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Community stake claim in school education
" Daya Ram didn’t know what hit him when his name was called out in a gathering in Turkia village’s upper primary school and he was asked to explain why his daughters were not studying anymore. "

Learning is fun - puppeteers exolt parents to get their children educated

Rama Srinivasan

Tonk, Rajasthan

Daya Ram didn’t know what hit him when his name was called out in a gathering in Turkia village’s upper primary school and he was asked to explain why his daughters were not studying anymore. He had been enjoying a hugely entertaining puppet show when the organisers decided it was time the community got some answers. As he faced the entire community and district level education officers, Daya Ram realised there was no way out. He promised to an applauding audience that he would send his daughters to school again. The whole community was requested to ensure that the girls did make it to school after the government officials leave the village.

One by one all defaulting parents in this village in Tonk district were summoned. They were not intimidated or ordered to mend their ways. The aim of this event, organised by the School authority with the support of Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan and UNICEF, was to make the community responsible for the education of every single child and the parents accountable for the lapses. It also offered a platform for parents to question officers on the shortcomings of the schools.

The Mukhya Mantri Shiksha Sambal Mahabhiyan 2007, a state-level campaign, provides the backdrop for this initiative. The key features of this unique campaign are maximum enrolment, regular health checkups, better monitoring of the mid day meal scheme, environmental education and quality improvement programme.

As a key project partner, UNICEF is laying special stress on girl child education and quality education. For this purpose a quality education project run by the UNICEF team has mapped 1600 schools in Tonk, which is a major focus area for UNICEF due to its low social indictors, and finds the results uninspiring. But by intimating the community about their findings through charts and posters, they have provided the latter with a stake in the system. For encouraging people to educate their daughters, the organisation is printing MEENA (a fictitious small girl, who did housework but wanted to study) posters, conceptualising TV and radio advertisements to be broadcast very soon, and has run an alternate school for out-of-schools girls to help them bridge the gap.

The meeting may not immediately provide respite to some of the girls but it has created awareness among the villagers, which would make a difference in the long-run. Similarly, the puppet show put up by UNICEF’s cultural troupe Vanasthali FM radio  may have been a laugh riot but it had important messages embedded in it.

New recruits at Dharmpura school, Dausa

For parents like Mangalram, whose daughter Mamata dropped out of school because classes were not being held, it provided an opportunity to ask the District Elementary Education Officer Mr. Chandan Mal  how the teacher problem was going to be addressed. “The department is waiting for the list of teachers from  Public Service Commission examinations that will decide the fate of 27,000 applicants for teaching positions. Hopefully, they will join by August-September, so I request the parents to get their wards admitted in the meantime,” Chandan Mal  said.

The twin problem of disregard towards girls’ education and lack of teachers can be found elsewhere in the district too. Safedi Meena is one of the 17 girls who recently joined the upper primary school in Datwas after dropping out a few years ago to graze goats, weave carpets or do housework. “Grazing goats was much more fun since I could play and loiter around. We didn’t have any teachers in my last school,” she says.

Less than two years ago she was asked to join Pehchanshala, a bridge school run for 20 girls by the a NGO called CULP with the support of UNICEF. Learning was suddenly fun, since her teachers engaged the children through songs and stories, and there was also time to play and connect with the other girls too. Now 17 girls are mainstreamed in Government upper primary schools.

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