Girls sing and dance at a "summer camp" in Bihar in which 400,000 girls achieved literacy in June. Although attending school, the girls were unable to read a simple sentence before they attended the camp.
By Job Zachariah and
Phulwari Sharif, Patna: Khushnasiba Parveen, a student of class IV in a government-run primary school in Patna, had been going to school for four years but could not read a simple sentence. Nor could many of her classmates hailing from modest backgrounds and who go to school regularly despite odds. However, at the end of a special "summer camp" that was organised for the first time in Bihar, they can now read full sentences. "I am having great fun reading," says Shama Parveen, a student of class IV. "I have started reading stories to my parents," she says, beaming.
The Bihar Education Project, with support from UNICEF and Pratham, an NGO, ran 15,000 special summer camps that made around 0.4 million girls literate across the 38 districts of Bihar. Almost 50,000 participants in the camp were out-of-school girls. Most of them have now enrolled as regular students in government schools. "The camp addresses all major five indicators of education – access, enrolment, retention, equity and quality," says Mr. Anjani Kumar Singh, State Project Director of the Bihar Education Project.
Early Education: Most Essential
The impediments to learning include overcrowding of classrooms and an uninteresting teaching style. "My classroom was so noisy with boys shouting all the time that I could hardly hear the teacher," says Shama. Children may therefore stay on in school for years without actually learning to read or write too well. They keep getting promoted to higher classes due to the government policy of not failing students in elementary classes.
Research suggests that if children do not learn to read by their first three years of schooling, they may never learn. "It was our intention that girls – often the first to drop out – should be given a refresher verbal and numerical literacy course so that they do not drop out in later classes," says Mr. Bijaya Rajbhandari, UNICEF State Representative for Bihar.
Special teaching material developed by UNICEF which is used as a handbook by teachers to teach in a manner that is interesting, leading to greater assimilation of knowledge by children.
Summer Camp: Joyful Learning
With the object of making children truly literate and skilful – an end that had been elusive in four to five years in a typical school setting – a special course was designed in which the focus was on "joyful learning". A cadre of round 15,000 teachers was prepared. They underwent a special two-day training in which they were taught how to assess students' skills and teach in a manner which made learning enjoyable.
A cadre of round 15,000 teachers underwent a special two-day training in which they were taught how to assess students' skills and teach in a manner which made learning enjoyable.
The children have achieved much more in just a month. In Primary School, Naya Tola, for instance, out of 26 students none could read sentences and only 10 students could read simple words. Two of them could read nothing at all. However, at the end of the camp, 13 students can read full sentences, 8 can read complex words and 5 can read simple words. There is none who cannot read anything.
With the results starting to come in from all the 38 districts, there is optimism that while fundamental issues around education are resolved to improve routine schooling in Bihar, refresher camps are an effective and timely method in the short term.