Developing agency of teachers
The trainings are mostly residential in nature. Vikramshila now has
its own training campus in Bigha, Burdwan (in West Bengal) where it runs
its rural experimental school project which is also a resource centre
for trainings. The training unit undertakes a detailed needs analysis
process to understand the context of each teacher. The trainings are
customized in a way to ensure that they are rooted in actual classroom
To get an idea of our training programmes you can go through some of
our training reports.
Lifelines Education is an innovative project that brings the benefits of technology to teachers in rural India through the means of a phone-based service. It operates as a Helpline for teachers. The project was launched in 2007 January, in Burdwan, West Bengal, covering 13 Gram Panchayats, 171 villages, 571 schools and nearly 1800 teachers. The Project has recently expanded to cover 91 new villages, 294 schools and 856 teachers. By 2009, April, the Lifeline bank touched 11,700 questions and answers.
The queries of the teachers cover a wide range, from subject oriented questions, text book related questions, questions on child psychology, class room management, classroom pedagogy and methodological questions at the micro level, to curricular and policy level questions at the macro level. Teaching English as a subject poses a major challenge for many teachers, who often seek advice on this issue.
While in the initial days, the questions were mostly of general knowledge, mostly factual in nature, gradually, a lot of qualitative questions started coming in. Some interesting questions that are beyond the domain of factual knowledge asked by the teachers are, for instance, “Is human intelligence an issue of nature or nurture?”, “What is privatization of Education?”, “Why is Queto known as the eternal spring country although it is situated in high temperate zone?”, “What kind of TLMs can one use to teach the lunar and solar eclipses?” and “if the Preamble of the Constitution is entitled to be placed in the first page of every Government document, why is it not so for private books?”
The Project works as a bridge between text book makers, policy makers
and the teachers. The former eagerly wait to receive feedback from the
teachers on the textbooks. The Project has indeed become an effective
teachers’ helpline and herein lies our success.
Over the years Vikramshila has attempted to reach out to various cross sections of society in order to build and generate public discourse on education and educational issues. In light of this a series of ‘Round Tables’ and ‘Shikshak Sammelans’ were held from time to time, where teachers and educationists got a platform to talk about and air their views and opinions on various issues. We feel teachers need to engage with one another on an informal and apolitical platform to reflect, discuss and debate about the larger socio political processes that have been progressively responsible for undermining the dignity of their profession, and about their own role in helping to restore it.
With this in mind, Vikramshila organized two conventions in March2006 at Allahabad and the second was in Jodhpur March 2006.The primary objective of the convention was to create wider awareness of policies vis-à-vis teachers, and to create a space to discuss the opportunities and challenges of the role that teachers are expected to play in India’s changing educational landscape. In 2007 we organized three more Shikshak Sammelans at Maharashtra, Rajasthan and West Bengal. The target group was teacher’s union, academicians, teachers, education boards (Primary, Secondary, Madrasah boards etc.) High secondary council, SCERT representatives, PTTI, People’s organizations and various other NGOs. We believe that w have been successful in creating awareness with the teachers about their rights and responsibilities, because we believe that teachers play a very vital role in society and it is they who can really take on the leadership and advocate for the dignity of their profession and the associated rights
Working with children
Brief Note on Naba Disha
Naba Disha is a program for children aged 3 to 18 to provide access to quality educational experiences to vulnerable children residing in crime prone pockets of the city of Kolkata. It follows a life span approach to education - “from school readiness to job readiness” - picking up a child at the age of 3, Naba Disha offers a basket of services from early childhood to young adulthood. The centres are located inside Police Stations. Over the last decade, more than 6000 children have been brought into the folds of education and linked to the government school system. Children come to Naba Disha before and after school hours to get support through various kinds of resources and activities. More than 200 children have completed High School and are pursuing further studies/ vocational training with a specific career orientation. In communities where once education was regarded not as a help but an impediment as it came in the way of augmenting family income through use of child labour, today, going to school is considered as a natural part of growing up!
ECE in the Naba Disha Centres
About 300 children of the age group 2-5 are offered early childhood education in the Naba Disha centres. Appropriate materials are made available to children, who are then encouraged to explore and exercise their choice, and express their thoughts and feelings on experiences acquired. Children enjoy autonomy to move at their own pace and be guided by their interests, and at the same time are also implicated in the setting of rules and solution of conflicts.
Library as a learning space
This is largely focussed on children at the Primary and Upper Primary stage to inculcate reading habits and open them to the wonder of books. Older children are also encouraged to read biographies and magazines. About 800 children have access to more than 1200 books (in Urdu, English and Hindi). Special classes are held for children at the emergent literacy stage, to help them learn how to read and write and develop a bonding with books. A number of books have also been developed by children. Reading English books are encouraged proactively by the involvement of a team of Irish volunteers who come every year, the culmination of which happens in a “Speaking Festival” where children talk about their reading experiences and favourite books in English on stage!
