Natasha Trivedi travels to Bihar to find out how mother’s involvement in their children’s education makes a world of a difference in their learning process.
This February, a handful of us from Pratham and the Aser Centre set off to Bihar as part of a workshop series to explore how mother’s literacy and an encouraging home environment could affect a child’s learning. The workshop was conducted by the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab and the ASER Centre. Having been to the vibrant city of Ajmer last July, for the first workshop in the series, I was excited about visiting Bihar this time.
According to my media exposure, Bihar is often depicted as a State with high crime, low literacy rates, politically turmoil ridden, often clouding our judgement and stereotyping the State as “backward”. I took it upon myself to speak as much as possible with the Bihari auto and taxi walas of Mumbai before leaving to get a feel of their views about their home.
Some said they could secure their children’s future in the city and run their homes with a stable income; while some said their children were more likely to attend school in Mumbai than back in Bihar. “Madame, main saat saal se ghar nahi gaya, kheton mein toh kuch aur hi mazaa hai...” or “Kaam dhanda udhar kum hee hai aur bacche bhi idhar school zyaada jate hain...” They asked me about my itinerary, advised me on places I should visit and told me about the not-to-miss ‘aloo-puri’ at the Patna station.
I was confused. The conversations made me wonder what anyone could possibly miss about places like Yusufpur or Kasba; unheard of with respect to any historical or geographic significance.
But I must say… Bihar took my breath away. I was instantly in love with the lush greenery and the simplicity of its people.
After spending a whole day in the train from Delhi to Kathihar, overlooking the green landscapes, lakes, rivers and livestock, we took a bus to our destination - a picturesque little town called Purnia just a two-hour drive away from the Indo-Nepal border.
On the first day, we were split into groups and sent to various villages. With my team, I went to a little village called Kajha where a Read India class was just completed and the children were sitting together waiting to get dispersed. We took pictures, heard a few children read and chatted with their teachers. I understood from them that the parents were very keen to send their children to school and feel strongly that their children should not lose out on education and other facilities provided. Teachers explained that student enrolment and attendance was healthy and that the parents were gradually getting more involved in their children’s homework, school attendance, parent teacher meetings and other daily activities.
The next day, my group went to another set of villages in the same district to witness the Mother’s Literacy Program. The mother to teacher ratio was 2:1 and the class was a hit with enthusiastic mothers from neighbouring villages learning basic language skills and math. On doing a few exercises with the mothers, it was evident that their mental math abilities were strong, and that they were quick with practical addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. Concentrating on their writing skills, the mothers brought their infants to the class so as to not constantly run back home to attend to them. The atmosphere got serious as the women got busy working with the learning tools provided by Pratham.
They explained that the skills they learnt in this class enabled them to understand what their older children learnt in school and how there was a significant, noticeable increase in their interaction with their own children. A sense of pride was clearly evident as they could now sign on official documents than printing thumbs! They could also identify their names on lists and official statements. We were amusingly told that their husbands too were very keen that their wives learn and some of them even learnt how to write their names with a little help from their wives.
The JPAL training taught us the basics of how to conduct a Rapid Rural Appraisal (RRA) – a quick way to understanding the field layout and dynamics, and mapping inferences correctly., My group was sent to K Nagar to implement our newly honed skills. After understanding a basic village outline, we interacted with the people and surprisingly, here too the mothers were eager to send their children to school. Thus, learning was on top of every mother’s mind.
Post this interaction, we discussed our various experiences and decided to go into the field for one last time to test our newly gathered knowledge. With our simple tools that aided mapping functional literacy, basic literacy, general knowledge, storytelling and listening-comprehension we brainstormed on the different strategies one could use with the mothers for the next phase of intervention.
On returning back to Mumbai, I eagerly downloaded my camera chip onto the computer just to find one common emotion evident in all photos - that ‘yearn to learn look’ on each of the mother and child’s face.
Media and Communications Team, Mumbai, Pratham