Student Leadership In Rural Bihar

by | Jan 6, 2020

Image courtesy Flickr. Education the huge population of the country remains one of the daunting challenges since Independence. Also, it will not be unfair to say, we have not done well thus far.

Leadership is often seen as a quality which is inherent in one and a majority of our beliefs lie in one person taking up the role of a leader to inspire and make his/her subordinates work. Though this kind of approach is important for a work to be done in a stipulated time period, but leadership is much more than that. It is for everyone in a group of people who can come forward and take a lead to make situations better for all. More than being inherent, it is a quality that can be built with time. Leadership responsibilities might be towards attaining a set goal or just towards daily life chores to see a better tomorrow.

The Rural Context

The eradication of widespread poverty remains a daunting challenge in India. As widely evident, poverty in India is largely rural, significantly related to caste and is prevalent in the east and the central parts. Livelihood insecurity in the farm sector, poor attainment in education/skills and lack of service sector/non-farm opportunities contribute to each other in perpetuating poverty. Large parts of the east and the central also suffer from serious government and institutional deficits and the system for delivery of public services, including skills and education, remains crippled. It is thus no surprise that the majority of these regions continues as extremism led conflict zones. In such extremism led conflict zones, few organizations are working with a mission to empower communities by providing quality elementary education to children.

These children are disadvantaged because of their poor socio economic background, ignorance and illiteracy of parents, indifference of teachers to poor students, lack of a conducive learning environment, no reinforcement of learning at home, low value of education in the families, poor nutrition etc. Besides the above, straightjacket approach to the content and process of education does not work for all. The relevance of the standardized curriculum and teaching-learning methodologies affects the pace and quality of output, especially for the poor and backward children. Also, there exists no programs and efforts to develop skills and build the potential of these children. Skill Training Institutes either are not there or are located at far off places creating opportunity costs in terms of time and money. Youth most often remain unskilled and migrate for unskilled labor. The poor keep running around information brokers for simple information that is available to any digitally literate person at the click of a button.

These challenging problems demand of an initiative that delivers the best quality education at the door steps of people, creates skilling opportunities in-situ, generates revenue for local employment, and bridges information deficit or digital divide. If the remedial measures are not initiated, and extra attention is not paid to poor and disadvantaged children, the rural segment or the segment affected by poverty will always remain inferior and insecure. 

Though a lot of schools and institutions are working on developing children’s potential and building their skills to enable them to differentiate well between idealism and beneficial thereby making them able to stand up confidently to achieve their long term and short term goals.But these efforts for shaping children are majorly seen in urban lands of the country whereas the rural part requiring much of it is still left behind. Self employment, agriculture and construction activities of rural India contribute largely towards India’s GDP and hence children belonging to these communities need to be skilled to propagate towards achieving better life prospects.

Leadership For Children

To run the India of 21st century, there is a need to prepare individuals, communities and the whole country. The efforts for this preparation need to be put from the very beginning in one’s life to imbibe the confidence, risk taking ability, critical thinking, decision making and collaboration in order to make the next generation able to dream wisely and work intelligently on achieving them. For this, children should be having a sense of ownership towards themselves and their peers so that they are able to speak up and lead the situations better. Leadership skills allow children to have control of their lives and the ability to make things happen. Leadership instills confidence, and helps children solve problems creatively, work in a team, and work collaboratively with others. It gives children many opportunities to develop responsibility. 

Munger is a twin city and a municipal corporation, situated in the Indian state of Bihar. I’ve been staying in the city for over one year now and working on providing quality elementary education to children in the naxal affected villages of Munger.

i-Saksham is an education and learning foundation that works on enriching educational experiences of children in these regions by providing quality education to underserved children through the youths in their communities. It runs a fellowship program where community educators are being trained on applying innovative practices in teaching along with the use of technology to provide a better quality of education to children. These community educators either open up a learning centre of their own at their households of teach for two hours in a government primary school. 

As we soon figured out that introducing innovative practices in teaching is not enough for holistic development of children, we’ve started inclining our efforts towards cognitive and leadership development among children. Children are like fire. There is just the need of a small change to ignite them and they’ll be ready to lighten the world around them. Something just like this happened when we started up with community events and celebration of national and international days at our fellows learning centers and in schools where they’re teaching. On the important days, i-Saksham fellows conduct various activities at their centers and communities spreading awareness on the purpose and history of the days with required needs to maintain the dignity of these days along with a better future for all. 

When children from Daniyalpur village (students of one of our fellows) got to know about ‘World Health Day’, not just they celebrated the day by painting; but eventually took up a march across their village to sensitize their communities regarding health and hygiene. This little bunch of energetic and vibrant kids made different queues and walked across their whole village shouting loud to spread words about the importance of keeping the surroundings clean, bathing everyday, washing hands, cleaning clothes etc and took the responsibilities themselves to maintain hygiene in their classroom. The march included children who are very interactive walking along with children who are nervous to stand alone. Also, it triggered a few people in the community to know more and send their children too for the march. 

Health March at Daniyalpur village, Bihar. 13-Year-Old Poonam leading her classroom in the event

Another example is of a 13 year old girl, Poonam who is a student of one of our fellow, taking up the initiative to teach 6-7 years old at his learning centre. Poonam; inquisitive and intelligent, has always been seeking opportunities where she can contribute in supporting others and develop her skills. During her class timings, when our fellow saw her providing peer support to her juniors; he asked her if she is interested in taking up classes of the younger ones at the learning centre. She was more than happy to hear that and has started teaching grade 1-2 kids for one hour at the same learning centre with her will. She has better understanding of education and has consequently turned up as the youngest ever fellow of the organization having been recruited this year in i-Saksham fellowship program. 

