Case studies

Building Bridges

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Girish Mahale - a poet, scientist, and social researcher - quotes Sir Isaac Newton, to explain his work: “Men build too many walls but not enough bridges.” Girish is one of the 100 young leaders on our Changelooms programme. He has been working in Madhya Pradesh to transform the education system through his "Innovation Labs".

Girish Mahale

Education is important

29-year-old Girish is from Pandhurna town in the Chhindwada district of Madhya Pradesh.  

Girish, who studied in government schools, has been striving to infuse quality and equality in government educational institutions.

“My father has always put education above everything else,” he says.

After completing his Masters in Electronics Engineering, Girish started working with international computing firm IBM. His plan was to take a break after 2-3 years and pursue a doctorate, but destiny had something else planned.

A change of course

His father, working with the Electricity Department, met with an accident. His right hand was amputated.

“Whilst looking after him in the hospital, I closely observed our system – I saw pain, deaths, and most importantly how people of certain caste and class face discrimination and exclusion,” says Girish.

Girish was perplexed to see his father – educated and employed – feeling inferior in front of medical staff because they were better educated than him.

Deeply disturbed, Girish decided to change the philosophy of pedagogy: “My idea of education was that it should make a person empowered and confident.”

Exclusion within education

In Pandhurna, people have a low opinion of government schools. Even the teachers of these schools consider their students a discarded lot. The town has 11 private schools that charge high fees and 6 government ones with nominal or no charges. More than 90% of children from Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes go to public schools because their parents cannot afford the high fees in private schools.

“I observed that children going to government schools were studying for the sake of getting some work and supporting their families,” explains Girish. “They had neither aspirations nor confidence.”

Girish started visiting slums and tribal areas for better understanding: “I wanted to grasp the issue first, rather than pursuing the ideas floating in my mind.”

He saw that in slums people at least owned small businesses, but tribal people had nothing.

“The disparity revealed the social and economic exclusion that marginalised people faced,” he says.

Supporting the education system

Eager to change the situation, Girish left his 3-year-old plush job with IBM in August 2013.

He motivated 6 jobless engineering graduates to help study the status of higher secondary education in the area. Concentrating on educational pedagogy, they also studied the model of two organisations - Eklavya and Toys from Trash - both working on education.

In January 2014, Girish registered his organisation, Pratyay EduResearch Lab. The Hindi word Pratyay means ‘suffix’ – to add something – which most appropriately transmitted Girish’s idea of supporting the existing system.

Girish and his team started working with 40 government schools and identified 7 engineering students with high levels of motivation to volunteer as teachers.

“Now we were looking for support to execute our idea at the ground level,” says Girish.

Girish works with a group of students.

Becoming a Changeloomer

By chance, Girish met Sandip Mahato – his junior in the engineering college and a former Changeloomer. Sandip introduced Girish to the Changelooms programme – a year-long fellowship providing training, mentoring, and financial support to 100 young leaders wanting to address social exclusion within their communities.   

“Changelooms familiarised me with a new word – ‘inclusion’,” acknowledges Girish, whose project Pathshala Sahayta Kendra (‘School Support Centre’) was selected.

The project aims to build the capacities of local teachers associated with government middle schools and SC/ST (Scheduled Caste/Scheduled Tribe) hostels. These hostels function as residential institutions for tribal students who come from remote areas.

The model works on activity-based teaching and project-based learning.

Innovation Labs

Pratyay have set up ‘Innovation Labs’ in 3 government-run schools and 3 SC/ST hostels. “These are fearless, non-discriminatory, and completely student-driven spaces,” explains Girish.

In these labs, Girish and his colleagues demonstrate an experiment. They then assign projects to students.

“Children learn by dismantling things, which they can do in these labs without any fear,” Girish says. “Students are the owners of these labs and teachers act as guides.”

So far, over 50% of students have been able to convert their learning into various projects, such as motor generators or automatic lights for cycles, which they have made using local resources. Mostly they use discarded or unused items, or trash.

Addressing social issues

The labs also focus on social issues and link them to the subject of social studies.

“We ask children to identify bad spaces, sad points, and issues that concern them. They can be alcoholism, school distance, or sanitation,” explains Girish. They are then encouraged to think of solutions.

“The process enables them to transfer theories into practice,” says Girish. “They also learn about accountability and responsibility.”

The local community has lapped up Girish’s philosophy of education. As a token of appreciation, the community has given a laptop to one of the SC/ST hostels and has contributed towards setting up 3 small libraries in schools and hostels.

Building the organisation

Since the start of the Changelooms project, Pratyay has been able to create a diverse pool of 21 volunteers from different castes, genders and abilities.

The organisation has also introduced a fellowship programme. The fellows will learn the philosophy of activity-based teaching and project-based learning. Later they can either become teachers or take a role in the organisation.

“The mentoring in the Changelooms project guided us towards leadership-building and peer-learning,” says Girish. “Students who are passing out from government schools are re-entering the same system, but this time to teach and lead.”

The organisation too has benefited in terms of technical sustainability, including better team handling and an improved documentation and feedback system.

Girish attends a Changelooms workshop.

A personal change

Girish observes a metamorphosis of himself and admits: “I used to be strong-headed and was reluctant to listen to others. The project taught me to create space for others, give ownership, share responsibilities, and ensure that everyone is able to meet their personal goals.”

Girish dreams of converting his organisation into a pedagogy research centre, which will work on hand (skills), head (knowledge), and heart (values) as its base.

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