Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The 3.30 Revolution

Via InfoChange India

At 3.30 in the afternoon every working day, 96 government primary schools in Nalgonda district are transformed into hubs of activity, thanks to the quality learning programme initiated by the Hyderabad-headquartered Mamidipudi Venkatarangaiya Foundation (MVF). MVF works with child labour issues, and, supported by Axis Bank Foundation, has begun a voluntary movement in Andhra Pradesh’s central Nalgonda district to introduce quality learning materials and methods at government schools. Teachers, parents, panchayat members, students and local activists are participating in this quiet revolution, the likes of which has never been seen in these parts before.

At exactly 3.30 in the afternoon, students embark on a series of activities quite unlike the routine they follow at school. Storytelling is an important and popular aspect of the programme, with children narrating stories they have made up, improvised or heard. Over 10,000 children are involved. “I want to be a teacher and teach many more such stories to children like me,” says one participant.

Another project dedicated to improving handwriting has caught on in class after class, school after school, building the children’s desire to do better, to excel. Apart from celebrating birthdays and exchanging greeting cards, news-reading is another standard activity: Class 1 students read the headlines while children in Class 5 discuss news stories.

The most important part of the MVF initiative is its library programme. Children are encouraged to borrow and read from a vast variety of books. A ledger is maintained for each child; parents and teachers jointly monitor the book-lending programme. A committee of children is responsible for the return of books in good condition. Children discuss the books they read every week. Stories are morphed and changed, and some are reproduced in the programme’s quarterly publication Nemlika (‘peacock feather’). There is considerable competition amongst the children to get their stories published.

At the MVF special programme for government schools, the teacher is an important constituent of the revolution, and is proud to be part of it. Teachers are happy that civil society no longer looks upon them with cynicism. Already, teachers at schools under the programme are breaking out of the mould of the stereotypical government teacher who is seen as a chronic absentee and who, even if he does attend school, does not teach. A visit to the schools easily dispels this impression.

Parents also gain from the programme. Books travel home and they need to be read and discussed before they are returned. Parents have to make adjustments in order to be able to play their redefined role. The rhythm of daily chores at home has had to change to make it possible for children to stay back at 3.30 pm: the drinking water that had to be fetched at 4 pm is now postponed to after 6.

Illiterate parents discuss their children’s performance with the teacher. This is new territory for them and the MVF volunteer makes sure he is always available to guide them through the process.

Attendance has risen to 90%. Today it is rare to see a child working in the fields, something that was widely prevalent only five years ago.

The true winners of the MVF programme are government schools. Last year alone, 600 students moved back from private to government schools in order to be able to participate in the 3.30 programme.
Read the entire article to learn about the role of the MVF facilitator, the teachers, parents and challenges of thie programme.

Image Source : Wesley Fryer

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