February 2017

Ensuring a packed bench at school

By tweaking lesson plans to fit student requirements, school facilitator Suresh Prajapat is improving learning outcomes and attendance at the GPS Banjarafali school in Sirohi, Rajasthan

“Arjun comes to school regularly and also stays the whole day,” says a beaming Suresh Prajapat. Arjun’s transformation signifies a big achievement for Suresh. A school facilitator under the Primary School Programme of the Transformation Initiative in Sirohi, Rajasthan, Suresh has been working hard to improve attendance in schools catering to impoverished local communities in Rajasthan. Despite being the largest state in India, Rajasthan’s hostile climatic conditions and weak infrastructural facilities have stymied development.

The Primary School Programme of the Transformation Initiative is part of the Sakh Se Vikas programme of Tata Trusts, which demonstrate viable strategies to improve the quality of teaching and learning in selected schools by working with teachers, the education system and the community. Over a five-year period (2015-20), the overarching goal of the ‘Transformation Initiative’ under Sakh Se Vikas is to usher in a better tomorrow through women-led sustainable institutions. The aim is to cover 70,000 tribal households across villages in four blocks of south Rajasthan (depicted in the map). The implementation of the project is going on in four blocks, i.e., Bali, Abu Road, Pindwara and Gogunda. The Centre for microFinance partnered with various departments of the Government of Rajasthan and other agencies to implement the project.

On his first visit to GPS Banjarafali school, Suresh saw that the classrooms were empty. Of the 43 students enrolled, only 20-25 attended classes regularly. The school caters to the tribal Grasia community, and the parents of most students struggled hard to make ends meet working as daily labourers. The parents neither had the time nor the means to ensure that their offspring attended school regularly. Suresh met with the parents, teachers and other members of the community to get to the root of the problem of low attendance, but no satisfactory answer emerged. He convinced the parents to cajole their children to come to school regularly.

In the process, he also met Arjun, a student of Class 5, a regular absentee. Persuasion by Arjun’s father and the teacher led a reluctant Arjun to school, albeit still irregularly. Suresh gently motivated Arjun to take part in the retelling of rhymes and stories, and in games, and got to know him better. He realised that Arjun found the curriculum difficult and beyond his comprehension level.

Suresh reworked the lesson plan according to Arjun’s need. Two months into the implementation of the new lesson plan saw a changed Arjun at the school. Regular in attendance, he stayed on for the duration of the classes. He showed interest in reading, writing and actively participating in classroom activities.

Suresh is applying his new strategy on all other ‘Arjuns’ in the school. It has increased student retention rate and improved learning outcomes. A triumphant Suresh is fired with missionary zeal to achieve 100% attendance at the school.