Active Learning in Barabanki

Can a self-centred Bangalorean appreciate a bag of tricks in remote Barabanki? Ashok Kamath learns a trick or two…

Sampurna and I landed at Lucknow’s Amausi airport at about noon – over an hour late and the delay was NOT caused by “late arrival of incoming aircraft” but because the engine did not seem to have enough power even to move. Our host in Lucknow, Dharmendra, had to wait.

As we moved out of the airport, I did not see many changes. In my earlier avatar (as a fire-spewing corporate dragon/manager/boss ???) I used to visit customers in Lucknow and I distinctly remember the road that takes you from Amausi to the city and nothing much had visibly changed. Except that the hoardings were now hogged by cellphone service providers who were pretty much non-existent at the time of my last visit about a dozen years ago. The sights and smells were the same – except that this time I was looking at the city through a different pair of eyes – that of a social development practitioner.

Barabanki was about 25 km away and you could see construction happening along the road from Lucknow to Barabanki. We reached the Pratham office at about 2.30 PM to find a group of eager team members getting trained. The idea was for us to meet these team members, talk to them, ask them how our (Pratham Books) story cards helped them and what should we be doing that we have not done before ; having done that we planned to accompany them to the field where they would practice what they learnt.

I had to introduce myself and I mentioned to them that I had come from Bangalore and was greeted by blank stares. It occurred to me that they perhaps do not know where Bangalore is (something that is unbelievable to the self-centred Bangalorean!) and so I said, “ Bangalore is about 2000 km away.” Still no response. Then, one brave soul piped up and said, “Sir is this the place where VVS Laxman comes from?” and then it hit me – cricket is the link in India.

“No, not VVS Laxman but from where Rahul Dravid comes from,” I said, and instantly the connection was made. I wanted to experiment the cricket link some more and I said, “We don’t like to talk much about Rahul because they lost the IPL,” and everyone seemed to know about IPL. Long live cricket !!!!

After an hour long interactive session with the team, we accompanied them to the field to see them practice their skills. As I understood this, the team members had the responsibility to “enroll” three unpaid volunteers in the village who would be trained and then would continue the work with the children. They were expected to work for about 2 hours a day for at least 25 days. The Pratham UP team wants to hit a total of 92,000 volunteers very soon .

Each of these volunteers were given a simple kit that included story cards, alphabets penned on paper to serve as flash cards, assessment tools and so on and a bag of tricks to attract children and retain their enthusiasm so that at the end of the month children would be able to move upwards on the ladder of learning. The volunteers work with the children and are great practitioners of the art of ABL – Activity-based Learning – on which we have been exchanging a barrage of e-mails.

They started by singing songs and pretending they were all elephants and slowly started to learn the numbers through these songs.

We left this group shown in the pictures to visit the next group where the children were sitting in small circles ( multiple circles) and each circle was managed by a volunteer. Many village elders were there on the periphery and watching the proceedings with paternal interest. Some children were being assessed for their reading skills and it was heartening to see a little girl – perhaps 8 years old – reading fluently. Others were learning to count and one group was doing the alphabet and the paper flash cards came out from the volunteer’s armoury. This was just another day for a committed volunteer corps to do the right thing and help children read and count.

By this time it was about 6 PM and we had to return to catch our plane back to Delhi. We started to ask folks what they thought about our story cards and the unanimous verdict was that the cards were a great hit and just the right product for this market segment. Children loved the little stories, they loved the colours ( even though “The Royal Toothache” was a B&W production); they loved the look and feel and all this made us feel good.

Cliched though it may sound, I came away more aware of what we need to do ; came away very impressed by the commitment of the volunteers and secure in the knowledge that there are folks who aim to ensure that Every Child in School and Learning Well.


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