The Tata Trusts supported interventions have improved educational outcomes for tribal children in the Dhadgaon block of Maharashtra’s Nandurbar district
India’s tribal communities have always had more than their fair share of disadvantages. And the most vulnerable segment are tribal children who have been left far behind in the education race. This is the story of how a Tata Trusts intervention has transformed learning for the tribal children of Nandurbar.
Nandurbar, situated in the north west corner of Maharashtra, is among the most backward districts of the state. About 69% of the district’s population comprises tribals and the dearth of education and livelihood opportunities have forced them to lead a hardscrabble existence.
The tribals hail mostly from the Bhil and Pawara tribes and speak their own dialects, which are completely different from the state language Marathi. As a result, literacy rates are quite low.
The tribal hamlets are located in remote terrain and this is the biggest factor preventing children from attending schools that are too far . Even those who are able to access schools are ill-prepared as they fail to get a proper pre-primary education in anganwadis (government pre-primary centres). At school, they have to deal with challenges such as cultural differences, difficulties of learning in an unfamiliar language and relating the content to their mother tongue. Families migrating for seasonal labour and livelihood is yet another factor that affects education outcomes.
All of these contribute to high dropout rates among school children. Poor school infrastructure, low standards of education and apathetic teachers have aggravated the situation and prevented the children from reaping the benefits of education.
What was needed was a programmatic approach to enhance the quality of elementary education in the villages. The Tata Trusts, who have been working to provide quality education in tribal ashram schools in Nashik and Palghar in Maharashtra for more than a decade now, widened the reach of the education intervention to cover Dhadgaon.
For this, the Trusts have partnered the Janarth Adivasi Vikas Sanstha (JAVS), a non-government organisation (NGO) working for the empowerment of the Bhil and Pawara tribes in Shahada, Dhadgaon and Nandurbar blocks of Nandurbar district.
The primary objective of the Trusts’ education intervention is to improve the quality of education in Dhadgaon’s government schools. This was achieved by setting up supplementary educational centres known as Balbhavans. Another focus area was a school preparedness programme for children aged 5 and 6 years enrolled with the local anganwadi centres.
The key education outcomes targeted were enhancing the quality of teaching and learning outcomes in Marathi and Mathematics for grades 1 to 5. Also on the agenda was creating better community awareness of the benefits of education through village-level campaigns such as Bal Melava, SMC Melava, etc.
The key to the success of the intervention has been the development of community resources called Balmitras. These are members of the tribal community engaged to spread awareness about the importance of school education.
The Balmitras are entrusted with the task of identifying children who have attended anganwadis and enrolling them in schools. They have been trained to conduct Marathi and Maths sessions for grades 1 to 5 at the Balbhavans. They also ensure that children attend school regularly. The Balmitras’ to-do list includes the task of encouraging the children to read. Towards this end, they maintain ‘reading corners’ where child-friendly and colourful books are made available for the children.
The Balmitras meet parents and motivate them to ensure their wards attend school regularly. To achieve this objective, the education champions organised ‘Shivar Feris’ and field visits to motivate the children. The Balmitras are also made aware of important issues such as Right to Education and the rules for setting up school management committees and ensuring the proper functioning of these committees.
The Balmitras monitor the students regularly to ensure that they stay on track. For example, they conduct pre-tests and post-tests for grade 1 to 5 to check how well the children are doing.
Uninterrupted education during pandemic
JAVS has played a critical role in ensuring uninterrupted education during the Covid pandemic. Even as schools and colleges across the country closed down due to the pandemic, the Balbhavans of Dhadgaon block have been functioning despite the challenges. This has helped the children to continue their education and also ensured that the hard-won progress was not lost or wasted. Balmitras took the lead in conducting teaching sessions (of not more than 10 students in lieu of social distancing norms) in various hamlets covered under the intervention.
The support received from the local communities has been critical to the success of the intervention.
Even in cases where classroom structures were non-existent or in a dilapidated condition, the local communities have stepped forward to support JAVS and the Balmitras by providing the necessary space.
The locals say ‘Mule hi deva gharche phule’ (meaning children are the flowers from God’s garden). In Nandurbar’ Dhadgaon, the concerted efforts of Balmitras, anganwadi workers, the community, and JAVS have worked together to help these flowers from God’s garden to continue blooming!
The initiative is a step forward in attaining:
- SDG 4 which aspires to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.
- SDG 10 which aims to reduce inequalities.