Pratham Education Foundation and Liver Foundation have collaborated for an initiative called Pora Lekha (পড়া–লেখা) to strengthen the primary education system in 22 villages of Nagari Gram Panchayat (GP), targeting about 800 children aged 5 to 10 years.
The plan entails employing the mothers in Self-Help Groups (SHGs) and equipping them to support children’s learning. The training was launched on March 31, 2021 at the Saradish Roy Smriti Swasthiya Bitan, a rural healthcare centre run by the Liver Foundation at Nagari village, Siuri – 1 block of Birbhum in West Bengal.
Pora Lekha is a collaborative initiative of Liver Foundation and Pratham Education Foundation, where Liver Foundation will mobilise and manage the SHG members to run these community supplementary classes for the 5 to 10 year olds, they will also print and distribute all teaching and learning materials (TLMs) shared by Pratham, who will additionally train the SHG members, and provide the initial academic support and monitoring when the initiative is rolled out. Pora Lekha aims to create and nourish informal spaces for learning and play as a supplement to schools.
Speaking about the initiative Dr. Abhijit Chowdhury, secretary of the Liver Foundation said, “the need of the hour is to expand the concept of education beyond the confines of the classroom. Self Help Groups, are geared towards the realisation of social and economic independence of women, are the perfect platforms to lead such an initiative. Traditionally SHGs have been centred around economic activities like savings and access to microfinance. However, the voluntary nature of membership and their role in countering traditional hierarchies makes it less prone to the individualistic, incentive-oriented attitude that other social organisations are more prone to.” Dr. Chowdhury also believes that it is possible to reorient them towards socially necessary tasks: “If their newfound confidence can be utilised to combat pressing social problems such as this, not only will SHG members experience greater self-reliance and self-respect but it will also provide new hope for children who have been deprived of access to education”.
Dr. Chowdhury felt the necessity of providing academic support to primary school-going children and young children because of the “devastation caused by the lockdown on foundational learning of children.” Being a member of the West Bengal state task force in tackling COVID-19 he travelled extensively into the interiors of the state and could see the plight of the young children. during
the lockdown noticed the devastating effect on primary education.
Earlier the initiative was formally inaugurated on March 30th in Nagari GP, starting from village Pathra, then onto Baragram, Latabuni, Patharchapri and finally ending at village Nagari. Liver Foundation’s prior healthcare initiatives in this area meant that they could leverage vast reserves of goodwill and trust among the people, and this translated into big crowds and widespread enthusiasm among the assembled children, their mothers and SHG members.
The training on the 31st was started by a three member Pratham team, who imparted training to 65 SHG volunteers. Amidst a fun filled interactive day the Pratham team members started the session explaining the inadequacies of primary education in India and also tried to understand
how the volunteers perceive the issue.
They then explained the basis of Pratham’s testing tool, meant to gauge the level of reading and numerical abilities of children between the ages of 5-10. They were taught how to put forward questions with varying levels of difficulty to children and to record their answers carefully in an observation format.
All the participants were very enthusiastic during this participative training and had many questions to ask which were very pertinent to the topic being discussed. They are very motivated at the prospect of working collectively to address the lack in their children’s education.
Today, April 1 onwards till April 4, the 65 SHG members will conduct a census of all 5 to 10-year-old children who live in the 22 target villages. The training will resume on April 5 to equip the ladies with the skills necessary to impart basic lessons in reading and mathematics, based on the current levels of each 5 to 10-year-old children.
We look forward to a very successful collaboration between Liver Foundation and Pratham Education Foundation in West Bengal. ‘Para Lekha’ will begin in earnest after the training next week, and hope turns into a replicable model employing SHG members in West Bengal!