that self-development initiatives are effective when participation is voluntary, and not because of some instruction from the department. Based on this principle, ‘Voluntary Teacher Forums’ were established as a platform for self-motivated teachers to discuss academic and pedagogic topics that will help them become better at their profession.

 

A key reason for the gradual increase in the number of people attending these voluntary teacher forums in recent times is the role of WhatsApp groups that teachers have formed. The ‘Math resource group’, the first to be formed, now has over 150 teachers. The science teachers of Uttarkashi district, after attending a workshop two years ago, formed the ‘Innovative science group’, and this group now has over 100 teachers. In 2017, language teachers created their own group called ‘Culture of reading and writing’. Teachers have also formed groups for their respective blocks, cutting across lower primary and upper primary schools and across subjects, such as ‘Purola block teachers group’ and ‘Naugaon block teachers group’.

The full house in attendance to hear a lecture by a philosopher of science on a holiday is evidence that these WhatsApp group formations do help galvanise teachers’ interest in self-development. How did 105 teachers attend Mewadi’s lecture at Uttarkashi and 130 at Chinyalisaur? The answer lies in the reinforcement of a desire to learn through regular academic dialogue that take place on these WhatsApp groups. In the distant villages of Sunali or Bhatwari, when some respected teachers informed 200 colleagues on their WhatsApp groups that they were looking forward to a lecture by Mewadi, two things happened: Every teacher received intimation of such a lecture (in case s/he had missed earlier announcements) and it also served as an endorsement that these talks will be useful and relevant.

However, even the best of training workshops face a limitation, in that teachers may love the programme and give great feedback to facilitators, but then go back to their routine practices at schools. In an unexpected way, these WhatsApp groups help the longevity of training workshops and courses, as the teachers continue discussing elements of the programmes and their applications in their WhatsApp conversations.

The key to the sustainability of these groups is the richness of academic and pedagogic issues that are discussed. For example, a teacher initiates a query on the best way to introduce the subject of data, frequency and graphs. A teacher in another block 100 kilometres away responds saying how she does it in her class and also uploads pictures of the material that she used. This helps not only the teacher who posted the query but also perhaps many others. Puzzles and problems are often shared — from books, question papers, internet — followed by solutions.

Some conversation threads can get long as several ideas are offered on the teaching of a concept. The group is usually not satisfied by just the correct answer and probe each other for the “how” and point out if any step is not correct. Multiple ways of cracking the same problem emerge by this collective effort. It seems to be a great way to spread local solutions and approaches. A Mathematics educator might critique some of their models but what is important is that they are thinking and designing instead of buying readymade material for their classrooms.

The nature of academic exchanges are similar in the Science group as well. In the generic Block Teachers groups, the exchanges include government circulars and such relevant information, the announcement of workshops and events or news of the achievements of their colleagues, especially if s/he receives an award. If a Hindi version of a good article is available, this is immediately shared in the group.

 

Teaching English is perhaps the most stressful, as even the better teachers are inadequately prepared. Shanthiprasad, a very experienced teacher, explained how the internet and WhatsApp groups are helping teachers like him. “After Azim Premji Foundation conducted a workshop on English teaching in 2016, around 50 teachers from Tehri and Uttarkashi formed a ‘Project English’ WhatsApp group. This has become the platform for us to ask queries, look for solutions and exchange information. Smartphones are the biggest change makers. Now we don’t have to be computer savvy because we access the internet on our smartphones. We have instant references there. Our group’s reading has increased significantly, as also our mutual sharing and learning. Although our conversations are mostly in Hindi, our discussion is on the teaching of English. None of us has an opportunity or occasion to talk in English, so you can imagine how useful such a forum is for us,” he said.

There is perhaps a lesson here for all of us — technology in education works best as a natural solution for teacher networks here rather than as a forced input.

