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Monday, 18 January 2016

Meet Uttam Teron!
An Out of the Box Educator from Pamohi, Assam


[LOTB comes across exemplary educators working under trying circumstances, lack of infrastructure and around intense cynicism and de-motivation. Yet, they become shining bright stars of their schools and communities and bring about a positive change. ‘Out of the Box Educator’ is a series to document the silent successes of such educators]

--Bikash Bhandary Chetry
(Bikash works in the Central Team of Learn, Out of the Box programme)

Colin Powell (the first African American to be appointed as the Secretary of State in United States of America) rightly said, ‘A dream doesn't become reality through magic; it takes sweat, determination and hard work’

Uttam with his school children
Uttam is a young college graduate who is transforming lives of hundreds of children in a small tribal village of Pamohi in Assam. While working as a master trainer with Learn, Out of the Box in Assam, I had an opportunity to support Parijat Academy,a school for underprivileged children which currently serves more than 500 children from 9 tribal villages.
It was winter of 2013, I first met Uttam, the founder-principal of Parijat Academy. That day, he was busy with his usual academic schedule. Prior to meeting him, I had heard of him from my colleagues at Pratham. Additionally, I had read about him and his school on the Internet. After initial introduction, Uttam told the story of Parijat Academy.

Curious minds in groups at work
Thirteen years back, Uttam started teaching with four children. An empty cow shed and a pair of desk and bench was the only infrastructure he had then.It’s been more than a decade since the school started and Uttam has grown from being just a college graduate to an expert Educator and a change agent. An Educator who understands the pedagogy for his children and a change agent who understands the need of the community; shares a concern of his society and works for it.

Since the beginning he has worked relentlessly. Reminiscing the memory, he said "I was just a fresh college graduate then, and I could see many institution of National importance around me like IIT Guwahati, Assam Agricultural University, Guwahati Medical College, Assam Engineering College, and Guwahati University. I figured out that none my village youths were attending these institutions of higher education. With those thoughts in my mind, I decided to start teaching children, with a hope that one day Pamohi village will have youths who will be graduating out of these institutions"

Learn, Out of the Box class in progress
The first visit was an insightful one. His enthusiasm and zeal to make change is unsurpassable. In fact, he hadclearly demonstrated how to make ‘change’ happen through his initiative.Since the first visit, I visited the school several times. Each visit gave me lot of motivation, inspiration and opportunity to be with Uttam and hear more from him.As I reflect on his practices at the school, I see Uttam as an excellent teacher and a school manager – He is so different that it seemshe has gained mastery over the art of teaching. His way of explaining concepts are fun filled and engaging to students. At the school, Uttam’s engagement with other staff is transformational. Hierarchical system is non-existent and everyone’s working towards one common goal.In one of the visits to the school, he showcased me a book ‘Connect the Dots’ by Rashmi Bansal and said ‘See Bikash, I am doing nothing, but trying to connect the dots’.

For his effort, Uttam was awarded CNN-IBN Real Hero Award in 2011, Silver Phoenix Award in 2012 and Balipara Foundation Award in 2013Parijat Academy is today supported by numerous organizations and individuals.

If every Indian village had one Uttam Teron, that would then transform the landscape and at least attempt to resolutely take on challenging issues like corruption, quality of education, poverty among others. This might sound utopian. But this is the utopian dream I have.

Learn more about Praijat Academy at www.parijatacademy.org
You can write to Uttam Teron at parijatacademy03@yahoo.com

Monday, 11 January 2016

Meet Praveen Sinha!
An Out of the Box Educator from Giridih, Jharkhand


[LOTB comes across exemplary educators working under trying circumstances, lack of infrastructure and around intense cynicism and de-motivation. Yet, they become shining bright stars of their schools and communities and bring about a positive change. ‘Out of the Box Educator’ is a series to document the silent successes of such educators]

--Anurag Shukla
(Anurag manages the Learn, Out of the Box programme in Jharkhand)

A dilapidated construction surrounded by crumbling blocks, depleting student strength and a group of de-motivated teachers greeted Praveen Kumar Singh a few years back when he joined GMS Mahatma Gandhi school in Giridih-Jharkhand.

Praveen immediately called for a meeting of the community members without being daunted by the challenges. He discussed about the possible corrective measures that could be taken and asked them to join hands and contribute. His clear thought, simple demands and exceptional past record prompted many in the community to back him. Praveen brought some key changes to the
school infrastructure with active support of some organizations. Next, he constituted a decision making body within the school and made teachers part of it, thus giving them ownership. Other teachers were assigned other important responsibilities in running the school. In spite of his administrative engagements, Praveen decided to teach daily and organized a capacity building workshop for teachers on efficient utilization of existing resources in school. A student body was also created and students were assigned defined tasks with girls given equal representation.

