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Another field Workshop (2009)


A few days back I wrote about the workshop conducted by us  at Asannagar (Distt.Nadia, West bengal, India ) at a non formal education centre where a brilliant experiment on alternative education is being conducted by a  group of dedicated Individuals with Muslim and lower caste Hindu children belonging mainly to farm labourer families.

The detailed  report  can be seen at the following link as well as below these  photographs.

https://joydhak.wordpress.com/2009/10/01/joydhak-workshop-at-asannagar/

Here are some pictorials of the workshop. Photo courtsey: Arindam Debnath15

The report in detail

Recently a small team from Joydhak was invited to participate in a workshop organised by an informal education centre named PRIYABALA VIDYAVITHI at Asan nagar, Nadia.

This education centre is a unique experiment in basic education. Here’s a brief:

The Institution is running for last nine years WITHOUT ANY GOVT FUND OR SPONSORSHIP!!

It does not have any government affiliation.

It does not have any rich individual’s financial support.

A man has created this institution on his entire household property(around two Bigha of land). He lives in a small structure inside the property and the rest has been converted into the venue of this most unique experiment.

The target group is the school-going children of local poor people (predominently Muslims and lower caste Hindus) who are mainly agricultural labourers.

The basic assumptions for the experiment are:

1. Assumptions regarding the shortcomings in the existing institutional structures in the local socio-economic background:
(A) the existing state sponsored institutional education system does not provide all-round education.
(B) The education system a well as the local socio-economic fabric fails to curb the high drop out rates.
(C) Standard of academic education by local state sponsored institutions is very poor.
(D) The social institutions including schools and families are not capable of providing education to the children of the poorer segment of the society in the areas of hygiene, morality, good behaviour, fine arts like drawing/recitation, music or social consciousness.
2. Assumptions regarding the ways and means:
(A) Every child, given a chance, can excel irrespective of his/her level of affluence or location in the social/economic ladder.
(B) A school’s responsibility is not limited to finishing an academic syllebus and conducting and exam. In addition to that, it is its duty to ensure all-round development of the mind and body of the student.
(C) That development needs more dedication and comparatively less money.A parent does not require to be paying through his nose for procuring this opportunity for his child.

The Experiment is conducted in the following manner:

The institution enrolls students studying at various local schools from class five onwards.

The students attend the institution at their non-school hours, especially in the afternoons.

Special sessions are held during weekends and vacation days.

They are given coaching on various academic subjects and side by side classes are organised on subjects ranging from basic hygene & cleanliness to development of kitchen gardens to music to drawing.

Evaluation meetings and parental counseling sessions take place with guardians at fixed periodic intervals.

Teachers come from various professions and basically give free service. Some of the ex-students give voluntary services as teachers for a nominal fee.

What we observed:

The students are lively, well behaved , well informed and highly independent minded. During the workshop they staged a small play (their own creation) protesting against the thrashings that some of them receive from their teachers in the institution for not attending to their home tasks properly. The targeted teacher (who happens to be a headmaster in a local school and gives voluntary service in this Institution) sat through the play patiently and then called for an instant referendum on whether the students envisage any situation where they would support a beating up of a student by a teacher.

The children responded with a list of three situations where they would recommend a little beating of a student by a teacher (viz. bunking a class , being unmindful to a lesson during a class and leaving one’s own class to peep into a different classroom). However, they categorically denounced the practice of beating for not doing homeworks. In other words they were sending a message that there should not be any homework , that is, the school should take full responsibility of education within the teaching hours only.

Interestingly, the institution has been successful in curbing the dropout rate to 1% among the students under its care whereas the general dropout rate in the area is above 50% as reported by them.

Findings and suggestions of the workshop

1. The usual story telling sessions (where the students were encouraged to tell stories they knew) revealed acceptance of polygamy as a normal fact of life. The stories they told mostly involved multiple wives and domestic violence in the form of fairy tales. When asked to identify unacceptable factors in such stories , while they successfully pointed out the mentions  of different magics and charms (e.g. use of magic flowers to induce pregnancy in an otherwise barren woman)  as well as uncalled for violences (e.g. a king killing his wives by pushing them into a well)  in such tales, none indicated towards unacceptability of polygamy. (A young girl when asked as to why she did not point this out as an unacceptable fact in the story, innocently said, “But it is so common!”)

The issue was pointed out to the faculty who in response commented that it is proving to be difficult to imbibe the unacceptability of polygamy in the psyche of the students. The area needs further thrust.

2. To increase the involvement of students in the entire process and develop a sense of ownership among the students, our team held a meeting with some teachers and the senior students of the school and after deliberations, the house decided to start a process of mentorship wherein every senior student would take charge of two or three junior students and would look after their allround developments within and beyond school, under the guidance of the teachers. the mentors (senior students ) would hold a monthly meeting with the teachers and submit progress reports of their charges and the best mentor of the year would be given a prize. Immediately after the meeting such charges were distributed and the process has started rolling. The results will now be monitored periodically.

Problem areas:

The main problem being faced is the non-availibility of funds. Recently a situation arose when the institution was on the verge of closing its doors. The poor parents then came together and provided them with whatever little money they could provide. Currently, that meagre source and some scanty donations from a few people are the only source of funds.

When asked why they donot try making and selling of local handicrafts, they brought out beautifully designed ‘Kantha’s (colourful stitched rugs made from used Sarees) and some elegant looking woodcrafts. They know how to make them but donot know how to market them. If these things could be properly marketed they could generate some badly needed fund for the experiment.

Could anybody help them ? Help could be given in the form of small monetary assistance (however small it is it always counts) or by providing some marketing options for their handicrafts.

The address is :
Priyabala Vidyavithi
(Near Asannagar Post Office,
P.O. Asan nagar,
Bhimpur,
District Nadia,
West Bengal

PIN: 741161


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