Maitree started in 2003 as an innovative cluster level experimental project on universalization of elementary education in a cluster of villages. It was initially visualized as a holistic program comprising two mutually interacting components. One component consisted of a cluster of schools for which East & West School was made the Nodal Agency or Cluster Resource Centre.
While during the first phase of the project a relationship was forged with the community and out of school children were given basics of education in alternative cntres – Maitree Shiksha Kendras –run by village volunteers. In the second phase the focus has been shifted on schools, linkaging of community with schools and their quality improvement so that these schools are able to accommodate more and more children.
In the first year of teaching programme under Maitree I, 836 out of school children were covered through 19 Maitree Shiksha Kendras and at present 785 of them are in school, calling for a modified programme during the second phase in the government schools and at the residual centres which still need to be continued.
The initial programme covered 18 villages spread across four Panchayats. Bela Panchayat with its 10 villages was covered fully. Remaining 8 villages of the CRC are situated in three adjacent Panchayats, namely, Painal, Srichandpur and Makhdumpur. The area of coverage has been made coterminous with the area largely covered by the Bela Cluster Resource Centre. The 18 villages being covered constitute 23 wards of Panchayats in all, 13 of them falling under Bela panchayat. Given the support of the proposed for monitoring purposes wards can generally be taken as the basic unit.
The programme has been designed to work for quality improvement in school education along side universal coverage in a well-defined rural area.
Briefly stated, the programme aims at the following:
- Each child in the selected area should either study at school or to begin with, at some EGS/AIE centre to be mainstreamed in schools, till the age of fourteen.
- Quality issues must be addressed at every place, whether it is a school or any other center, initially, but eventually each child ought to receive quality education in regular school.
- Majority of the out of school children belong to the OBC category, while a substantial number come from the dalit community with many from the Musahar community. There is no ST population in the villages covered except some seasonal presence of labourers in brick kilns. Minority population is also quite small. The proportion of general category children among the out of school children is relatively small.
- There are five Musaharis in one cluster, namely Bela alone, and they form the predominant segment of dalit population. 'Nats' also have a substantial population in Bela (ward 4) and Tilvikrampur (ward 7) villages. On a rough estimate, to be precisely identified later there are at least 60-70 Musaharis in the entire block and about two dozen habitations of 'Nats'. As for the causes of their children remaining out of school three reasons out, namely, (i) lack of interest among parents (ii) children work as labourers or (iii) general poverty. Musahars seem to be generally averse to send their children to these schools and a distinctive strategy will need to be formulated.
- OBC population is quite high in the villages covered and incidence of children remaining out of school is also high. Poverty is again a reason. Lack of interest among parents was also widely reported. In a few cases, teachers behaviour was cited as a reason. In many cases again the child labour problem was noticed.
- Number of out of school girls being reported in the survey appears to be underreporting because the number of girls in the schools is far less than the boys. For girls, cluster-wise strategies will have to be worked out for universalization. Similarly for a few hundred handicapped children a suitable planning will be needed for each child. Teachers will have to be sensitized to the idea of inclusive education.
- Area-based approach : The project is envisaged to cover fully the child population in a defined area. Data is maintained in a disaggregated form, and simultaneously Panchayat and cluster-based planning and implementation is attempted. Same strategy is followed in replicating program elsewhere.
- Local Level Planning : The Society has been working on the design of a District Elementary Education Plan relying on a bottom up approach starting from Cluster level. Block would be a very important level for the design and implementation of such a plan. Since this project aims at a comprehensive strategy of universal quality elementary education, component of planning and its monitoring are included in the project design.
- Diversified and flexible strategy : It is intended to work out a set of diversified strategy for different population segments. The strategy to be attempted for Musahars or Nats will be different from other places and groups. Additional or different learning material has been developed .
- For categories like the challenged children (excluding those severely impaired mentally and physically) an inclusive approach is followed
- For the girls of different age groups a flexible kind of strategy is worked out.
- For the children of higher age groups again a distinctive strategy in needed with a clear focus on vocational component.
- Training in life skills is another feature for all the learners to enhance the quality of education imparted.
The entire range of strategies is deployed as and when resources are available.The intervention is kept sufficiently flexible to fine – tune the strategies in specific and changing situations.
School is the best place for the education of a young child and hence in any innovative program for quality improvement school level interventions will be a necessary and vital component. It may be possible to keep the child in some bridge course or alternative centre for some time but it should be only a transitional arrangement. The right place for a child , particularly for someone in the age group 6-14 years, is a full fledged school. That is why it is imperative that every school meets certain standards of quality education.
One area of improvement in a typical school in India, and in Bihar in particular, is related to infrastructure and facilities and lately a lot of attention is being paid towards that. Rooms are getting added, maintenance grants are being provided, toilets are getting built and sometimes more is being done in select schools. But equally, or perhaps of even greater importance are the pedagogic inputs.
For pedagogic improvement preparedness of the head teachers and teachers will be necessary. This can be attempted through suitably designed training programs and their implementation. Head teachers should have greater role in planning for academic improvement. As per the suggestion of Bihar Curriculum Framework (BCF) drafted by SCERT, Patna every school should develop its own curriculum taking cue from NCF (National Curriculum Framework) and BCF. Besides schools should have a perspective plan of development covering infrastructure improvement, academic work and building of closer and meaningful community linkages.
For community linkages apart from PRIs and Vidyalaya Shiksha Samitis, Mata Samitis, local self help groups , youth volunteers can be used among others. More than training, activities of various kinds can be thought of usually involving children as well. Some guardians and community members , particularly local artisans, professionals etc may be invited to impart teaching or training to young children of the school.