WhatsApp groups can descend to inane conversations or as forums for hot tempered political arguments. But thus far, the teachers’ groups in Uttarkashi have kept such things out of their exchanges through stern moderation. Trends are encouraging: Groups are focussed on their academic purpose; key resource persons who are good at their subjects are contributing to conversations without dominating the exchanges. What is equally critical is that the teachers who are not visible in these group exchanges are also engaged. We know that a large number of teachers have always had a desire to learn and develop, but do not possess the initiative for their self-development. By joining these WhatsApp groups, these teachers are now learning and developing their understanding.

We can leave the final word to one of the senior teachers, a veteran with over 30 years of teaching experience. “A sense of comradeship has developed. It seems that these WhatsApp groups are paving the way for teachers to be in touch with each other professionally and learn and grow in a continuous manner. It is also a window through which they connect to the outer world and share their work,” he said.

source: http://www.firstpost.com/india/internet-and-whatsapp-are-revolutionising-uttarakhands-schools-giving-teachers-a-forum-for-self-development-4228733.html

 

 

Update on The Ragi Project

Connecting children with their food source through education.

Read full story here: http://www.theyellowturmeric.com/the-ragi-project/

Scraped knees and spirited minds: How an Uttarakhand girls’ school defied odds to become kabaddi champion

Article by S. Giridhar first published at: http://www.firstpost.com/india/scraped-knees-and-spirited-minds-how-an-uttarakhand-girls-school-defied-odds-to-become-kabaddi-champion-4212803.html

The Azim Premji Foundation has been working to contribute to improving quality of government schools through its field institutes across a number of districts in six states. The author visited nine schools in the Ganga Valley blocks of Uttarkashi district between 21 and 24 August and ten schools in Yamuna Valley between 11 and 15 September.

Our visit to schools in the Yamuna valley in Uttarkashi district in the Garhwal Himalayas coincided with the annual sports festival organized by the education department. While this meant that we had to adjust our school visits to accommodate the sports schedule, it also provided us the opportunity to understand the context of sports in government schools in these areas, with vignettes that were poignant, uplifting and occasionally brilliant.

Among the many schools we visited, only two had a decent playground. While keeping this fact in mind, one must remember that in hilly areas, it is difficult to create a playground. In Uttarkashi, given its granite-rock formation, even the small school courtyard is rough and uneven. The terrain is such that it is a challenge to play ball games since the ball rolls rapidly down the steep slopes. And so, most schools largely focus on kho-kho and kabaddi.

With this brief preamble, let me narrate the story of Girls Upper Primary School in Damta village, which is a short but steep climb off the road. We went there because this school has been doing remarkably well in kabaddi; champions at block and district level and going right up to the state championship. We learnt a lot more than just the reasons for their excellence in kabaddi. For, what we saw and heard provided us a precious appreciation of how a good school can be a life-changing experience for girls who come from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Students of Damta Kanya School with their teachers, proudly displaying the certificates they were awarded. Firstpost/Giridhar S

Students of Damta Kanya School with their teachers, proudly displaying the certificates they were awarded. Firstpost/S Giridhar

There are 105 girls enrolled in Damta Kanya Upper Primary and of these 64 are from the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, while 38 belong to the OBC category. It is fascinating to learn from Durgesh Nandini, the head teacher of the school, how these girls happen to study at Damta: “There are 17 villages around Damta and these villages send their boys to study in the private schools at Damta. The boys have to take up rooms in Damta and so the parents send their sisters to cook and look after them. These are the girls who join Damta Girls School. For my co-teachers and me, our mission is to make school a life changing experience for these girls.”

The kabaddi champs of Damta Kanya who represent block, district and state in national championships. Image courtesy: Sanjeev Bijalwan, Azim Premji Foundation.

The kabaddi champs of Damta Kanya who represent block, district and state in national championships. Image courtesy: Sanjeev Bijalwan, Azim Premji Foundation.

