3M – CII Young Innovators Challenge Award Winner Annu Shree Tiwari is mending the crumbing education of tribal villages in South Gujarat, by way of active participation of the local Panchayat
As part of the SBI Youth for India Fellowship, Annu Shree Tiwari saw a new – albeit old – India. An India that she had fleetingly heard about, butonlyfaced head on when she visited the tribal villages of South Gujarat. “While doing my research in the area, I realised that the state of education there was in tatters. Only two out of 50-60 students in the whole village passed the 10th standard. Sometimes, not a single one would pass. That’s when I realized that I needed to work on education. ” she recalls. With this problem, a new thought dawned in. Across the country, in numerous rural pockets, the state of education is crumbling and a major reason behind this is the lack of participation from the community. Until and unless the community became a part of it, there would always be a lack of tangible support for those who wanted to study more. That’s how the Panchayat Sikshan Kendra came out to be. A village-level ecosystem of education which included local governance, involvement of villagers, and had designated learning centres in villages to engage students, parents, and the panchayat to focus on a child’s education.
When Annu Shree started this project she saw that the schools were already providing good infrastructure, books, and stationery. However, the schools were not creating an educational space for the students. Another major challenge they faced was the language. The native language of these villages is Vasava but the kids were being taught in Gujarati. The student would pass till 9th grade under the mandates of the Right to Education Act but would soon drop out after 10th grade. Annu Shree adds that the biggest problem was an absolute lack of awareness and the environment of learning space. “In urban areas, when we come back to school, we discuss completing our homework or talk about exam preparations. But in rural areas, they never discuss this. That’s when it struck me that I should do something to create a more engaging space for the students to interact with; a space that promoted cross-learning. I knew right from the start that it’s necessary to involve the local governing body (the Panchayat) for the same.”, says Annu Shree
Annu Shree interacted with a lot of Sarpanchs of various Panchayats and eventually convinced them to establish education centers in their villages. She started conducting daily classes in the Panchayat. To create a good rapport with students, she hired local unemployed graduates who were well versed in Vasava to teach. “Finding educated youth was also a challenge. Most of the graduates were working in nearby factories or outside the village. We trained these graduates to take classes on the given syllabus. We recruited them on a contract basis to work in government schools. They were highly enthusiastic about the idea and the matter of teaching in Vasava. We also took feedback from the students regularly to know what is helping them learn the best”. The classes are held according to the availability of the students. Many kids are unable to attend classes daily since they help their parents in farms and factories. Therefore, the classes are scheduled either late in the evening or early morning. These basic adjustments have not only reduced the dropout rates but have also provided proper employment to the educated youth.
In addition to the education centers, Annu Shree has also established a Panchayat Education Committee through her project. The members include parents of the students, panchayat members, the school principal, and members of the school management committee. The move has induced the involvement of parents in the child’s education and the entire household is empowered as a result of the same.
The entire project has been pivotal in establishing an education ecosystem wherein the entire village is engaged in a child’s education. By mid-2018, Annu Shree was able to set up 6 centers employing 9 teachers, and engaging 60 children in 6 Panchayats through her work. Panchayats have started showing interest in the project and the dropout rates have reduced considerably. Pass out ratio at the high school level has improved significantly in these villages. The idea now is supported by Schools and parents alike.
The success has motivated Annu Shree so strongly that she wants to expand the idea further. She not only wants to concentrate on academic growth but also on co-curricular activities. She wants to create science labs, sports arenas,and libraries in these spaces. Annu Shree says, “These kids don’t know what experiments are. I want to create small labs for chemistry and biology. Moreover, Small libraries in the schools would give these kids exposure to the outside world. Their education is limited to their lengthy, and often boring textbooks. By establishing these libraries and laboratories, these kids would be able to explore and experience more”.
In 2018, Annu Shree won the 3M – CII Young Innovators Challenge Awards in the Rural Innovation category. “The award did indeed put up the cause of rural and tribal education at a big stage. Education is the most discussed and yet the most under-worked sector in India. The amount of outreach the project has got due to 3M was really unimaginable. The funding made sure that the project was self-sustainable and can be replicated in other parts of the country. Personally, it gave a boost to my confidence and provided an opportunity to network with amazing people and other development professionals from various thematic areas. Moreover, a recognition like this helps in bringing sustainability to the project and showcases that it is easily replicable,” says Annu Shree, with a renewed sense of hope palpable in her voice.
The sight of witnessing an entire village being uplifted through one single project is like experiencing a miracle in itself. Students of the tribal villages in South Gujarat can now explore their creativity while learning to interact and engage. While the parents are taking active steps to ensure the quality education of their children, the Panchayat is promoting community participation. The educated youth have got better spaces to employ themselves and the little learners have got a new dream.