Within a year, the enrollment of the school tripled and the current strength stands at more than five hundred. As the previous problems were resolved, some others cropped up but the bright spot of the school has been focus on learning by engaging the students, teachers and the community. Every morning the students eagerly await their head master who talks to them about a new topic every day. Students like coming to school and some of them keep coming back even after passing out.

One morning, an odd sight greeted the students as they rushed inside the school: a plastic covered bust was placed in the center of the playground. Praveen asked the students to guess the great man wrapped. The student who guessed correctly would get to inaugurate the statue. This was one of his many ways to make students feel more involved in the school. He has also engaged the school cleaners to attend reading and writing sessions to ensure anyone associated with the school develops further. Praveen conducts various science experiments and motivates the students to have discussions on them. He builds up their analytical skills by sharing puzzles and maze stories and uses the playground to teach using real world examples and asks the students to speak in front of everyone to enhance their confidence in public speaking.

Praveen often faced a peculiar problem while interacting with parents: they spoke a different language and never understood anything. His simple solution was to learn the languages these parents spoke. Over the course of 10 years in various schools across Jharkhand, Praveen has learnt three tribal languages and now freely talks to the parents.

Tuesday, 5 January 2016

Is Education Really a Private Enterprise For a Few?


--Shaily Pal &Shubhendu Chakravorty
(Shaily and Shubhendu work in the Central Team of Learn, Out of the Box programme)

Uttar Pradesh is one of the most socially active and politically dynamic states in the country. Today, the position of a school owner within the power structure in the society is unique in many ways. It was during one of our field visits, when we met and interacted with a few owners of low income private schools in Uttar Pradesh. It is important to note that with any definition of private school, boundaries remain blurred. For example, ‘private’ schools may be financially aided and regulated by the state; even those that operate independent of the state still interact with governments – whether to achieve registration, get teaching materials, follow a curriculum or examination system, or just to avoid scrutiny.

It was brought to the table whence some light was thrown on the role of state government in these private schools. To our delight, the discussion wasn’t hovered by mute points instead it kept mushrooming on every front. There were only two women participants amongst the seven members of the group and we felt ecstatic seeing their confidence with every point they posed. Moreover, despite being suppressed at times amidst the bold male voices, they managed to stand by their views and made sure to be heard. Encountering that part of the discussion was like cherry on the cake for us apart from the group’s noteworthy cognizance. They held the discussion supporting and aligning with each other which made their perceptions stronger.

After an extended conversation, the group came up with a draft memorandum that was a blend of agreements, partial dissents and reality checks. Below mentioned are some of the many remarkable points the group came up with:

• Recognizing Private School Teachers
Existing workforce in low income private schools is often untrained, over-worked, underpaid and de-motivated. While regular classes are conducted in private schools, their quality is being increasingly questioned. The government could initiate an institutional mechanism of teacher recognition wherein they will be certified as trained & approved teachers after an experience of about 10-12 years and completion of other pre-determined criteria. This will ensure that the current resource is trained on industry standards and teachers seeing a financially enabled growth path for them.

• Creation of a Professional Chamber for Primary & Middle schools
Chambers or pressure groups are an integral part of a vibrant democracy and history indicates that such groups provide an additional perspective to the discourse. An urgent need of consolidating the Primary & Middle schools in some kind of a union was prevalent. Government’s initiative for forming such a professional chamber for schools and teachers could help create a common platform which is in regular communication with the government. Aspects of self-regulation could also be brought in by such a chamber.

• Checking corruption at all fronts
The participants were critical of themselves and other fellow owners for by-passing the government norms on recognition and affiliations. Corruption and nepotism is rampant in this aspect. While, there exists a policy of automatic de-recognition of the school if any false claim is proven to be made at the time of seeking recognition of affiliation. However, no such policy of defined action exists against erring officials granting recognitions on flimsy grounds. Corruption cases against officials are often lost in lengthy procedures of vigilance enquiries, if any. This creates an imbalance and results in government officials driving a corrupt nexus with the owners in the absence of any punitive action. It was agreed unanimously that it may be difficult to bring about a sea-change in ethic of the school owners in the immediate future but at least institutional corruption can be checked if those taking decisions are strongly penalized in inquiry proven cases.

• Institutionalizing funds for students and school management
The participants were sensitive towards the fact of receiving funds from the government as part of scholarships for rewarding well performing students. They believed as schools become institutionalized, they tend to become more loosely coupled and parts in a loosely coupled system work independently of each other, thus they will be able to incentivize children giving them a push to study hard.

Apart from this, the motivation behind the owners operating private schools is an intangible descriptor that is complicated by the fact that school owners of any description may express their motivations as a combination of competing commitments to philanthropy, corporate social responsibility and business interests.

This unstructured and unplanned discussion indicates the overarching role state governments have in school education, be it private or public. This group was of the view that while interference in private education is not desirable, the state government certainly has the responsibility of a providing an enabling framework to this critical aspect of human development.

With the election year approaching in Uttar Pradesh, they are upbeat of creating an impression on the state government with their ideas.

Mr. Chief Minister, hope you are listening!