I distinctly remember my first visit to a school in Mokhada over 10 years ago. Crumbling infrastructure, low hygiene, no access to water were just some of the things that come to mind when I think back in time. But one thing that stood out the most was – the children and their keenness to learn. The spark in their eyes on seeing someone new, the anticipation on their faces in the hope to learn something different. They were like sponges – just waiting to absorb whatever came their way. That’s when we made it our mission to define the ‘whatever‘. All these children needed was the access and opportunity to education – a basic right that is often taken for granted in urban centres.
Like everything we do at Aroehan, our education programme has been carefully designed too. It has been culled out of our experiences, out of the need expressed by children, parents and teachers and out of our compulsive need to ensure that children are guaranteed the basic Right to Education.
Mokhada has a total of 10 Ashram Schools – residential schools for tribal children ( 7 are government and 3 are privately run) 158 schools run by the Zilla Parishad out of which 13 schools are up to the 7th std and the remaining are till the 4th std.
The main focus of our work on education is the implementation of the provisions of the Right to Education Act. But where does one begin in a place like Mokhada where children are grappling with core issues of access to schools, migration and the lack of awareness of what they are entitled to?
We had to begin from scratch.
First on our to-do list was getting all our facts straight – gathering data, understanding what the current situation was. Luckily for us, the Micro Planning process had provided us with rich data that gave us information on the total number of children in Mokhada, how many were in school, how many had dropped out and how many had never been to school. It also gave us information on the school infrastructure. In addition to this, we started working on a programme called GGG ( Girls Gaining Ground) – that was focused on adolescent girls’ health. We had a lot to begin with.
Our initial interaction with school children was on the issue of health and hygiene, but how could we talk about hygiene when they didn’t have access to water? This is when we developed a somewhat integrated approach within our education programme and began working on the RTE, health as well as the issue of water.
We began a rainwater harvesting project in some Ashram Schools along with the students and teachers, but after a lot of trial and error we had to discontinue this work.
In 2011, the RTE act made provision for the formation of a School Monitoring Committee (SMC) – that comprises of 15 people that include parents, students, the Principal, Anganwadi worker ( if there is any in the area) as well as representation from a local organisation. It mandates a 50:50 male female ratio ensuring gender equality. The SMC shook up existing power structures within the village and took away authority from the Sarpanch in decision making. The first step was actually setting up this committee and ensuring its smooth functioning. After that began the planning of regular meetings and setting the agenda and yearly plan of action. Now this was a very interesting process. Very often the school administration would set up their own committees with known people, or not even inform people that they are on the committee. Several committees had to be reformed. Never before had this versatile group of people sat down together and talked leave alone decided on something together. Class, caste, age, gender barriers are slowly being dissolved. Women attend all the meetings but their participation still needs to be facilitated to some extent.