Skip to content

Priyabala Vidyabithi–Asannagar workshop-2

June 12, 2010



Chapter 1

The background:

Eager Learners

A few months back we had written about a workshop conducted at Priyabala Vidyabithi, a child education centre at Asannagar in the district of Nadia in West Bengal where a unique experiment in alternative education is under progress. For those who have missed it, here is the link

During the evaluation workshop, a set of advises and suggestions were provided to the school authorities with an aim to improve the functioning of the school.

Recently, a follow up workshop was organised there on 4th June’2010 for an overall assessment of impact of those suggestions.

Here’s the full report:

The visiting team:

The team comprised Debjyoti Bhattacharyya and Basab Chattopadhyay (from Joydhak group).

Also the Head of institution of Ichhapur Biswasuk Shevashram Sangha and two other workers from there were taken along as observers.

Target of the follow up Workshop:

Sometime back a request was received from Priyabala Vidyabithi for a re-assessment trip to the center.  On 4th June 2010 we made a second visit to the center. The visit had a three-fold purpose:

  1. Overall assessment of the programme, addressing various issues and suggesting solutions.
  2. During the last visit, a “mentorship” scheme had been suggested wherein a senior student would be given the charge of two/three junior students and would be made responsible for the overall developments of his/her charges. The centre had informed that the scheme was quite successful there.

Our aim was to assess the status of the scheme there and suggest appropriate upgrades.

3. The same mentorship scheme had been introduced by Joydhak almost simultaneously at two locations. One of them was at Asannagar and the other        was in a similar kind of school at Ichhapur, 24 Parganas (N) run by the monks of Ichhchhapur Viswashuk Shebashram Sangha. While Asannagar had reported success, Ichhapur had reported failure and had to abandon the scheme.Thus a need for comparison was felt and we invited the head of the Ichhchhapur Viswashuk Shebashram Sangha alongwith some of the instructors of their school in the Asannagar workshop. Our aim was to

(i)Show them the running of the scheme in first hand at Asannagar, make them interact with the instructors there and understand where they went wrong.

(ii)Understand ourselves the reasons behind the success and failure of the same concept at two different locations.

Chapter2: the report–>

We took a local train from Kolkata to Majdia station. From Majdia a 15 kilometer long bumpy ride in a motorized van took us to Priyabala Vidyabithi at Asannagar by half past five in the afternoon.

More than a hundred students had gathered for the interaction. Seated patiently under the trees, they were waiting, with the instructors moving around noiselessly. Some of the older students came forward to welcome us. Barring a few new faces most of them were known to us from our earlier visit. All of them were smiling. The fresh faces and the gentle, welcoming gestures took away all the fatigues of our journey. We came in and sat in the middle of the gathering.

The first phase of the WORKSHOP

This was a general feedback session with all the students and instructors present. The three broad groups (mentors, junior students and instructors) spoke freely and the inputs from any of the groups was immediately cross verified from the other groups. The broad points that came out were:

The interactions

(A) The mentors were generally loving their jobs. When asked why, a candid and unexpected reply came from a girl who submitted that she was liking it because she felt that she had two siblings at school to be taken care of and as a result the school felt more like a home these days.

(B) At the present stage the mentors were generally taking care of the habit formation of the new entrants, in some cases they were helping them in their studies also. It was also noticed that there existed no structured method as yet for evaluation of the activities of the mentors. A general supervision and control (on the activities of mentors) by the instructors and the head of institution was in place and their personal knowledge about individual students helped a lot. This unstructured and subjective control and evaluation mechanism would work fine as long as the institution maintains its slim size and completely non-commercial nature. Hence our model of structured evaluation of mentoring activities was not introduced in this institution at this stage.


In one such case the head of institute Sri Subrata Biswas identified a class five student and informed that she complained a lot about others. The complaints were generally being made to Sri Biswas and not to her mentor. When the mentor (a boy from class ten, in charge of this girl and another boy) was asked about the issue, he replied that he had never received any complaint from her. When the girl was asked the reason of her bypassing her mentor, she answered with another complaint– “Dada showers all the attention on the other boy and never looks my way. In turn I  also do not go to him.”

The background of the mentor was investigated and it was found that they were 5 siblings one of whom was a sister who was undereducated. The neglect for a girl child is embedded in their family value system. The issue was pointed out to the school authority with a suggestion to keep an eye for such signs and to take ameliorative measures wherever necessary.


One such case was identified where the mentor, again a class X student, is weak in mathematics and is unable to solve the problems brought to her by the class five student under her charge. She however has devised a simple mechanism to solve the problem. She refers her student to another mentor who is good in mathematics. The matter was investigated a little and it was seen that such cross referrals was very common among the mentors. If one cannot answer a question posed by a junior on one subject one refers the junior to another mentor who knows the subject better.

