Thursday, July 16, 2015

Every Child Counts - Pune : a Citizens' Campaign - all children in school at the right age

The need for all out efforts to reach all children

A July 2015 policy paper jointly released by the UNESCO Institute for Statistics and the Education for All Global Monitoring Report, shows that the number of out-of-school children and young adolescents is on the rise, reaching 124 million in 2013. The global number of out-of-school children of primary school age rose by 2.4 million between 2010 and 2013, reaching a total of more than 59 million, 1.7 million of them in India. This serves as a grim reminder that the world has yet to fulfill its original promise to provide every child with a primary education by 2015. These figures may grossly understate the reality, given that most-marginalized children , those belonging to migrant families may not be counted at all. Around 15 million children are estimated to be internal migrants according to a 2013 UNESCO report.

While countries strive to achieve universal primary and secondary education through the new Sustainable Development Goals, A small group of citizens in the city of Pune, India led by eminent social worker Prof. Rajani Paranjpe , founder and President of Door Step School, have been silently doing their bit for making "Education for all" a reality.

Every Child Counts, Pune - Citizens' Campaign -  a small beginning

Triggered by a call for action on the slow global progress on the UN Millennium development Goal of "Universal elementary education for all by 2015" , Door Step School launched a Campaign - EVERY CHILD COUNTS - A Citizens' Campaign (ECCC) in Nov 2011. The objective of the campaign was ensure that every child is in school at the right age of 6-7 years , thereby increasing the chance of his/ her continuing and completing 4 years of primary education by 2015.  Despite the legislative measures like the "Right to Free and compulsory Education Act-2009" access to schooling and therefore education and its benefits are denied to many children, particularly children of families employed at Construction sites, Brick-kilns and children of Nomadic communities engaged in their traditional occupations such as street performers, artisans etc.  

In the first two years (2012-14), the Campaign focused on the city of Pune, a city with thriving industries and an therefore an influx of migrants in search of livelihood,  trying to reach children of school going age in every nook and corner of the city through a systematic survey. The survey was carried out by citizen volunteers from Colleges, Companies and social groups as well as social workers of Door Step School. The program was supported by Tata Institute of Social Sciences(TISS)  as an action research project with the objective of building a scalable and replicable model for access to education for all. 

The impact of the Campaign

 With 3000 children being enrolled in these 2 years, several companies came forward with funding support in extending this Campaign to the Pune Metropolitan region covering Pune, Pimpri Chinchwad and emerging suburbs of Pune(Outer Pune), convinced of the presence of large number of migrant children and the problem of their Educational deprivation.

In 2014-15,  a total of 2205 locations(construction sites, shelters along the roadside, semi-permanent slums) were surveyed and 2972 were enrolled into mainstream schools through the Every Child Counts-Citizens' Campaign and a special program that focused on involving parents in the process called "Parents participation in Children's education". These children would have otherwise remained out of school and continued to be educationally excluded, despite the Right to Education(RTE) Act.

Continuing into its 4th year now , the Campaign has so far surveyed 1832 sites and located 3344 children who are of school going age( 5-8 years) .  1286 children have been enrolled in neighborhood schools across Pune, Pimpri Chinchwad and Outer Pune areas in one month this year, taking the total number enrolled to 7329.

A systematic and planned approach

A systematic methodology for identification of children of "school going age(6-7 yr old) and their enrollment was developed and documented in 2012. Volunteer tool-kits were prepared and distributed.
The methodology is a 3 stage approach, with Citizen involvement in grass root level activities at all stages.
a) Stage 1- Survey:. Systematic survey of each and every street in the city to cover Housing and road Construction sites "in progress", temporary settlements, semi-permanent settlements to determine the presence of labour camps and children who are in the 6-7 year group.  The next step is to map each site to the nearest school based on the list of schools/ map location of the school obtained from school authorities .  Once children are located, parents are approached and counseled on the importance of education , informed of the nearest school and the process of getting the children enrolled into schools. The volunteers/ field staff  encounter questions ranging from " Who will pay the fees?", "We are not going to live here long.. why should we enroll our child", "We do not understand the local language"  to "We don't think education will benefit our children". 

