India lags in providing quality education to its children. Many of our kids lack basic literacy and numeracy skills. The district of Changlang is one of the insurgency prone “disturbed” areas in India where the Armed Forces Special Power Act is in force. This remote district is home to a 1.5 lakh population which is only 10 percent of Arunachal Pradesh and has been historically backward in terms of socio-economic indicators.
As India regains economic activity and schools are about to reopen in many states the Deputy Commissioner of Changlang, Devansh Yadav, IAS has started a unique project called August School Preparation Month so that children from the primary level (Classes 1-5) can relearn what they have already learnt in school and are adequately prepared when schools might reopen from September.
“In the second wave of the pandemic, we have noticed that our students are forgetting what they have learnt,” the DC shared. There have been numerous reports which stated that India might reverse its gains made under extending learning to its students. The primary level of school education provides the foundation for learning for children. Any gap at this stage might be counterproductive to our efforts.
Roping in young volunteers
Under the School Preparation Month, the district administration has engaged with 700 volunteers who are residents of the villages and who have passed Class 12. They have provided them with a syllabus that is primarily focused on ‘Relearning’ based on the Ministry of Education guidelines.
“In the past two years, these primary school students were detached from education and might have forgotten what they have already learnt. The syllabus has been kept precise and the job of the volunteers is only to make the children relearn what they have may have forgotten,” the DC explained.
The classes under this program started in the first week of August. The volunteers are teaching in a Mohalla class manner free of cost. Almost two volunteers have been found from every village.
The volunteers are being monitored by the Anganwadi workers and India Foundation for Education Transformation, a local education group. The district administration would be assessing all the children at the end of the month and would be selecting the 12 best teachers amongst the 700 odd volunteers.
The 12 volunteers would be paid a monthly incentive for a short period who would be working on a contractual basis. “This would help us to create social leaders who have already engaged with our Anganwadis and helped in improving our learning outcomes. It incentivizes the youth to engage with the district administration on a long term on payment basis.,” the DC explained.
The need of the hour
The School Preparation Month is functional in four circles at present and in a few days, three more circles would be added.
The Ministry of Education has launched the NIPUN Bharat program which stands for National Initiative for Proficiency in Reading with Understanding and Numeracy. This program is aimed at ensuring that every child in the country attains foundational literacy and numeracy by the end of Grade 3 by 2026-27. The Changlang district administration is working on the guidelines of this program.
In the first wave of the pandemic, online classes were started. “We gave a clarion call for everyone who could help,” the DC shared. Volunteers from across the country who may be graduates or postgraduates residing at Delhi, Bangalore and Hyderabad were asked to help. Around 100 volunteers turned up.
“Though online education was started for Class 9-12 for Senior level, we noticed that not everyone had access to the phone. So for the primary level online education seems impractical as children do not have the know-how about how to operate the phones even if they have them. So, we have gone for decentralized offline learning for primary sections. We have taken schools to the village level by making sure that at least one volunteer is involved from each village,” the DC explained.
In the pandemic, social congregations are not allowed. Under this program students from the same locality attend these classes in 10-12 numbers.
Scripting a new dawn
Devansh Yadav is a 2016 batch IAS officer who has been engaged at Changlang for more than 2 years. He had worked as the Additional Deputy Commissioner of Changlang before being promoted as the Deputy Commissioner at Changlang itself. “I had the opportunity to work close to the ground and also at the headquarters level,” he shared.
The doctor-turned IAS officer added, “I have been able to use some of my experience in community medicine and apply them on the field especially in the pandemic. As the district has been a laggard in many socio-economic indicators, a lot has been achieved over the years.”
The young IAS officer stated how the community has come forward and adequately helped in the successful execution of almost all programs. “All our initiatives are people-led and not government-led. Even the success of the School Preparation Month rests on the active participation and cooperation of our volunteers,” he signed off.