One cannot miss the mission statement prominently displayed on Damta’s notice board. It says ‘all round development through a balance of scholastics, sports, arts and culture.’ It is a recently-established school—as recent as 2011—and Durgesh has been there from the beginning as the head teacher. It may sound clichéd, but life for Durgesh revolves around the lives of the girls who study in her school. She is in her mid-forties and joined the education department twenty years ago after her M.Sc. and B.Ed. She is not a native of the hills but is from the plains, near Lucknow. For years, she has seethed at the patriarchal attitude of society towards girls and their education, but she is also a person with a positive frame of mind who channels her anger and energy constructively energy into making Kanya Upper Primary a special place. It is, in her words, a life with a fresh new mission and purpose.

Supported superbly by her two colleagues, Durgesh is trying to ensure an appropriate balance between academic and other activities that will develop all-round capabilities in her students. Talking to the articulate and confident 12 to 14-year-old girls at Damta Kanya School, it is obvious that Durgesh is translating her vision into reality through action. Her attempt is for the students to develop self-confidence, poise and the ability to face and solve the problems that they come across in their life. Each of the 105 girls receives personal attention and this translates into extra hours every evening after the close of school, for Durgesh and her colleagues, as they help the children. Language learning is given expression through encouragement for original compositions and poetry writing, while the use of maps in the social science classrooms is in a manner one will not see often in schools.

Even as the teachers are paying attention to academics, they are also pulling together various initiatives to enable the girls to express themselves in sports, literature and the fine arts. “Mind and body’ is an expression that Durgesh is fond of using frequently. When she came to know of a good trainer for judo and karate, she persuaded him to come and teach this sport to her students. And then she focused on developing a team for kabaddi. Contributing money from their pockets, Durgesh and her colleagues have purchased lezim sets, dumb-bells and judo-dresses. In fact Durgesh and her colleagues end up contributing on an average around Rs. 1500 every month for various things ranging from teaching learning material to personal needs of the students. She believes that every child has a talent and therefore cultural activities go hand in hand with judo, karate and kabaddi. If one visits Damta on a Saturday, one will realize that it is a ‘no studies day’ and is exclusively for games, music, art and theatre.

It is rare that the person who prepares and serves the mid-day meal in government schools is aware of the school and its activities. At Damta, the ‘bhojan-mata’ – the lady who prepares and serves the mid-day meal – is an integral member of Durgesh’s team and this will be obvious to anyone who chats with her as she explains the vision of the school and its activities.

There's as much emphasis on games, music, art and theatre as on academics. Image courtesy: Sanjeev Bijalwan, Azim Premji Foundation

There’s as much emphasis on games, music, art and theatre as on academics. Image courtesy: Sanjeev Bijalwan, Azim Premji Foundation

Since the girls at Kanya Upper Primary are at a pre-adolescent/ adolescent stage, Durgesh encourages them to ask questions about anything that they are curious or concerned about. Durgesh says they ask her questions that they would hesitate to ask their mothers. Leadership among students has evolved organically, says Durgesh. A student with an interest in health and medicine, takes responsibility to maintain the health register, while the girls who are outstanding at kabaddi coach the school team.

Damta School’s kabaddi team has gone up through Cluster, Block and District to win awards at the state level. Its students have represented Uttarakhand in national tournaments. When we called out students who have represented block, district or state, more than a dozen girls stepped out. These champions play and practice on a school courtyard that is so uneven that odd granite rocks jut out. We asked, ‘how many of you have scraped knees?’ and with a laugh, all hands went up. As we leave, Durgesh tells us, ‘The posting to Kanya Junior School is a god-given gift’.

Launching ViVo 2.0: Voice it Voice out (Multilingual Student Newspaper of APU)

We are excited to launch the second edition of Voice it Voice out, the Multilingual Student Newspaper of Azim Premji University.

ViVo 2.0 November 2017 ]

The successful completion of the second edition is a milestone for us and we invite you to read the newspaper and share your thoughts with us! We hope you all will enjoy reading it as much as we enjoyed working on this platform. Do send in your comments and feedback to voiceit@apu.edu.in , as well as suggestions for the next edition. The hard copy will be available in January 2018, as the new semester begins.