Mapping of sites and schools in Pimpri Chinchwad-2015

Wherever children and parents have no exposure to the concept of schooling, the team starts "Preparatory camps" for the children. A temporary classroom is setup in a tent or a more pucca room provided by builders or hired and children are introduced to the idea of schooling and learning. Volunteers often become role models for the children, helping in setting up the camps and conducting play based activities.  The children are taught basic hygiene and get used to sitting for a longer period, say their names , a few important phrases in the local language, making it easier for them to adjust in a large school with many children.
Assessment of transport needs is an important step too. The distance from schools and the presence of large highways on the road to school often poses a barrier for children to make it to school. Though education is Free under the Right to Education act, school transport is not. Funds are raised by our volunteers and partners through events like Marathons to support school transport. "Vidya Valley" a private school has been allowing us use of their school buses in a few areas to support the transport of nearly 100 children for the last 2 years.

b) Stage 2 - Enrollment and support
Sites with children identified during the survey phase are revisited before the start of the enrollment period in June and parents encouraged to visit the schools by themselves to enroll their children. A simple identity card called "My Card", carrying details of the children and the name of the school is given to the parents to help them provide the required details to the school. Sometimes builders need to be convinced to give the parents time off from work to complete their child's admission, While many parents are able to reach schools themselves and complete the admission process, many more need hand-holding and need to be escorted to the schools by our volunteers and field staff.
Wherever school transport is absolutely essential, such transport is arranged. Sometimes escorts are arranged to help the children walk to school safely.

c) Stage 3 - Follow -up

During this stage the campaign team with the help of volunteers monitor the progress of children by visiting sites and schools. Parents are educated on their role in getting involved in parent meetings and schooling. Other barriers to children attending school regularly such as lack of parental awareness, particularly among migrant parents, lack of safe transportation to school and school attitudes towards migrant children are addressed.  Many times the children  have to move suddenly when their parents move and do not  inform the school authorities. Given the large number of children who migrate , tracking their movement and ascertaining their continuity in destination schools is quite challenging.

Citizen involvement

Citizen volunteers are an important part  of this program, with many groups taking ownership of localities and raising funds for school transport. In 2014-15 22 Organizations contributed through volunteer mobilization and participation in surveys, enrollment, parent awareness programs  Over 500  volunteers participated in all.  Door Step School would like to thank all these Organizations and Volunteers.

Scaling to other cities beyond Pune

While the grass-root level enrollment activities were in progress in and around Pune, in the background , the larger goal of scaling this program to cover as many cities in India as possible was also on our agenda. We conducted our first outreach program at Nasik  Maharashtra  inviting interested groups and shared details of the Campaign and how it can be replicated. The first step has been taken by NGO "Education on Wheels"  showing interest in replicating the program in Nasik. A reported 500 children were located and enrolled in Nasik under this Campaign in June 2015. Companies have shown interest in taking this program to other cities through their CSR programs.

Creating a platform for wider reach and participation

To create a platform for all stakeholders, NGOs working in other cities/ states, Corporates supporting education through their CSR activities and individuals interested in the cause, the team is setting up an Online Platform that will help organizations and individuals join this Campaign in their own location and ensure that reach each and every child in the country and ensure enrollment. The platform will be child centric.

These efforts are seeds that we envision will grow into a larger movement involving citizens, government agencies and the beneficiary communities themselves. 

Written by:
Raji Satyamurthy, Program Director, ECC

Thursday, July 9, 2015

First Steps Forward - An Initiative for Better Learning Outcomes

      An article written by Mr. Colin Bangay (Senior Education Adviser for the UK’s Department for International development in India) on 2nd June, 2015 for World Education Blog, prompted me to write about the experiment Door Step School has  been conducting for the last four years in primary schools of Pimpri Chinchwad (PCMC) and Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) schools.


