March 2018

Leading a change by learning

Pinka’s story gives an insight into the role that education plays in tribal communities. It’s amazing to see how basic literacy can be so empowering

Pinka reading out her favourite story book

Pinka is a grade 1 student studying in a government school in Bariyafali. Her village predominantly comprises members of the Grasia tribe, a scheduled tribe inhabiting the forest areas of Rajasthan and Gujarat. Her family runs a grocery store, a flour mill, and carries out seasonal farming.

Pinka was attending school regularly and making steady progress in academics; however, she suddenly stopped showing up for her classes. Her prolonged absence raised concern and the school authorities contacted her father. He informed them that she was helping the family by serving as a herdswoman for their herd of goats. Upon hearing this, the Literacy Coach (LC) of Room to Read, a partner of the Trusts, visited the family several times to encourage them to send Pinka back to school. During his interactions, he emphasised on the progress she was making in reading and the importance of having an education.

After a number of visits by the LC, her father finally allowed Pinka to resume her studies. The LC and her teacher paid close attention to her progress once she was back in school and helped her with her studies when needed to make up for the lost time. Pinka responded positively and in a matter of months, she transformed from a timid girl to someone who would read out aloud in class, recite poems and sing balgeet (children’s songs). She was also arousing an interest for reading among other children with her enthusiasm for learning. The teachers were amazed with the students’ progress and their interest in the library activities.

When Pinka’s father visited her school, the LC asked her to read aloud her favourite story book. Her uneducated father was awestruck by the fluency in her reading and the confidence that she exhibited. An assessment of her reading was done shortly thereafter, and Pinka managed to read 31 words per minute. Since then, 14 new girls from Pinka’s village have been enrolled in the school and another 40 children have been directly motivated by her enthusiasm to read in class and build a stronger connection with the school library. Community members are now seeing the positive change that reading and active learning can bring to children in the village.

The head master of the school, Sahabir, who was initially reluctant to carry out the literacy programme in his school, was overwhelmed with the progress of students and said, “I never believed that grade 1 children could read and write with so much ease, but this programme has proved me wrong. I am pleasantly surprised.”

Pinka is leading a community-level change by creating an inclusive space for independent reading. According to her teacher, Ganga, “We have followed the literacy instruction routine with grade 1 students which has resulted in an improvement in their reading skill and an overall interest in reading books. Pinka is an excellent example of a student who has greatly benefitted from this programme. Parents are now discussing their daughters’ academic performance during community visits, and that is also something that has never happened before.”

This story has been taken from the Sir Dorabji Tata Trust and the Allied Trusts Annual Report 2016-17.