While the cross referencing helps in developing a closer bond and understanding among the students, it has a flip side too. This is analyzed below:

One purpose of the mentorship scheme is to ensure that the mentors (i.e. the senior students) in the process of guiding the junior students, also hones his/her own academic skills. This type of cross referencing obviously jeopardizes that purpose.

The solution mechanism suggested was that if a mentor is not able to answer his/her junior’s question, instead of referring the student to another mentor who knows the subject well, the mentor himself/herself will go to that other mentor, relearn the matter, come back to his/her junior and answer the question.

The solution mechanism appeared ideal as it would conserve the benefit of cross referencing (creating closer bonds) while serving the basic purpose of the mentorship scheme(refreshing the lessons learnt earlier).

(E) The mentors came up with the proposal of A WEEKLY MEETING OF MENTORS where they would discuss the various issues being faced and tackled by them with or without success, exchange views, suggestions and advises. It was decided that the meeting will be held every Sunday afternoon after the student council meeting. The issue of whether the parents of junior students should be allowed to participate in the weekly mentors’ meeting was subjected to a debate where the mentors finally decided that this should not be allowed. Perhaps the reason behind this decision was that they apprehended that when they laid bare their own weaknesses and vulnerabilities in such meetings the presence of parents of junior students this might affect the confidence of the parents of junior students on the mentors. We did not interfere with this decision as the idea of our programme is to allow their concepts to grow freely with its share of right and wrong steps. After all, the mentorship is also a kind of mental training being imparted to the adolescent students  in the process of  grooming them for imminent adulthood.

(F) In course of discussion it was brought to the notice that complaining was a common malady among the students, especially those who are new entrants (class five students). The matter was inquired further. The following parameters emerged:

(1) The complaints are not about any issue related to infrastructure, academic facilities, quality of teaching, caste or gender.

(2) The complaints are mainly related to inter-personal relationship

(3)They are highest at the stage when the students are brought into the academy from the outside environment for the first time (Class five) and then gradually taper off as the student’s length of association with the institute increases.

(4)No quantitative data was available to measure this change. However, if measured, this could provide a powerful indicator of the  impact of the teaching methodology of the institute on the students.

(5) It is planned to device a methodology for quantitative measurement of this indicative factor in near future.

(G) THE ISSUE OF ESCAPISM: while giving the feedback on achievements of the beneficiaries in the current year’s secondary level exam,(24 candidates, all in first division with 12 getting star marks {more than 75%}) it was reported that one student had scored a decent 623 in this year’s board exam. He however was expecting an even better score and disheartened with his marks he ran away from home. The institute employed a group of students to locate him and finally he could be brought back.

The Institute’s primary goal is to produce complete human beings out of the children of socially downtrodden families. If such escapism continues that is bound to jeopardize that primary goal.

To deal with this problem the following scheme was proposed:

A weekly test will be conducted with the selected top 10-15 students of class nine and ten.(one subject in each week) The exam paper will be made intentionally hard by choosing extremely difficult problems or questions selected from within the syllabus but not necessarily from the prescribed text books. The aim will be to give the best students a test of failure and train them to cope with it. At the same time such exams will be designed to prepare them to face tougher and unforeseen challenges and broaden their horizons. The instructors were specially advised in this direction during a separate session with them. It was also advised that to the extent possible the class XI and XII students will be utilised to device such papers, which would be moderated by the instructors. The results will be monitored in the next evaluation workshop to be conducted sometime around October.

The second phase of the workshop,

(H) A SPECIAL SESSION was organised WITH THE INSTRUCTORS wherein they came up with the following problems:

(1) There are cases where due to large number of students in a class an instructor is not able to give close attention to some students.

(2) Due to non homogeneity of knowledge and intelligence level of students in a class an instructor faces difficulties in addressing the class in a homogeneous manner.

(3) In many instances the students cannot be made to conform to laid down norms without a generous use of the cane.

For the first two situations, it was advised to make use of mentors to supplement the role of the teachers by attending to such unattended or weaker students that could not be given closer attention in the classroom. The following illustrative example were provided to explain the role of mentors in these situations.

Illustrative Examples:

Situation (1): In a particular session the teacher was supposed to check the lessons of all students. He could not do so for the last ten  students for paucity of time. He will contact the respective mentors, guide them as to how to check the lessons and get the lessons of those ten checked by them.

