Pratham is an innovative learning organisation, established to improve the education system in India. One of their principal projects is the Urban Programme, which seeks to provide learning support through a variety of interventions in the community.
Visits to informal schools are conducted by staff of the project such as Pratyush Bose, pictured below. Cameron McConnachie and Shona Gazidis from the Legal Resources Centre travelled to India to learn more about Pratham and joined Pratyush in visiting different initiatives which form part of the Urban Programme.
The first stop was a visit to a Balwadi pre-school for children aged 3-5 years. Through the project, staff aim to provide pre–school education to children who are currently not enrolled in a formal pre–school.
The classes take place in the teacher’s home, which is a tiny room that she shares with her husband and two children. The classes are for 3 hours every afternoon, from Monday to Friday. The classes are taught in Urdu, as the area is predominantly Muslim and Urdu speaking. The children learn English as well as other subjects on the curriculum. The aim is that they will be just as prepared as other children for the start of school at the age of 5. Once they finish pre–school they go on to enrol in mainly government schools.
A further component of the Urban Programme is libraries. Pratham run mobile libraries in the slums. Each area of the slum has a librarian who carries a bag such as the one pictured below to each house/ room and loans library books to the children. They have books for different ages and abilities and books are exchanged each week.
At the same time, they carry out surveys at the houses to try to assess the level of learning of the children. They ask the children to complete simple tests and questions.
They also run support classes to supplement learning, as well as classes for parents and children. These classes are to assist the parents to interact with the children and help them with schoolwork, as well as to generally improve child-parent relationships.
The Pratham Council for Vulnerable Children (PCVC) programme aims to reduce the incidences of child labour in India and engage children in learning programmes. This particular class was a music lesson, which takes place once a week, and is open to all children. The venue was close to a large rubbish dump outside Mumbai. The rubbish dumps attract many children who go through rubbish to find food and items to sell, instead of being in school.
Pratham has established stands in the slums areas, such as pictured below, which are used as information booths. Anyone can approach them with any child’s rights issues, and they will then make a note of each case and refer them to the relevant contact for help. They follow up each case to see what has happened and ensure it has been resolved. The stands run on certain days and times each week, which are advertised on flyers. People also find out about them through word of mouth.
A resounding principal of the Pratham programmes is that these initiatives are implemented in the heart of communities, where children and parents are easily able to access them. We were particularly impressed with the innovative mobile library initiative, whereby the books are taken to the children, rather than the children having to travel to a library. This ensures that all children in the slums have access to reading material of their learning level. It also engages the parents in their children’s learning. Equally, the Pratham stands serve as an easy to access information point where people can get help and advice they would not otherwise have access to.
These are innovative programmes that are inexpensive and easily replicable. They have been established and achieved good results in areas across India. Children in the townships and rural areas of South Africa could benefit from similar initiatives.
By: Shona Gazidis
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