Dhanbad, Jharkand: Maithon Power (a joint venture of Tata Power and Damodar Valley Corporation), in association with ‘Pratham’, a non-governmental organisation, has undertaken an extensive and aggressive education outreach — The block excellence programme in the Nirsa block of Dhanbad, Jharkand. The programme aims at improving the learning level of children in the age group 5 – 14 years, and has reached out to 13,460 school students across 262 villages in Nirsa within a span of two years.
The programme was designed and initiated post a detailed study undertaken to assess the existing education level and system in the villages. A survey conducted by Pratham highlighted that about 40 – 50 per cent of the children in Nirsa block were in the 5 – 14 years age group; however, their education standard was significantly below the accepted national standards. The pre-test learning levels conducted for 6,500 children studying in Class 1 to Class 5 put forth a startling revelation that only 4,500 children met the national standards of learning. Taking cognisance of this disparity, Tata Power rolled out the block excellence programme in 2009-2010 across 100 villages in the region covering around 6,800 students.
The success of the first phase paved the way for scaling up the programme’s reach subsequently to the entire Nirsa block — 262 villages, covering 13,460 students (6,613 boys and 6,847 girls). The project is under implementation across 227 primary / middle schools and 73 community classes (for children involved in labour, and those who are dropouts).
Community classes are being conducted in various locations ranging from tree shelters, temple grounds, amongst others. The Tata Power-Pratham education outreach has led to significant decline in child labour prevalent in the region — 160 children engaged in brick kilns were enrolled for mainstream education.
The programme has deployed a unique and active approach towards learning ie, learning by doing, hinging on non-textual based activities to promote the culture of education and imparting knowledge. Eg, concepts regarding addition and subtraction are taught with bundles of sticks. Similarly, pre-school students are engaged in basic mathematics using coloured balls to enable learning of numbers and identifying colours, simultaneously. The curriculum also includes English songs to help students achieve the required comfort level to speak and understand the language.
Further, parents and the community at large are involved into the education system through an innovative programme called 'Child testing mela', initiated to increase awareness about their child’s learning status. The programme involves two days of mobilisation phase where members of the village education committee, school teachers, headmasters, panchayats, samiti members, community and parents are engaged through community meetings and household visits to seek their participation in the event. The mela consists of tests in three main subjects — Hindi, English and Maths — along with display of library, learning tools, books and methodology. It has received overwhelming response, with participation of over 500 children in the age group of 5 – 16 years and also witnessed sizeable presence of parents and community members, especially women from nearby villages. At the mela, display stalls of learning materials and tools garnered tremendous interest of the children and the parents.
The village head, panchayat members and the village education committee have extended full support by appreciating the scope and importance of their intervention in areas like monitoring and improvement of education infrastructure and quality of education imparted at schools in the village. The project also succeeded in developing an understanding among parents about their role and responsibility to regularly visit the school and track the progress of their child.
This project also led to the improvement in teaching methodology, increased teacher’s motivation to engage with the students, and thereby contributed to the overall development of each student. The success of this project is attributed to the 769 volunteers (including 323 females) from the local community, who have helped in ensuring a strong engagement with the families and strengthening the project pursuit.
The concerted effort through the Tata Power-Pratham block excellence programme has led to an increase of 70 – 75 per cent in the learning level of children and active participation of the community and parents in their education and education system, as a whole. This has led to improvement in the overall education scenario in the Nirsa block.