Children from the villages in India, particularly from the under developed zones have always lagged behind when exposed to a new surrounding / environment. This is majorly because they’ve never been prepared for such exposures. The sudden exposure or opportunity to interact with new people fills a deep nervousness and leads them to feeling inferior about stepping into the world outside. Providing leadership opportunities creates an indifferent confidence and the ability to stand up recognizing the power of one’s own identity. This can make them overcome their vulnerability to undue influence and manipulation. 

With increasing crimes in cities, children in cities are favourably not sent alone outside their home during their whole childhood. While in villages in India, there still pertains a culture where people often remain carefree regarding the safety of their child and let them wander in village with their friends and neighbours.

Perpetually, children in the villages are more liberal to talk to people in their neighbourhood, buy things from shop, protect their friends in times of fights etc. This naturally develops a sense of ownership where children are being trusted by their parents and are sent to buy stuff from shops nearby which makes them sensible enough to guide their younger siblings to do the same.

Unlike cities, children in villages more often go to their schools alone and take up their friends as well acting responsibly. These children from their childhood only are exposed to agriculture or labour related environments due to which they have a keen knowledge of planting, ploughing the fields, crops’ types and their requirements etc. They can take care of the crops in the absence of their parents, feed their cattle and take their siblings to school. Unfortunately, these children though being exposed to so many leadership opportunities during their childhood have confined boundaries and no additional sources to boost their skills.

Role Of A Teacher In Developing Leadership

In rural India, a teacher can play a major role in building leadership among children. He/she can have most influence on children by focusing on giving opportunity to each child to lead in the classroom and outside. He/She can easily seek potential in every child and understand the diversity in the nature of children. Students find their voice in the classroom if they are given the opportunity to lead and use daily life leadership activities in the classroom. A classroom is the space where all of these kinds of children can be made to excel and lead. As a teacher spends hours with children, he/she can promote leadership in his/her classroom through daily teaching strategies and activities. Some of these can be:

What is the scope and role of an educator in the current public education system in rural Bihar? Is leadership in its ambit? In image, an i-Saksham fellow with her students.
  • Divide the class into groups while doing any activity and pick up new child each time to lead the group
  • Form class monitors and change them every month
  • Engage an intellectual child with an introvert and help him/her grow
  • Talk to children on moral values and important events and ask them to spread a word in their communities regarding it
  • Set classroom cultures and give a chance to different set of children timely to lead each aspect of it
  • Promote peer learning in classroom 
  • Appreciate every child’s potential whether it is related to academics or not
  • Provide free thinking space in the classroom to children

Role Of School In Developing Leadership

Schools have the power to shape and mold a child. Being an institution for developing a child from his/her childhood, schools should build a culture where each child is appreciated and prepared to be a leader. Especially in rural parts of our country, the schools need to focus on building the self-esteem of children so that they do not feel inferior when exposed to new surroundings. Majority of children in rural India are first generation learners, thus it becomes the responsibility of the schools to nurture these children by providing them an environment to express and stand up for expressing. To enable such environment, schools can opt to do the following:

  • Send teachers regularly to workshops focused on skill building and knowing a child
  • Reduce admin pressure and let teacher’s spend more time with children
  • Organize meetings of teachers on a regular basis for teachers to come up with ideas and learn from each other
  • Provide children freedom to express and come up with innovative ideas
  • Conduct events and activities to boost a child’s learning experience

Role Of Parents In Developing Leadership

Parents in rural India, though unintentionally develop leadership among their children can contribute more by making their child excel and take responsibilities in life. Irrespective of their literacy, these parents can nurture their child in various forms. From involving children in taking up small decisions at family to hearing them when they have any new ideas can help build leadership potential in a child. These parents can guide their children about climate, nearby hospitals in case of emergencies, the PRI structure of the village and a lot more such things that they themselves listen and learn.  Children in villages can set good examples and can become role models for others which can help other children excel too. This will ultimately lead to empowering the village and it’s people letting them strengthen their skills. 

  • Asking children to work in groups will make them realize the meaning of working in team and they will be more confident to put their voices if exposed to a new community
  • The best leaders learn to handle failure as gracefully as they handle success. It’s important to expose future leaders to disappointment rather than protecting them from it. Children need to learn to handle the loss and move forward when the other team wins or someone else is elected class president
  • Children should know the skills of decision making. As children become overwhelmed by too many choices, parents should narrow down the choices to three or four and ask the rationale behind children’s choices from them
  • When buying vegetables, parents can let their children ask for prices and have a direct conversation with the vendors
Parents participating in the learning of their wards in a Learning Centre by one of the iSaksham fellows

Government Efforts To Promote School Leadership

The National Centre for School Leadership (NCSL) has been established with the prime purpose of transforming ordinary schools into schools of excellence and eventually bringing improvement in the entire school system through leadership development. The leading priority for NCSL therefore, is to prepare school leaders for school transformation. This would involve continuous engagement of administrators and practitioners to transform schools through collaborative effort involving all stakeholders. NCSL aspires to comprehensively address this very significant area in school education in the entire country. 

Vision: Develop new generation leaders to transform schools so that every child learns and every school excels. Mission: Enhance leadership capability at school level for institution building to deliver quality education.

With India is growing fast, there is a strong need for the next generation to be able to handle it’s growth and take the country forward in education, agriculture and all the other formal and informal sectors respectively. For this, leadership should be introduced and invented in each child’s attitude, especially in the rural part through which a child in future feels no insecurity in stepping into new space and raising his/her voice. 

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