By Vidya Kulkarni
The colourful, well maintained primary school in Masal village is a matter of pride for its students, teachers and the villagers. Indeed, it is their relentless efforts and unwavering interest that has transformed this once neglected school. Over the years Masal School has evolved as an engaging educational centre where children love to go everyday.
The problem of out-of-school or drop out children is now a matter of the past. “The situation of the school changed when we decided to change ourselves”, share villagers with pleasure. Similar feelings are echoed by people in Lendiguda, a remotely located hamlet that had no schools till a few years ago.
In order to secure proper education for their children, the village community decided to start a school and contributed their own places and resources till the government support was approved.
These people’s initiatives for school improvement in Masal and Lendiguda are not exceptional cases. Similar inspiring incidences are aplenty in villages across Chandrapur and Yavatmal districts of Maharashtra. This is the result of sustained work carried out under the UNICEF-supported Primary Education Enhancement Project (PEEP) programme.
PEEP, a joint venture between Government of India, UNICEF, AusAID and the Maharashtra government, was executed in two phases in Chandrapur and Yavatmal districts during 1997-2006 to address the major challenges faced in promoting universal elementary education, viz., to increase participation and retention of all children upto the age of 14 years and improve the quality of education programs with a particular emphasis on girls and working children.
PEEP innovations have caused enormous changes, from classrooms to communities, and the problem of out-of-school children has been almost eliminated in the two districts.
The activity completion report (ACR) of PEEP shows that the school drop out rate for Chandrapur and Yavatmal which in 2001 was recorded as 10.14 percent and 10.13 percent respectively has reduced to 4.99 percent and 4.2 percent respectively in 2006. The GER (gross enrolment ratio) is 95.6 in these districts.
This in itself is a good reason for the PEEP team to celebrate their success as the programme comes to an end. Impressed by the performance the state government has shown keen interest in adopting some of the best practices and learning in PEEP for mainstreaming into the education system.
Learning and playing part of primary school education
Highlighting the key aspects of impending expansion of PEEP learning, Mr. Begur Ramchandra Rao, the Education Officer of UNICEF Mumbai said, “In a recently concluded Activity Completion Review Meeting on March 1st and 2nd, 2007, the SSA Project Director has agreed to integrate best practices evolved from PEEP into the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA), which is an ongoing programme in the state to ensure universalization of primary education. The state government has been particularly interested in taking up activity based pedagogical methods.”
One of the innovative methods is named Multi Grade, Multi Level (MGML) teaching method. This method addresses the problem of scarcity of teachers, where one teacher handles more than one class at a time and engages students in learning.
This methodology has brought about enhanced quality and effectiveness in the teaching-learning process within classrooms as the curriculum has been transacted through a series of graded milestones in Maths and Language, for which suitable age appropriate learning materials have been developed. These materials have encouraged both self learning and peer learning and the teacher to be an effective facilitator.
Elaborating on the PEEP interventions, Mr. Begur said that the village planning exercise and empowerment of various community groups like Village Education Committees (VEC), SSG’s, adolescent youth groups have strengthened school and community linkages, which has further led to increase in enrolment, retention of students and reduction in the drop out rates.
Community awareness and participation has been found to be very high in PEEP districts and the same has also been confirmed of Chandrapur district by the IMRB-SRI report The major gain of the PEEP process has been strengthening the systems at the district and block levels, and its linkage with the state level decision making body so that the impact of the innovative methods would be followed-up and up scaled into existing SSA program.
Alternate Learning Centres initiative which is another critical component of PEEP has been able to provide quality education to all children and the state has been able to introduce this intervention across all districts of Maharashtra. This means every child, in even the most remote and unreached areas has some scheme available for him/ her to be educated.