Citizenship Education for Adolescents
Young citizen’s groups have been formed for adolescents and pre adolescents where they undertake citizenship activities. The groups, have mastered the art of identifying community problems/social issues (early marriage, environment pollution, importance of tree planting, water wastage and noise pollution through crackers) and have attempted to create awareness through the means of meetings, demonstrations, discussions, slogans, posters and drama, to raise awareness among centre children and their families as well as the larger community. The rich experiences gathered from the reflective diaries written by children called “Amar Boi” to help link their life experiences with classroom learning, were latter on developed into Social Science Workbooks for children called “Hamari Baat”.
Fostering Digital Citizenship
Going beyond the conventional concept of digital literacy, this program aims to empower them by accessing the digital media to augment their learning and evolve as ‘creators’ of content instead of being mere consumers. The centres are equipped with laptops and digital connectivity to enable children to explore the medium in an uninhibited manner.
Resource Support to Government schools :
The teachers of Naba Disha regularly share their learning resources with the neighbouring government schools be setting up library corners, organising remedial learning camps and capacity building of teachers through dialogues and exposure visits.
Remedial camps were conceptualized to bridge the knowledge gap. The
gap between what a child is expected to know at a certain level and what
she actually knows. It is essentially a bridging strategy to help
children overcome those areas of doubt and complexity that comes in the
way of acquisition of new knowledge. The camps are usually of 5 to 10
days duration giving children an opportunity to get immersed in a
language learning situation for 5 hours a day successively.
Learning is more meaningful and real when it is linked to concrete real life objects and situations. This often helps a child transcend her learning gaps and grasp abstract logics and concepts. Given that principally Language and mathematics are highly abstract in nature, and further given its criticality in overall learning, teaching aids and materials are a useful way to teach.
Vikramshila after a long research on students’ learning has developed various kinds of TLMs which has proved to be much useful for the students in different stages. Some kinds of TLMs are: Pocket Board, Counting Box, Place Value Board, Multiplication Strips, Fraction Cards, Work Card, Creative Package, History Concertina, Puppets
A secular Madrasah is not an oxymoron, at least not in West Bengal.
The government of West Bengal runs 506 such institutions where about
4,00,000 children study Physics, Chemistry, Math, Life Science, History,
Geography, English and Bengali, over and above religious studies. About
40,000 Hindu students also take lessons in Arabic and Islamic studies
along with the Muslim students. These institutions are called High
Madrasahs, where children receive their education from Classes 5 to 10
and then sit for their Board examinations. The Wes Bengal Board of
Madrasah Education oversees these schools. Vikramshila is proud to be
associated with this unique effort of the Government by helping them to
develop 10 model Madrasahs in the districts adjoining Kolkata. Here we
work with all the stakeholders of the system – from the children to
teachers, managing committee members, parents to the policy makers –
hence we also work closely with the Madrasah Board and Directorate. The
actual work in the field ranges from facilitating remedial education
with children, organizing community meetings, holding micro planning
sessions with schools, preparing lesson plans and teaching learning
materials to helping them set up laboratories and libraries. It is a
full scale operation for bringing about school change. As a teacher
training organization, we have come to realize that for bringing about
sustainable changes in a system, the school has to be the unit of
change, teacher training can at best be just the first step.
Vikramshila’s learnings in various projects in rural and urban areas gave evidence to the fact that there was an urgent need to fill the gap in the education system which would prepare students for employment. Currently, there is no provision in the formal education system to ensure that a student leaves school with the right skills to seek suitable employment. This was identified as a major gap in the curriculum. Therefore, in keeping with the vision of Vikramshila, of leading children through high quality and innovative education to employment opportunities, we have initiated a new project government aided schools. The emphasis in this project is on bridging the gap between standardized education and specifically focused educational programmes. These were to be designed to focus on enhancing employability skills in a parallel programme of additional classes on soft skills, computer skills and communicative English. The E2E Programme began its operations in June 2008.
The programme works with students in the secondary level, of classes 5-10 reaching a total of 4701 students. 10 government aided Bengali medium schools were identified serving the lower and lower middle income communities.
Communicative English, Soft skills and IT education was introduced in these schools followed by remedial camps and career counseling. Regular review, monitoring and planning meetings as well as measured observations of each E2E teacher in class are an in built part of the programme. The school authorities, Head Teachers and Department heads are all included in the process.
Quality Improvement in Private Madrasahs
A series of meetings for community mobilization was undertaken to create awareness on issues of quality education. A lot of resistance and rigidity was faced initially, as the Madrasah heads were averse to any kinds of changes. However, in some Madrasahs the Moulanas were willing to concede the case for introducing mainstream subjects but were averse to any interference in reforming Islamic subjects. Thus, after formal cluster meetings with the key personnel of the respective Madrasahs, training programmes for the teachers were organized.
