Few among us go beyond dreaming, fewer have aspirations. But there are always exceptions. Let me share with you the story of one such exception. The story begins in a sleepy village in Dhule district of Maharashtra, a good 400+kms away from Mumbai. Joyada is a tribal village, a good 30-35 kms away from the nearest town. Majority of the population here (~3,500) are tribals with none of the amenities that a town or a city dweller enjoys.

Yet, that doesn’t prevent Shamlal Pawara from aspiring or dreaming. Sham is working with us since the last 4 years. He joined initially as a supervisor but then went on to become a Teacher Entrepreneur with us.

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Sometime in this year, Sham won the Gram Panchayat elections in his village but instead of becoming the Sarpanch (village headman) of Joyada, he chose to remain a Samiti (council) member with responsibility of the Education portfolio. This was part of his intentions to pursue his first big goal — to make every school-going child in Joyada, English literate.

Standing in the way of Sham’s aspirations were the ground realities — Joyada has a lower literacy rate compared to Maharashtra (as per 2011 Census). And majority of the parents of these ~600 students, didn’t see education as a must-have for their kids. But instead of allowing himself to get bogged down by them, Sham looked for ways to find an effective way out.

That’s when we, at LfW, stepped in to offer our full support in his exciting endeavour. For his dreams to get translated into reality it was necessary to get all the players on the same page. So Sham arranged a meeting of the Sarpanch and the Zilla Parishad (ZP) school teachers with us. And the end-result of the meeting was an affirmation amongst all of us that the end-state – that every child becomes English literate excited all of us enough to invest our time and energies over the next two academic years in this one-of-its-kind endeavour.

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With everyone backing the effort, a simple plan was put up, viz. to train local youth to deliver LeapForWord’s English lessons for an hour daily to the children, outside of their school hours. The success of the plan hinged upon the contribution from each of the three parties —

— ZP school teachers would initiate the process by Identifying, Screening and short-listing the local youth (~10 in number). Simultaneously, they encouraged the parents to send their kids to the class every day.

— The Gram Panchayat on its part provided rent-free classrooms & a monthly stipend of Rs.500 for each youth tutor. To ensure that the parents took this effort seriously, they were encouraged to pay a monthly tuition fee of ~Rs.15, that would go to that youth tutor.

— On LeapForWord’s part, we would train & certify these tutors and provide teaching aids and student workbooks. We would also conduct assessments & track every child’s performance.

With all the pieces falling in place, Sham, with support from our end, took up the English Literate Joyada (ELJ) project with fervor and firstly, identified youth who had the inclination to get trained as teachers. We aided Sham in their orientation, training, certification and even re-training. The children on their part underwent our Baseline assessment tests and the test data was analyzed, the logistics were worked out and classes assigned to the teachers. The children selected for this ELJ project were those studying in grades 2-4. In all, 5 teachers certified by us; started teaching students (~200) spread across 11 classes, from mid-September onwards. By October-end, i.e, around 6 weeks of learning, the students gave their 1st test, last month.

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From the test data that came up, we found that the kids could be grouped in two categories, viz. children who could NOT recognize alphabets (let’s call it, CAT-1), and children who could only recognize alphabets but nothing more (CAT-2). And while the learning outcomes were not very encouraging, they were not disappointing either. These are early days yet and Sham and we are pretty sure that in the coming days more ground will be covered in this Project.

Sham and his story needs to reach out to more amongst us. Hence, Pranil retold Sham’s story (an opportunity provided by Ashoka India) on a special series hosted by Times Now, called “The Good Crusaders”. His story inspires us all at LfW to do more. I hope it does the same with you. You can watch the video here.

 

We shall keep you posted on how the making of, arguably what will be, India’s first English literate village unfolds.

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