      Door Step School is an NGO registered in 1989 in Mumbai. It has been working in the field of education in Mumbai since then and in Pune since 1993. All its efforts are entirely geared to creating awareness and opportunities for education; facilitating access to mainstream schools, and imparting education to the most marginalized children in our society. The target group is children between three and fourteen years. Multiple inter-related programs have been developed and implemented to tackle the main problems faced by our public schools viz. non-enrolment, wastage and stagnation.

      One such program ‘Project Grow with Books’ was initiated in 1999 in only 10 Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) schools. What started as an ‘extra reading’ initiative for improving reading skills of children in government schools, its metamorphosed version continues to run today in 240 schools in PMC and PCMC area. The program is run on school premises, during school hours with full cooperation of teachers, principals and school authorities. It is scheduled in the school time-table and uses the time allotted for additional reading which is 70 minutes per week per class of about 40 students.

      ‘Book Fairies’ are grass-root level functionaries who conduct reading class sessions. A team of two book fairies conducts a session. Every session is planned in such a way that every child gets to read a book by himself or herself and also gets to read aloud 5 to 10 lines from that book under the supervision of a ‘Book Fairy’. This takes about 35 minutes of a session time. The remaining thirty five are divided in activities like story-telling, singing action songs, playing word games etc. About 10 minutes of the session time goes in distribution and collection of books. After the 70 minute session is over, children are issued books to take home; they exchange the books in the next session. As a part of this program we take reading ability tests of all children twice a year. The main purpose of these tests is to select books appropriate to reading levels of children.

‘First Steps Forward’ - Our New Initiative

      The test results that we got initially were not very different from ASER reports. Year after year we used to find that almost 30% of the 1st Graders were promoted to 2nd Grade even though they did not know all the letters of the Devanagari script - the basic blocks for reading Marathi language. We were not very happy about the situation and decided to act upon it. We went through the steps viz. assess, analyze, and diagnose every year but did not take any remedial action because, as I see it now, our diagnosis was not right. We kept looking at schools and teachers and concluded that poor quality of education or learning is solely because of them.

      However, we forgot to take into account the role parents play in children’s education. The number of hours and the efforts educated parents in India, (whose children attend good reputed private schools), invest in their children’s education is something to be experienced to believe! The children who attend government schools have to cover the same syllabus, without the kind of inputs and exposure the private school children get from their parents. Also, in addition to regular support and inputs, private school children have a head start because all of them have pre-primary education and some of them even have experience of play-school.

      Once we examined the problem through this perspective, and accepted it as reality, we started remedial measures. We called this initiative “First Steps Forward”, meaning that 1st Graders who lag behind will step forward and come up to the expected level of 1st Grade before they are promoted to 2nd Grade. Since our main focus is on language and that too, on reading skills, we said that all children in 1st Grade should be able to read a book prescribed for them by the School Board, by the end of the academic year. In terms of learning, it means that all children should be able to read all letters, ‘matras’ (letter + vowel sounds), and composite letter words, without difficulty. We already had Reading Ability Tests designed to measure all these aspects. Since we accepted this diagnosis, we designed a program to substitute parents’ role for the same children.

      Before sharing how we achieved this goal, I would like to show here how much we could achieve and how we are progressing as we gain more and more experience of running this program.

Results of the First Steps Forward Initiative -

The results, as we see them, show three points clearly:
      1. The remedial measures we have taken are showing results;
      2. We are improving by the year; and
      3. We have a long way to go to achieve our goal!

      The third point struck us hard in the first year itself. We were aiming to achieve hundred percent but could only cover 50 percent.  So we analyzed the data vis-a-vis the children’s attendance and we realized that attendance percentage of a child is an additional factor in diagnosis. Private schools insist on 100 percent attendance. The rules are so strict that no parents dare keep their children at home unless it is an absolute must. In government schools, minimum 80 percent attendance is required. In other words, the goal itself is set at a lower level. In addition, there is no compulsion on parents to explain the reasons for absence.

