India Interior

Tiny havens of learning

Usha Rai | Updated on June 01, 2018 Published on June 01, 2018

Innovation is the key at the new balphulwaris in Bahraich

Right to education, education for all, beti bachhao, beti padao are wonderful slogans. But putting them to practice can be a Herculean challenge, especially when it comes to flood-rehabilitated peasants in remote Baldipurwa village of Bahraich. When the Ghagra river washed away Basgari village in 2013, the families were rehabilitated in bamboo, plastic and tin huts in this barren dust bowl of Uttar Pradesh.

Today, some 200 families live in the rehabilitated village, 60 from Basgari and the rest from Pachdevri hamlet. All do labour work, travelling to Bahraich, Lucknow and other cities. Their children were wandering around aimlessly, covered with dirt. Eighty per cent of the resettled in Baldipurwa had never been to a school, so the question of sending their children to one seemed a distant possibility. There was nothing close by, not even an ICDS (Integrated Child Development Services) Centre. Then the Aga Khan Foundation, with its dreams of seeing every child in school, took on the challenge.

With support from the Tata Trusts, it began implementing ‘Improving the quality of education project’ in Chittaura and Risia blocks of Bahraich district in 2016. Its focus was on preparing children of three to six years for primary schools through Early Childhood Development (ECD) centres, improving learning outcomes in government primary schools as well as Madrasas. Currently in the second phase of the project, it is looking at improving the learning opportunities and outcomes of 13,000 children.

When AKF workers met the community at Baldipurwa and offered early childhood education for their children, the community offered one of the huts to run the balphulwari or ECD centre. Community representatives and Bal mitras, young people from nearby villages who had completed Class 12 and been provided basic training to work with children, went from home to home to identify children and bring them to thebalphulwari. The village pradhan did one better — he offered space of 30 by 20 feet for the centre. Families offered ₹10 each and their labour as contribution for the centre.

Today, the balphulwari is one-and-a-half years old and humming with activity. Thirty six children, three to six years, faces clean and radiant, learn numeracy and literacy that will enable them to get admission to the closest government school. Bansilal Yadhav and Suresh Yadhav, members of the school managing committee, are from the displaced community and take personal interest in the centre. Sharif Masood, the programme coordinator, has been trained on early childhood development by the AKF. Bal mitras Pooja and Shahana keep the children engaged with nursery rhymes, story-telling and recitation of tables.

Focus on health too

Since the children are from the poorest sections, there is screening for malnourishment and stunted growth. In the first batch, three of 20 kids were referred to the Raipur Malnutrition Centre, 5 km away, for 10 to 15 days, accompanied by their mothers. They were nourished back to better health and their mothers given instructions on feeding them so that they don’t relapse into malnourishment.

Earlier the government provided dalia (a nutritious kichdi made with broken wheat) as the ICDS food supplement at the balphulwari.

However, not just at Baldipurwa but at other ICDS centres in Bahraich, this vital food supplement was stopped a few months ago. So parents are now counselled to pack tiffin for their children. The Tata Trust helps plan and review project work. AKF is running 45 other ECD centres, all except one is in thatched huts.

At the ICDS centre at Bitthla, 70 km from the Nepal border, attendance was low because even children had been roped in to help with harvesting. But among those present there was competition on who could recite nursery rhymes fluently. AKF has supported a collection of local stories in three books which were translated into Awadhi, the local dialect, and illustrated by education organisation Eklavya.

At Dhoba village middle school, supported by AKF, attendance has gone up 30 per cent. Tejram Beswal, a member of the school management committee, says the children now come neatly dressed to school. To ensure attendance, the SMC visits homes, talks to parents and even helps them out with repair of doors and taps to win their confidence.

At the Madrasas, 14 supported by AKF, in addition to Arabic and Urdu, Hindi, English and Maths are taught and teachers groomed in modern methods of pedagogy. A popular play-and-learn method is called philsalpatti. In the innovative game from the Nalanda Resource Agency in Lucknow, two strips of letters of the alphabet are rolled down and the children have to make two-letter words. It’s a bit like scrabble but with fewer letters. At least 12 children from a government school have shifted to the Madrasa at Katilyabupsingh village, attracted by the improved teaching and learning.

The writer is a senior Delhi-based journalist

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Published on June 01, 2018
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