I spent three days in Jaipur, Rajasthan, but it felt like a week. Things take time in India, no doubt. I tried to leave just after lunch, but still I didn’t reach the guest house I was staying at until just before midnight! The first day I was picked up and taken for a ride on a motorcycle out to two rural schools. Like a child I couldn’t stop gawking at all the camels on the road! Sure, I’ve seen camels before, but here they’re everywhere, and they’re huge! The schools were simple enough; with std. I–VIII divided into four small groups. The teacher I observed taught std. IV and V for about 10 minutes each, alternating between the two groups. The group of children that was not taught at any given time would either do some excercise, wait or look at the teacher, who was busy teaching the other group of children. It probably didn’t help that I was sitting in the back of the classroom, trying to be invisible, but miserably. Apart from the NCERT textbooks they had some Pratham Rajasthan booklets (textbooks), paracards and some similar materials. The booklets were for 2010/2011, but were lying unused at the top of a shelf. There were no storybooks at the school.
In the morning the following day I went to Digantar, and had a look at a school that they’re running. I only had time for a quick visit, but it was nice to see a classroom where the children were not lined up and mechanically answering the teacher in unison. Their philosophy does seem appealing, but I was left with thoughts on how hard it must be to scale up their programme, and whether the teacher could really assist all the children in their “decentralised” form of teaching, with a on independent learning. In a larger class, with 30, 50 or even 100 students, what can even the most innovative teacher do?
Later that day I was taken to some urban learning centres. The “classroom” was a small rented room, these served as after-class tution/homework help, pre-school, library and an offer for a small group of out-of-school children. There were some 60 odd books, 8 of which were from Pratham Books, and the only ones in Urdu. On average 10–15 books were issued every day, to a total of 63 library members. However, the record seemed to indicate that some students represented the majority of the borrowings, as is often the case.
On the last day I paid a visit to a programme for out-of-school children. A dozen children from the Muslim community, mainly girls, were gathered in a small courtyard, and taught reading, writing and maths. The teacher was trained by Pratham, but had only completed IX std., and made some spelling mistakes on the blackboard. She had just recently stopped using Pratham materials in her teaching, and was now using the Std. III textbook, even though most of the children were struggling to read words. She had about 30 storybooks which the children could borrow, but no record other than her own memory. There were few books at the easiest levels, which would have been the most appropriate considering the children’s reading abilities. I asked myself whether there was any conscious selection of books, any strategy to promote books…
This week I am attending a conference on education, but hope to visit some more Delhi schools also. Towards the end of the week I’ll go to Almora and Nainital in Uttarakhand, as well as a library outside Mukteshwar. It will be nice to get a perspective on the similarities and differences between schools across different states, and how Pratham’s presence makes a difference.