A series of teacher trainings of were organized. The training programmes were aimed at capacity building on child psychology, effective lesson planning, preparation of suitable teaching learning materials and workbooks. An activity-based methodology was followed during the training, and the participants were taught how to transact the curriculum by effectively weaving extra-curricular and recreational activities into classroom teaching, to create an integrated curriculum.
These trainings were later followed up by distribution of TLMs. Further, orientation in the Madrasahs to ensure the adoption of good practices by the teachers in actual classroom settings was encouraged. In addition, Resource groups will be formed to offer handholding support and continued mentoring of the Madrasahs .Our identification programme of Madrasahs and cluster meetings are continuing in the Hooghly and Kolkata districts.
The Vikramshila School in Bigha (a small village, about 3 hours from Kolkata) started out in 1997 as an experiment in alternative curriculum, trying to see how village life (and livelihood) could be linked with school learning. In its journey of a decade, the school has evolved into a community hub, a resource centre and a role model for the village, leading the way not only in education but in all aspects of village life.
Somewhere along the way, there was a need for making the world of knowledge more accessible to the community, so that people would have the opportunity and the resources to seek out knowledge without having to depend on mediators. The culture of reading and libraries had died down over the years, and it was important to revive these in view of the internet revolution which is now knocking at the doorstep of our villages. Although there was a library in the Bigha School which was open to all, no one used it besides the children of that school. Arun Sain (school principal) and his team decided that if the community wasn't coming to the library, the library would have to go to them. This was the genesis of the Mobile Library in Bigha Village.
They started out in August 2006 with the 5000 books which were already in the school library, and decided to build an enclosure attached to a motor cycle to ferry the books. One of the teachers would drive the motor cycle and also serve as the librarian. At this point there were many questions to be answered; who would read the books? What kinds of books would they prefer? What route should the mobile library take in order to ensure maximum coverage? And how should they ensure that the existing libraries in the area would be revived as a result of renewed interest in reading? Finding answers to these questions was not simple, but this is how Arun and his team went about it. To start with they did a survey of the number of people with reading abilities and their occupations. Based on this they decided to further customize the choice of books made available in the library. Next, in order to maximize the opportunity of advocacy through the library, they decided to establish 3 hubs which would serve as the parking stoppage for the mobile library. These hubs were carefully chosen. The first was a village which used to have a vibrant community library which had since become non functional, the second was a village with a library in a high school, but also non functional, and the third was a village that had never had any library. At each of these villages a vantage location, usually outside a high school, was identified as the stoppage point. The librarian would take the mobile library from the Bigha school to each of these three parking stoppages once every week. He would start in the morning, making brief stops at the villages along the way, issuing and taking back books, and remain parked till the evening at the parking stoppage, returning in the evening via the same route, once again issuing and taking back books. There was also a local coordinator (a youth volunteer) appointed at each of these locations. The coordinator would know the local community and assist in the smooth functioning of the library.
There was an overwhelming response from the most unexpected quarters, and an urgent need to increase the number of books. The main reason why the mobile library is such a success among the rest of the community is that everyone is able to find a book that is of immediate interest to them, even if they are not in the habit of reading for pleasure. Technical books on agriculture and pisciculture have been a huge hit with the farming community. Recipe books, books on mythology and herbal medicine are borrowed repeatedly by housewives. The most unexpected reading community emerged from the vendors at the village markets who are borrowing collections of short stories in the morning to tide them over the lean hours of the afternoon, and returning them in the evening when the mobile library returns to Bigha.
There is already a need to convert from a three wheeler to a four wheeler. The large community library that was defunct for more than 10 years has started showing signs of a resurrection.
QUEST: CapacityBuilding of 5 city based NGOs
(January 2005 to August 2007):
Vikramshila worked with
five city based NGOs for their capacity building through a project
supported by Reach India (a USAID project). The organizations were:
Anandan, Banga Education Society, Disha Foundation, Humanity Association
and Samya Samaj. We followed an apprenticeship model to mentor and
support them in their own context as per their felt needs and also
provide targeted hand holding support. We helped each organization to
develop their own organizational manual through a participatory process.
The three most backward blocks of Dhar were chosen for this pilot by the United Nations World Food Programme (UNWFP) - the agency supporting the ICDS programme in 10 states of India. Vikramshila was responsible for designing an effective training package along with appropriate teaching learning materials. This was done on the basis of a detailed needs analysis and feedback from the anganwadi workers. When we realized that a fair percentage of such workers had little or no education, we developed activities with ropes, tyres, balls and blocks that could be used by such teachers with confidence without diluting the learning that is expected at this stage. We found the appropriate language to get the right concepts across. This was validated the subsequent impact study conducted on the following year which recorded a marked.