Case studies

A School for All Seasons

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The primary school in Ammapatti village in Bahadurpur block, Darbhanga district of Bihar, in eastern India did not have even basic facilities. Moreover, children from the Muslim community were being discriminated against, having to sit separately during lunch. Supported by PACS, the Association for Promotion of Creative Learning (APCL) set things right by organizing the village women into a watch dog group.

In Ammapati village, Bihar, some children were made to sit separately during lunch in school because they belonged to the minority community. PACS partner APCL educated the community about their rights and organised them into monitoring group. Group head Saiful Khatoon, a mother of five, led the fight to get equal treatment for all the children.

Let’s go to school

“I am an angoothachaap (Illiterate).  It’s humiliating to be an uneducated person because the society lthinks you are good for nothing. That’s why I want my children and other children to study,” says Saiful Khatun, a mother of 5, residing in Ammapatti village in Bahadurpur block of Darbhanga district in Bihar.

However, till a few years ago the circumstances in Ammapatti Primary School were by no means conducive to learning. There was no basic infrastructure, no hand pump for fetching water and most of the classroom walls were broken. There was nobody to cook the midday meal for the children. The teachers were often absent. As a result, the students would just play around with no supervision.

Ammapatti village comprises of 125 families (17 from Scheduled Castes, 45 Muslim and 63 from other backward castes) from both Hindu and Muslim communities. Though the communities live harmoniously, things were different inside the primary school. Children from the Muslim community were asked to sit separately when they were given their midday meal. 

Educating the community

In 2012, the Association for Promotion of Creative Learning (APCL), a PACS partner, began to educate the community about it rights. Mothers from the minority community were organized into a group called Shikshaadhikaar Samiti (Group for right to education) with Saiful Khatun as its head. The group’s task was to monitor the functioning of the village primary school and to ensure that their children receive quality education. 

The first issue that Saiful decided to address was the discrimination happening against Muslim children during lunch. The group met with the headmaster and threatened to file a complaint against him if this continued. He apologized to them and promised to put a stop to it.

Next, the group worked to enrol all the children in school, even those who were unwilling. Saiful says, “Every morning we walk through the village. If we find any children at home during the school hours, we admonish them and escort them to school. After doing this repeatedly for several days, the children have understood that they need to be in school.”

Saiful and an associate interact with the headmaster in the school.

Women take responsibility

Since most of the village men migrate for work, the onus for the chidren’s education has fallen on the women. “Forming this group has changed the mindset of the community here. The mothers have taken up the responsibility of educating their children seriously and are visiting the school frequently to demand the rights for their children,” says Saiful Khatun. 

Saiful also monitors the school on alternate days. She checks whether teachers arrive on time, if the classrooms are full, and the quality of midday meal served. In one instance, she discovered that the children were provided only Rs.1000 as scholarship instead of the allotted Rs. 1100. She pulled up the headmaster, who promised to pay the full amount from then on.

Igniting a movement

The Shikshaadhikaar Samiti meets twice every month to discuss issues at school and take steps to resolve them. They submit applications to the block office demanding better infrastructure at the school so that children can enjoy a proper learning environment. Presently, the Samiti has submitted an application for installing fans in classrooms so that children are comfortable during the summer months.  

Now, the teachers realize that there is awareness among the community regarding government schemes for education and that they have started to assert their rights. They also realize that the women are capable of approaching higher authorities if their demands are not met. To avoid this, the teachers make sure all the facilities are provided at school. 

Children at the school in Ammapati village are now getting regular education.

APCL has also created a Shiksha Dera (Education Courtyard) in the village for the community to come together and discuss ways to improve education. There is also a book bank in the village. Whenever a child borrows a book from the bank, his/her name is written in a register maintained by the Shiksha Dera. As a result of these initiatives, even the illiterate parents have begun to take an interest in education. Some have already learnt to sign their names.

Yet another initiative started by APCL is the Chalo Behna (Let’s go sister) campaign to promote girls’ education. A group of girls was selected to go from house to house to encourage their friends to come to school. This has helped enroll more girls in school. “In 2011, the total strength of the school was 50 students. But today there are 119 students in the school,” says Mumtaz, a Samiti member.

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