January 2016 | Cynthia Rodrigues

Schooled for uplift

A spread of education centres in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Jharkhand are enjoying a renaissance thanks to a project undertaken with the support of the Tata Trusts

Nelson Mandela said, “Education is the most powerful weapon we can use to change the world.” Over 70,000 children studying in madrasas, whose lives have changed since quality education became part of their lives, will testify to the truth of Mr Mandela’s statement.

Children listen attentively in a classroom, at a school in Tikaitganj, Uttar Pradesh

Madrasas are the default educational option for Muslim children, especially girls, partly because of the lack of easy access to functioning government schools. This is where they acquire religious instruction along with basic competence in mathematics, science and language . These institutions are an integral part of the community.

Sadly, however, because of the lack of adequate support for these institutions, more than six decades after Independence, the madrasas are still struggling to provide quality education to their students.

The Nalanda Resource Centre for Educational Innovation and Planning, an organisation working to promote quality education in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Jharkhand, decided to make a positive difference to the lives of these children. Among the first efforts in this direction, Nalanda created a training module for teachers.

One of seven NGOs working in the field of madrasa education and supported by the Tata Trusts, Nalanda has been designing creative interventions to promote better teaching practices and engaging in capacity-building training programmes since 1996. It operates in the districts of Sitapur, Barabanki and Bahraich in Uttar Pradesh, besides Bihar and Jharkhand.

Tara Sabavala, associate director at the Tata Trusts, says, “Our intent is to reach the children who are in madrasas. In many of the areas in which we are working, the madrasa is the only educational option available to children.”

Nalanda realised that the only way to provide madrasa students access to quality education was by taking quality education to them. The instruments of change would be the mudderis (madrasa teachers) who would be trained to use non-conventional teaching aids, including flashcards, teaching-learning materials, etc to ensure more effective learning. The mudderis were also given insights into child psychology.

Here's a glimpse of the Tata Trusts' efforts to bring about an educational renaissance in the madrasas of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Jharkhand

Prabhat Jha, executive director, Nalanda, says, “In order to touch the lives of children from the deprived sections of society, Tata Trusts guided our thinking and convinced us to adopt a child-centered pedagogy. Our aim is to offer technical and academic support to enhance the duniyavi talim, the secular education offered in madrasas, including the teaching of science, mathematics and languages.”

Interestingly, Nalanda embarked on its madrasa programme serendipitously. In 2001, Mr Jha was speaking at a programme organised as part of the state government’s District Primary Education Programme. At this event, he detailed a number of ways in which education could be made more interesting for children.

Some mudderis present at the session were intrigued by the talk, but they were sceptical about whether madrasa managements would allow such maverick methods of teaching. In spite of their apprehensions, they invited Mr Jha to speak to the management of their own madrasa.

The subsequent interaction led to Nalanda being invited to initiate its programme at a madrasa in Masauli block of Barabanki district. The understanding of the impact of their intervention coupled with a realisation of the overwhelming need for such intervention fuelled Nalanda’s desire to design a programme that would help madrasa children get access to quality primary education by establishing  a formal system of primary education in madrasas.

Today there are over 460 madrasas that have benefited from Nalanda’s interventions. The maulvis who head these madrasas look up to Mr Jha and his team and strive to incorporate the suggestions they receive into their daily routine.

Nalanda’s achievement was that it was able to break down prevalent attitudes. The willingness, on the part of the maulvis to amend their ways stemmed from the realisation that their age-old systems were not working, and the unconventional methods suggested by Nalanda were worth a try.

The significance of Nalanda’s interventions soon came to be accepted by the management teams of the madrasas, many of whom called Nalanda’s office to request their assistance. It was now necessary to make the madrasa programme self-sustainable. Mr Jha and his team selected those maulvis who were most enthusiastic and committed and trained them as resource persons; they were offered special training so that their institutions could function as model madrasas.

Learning becomes easier and more comprehensive with the aid of technology tools

In recent times, Nalanda has begun to incorporate technology into education. Ten madrasas have begun to avail the benefits of using ITE [integrated approach to technology in education]. This programme trains teachers to design learning activities where students can use technology to deepen their understanding of school subjects.

Nalanda has also been conducting national-level annual seminars on topics such as Best Practices of Elementary Education in Madrasas and Uniformity in Primary-Level Curriculum in Madrasa Education.

The impact that Nalanda has achieved is still a drop in the ocean, compared to the enormity of the need. There are over 100,000 madrasas in Uttar Pradesh alone. Much remains to be done, and Nalanda, supported by the Tata Trusts, is eager to keep making a difference, one madrasa at a time.

This article is part of the cover story about the Tata Trusts featured in the January 2016 issue of Tata Review:
Philanthropy fine-tuned
The Tata Trusts has — through integration, use of technology, advocacy, partnerships and more — set course for a renewal aimed at deepening the impact of its numerous charity endeavours
Read the complete articles, and more, in Tata Review
'The Tata Trusts will have to keep renewing itself'
Ratan Tata, Chairman, Tata Trusts, talks about the trusts' evolving philanthropic approach, future growth and priority issues facing India
A flavoured solution
A unique public-private partnership involving the Tata Trusts has ensured that thousands of tribal schoolchildren enjoy wholesome meals
Food way forward
Tackling malnutrition in India is a pressing need, and one of the focus areas for the Tata Trusts
Net gains are cooking
The clean cooking and internet awareness programmes that the Tata Trusts runs with its partners in Gujarat are a reflection of the organisation's intent and impact
In search of that creative edge
Innovation in technology and solutions is crucial in the Tata Trusts quest to enhance the reach and execution of its programmes
Equity and excellence
Linking the Tata Trusts' initiatives in the education sector to improving the overall quality of life of the community has worked to the advantage of beneficiaries
Harvesting hopes, reaping rewards
A Tata Trusts initiative in the interiors of Maharashtra is providing succour to thousands of poor farmers, who have been encouraged to shift away from the traditional and grow more profitable crops
Rural riches
The rural livelihoods and communities portfolio of the Tata Trusts targets poverty reduction through a host of measures
Building the future, brick by brick
Backing from the Tata Trusts has enabled thousands of migrant workers, especially in Gujarat, to secure better working conditions, find financial security and transform their lives
An urban variant of a rural malaise
The Tata Trusts trained its spotlight on urban poverty and livelihoods as an issue that required focused intervention at a time when most philanthropic agencies were focusing on rural poverty
Going against the flow
Water is considered an elixir in the high ranges of Uttarakhand, and the help rendered by the Tata Trusts and its partners in delivering it has changed lives and fortunes
Mission maximum
The Tata Water Mission has been calibrated to make the most of the social development capabilities residing in the Tata Trusts
Rhythm reloaded
A project in Kutch in Gujarat is, with a push from the Tata Trusts, working to revitalise the folk music tradition of the region by creating new opportunities for musicians practicing the craft
A canvas widened
The media, arts and culture theme of the Tata Trusts concentrates attention of conserving India's civilizational heritage and those who embody it