Bihar is one of the marginalised states in India in terms of education. It has a total literacy rate of 64% and female literacy rate of 53%. Women’s education and social development badly needs support. I’m working with Happy Horizons Trust on empowering adolescent girls, early childhood care, and improving the education system in Bihar with a focus on teacher training programs.
The organization extensively uses design thinking as a tool to come up with human-centric solutions. At the same time, we are also creating an ecosystem of social entrepreneurs working across education, health, and livelihoods. This blog is about my experience in schools.
The need for empowering adolescent girls came up when the team found that the girls are often restricted at home, are engaged in household chores, and are married at an early age. This had resulted in minimum exposure for them and limited opportunities. To work with this group, a youth leadership development program (YLDP) was launched. Under this, local girls from Simri Baktiarpur, Saharsa are selected and trained so that they can teach in government schools. The training is for skill building as well as overall personality development.
Girls teach classes 1-5 for a period of two years, and then choose whether they want to continue doing it or take up something else. This year YLDP has seven girls.
Champions Of YLDP
Girls selected to teach in government schools are called ‘Champions’. They are usually pursuing their graduation alongside teaching and helping children feel interested in their studies. Through the sessions, they also develop confidence and public speaking skills among themselves and in turn, among their students.
Getting to know them was a refreshing experience for me. They are energetic and motivated, willing to work in challenging situations. Khushi, one of the champions, dreams to get into Bihar police. Saima, another one, teaches really well and also enjoys making reels on Instagram. Children are fond of learning from them as compared to other teachers because the champions are more friendly and use participatory ways to engage.
Initially, my job was to visit the schools where we work, observe and understand the ways in which champions take sessions. During this time, it was eye-opening to come across the poor condition of classrooms, learning levels of students, and teachers’ behaviour with students. I had not seen all this before. Some rooms were not even big enough to accommodate the usual class size of 30-40 students, and there were not enough rooms for all classes to run at the same time.
Because of this, two to three classes would sit together in one classroom, making it even more difficult for teachers to manage it. The learning of senior students gets compromised in this case. Due to this, teachers had to take classes in the corridors as well. There were no benches for students, leaving them with no option but to sit on the floor. All this was unlike my childhood and school days back in Delhi at a private school.
Mid Day Meals In Schools
At one school, while talking to teachers and principal, I found out that mid-day meals play a huge role in students’ attendance, overall affecting the school’s attendance. The women who cook these meals told me about the menu each day. They even showed their kitchen, storage area and the gas stove on which they cook. They was hardly any outlet for the smoke to go out.
In each school that I visited, there were 2-3 women to cook meals for the whole strength of 300-250 students. They’d earn around 3-4k rupees per month, and the work conditions appeared harmful for their health. Babita, one of the cooks from a primary school says, “Vaise to school me 350 bacche hain par roz saare nahi aate hain, takreeban 150-200 hi aate hain. Haan lekin Friday ko anda milta hai toh us din bacchon ki sankhya zyada hoti hai” (There are a total of 350 children in school out of which only about 150-200 come everyday, except on Fridays when eggs are included in the meal. So, more children come on Fridays)
Knowing all this, I can infer that there is scarcity of food at students’ homes. Education may not be the priority in every household or for all parents but getting even one meal is a reason enough to send their children to school. Sometimes, instead of books, a plate is found from the bags of students. Many of them are more excited about the food than the classes. The lack of nutrition among them is clearly visible, though. Even after eating at the school, they work with their families on fields, and travel long distances to and from the school. The mid-day meal cooks don’t have a say in improving the nutrition level of children.
About The Teachers
On my first few visits, the teachers were really polite to me, pulling a chair, offering food, and getting to know me. Later, I got to know it was because they assumed that I had come for inspection. They had been in the same school since last 12-15 years, and didn’t seem motivated to do their job well. Coming to the school, taking a stick in their hands and hitting children seemed to be their only way to engage. Or else, they would endlessly scroll on their phones, or even sleep.
One teacher from a middle school told me, “Hum isi school mein 18 varsh se hain. Shuruwaat toh humne bohot kam me ki thi, kareeb 4 hazaar me lekin aaj salary 40 hazaar rupay hai” (I’m a teacher in this school since 18 years. In the beginning, my salary was really less, only about Rs. 4,000 but now it has increased to Rs. 40,000)
All the stakeholders are working to meet their needs. Teachers say that the students are not willing to come to school, and hence they aren’t motivated to teach. Seems valid when they say it but it doesn’t justify teachers’ salaries then. On asking students “school me padhayi hoti hai kya“, they say “kabhi-kabhi“. Parents, on the other hand, send children to school based on their convenience which is why the enrolment rate is high but attendance is relatively lower.
Reference: Census 2011 – Bihar