Thanks & Regards, Team ViVo

 

Teacher education critical missing piece

Article by S Giridhar originally published in the Deccan Herald

The recently released World Bank study on the status of education calls out the “learning crisis” in stark and clear terms. To people involved in the domain of education, this is a reiteration of what the country has recognised as a most wicked problem for many decades now. Since 2005, the Annual Status of Education (ASER) report, has been calling out the problem every January by showing that more than half the children are unable to read or write or perform simple numerical calculations. Some years ago, two states (Tamil Nadu and Himachal Pradesh) were brave enough to participate in the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), a worldwide assessment of learning levels of 15-year-old children. The two states finished near the very bottom, just above Kazakhstan.

The fact that the children from disadvantaged socioeconomic conditions in rural India are the worst sufferers in a system that does not offer equitable quality of education is a moral burden each one of us has to bear. At the same time, the fact is, whether rural or urban, private or public school, the quality of education has gone nowhere. A study commissioned by Wipro Applying Thought in Schools to assess the quality of learning in Indian schools showed that our system was in the vice-like grip of rote learning. Thus, children in elite private schools fared no better when it came to answering questions that assessed conceptual understanding, analytical and higher order thinking.

Often, there has been the urge to suggest how accountability, incentives, the use of technology in schools and other efficiency-related actions would provide the breakthrough. It is good to note that the World Bank report recognises the centrality of the teacher, instead, and the need to invest in her professional preparedness. To those working on the ground for many years with rural government schools, this acknowledgement of the criticality of teacher education would perhaps be the most significant aspect of the report.

Not for nothing did the late JP Naik, doyen of Indian education in the 20th century, title his seminal work on Indian Education Equality, Quality, Quantity: the elusive triangle of Indian education. Through some of its landmark initiatives, such as the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, India has been able to address the issues of access and retention by providing a primary school in every habitation of the country and the mid-day meal, which is the largest such programme in the world. As a result, from an enrolment of 72% in 2002 (when 59 million children, out of 220 million in the 6-14 age group, were out of school) today over 99% of children are enrolled in schools. Attendance in schools has gone up and retention till Class 8 has risen from 42% in 2002 to around 80% in recent times. But JP Naiks elusive triangle is borne out by the fact that the third vertex of this triangle — namely, the quality of education — has simply been unattainable.

The World Bank estimates that by 2021, India will have 372 million children in the 0-14 age group and 367 million in the 15-29 youth group. The crisis that looms as a result of poor education, therefore, is potentially catastrophic.

Tinkering with existing systems and incremental improvements are just not going to work. This crisis in education is a national emergency; we have been calling it that for years. It is now or never for implementing radical reforms.

Central to this are radical reforms in teacher education. The Justice Verma Commission report of 2014 was an important beginning. But from there, the curve cannot get flattened by vested interests, political and venal machinations. How well and quickly we can reform our teacher education, implement high quality four-year integrated teacher education programmes and create institutions of excellence in teacher education will determine the fate of 370 million children who will in a few years join Indias adult population. In the process, we must rid the country of the sham of the 16,000 meaningless teacher education colleges and bring teacher education as an institution within the university, rather than let it remain in anaemic and inadequately resourced colleges. Ultimately, all this boils down to political will and commitment to good governance.

In a vast and complex country where there are over 1.5 million schools across 6,000 blocks, it is a fact that teachers receive very little attention, guidance or motivation from their supervisors. The academic support system for teachers is virtually non-existent. Changes in the systems, structures and processes are a crying need, but a strong teacher education system can provide competent people to support teachers on the ground. Obviously, many parallel strands of radical reform in our education system need to be addressed simultaneously. But the most critical part is teacher education.

