“हम मूरख हई| पढ़ेल लिखेल नहीं हई, हम की जानी!” (I am dumb and illiterate, what will I know!)
These were the words of Kusum Devi, who had come to attend the Parent Teacher meeting (PTM) at one of the learning centers of i-Saksham, where her son Bunty Kumar comes to study. Kusum Devi has never been to school. It is one of the reasons she calls herself dumbest of the dumb when it comes to measuring the academic growth of her child.
Among the parents, women are the one who majorly attend PTMs. This can be a result of men going in fields for work or of less talk around education in the community that women are being sent to attend PTMs considering it not-so-important meeting for a man. Having been exposed to rural communities and interactions with them, I clearly see the stigma of illiteracy popping out whenever a conversation on education is initiated. This inferiority complex makes them give excuses to leave the place at once or divert the topic.
The result of this stigmatization may be shame on the part of the stigmatized – which is defined as “a negative emotion elicited when a person experiences failure in relation to personal or social standards, feels responsible for this failure, and believes that the failure reflects self-inadequacy” (Fortenberry et al., 2002, p. 378).
Though the word illiterate means “the inability to read and write”, our modern world has inferred it in several other ways such as:
- The inability to take decisions
- The inability to understand things
- The inability to act logically and so on…
While being illiterate may be a cause or effect of any or all of the above reasons, in a lot of cases, these are assumed myths associated with illiteracy that condemn people like Kusum Devi making them believe that they deserve the socio-economic boundaries created for them. This consequently leads to more such boundaries and the self-esteem is always on the verge of slipping down. On the basis of people’s actions and reactions here, I would question our understanding of illiteracy and its relationship with thought process, behavior and actions.
Kusum Devi, who was hiding her face during the PTM on being asked about her child’s education when finally spoke, said “पहले बच्चा अपना भाषा में चिल्लायिबे करता था, अब अंग्रेज़ी में गा गा कर खेलबे करता है|” (Earlier my child used to shout out loud in our own language but now he even plays in English). I was amazed at her way of putting things and quickly appreciated her for that. She again hid her smiling face in embarrassment and the women sitting around her burst out in laughter.
The PTM was arranged to make parents realize how they can play a major role in academic growth of their children even though they never studied themselves. It was to let them know that they are capable of looking after their children and analyze their academic performances. When we started explaining them the innovative practices we use at centers to make their child understand the concepts better, their inquisitiveness boosted up.
We introduced them the TLMs (teaching and learning materials) we use for beginners to learn writing English alphabets and how using UTH blocks can define place value of numbers (UTH blocks are used to teach place value where U defines unit and is made of 1 square paper, T defines tens and is made of a strip of paper containing 10 squares of the same size as the one in unit and H defines hundreds containing 100 squares of same sizes). It required two attempts and these women understood how a three digit number can be expanded in ikai, dhai and sekda i.e ones, tens and hundreds. A bit of more encouragement and they were on cloud nine, proud of the fact that it just took a few minutes for them to grasp the concept.
Afterwards, we gave suggestions on how they can make their children do the homework, check for teacher’s signature on notebook, listen poems and more. Slowly, the belief of having a self-worth and capability of take part in one’s child education got visible. Meetings like these will surely be able to make parents build their interest in education and may even ignite the desire educate themselves.
Kusum Devi after acknowledging the importance she was given showed the courage to speak about her expectations for her child. She doesn’t want her children to live a life like hers but wants them to speak in English and recite poems irrespective of her being unable to understand the language. She expects her child to grow up in a learning environment and get settled in city far away from the troubles of village life.
As men and women in the villages will be exposed to opportunities where their opinion will matter irrespective of their literacy levels, they will feel pride in their existence. It will not just enable them to let their children educate but will also make them more confident and hence, empowered.
*Names changed to protect identity