      When we looked at the performance of children with 80 percent and above attendance, we found that up to 85 percent of the children could achieve the expected level. (It must also be noted that few children still remain at the ‘letters incomplete’ level. We still have to look at the reasons for their failure to achieve even the lowest level.)

      We started our initiative in 2011. The 1st Grade children whom we covered in 2011, completed 4 years of schooling this year. We looked at their performance as well and the picture is as we see below:

      Note: This data is only from 41 schools where we started this initiative in July 2011. The number of children is less because here we only took those children who continued in the same school from Grade 1 to Grade 4.

Details of the initiative ‘First Steps Forward’

1. Our specially trained ‘Book Fairies’ work on this initiative with full support and involvement of class teachers.

2. Sessions are for 35 to 45 minutes every day during school hours and in the classroom itself.

3. Yearly planning is done along with every class teacher. Aim is to reinforce what the teacher teaches in the class. This is further broken down in six-monthly, monthly, weekly, and daily planning. School holidays and other contingencies are taken into account while planning. There is a general chart of action.

4. Children vary in their learning capacities as well as learning levels, hence every child’s progress is assessed on a weekly basis while planning for that week. Based on a child’s progress, different activities are planned for each child; and groups are formed according to learning levels.

5. To give reading practice of the letters, ‘matras’ etc. learnt during a week, a variety of teaching aids (teaching material, activities, games, songs, stories, etc.) are used. In fact, we have identified as many as 12 different ways of teaching each letter through play and other creative activities.

6. Ongoing and individualized assessment; analysis, and immediate corrective steps is the Mantra we follow.

7. In addition to the above measures which are school-based, we involve parents, older siblings, and if required, neighbors, in the entire process. We talk about the Right to Education and bring awareness in the community. We discuss with parents what we are trying to achieve. We show them the books, the content, and explain what we expect from them and how they can facilitate the process even if they are not literate. We provide them with charts, pictures, etc. to be put on their walls. These are based on our weekly planning. Elder siblings are also involved in the same manner. Throughout the year, we are in contact with parents.

8. We plan to work on improving attendance more rigorously from this year. Initially when we started the program, the percentage of children who had 80 percent or more attendance was around 40 percent of total enrolment, but slowly and steadily now it has gone up to 52 percent.

9. It is important to note here that last year, the local government education department requested us to organize training for 103 First Grade teachers from municipal schools where we are working. The training was mainly for making and using simple but engaging teaching aids from easily available reusable material. All these aids are regularly used by our Book Fairies in the classroom.

      We know this is just the start. ‘First Steps Forward’ is a small initiative in the much larger picture of ensuring learning in school. But we see a ray of hope - enhanced awareness in the communities, partnered with more learning opportunities, innovative teaching approaches, and regular remedial action - this initiative will definitely lead to better learning outcomes.

- Rajani Paranjpe
Founder, Door Step School

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Health, hygiene and educational awareness at Undri

Door Step School, in collaboration with Nielsen, organized a health, hygiene and educational awareness campaign on 11th June at Undri. The event covered two slums of the area. The slums of Undri are largely occupied by construction workers, a community which generally shares its joys and sorrows together but never inhabits a place for too long. In their transient nature of work, people from this community may often neglect the importance of education of their children and well being of their family. Thus, it becomes essential to make them aware of the importance of education, health and hygiene.

Although Door Step School has been working in Undri, it was the first time such a large group of 40 enthusiastic volunteers from Nielsen joined us for the cause. We marched with banners stressing on the importance of education, health and hygiene. 

Thereafter, a skit was performed on both the sites in the local language of the people. Not only did the audience enjoy the skit but they also understood and promised to practice the message conveyed through the play. 

The team then distributed hygiene supplies including dental care items and body washes to the children. 

On the whole, it was a memorable evening for everyone involved. The workers at the Undri sites understood the message of cleanliness and education; the associates got the satisfaction of having done something good for the society.

Contributed by Neevi Palival, edited by Anusheel Pandey