Finally, there is another crucial piece in this complex puzzle. Our teachers come into the profession after studying in a very weak and dysfunctional undergraduate system. If our teachers were to be truly competent in their subjects, that would be possible only if our BSc and BA degrees provide depth and breadth in their chosen discipline. We cannot discuss quality in school education without recognising the abysmal quality of our undergraduate programmes.

The Kothari Commission report of 1966, the National Education Policy, 1986, and the National Curriculum Framework, 2005, are milestones in Indias quest for quality. But the next National Education Policy may well prove to be one of the most important documents.

If it shows the way through radical suggestions to transform teacher education, the need to invest in teacher preparation and identify the accompanying systemic and structural reforms, it will go a long way to strengthen Indias public education system. Over 50% of Indias children are dependent on government schools, and it is only when they receive equitable quality of education can we hope to progress towards the ideals enshrined in our Constitution.

In Uttarkashi schools, a poem inspires teachers to reflect on classroom interactions, make learning fun for students

The Azim Premji Foundation has been working to contribute to improving quality of government schools through its field institutes across a number of districts in six states. The author visited nine schools in the Ganga Valley blocks of Uttarkashi district between 21 and 24 August and ten schools in Yamuna Valley between 11 and 15 September. 

Uttarkashi receives lashings of rain during the monsoon, villages get cut off, the Bhagirathi river turns turgid and it is a time of dangerous landslides as boulders come crashing down the verdant and rugged Garhwal hills. It was during this period that we visited 20 schools in the district across both the Ganga and Yamuna valleys. I have visited schools in the district many times but this visit was after a gap of many years. By the end of two weeks, I could not help but compare what I saw now with what I had seen years earlier and felt a kind of elation that comes from seeing a transformation on the ground.

In the earlier years, I would see the odd heroic teacher. But what I saw this time among many of the 45 plus teachers, spoke of a journey of growth, self-expression, and commitment that comes from an upward curve of self-development. There were multiple strands that showed this transformation but in this article, I shall pick just one. The signs that teachers are indeed becoming reflective practitioners, who are thinking about their intellectually and ethically demanding profession in a meaningful way, and connecting what their work with how children think, feel and learn.

Maintaining a daily record of student interactions has become an important part of a teacher's duty in Uttarkashi govt schools. Firstpost/S Giridhar

Maintaining a daily record of student interactions has become an important part of a teacher’s duty in Uttarkashi govt schools. Firstpost/S Giridhar

Writing a daily diary, with reflections of their day in the school — the joys and struggles of teaching — has taken root in the past few years. If you visit Shoorvir Singh Kharola, a teacher at the Laata Upper Primary School, perched high on the hills, you will see how he unfailingly records his experiences. One day it is the joy of sharing the life cycle of birds through a project with his students; on another day, it is his frustration at not being able to explain moss and ferns while on another day it’s an emotional essay on a sad and troubled child who has recently joined his school. Singh’s diary would be a precious education for young teachers.

Back in Uttarkashi town, amidst a profusion of private schools, is the Government Primary School, Gyansu, with a strength of 70 children and four teachers. Rameshwari, a teacher in Gyansu since 2010, relishes the challenge of demonstrating that her students are learning as well or better than children in the neighbouring private schools.

It is obvious to anyone that she is completely invested in the students of Gyansu — for one sees energy, enthusiasm, and ownership. But this is tempered by the stocktaking that she does with her colleagues every day. The quality of her comments on every child’s progress portfolio, as a part of the Continuous and Comprehensive Evaluation (CCE) reflects that.

In many language classrooms, children are mechanically taught letter writing by copying a standard leave application letter. But in Rameshwari’s class, this becomes an adventure for she asks them to suggest all possible letters of application. Her children bring her their compositions — a letter to the district authority for water, for power, for roads and even one to the editor of their school wall newspaper, asking for the publication of her essay. Rameshwari maintains a daily diary and her writing reflects the vibrancy that is the essence of her persona. For example, recording how a team of 14 children when given a team task to discuss the concept of herbivore and carnivore, organised themselves into three smaller groups to ensure everyone had a say. The thrill of that day’s reflection in Rameshwari’s diary was that children designed such a process by themselves.