Situation (2) A teacher is planning to take a class on factorisation (or, say, onset of monsoon)in his maths class (or geography class)in the coming week. He knows that five students in the class are weak in the concepts of algebraic multiplication (or the concepts of global wind movements) and so they will not be able to follow the lesson on factorization (or onset of monsoon) properly. The teacher will ask the respective mentors to take additional sessions with such students during the current week so that by the time the session on factorization (or onset of monsoon) is conducted by the teacher, these students would be in a somewhat better position to receive the lesson.)

The above suggestions are aimed at benefiting both the mentor as well as the weak student and make the teacher’s task easier.

Regarding the third situation, Dr. Mohit, a practicing psychologist associated with Mon Foundation of Kolkata was contacted from the spot over phone and requested to  conduct a workshop with the teachers , the students as well as with the parents with an aim to assess the problem and suggest solutions. He agreed to conduct the workshop within a short period. The results of the workshop will be posted in due course.

(I)  Upto now the mentorship scheme was restricted upto class X level. Class IX and X students were being appointed as mentors. Another level was proposed to be introduced during the discussions where each class XI student would be put in charge of three to four mentors. His/Her job would be to oversee the functioning of the mentors under his/her charge and in turn act as their mentor also.

(J) It was also advised that the question papers of the various class tests should be got made through the mentors. The instructors will then moderate the papers and use them for the class tests. The answer sheets will be checked by the mentors and then rechecked by the instructors who will give guidance to the mentors for this purpose. The aim of this suggestion is to force the higher class students (I.e. the mentors) to revise their past lessons of earlier classes and at the same time nurture the future teachers in some of them.

(K) Why did the schme succeed in one place but failed in another?

The instructors of Biswasuk Shevashram Sangha were made to interact with the instructors of Priyabala Vidyabith. The head of the Sangha also sat through the entire workshop. He was finally asked to put forth his assessment on why the mentorship scheme that has been successfully introduced in Priyabala Vidyabithi did not succeed in the Sangha School at Ichhapur. He responded with a view that this was due to lack of proper teambuilding. Their institution lacked proper instructors while Priyabala had a good number of that.

However, this does not appear to be a complete answer. A structured look into the difference between the two institutions might give an insight into the real problem that made the difference. THE FOLLOWING HYPOTHESES ARE BEING PUT FORWARD IN THIS MATTER:–

(1) An essential prerequisite of the mentorship scheme is amenability of individuals to social control.  Mentors are in fact nothing but agents of social control introduced in the public and private life of a child for its proper grooming.

Priyabala is located in an essentially rural setting where even now the direct social control on individual activity is recognised and accepted to a greater extent compared to an urban locality. The biological parents are readier to give in to the demands and instruction of various agents of the society regarding the grooming of their children. This view is primarily vindicated by lack of protest or non-co-operation of parents and guardians to the mentorship scheme during the first few month of its existence. A secondary evidence was the huge presence of parents in the workshop who were listening attentively and showing a very supportive attitude to  most of the above mentioned suggestions.

Ichhapur on the other hand is located in the vicinity of a metropolis where sense of individuality is much more pronounced. The biological parents are much more possessive and hence less amenable to various social dicta regarding grooming of their children.

(2) The second difference lies in the cost factor and value of money. In the remote Asan nagar the service of a medium quality instructor is available for as less as Rs 1200 to 1500. In Ichhapur which is closer to Kolkata, a teacher of similar quality is bound to cost much more. (Incidentally, Priyabala Vidyabithi spends Rs 19000 a month for running the institute with more or less 200 students and this includes every expenditure starting from the salary of instructors to providing food and shelter to some of the extremely poor beneficiaries and also providing meals to many students at times when their parents fail to provide a meal or two.)

(3) The third issue is teambuilding. Priyabala Vidyabithi has groomed some excellent teachers from its in-house pool of students and is making full use of them. At the same time they are successful in roping in some other dedicated youth from outside. Dearth of inhouse teacher supply is a weak point in case of the Ichhapur Sangha. For a non-comercial social service organisation without any fixed source of income, generation of inhouse human resource is an essential prerequisite to maintain the workflow over a period of time. The Ichhapur Sangha is not being able to do this.

The THIRD phase of the workshop

(L) The students staged a small play based on the short story “Chhuti” by Tagore. It was an excellent performance. There was no stage, no lighting barring the normal illumination of electric lamps in the schoolground, no props or make ups. It was an all-girl show. However the children had instinctively improvised some unique techniques of stagecraft, made masterly use of the small space for acting and at times were found to adopt the modern techniques of breaking the stage into two parts where two segments of the story unfolded simultaneously. The dialogues were spontaneous, and the heavy accent helped to add a peculiar rural polish to the characters which was so essential in a story that revolves around a simple village boy. On questioning, the director (a class ten girl, very poor in mathematics but has a  very good drama personality sleeping within her) informed that she never wrote any script but has created the performance straight from the story itself.

