Case studies

Prioritising education

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The young people of Sripanka, in the Daringbadi block of Kandhamal district of Odisha, highlighted education as the highest priority for local development. With the help of PACS and partner VICALP, villagers developed a school management committee and used local media to highlight the lack of staff and facilities, jolting local authorities into action. Today, the local school has a regular teacher, offers midday meals (MDMs) and boasts a 100% enrolment record.

The school management committee meets to discuss issues.

Identifying priorities

When the team from PACS’ partner organisation, the CSO Visionaries of Creative Action for Liberation and Progress (VICALP), first arrived at the village of Sripanka, in the Daringbadi block of Kandhamal District of India, they found the 700-plus inhabitants were beset by multiple challenges. These ranged from diminishing livelihood options to ignorance of the various government acts, policies and schemes open to them. The problem was especially severe for the 55 households from the Kandha tribe and the 21 from the Pana community, which had been excluded from any form of socio-economical development. 

VICALP Project Coordinator Sudhir Nayak says: ‘During our first meeting with the villagers, our team wanted to prepare an action plan for the development of the village. We talked about the need for unity, problems faced by the villagers, the Forest Rights Act, the necessity for protection of forests, and we shared information on a host of government schemes, but we were surprised when the community identified education as the topmost priority for village development. Remember, we are talking about a community that does not have any idea about higher education and does not care to see that their children go to school regularly.’ 

Talking about the lack of interest in education, Prabhat Pradhan, Secretary of the school management committee (SMC) admits: ‘Going to school was not our first concern. Most of us did not even know where to send our children once they had completed their primary education. We feel that education is a waste of time and prefer to make our children work as daily labourers to earn whatever they can rather than put them through school. Once the children grow up they migrate to Tamil Nadu, Gujarat and Maharashtra in search of work.’

Young people speak out

It was the young people in the village who pointed out the need for quality education and revealed the lack of educational infrastructure available. When the VICALP coordinator explained the stipulations in the Right to Education Act, and discussed the role of the SMC, the villagers faintly remembered having had a committee once – but had forgotten who the members were. 

However, the discussion served to highlight the significance of the SMC and the role it played in managing and developing local schools. Villager Sunil Pradhan comments: ‘When VICALP finished explaining the necessity of a SMC, we promptly re-elected the members but this time we saw to it that a number of younger people were part of it. After all, it was because of them that we decided to prioritise education, so it was only fair that they should take the responsibility of putting the plan into action.’ 

VICALP, on its part, organised capacity-building programmes to help the new members perform their duties responsibly and provided detailed explanations on how to get those who had dropped out of school back into education, how to monitor the attendance of teachers, and from where to recruit teachers and gain funds for construction of a pucca building (made with high-quality materials), plus toilets and other facilities for the school. A sense of ownership was instilled in the community to make them understand that they were the primary stakeholders. 

Lobbying the authorities

The next step for the group, with support from VICALP, was to meet with representatives from the block and district offices to make their requests to the appropriate authorities, but this was unsuccessful. Stumped, the group came up with new approach to shake the authorities out of their lethargy. They locked down the school and refused to open the doors until their demands were met. Despite this, five days later, no teacher had been appointed. 

Prabhat says: ‘We revised our tactics when we realised that it was the children who were suffering the most. Besides, bandhs (strikes/protests) have become so common that they do not draw anyone’s attention anymore. So our SMC decided to call upon the youth of the village to take classes in the absence of government appointed teachers.’ A member of the SMC, and two educated young people from the village, agreed to take classes and a local reporter was invited to write about the events, to draw attention to the village’s cause. The reported duly published an article about the deteriorating condition of education in the district with special reference to the village school. 

The committee is deeply involved in day to day issues, including cleanliness.
The article was an eye-opener for the district administration. A shocked district collector ordered the department officials to visit the school and resolve the dispute immediately. A regular teacher was appointed and funds released for construction of pucca classrooms, toilets and a kitchen. 

Today, President of the SMC, Babula Pradhan, is a happy man. He says: ‘Today our village school has a regular teacher and offers the children MDMs. This has happened because now the entire village thinks of the school as its own property. Sripanka has a 100% enrolment record and no dropouts. This is because the village committee has instructed every family to make sure that their children are in school and that education receives the importance it is due.’ 

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