A page from a Uttarkashi school teacher's diary. Firstpost/S Giridhar

An entry from a Uttarkashi school teacher’s diary. Firstpost/S Giridhar

When one drives through the beautiful pine forests from Uttarkashi to Barkot, one moves from the Ganga valley to the Yamuna Valley. Almost as if in benediction, the clouds lift and the snow-capped mountain range of Bandarpoonch accompanies us on our drive to the Model School in Gangani. The first thing that would strike any visitor to this school is the collegiality among the five teachers.

As we sit in the sunlit portico, each teacher seems more intent on telling us something about his or her colleague. Suddenly, Manbir Singh gets up, goes to their library and returns with a slim, hardbound copy of a book, titled, Ranwalti Ki Akhaan (loosely translated it means proverbs in the Ranwalti dialect), written by colleague Dhyan Singh Rawat.

We teased out the story from Rawat.

Ranwalti is a Garhwali dialect and Rawat saw its rich folklore, proverbs, and sayings slowly disappear under a dominant Hindi. He decided to undertake a painstaking project to unravel and document all the proverbs in Ranwalti. He co-opted his students into the project and together they talked to grandparents and village elders to unearth virtually every proverb. Right from the sweep of the project, the way the children were involved, to the fixed pursuit, what Rawat has accomplished is precious. In a fascinating footnote to this tale, that afternoon, Rawat took my colleague Ashish and me to the remote village of Molda and introduced us to 92-year-old Sitaram Bahuguna. Holding him in a respectful embrace, Rawat said that many of the proverbs in his book were treasures shared by the old man.

And then there is Rekha Chamoli, a thinking and articulate primary school teacher whose diary is being brought out as a book; Chandrabhushan whose essays appear regularly in newspapers and magazines; and Rajni Negi who writes poems and stories because she believes she must augment what the textbooks provide.

I could go on but I must conclude by conveying how far we have come. In 2005, when newsletters like Pravaah were sent to schools in Uttarkashi, only a few would be interested; teachers would then be gathered together once in a few months and coaxed to read and discuss some of the essays. Twelve years later, Pravaah has become a 64-page publication with a number of articles contributed by teachers.

In a small way, this essay is also a tribute to Hemraj Bhat, a primary school teacher in Dunda. In his short life of 40 years, he left behind poems and writings that document the struggles and joys of a passionate teacher. His Adhyapak Ke Diary Ke Kuch Panne moved an entire community of teachers in Uttarakhand. How happy, Hemraj would be to know that the culture of reflection and writing has taken firm root in his beloved Uttarkashi.


– By S Giridhar
The author is the chief operating officer of the Azim Premji University. He can be reached at giri@azimpremjifoundation.org
First published  on here:  http://www.firstpost.com/india/in-uttarkashi-schools-a-poem-inspires-teachers-to-reflect-on-classroom-interactions-make-learning-fun-for-students-4173415.html

CIVIL SOCIETY HALL OF FAME 2017 – Oct 30 – 6.30pm @ Azim Premji University

We are pleased to intimate you that Azim Premji University is going to host the 8th edition of CIVIL SOCIETY HALL OF FAME recognition ceremony this year. The event is a celebration of lives lived in action. It is a way for citizens to honour citizens who are transforming lives of people around them. The CIVIL SOCIETY HALL OF FAME is an initiative by Civil Society magazine in partnership with Azim Premji Foundation.

You are cordially invited to the CIVIL SOCIETY HALL OF FAME 2017 recognition ceremony on October 30th at 6.30 pm at Azim Premji University campus, Pixel Park, Hosur Road, Electronic City, Bangalore.

The iconic band, INDIAN OCEAN, will perform on the occasion in the EVERYONE IS SOMEONE CONCERT.