As the play showed, some of the students possess natural talents in acting. Film-maker and long time drama activist Sri Debabrata Biswas, who conducts regular drama workshop with children under the auspices of the National School of Drama, was contacted over phone from the spot and requested to conduct a drama workshop in the school. Sri Biswas readily agreed to the idea and the workshop is now awaited. The head Priyabala Vidyabithi was requested to be in touch with Sri Biswas and organise the workshop in the coming months.

The fourth AND FINAL phase of the workshop

(M) A discussion was held with the head of Priyabala Vidyaithi where the entire proceedings of the evening was analysed.

Finally a discussion was held regarding replication of the Priyabala model at other nearby places. The replication scheme would be like this:

(1)  the next unit should come up at some distance from the current unit.

(2)  The new unit should NOT be a branch of the first unit but should function as an independent organisation.

(3)  The new unit should be headed by a local resident of the place where the new unit is located.

(4)  The present unit will only help in setting up of the new unit and in providing the ideological guideline as well as other requisite tips.

(5)  After that the new unit will be expected to survive and grow or perish of its own.

The head of the Vidyabithi informed that he has already identified two such locations and requisite core resource persons. The groundwork has thus already started. The next workshop will review the progress in this direction.

Summary of proceedings:

(1) Need for special attention towards containing the gender bias was emphasized in face of some examples of existing bias among some students.  (See para C)

(2) If a mentor cannot solve the question put by a junior to him/her, he/she should not pass the buck to another mentor but must learn the answer first and then teach it to the junior student.  (See para D)

(3) Weekly meeting of the mentors every Sunday after student council meeting.    (See para E)

(4)  A scheme of  “TOUGHER TEST FOR BETTER KIDS”  has been proposed to address the issue of escapism among better students and to train them better.  (See para G)

(5) Two workshops were planned—one to be conducted by a practicing psychologist for addressing the issue of beating of children in school and the other will be a drama workshop.(see para H and L)

(6) Scope of work of the mentors augmented. In addition to taking overall care of juniors, they are now supposed to assist the teachers in training the juniors in classrooms and also to assist in preparing class test questions and checking the copies.  (See para H and J)

(7) Mentorship scheme augmented to class XI students. They shall act as “Mentor of mentors” now.  (see para I)

(8) Reasons for difference in results achieved in respect of mentorship scheme between Biswasuk Sevashram , Ichhapur (mentorship scheme failed) and Priyabala Vidyabithi (mentorship scheme was successful) was analysed.  (See para K)

(9) Replication strategy of Priyabala Vidyabithi Model discussed an primary plan assessed.  (See para M)

The Epilogue:

Our dinner was simple but well made. The parents of a few students were there to supervise our dinner. They had brought food for us.

It was a night with a strong breeze. The cool air caressed our naked torsos as we sat under the trees in our Lungis and shorts. Small talks were taking rounds. And also big dreams! When darkness falls, we survive by our dreams! We then dream of daylight…..

The next morning, the house again filled with a big group of children. It’s their cleaning day. Duty starts at 6:30 AM. Like a group of busy ants the children were moving around in disciplined groups, each knowing pretty well the work assigned to it. There were sounds of laughter everywhere. Some were busy with the backyard Kitchen garden. Some were washing the floors. Another group was busy repairing a broken tube well in the courtyard.  Subrata , the head of Priyabala Vidyabithi sat on a chair– laughing, shouting instructions, throwing challenges (“can you repair the tube well in one hour?”), the old lady of the house was reclining on a cot in the veranda, Golden Sunshine was pouring all around through the canopy of the trees……………

It was our time to go home. To be back again though……….. A lot more remains to be done here, a lot more to be achieved…..

A final note:

Every good book counts. Every rupee counts. Donate books to the school, donate some money if you can. They are running the institution at a cost of less than 100 rs. Per student per month (Monthly expenses of Rs. 19000 for a student strength of 200). So even a hundred rupee contribution per month will mean they will be able to accommodate another child.

Contact the institute directly at the following address:

Subrata Biswas (contact Number: 09733735078),


Priyabala Vidyabithi (Near Asannagar Post Office),

P.O. Asannagar,  Distt. Nadia,

West Bengal.  India.





4 Comments leave one →
  1. Asish Sarkar permalink
    June 15, 2010 07:23

    I did not go through the whole content but read most of the report- it is really inspiring. I certainly applaud all the participants.

    asish sarkar

  2. June 13, 2010 13:28

    Thanks. Every gesture counts.


  1. World Wide News Flash
  2. Joydhak workshop at Asannagar « Joydhak's Blog

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: