‘Focus Child’ Growing Up As ‘Focus Adult’

by | Aug 23, 2019

We, as adults, end up doing a few things, which we were not interested to do but we think it will make us look normal. We convince ourselves that we are “Ok” and try to appear happy in front of family and friends, so that people don’t judge us.

This, unfortunately, has been developed since our childhood and subconsciously, gets deep-rooted in our minds. We are told to earn a lot of money, find a secured job (mostly with government) and not to take risks. We then teach it to our children but fail to realise how much harm we are doing to ourselves.

Not all children are interested in studies, but they are forced to sit in classrooms. Their interests are never recognised or encouraged. Being brought up in an urban setup, I can say that children in cities also suffer a lot because their interests are hardly noticed. Even if they are not interested to study, they forcefully have to attend school because that’s what their parents want whose parents may have done the same to them. When kids in villages drop out from schools if they are not interested in studies, it’s not always seen in a bad light. Sometimes, even the parents do not understand the importance of studies.

Now the question is if school education or children willing going to school are wrong. Definitely not. Children should go to school because that’s where they learn new things. What matters is what they learn in the school, how they learn it, how they are being taught and if their interests are being noticed and encouraged.

Since I joined Quest Alliance (QA) 6 months ago, in Samastipur, Bihar, I have been working on a project called Anandshala which was born out of a research study across 4 countries, pointing at the maximum drop outs in the range of class V to VIII. We work with children in government schools, who are on the verge of dropping out or have already dropped out. QA calls them as Focus Children and the process is called Focus Child Identification (FCI).

To identify children who may have higher chances of dropping out, we have an Early Warning system (EWS) which focuses on three main parameters:

  • Attendance
  • Hindi Performance
  • Classroom participation including behaviour with other classmates

Attendance is easy to track as one can simply look at the attendance register and find out how many days the child has been physically present. Hindi performance (to read and write) is considered as it is the common language used here for communication and all other subjects are in Hindi. Hence, it become important to know the language in order to learn well and in the long term, lead a good life in Bihar. Classroom participation and behaviour with other children is gauged by child’s interest to learn what is being taught, ability to ask questions and his/her openness with other children. If a child is disinterested, he/she tends to disturb other students as well and if the teacher scolds him/her, it may lead to dropping out from school eventually.

Before designing EWS, QA did a lot of research and analysed why children drop out, specially in 5th-8th standard. Listed below are some reasons:

  1. Disinterest in studies and/or school
  2. Strict teacher(s)
  3. Parents working on farms, to be able to earn enough money to survive and hence want elder children at home to look after the younger ones.
  4. Lack of toilets properly functioning in the school, adolescent marriages and pressure to stop studying further even if they want to study. These factors are mostly present in case of girls.

QA has closely observed the first category of children. The intervention that followed had the vision to enhance language proficiency and ownership towards schooling by building stronger relationships between students, teachers and parents. The organization has an Enrichment Program (EP) where the students’ interests are encouraged. QA has intervened in the already existing methods and procedures followed by the government, to improve it in parts such as morning assembly, Baal Sansad (students’ Parliament), Meena Manch (Girls’ club) and last class activities.

  1. Role play was included in the morning assembly where Focus children enact what’s taught in class the previous day. They read poems, display art and craft done by them, sing and tell community news (about local heroes, or if anyone has planted trees or donated money to build compound wall for the school)
  2. In Baal Sansad, focus children are a part of students’ parliament body. They are assigned with a ministry where they are responsible for specific activities in the school, for example, gardening or cleanliness or library management.
  3. Last class activities are done to build excitement about it among students so that they stay in the school for the entire duration and leave motivated to come back next day. Each day, a particular theme is followed, such as arts and crafts, poem writing, sports, painting, role play, skit, storytelling, sketching and energisers. What is done here, is also shown to the whole school in the morning assembly. The same gets displayed on the activity board for everyone to see such as parents, other community members and visitors from outside.

An interesting part of EP is that QA has managed to develop all these activities considering the fact that schools have limited resources, both human and material. These programs not only excite children to attend classes every day, but also let them learn something new which allows them to explore their interests, develop them and have clarity on what would they like to pick up in the long run and/on for career.

Anjali* is the student of class 6, from MS Kalaunjar, Kalyanpur block, Samastipur. She has 2 brothers and 2 sisters. Parents work as daily wage labourer to earn their livelihood. Most of the times, Anjali would be absent. If she comes, she’d be late. During the FCI process, it was found that she was present in the school only for 10-11 days a month.

Anjali Kumari, who was identified as Focus Child

On further evaluation, her learning level was found to be lower as compared to other children in the class. Teachers observed that she also participated less in class activities. In previous academic session, she scored grade E (poor) in Hindi language.

As per her teachers, Anjali was interested in sketching and painting. They gave her extra attention and took additional classes to help her with studies, while at the same time, encouraged her to continue painting. In morning assembly, like other students, she was also given a chance to show her art to the whole school, and to improve her participation. This resulted in massive change in Anjali’s attendance. It increased to 82% within two months. Her learning level improved to grade B. Her parents also observed changes in her personality and they enthusiastically participate in Parents-Teacher’s meeting. Their mind-set is gradually shifting to see education as an important aspect.

Anjali, while sketching

Now the question is if staying in the school is of utmost importance or what matters more is engaging in the activities and learning. Is it enough if one’s interests are being noticed, or should they be converted into passions? Ignoring these questions may mean that you’re also growing up your child in an environment you didn’t like and training him/her to become just like you.

*Name changed to protect identity

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