Learnings about Improving Education

(Notes and References from documentation for NGOs and Teachers)
John D’Souza, Tanvi Patel and CED DocumentationTeam

The Role Played by NGOs

In the era of LPG (Liberalisation, Privitisation and Globalisation), all eyes are on the NGO sector, for two diametrically opposing reasons. On the one hand, the establishment is very critical of NGOs who have played a liberating function, vis as vis the current regime, while on the other, there is a clear promotion of a kind of NGO who will do the role of the State in so far as it can deliver social services expected of the state.

The former is clearly demonstrated by the Eklavya experience with the Madhya Pradesh government in the context of science education. Why would a state government try to gag a programme which has been responsible for developing a questioning method of scientific enquiry, in its science teaching programme? If it has specific problems with it, it could have taken the programme further. It is also significant that this attempt to thwart a pioneering effort, synchronizes with introduction of subjects like astronomy and Vedic sciences in other areas.

The other effort, is mainly aimed at a mainstay conventional delivery or contractor status to NGOs, and other private actors. The argument is that government schools are run by a corrupt bureaucracy, and therefore this task needs to be handed over to more committed people. They have suggested that Schools could be privatized.

To take care of the poorer students, there is also a proposal of an “Education Voucher” system, which are given to parents by the government, which they give to the private school who in turn get their grant accordingly. It is hoped that this will ensure that the school concerned will maintain its quality as a result. There are those who believe that the government schools should compete with private schools for the Education vouchers. Rather than compete, it is more likely that the government schools will be marginalised, starved of funding and infrastructure, and we will see slow and steady degeneration and neglect. Witness how many Municipal schools in Mumbai have closed down and its premises used for housing offices of the Municipality and a few NGOs. Further, in the past such an open access to grants, have generally resulted in a whole host of bogus and dubious institutions and educational societies. In Tamil Nadu for instance, a large number of institutions of engineering and higher education have come up, and have been allotted large tracts of land.

Further privatization is not likely to ensure better quality. Past history has shown how such ventures are slowly bogged down by tardy curriculum, and hierarchical school inspection system, that they loose all their original creativity, dedication, innovation, as well as methodology, and standards.

Witness how certain schools have been forced to take in more students. Or how teachers and principal appointments and promotions are standardized and regulated. More recently, the foundation courses at the undergraduate level, which was mainly responsible for student self-study on important civic and political issues have diluted, ostensibly because of pressure from a teachers union.
Thus the problem of quality government schools, and therefore of the predominantly poorer sections of our society, can mainly by addressing the bureaucratic and political interference in such schools. Teachers need to be made more accountable. Schools principals should be able to take academic decisions, and the local community and teachers should be actively involved in both contributing to, and assessing the school.

The government should concentrate on the output rather than the inputs, which go into the education system.

IT is not that non-governmental schools have not made a contribution to Education. In fact denominational schools, particularly those run by Christians have provided a kind of a benchmark of quality, or more correctly commitment to the cause. Today we are also witnessing many non-church run schools taking up names which start with Saint, indicating the kind of school that parents can expect. Other denominations like Aurobindo Ashram schools also see their role as delivering top quality education at low costs. The Rishi Valley and Krishnamurthy related schools also do long term work, setting high standards of teaching as well as innovations, and ethic practices, and liberating methodologies.

Nature of NGO Interventions

Despite these stellar examples, it must be noted that the most important contribution of the NGO sector, in the field of education, has been innovations, and development. More specifically the effort has been to mainstream their learning into the general schooling system particularly in Government schools. These are mainly in the areas of:
  1. Developing curriculum materials
  2. Innovation in teaching – learning processes
  3. Teacher Training and
  4. Sourcing Community Support
Such NGO Work can be broadly and non-exclusively grouped as:
  1. Language Teaching including Communications
  2. Developing Unconventional areas of Curriculum like Health, Environmental education
  3. Efforts focusing on specific subjects like Mathematics and Science
  4. Whole School Approach, and
  5. Accountability and Local Community Involvement
  6. Advocacy on broad approach to Education
1. Language Teaching Including Communications.
Language is closely related to culture and social communication. Local Language is rooted in the oral traditions, and is essential for creative and clear expression, as organizations like Alarippu have demonstrated by using theatre, Literacy is linked to the more modern functions which has to be learnt. And since it is a kind of a gatekeeper to education, particular for first generation learners, many organization like Pratham have concentrated on it. The center for Learning Resource, Pune have been teaching English through Radio.

2. Unconventional areas of Curriculum. NGOs have been taking up several issues in the public sphere. Besides influencing Policy, and developing alternatives, some of these issues need to public participation in order to be addressed. Thus the main thrust of work on these fronts has been to develop and implement curriculum on these subjects at the school level. Traditionally Public Health, and more recently Enviromental Education has been the thrust of NGOs who wish to bring the the aspects of social and preventive health, and Ecology and Natural resource Sustainability into the public sphere. eg: CEHAT, Foundation for Research in Community Health (FRCH), Bharatiya Vidyapeeth Institute of Environment Education and Research (BVIEER)

Vigyan Ashram for instance was wary of the rapid marginalisation of decentralized technology, and has sought to revitalize the foundation of rural technology, whereas organizations like Khoj and Abacus have sought to in teaching History for Communal Harmony, Vigyan Ashram: rural technology

3. Efforts focusing on specific subjects . Besides Language, science and mathematics have been the focuss point for many NGO interventions. They have mainly been in the form of developing curriculum materials and teacher training in creative and innovative methodologies. Some examples are Eklavya’s Science and Social science programme, Suvidya’s mathemathic programe, Homi Bhabha Centre for Science Teaching, Centre for Science Education & Communications
4. Whole School Approach: through
5. Accountability Approach aims at involving a whole range of stakeholders, like parents, local bodies, and Village level committees and thereby create a constituency of support as well as review of the education. CWC have even mobilized the children to take part and decide in school matters.

The Asim Premji Foundation takse a test based and incentive driven approach to ensure accountability whereas The MV foundation take a Rights approach and concentrates on getting child labourers to school, emphasizing education guarantee.

6. Advocacy on broad approach to Education Digantar, Shikshantar, Eklavya, and several individuals have been advocating a liberating role for education.

Cases of Important NGOs

Bodh Shisksha Samiti, an NGO based in Rajasthan, initiated the Shikshak Pahal Programme in 2000. It identifies villages where the government school is dysfunctional and transforms them into a 'community school' that fulfils the educational needs of the community, as well as serve as a center for social awakening.

Bodh's comprehensive community intervention approach involves the following processes:
Preliminary contact with the community through household visits.
Identification of influential people from the community.
Undertaking meetings to explain Bodh's pedagogy
Recruiting female teachers and making arrangements for their stay in the villages for at
least 20 days a month.
Providing basic training to the teachers to understand inter community dynamics and
careful avoidance of discussing any religious issues or showing affinity towards a
particular community.
Organising meetings to discuss issues of women and girl's education.
Initiation of the opening of Samudayik Bodhshala in the villages
Initiating direct intervention in government schools

Bodh pedagogy involves briding the the gap between home and school for the child by providing a conducive environment in the Bodhshalas. Children learn things which are not alien to their surroundings, but rather draw from their everyday lives. The learning experiences are enjoyable and interesting. Children also learn to appreciate other communities and religions, and are groomed to move into mainstream schools.
Taken from.- Increasing Access to Quality Learning Opportunities for Rural Children: Lessons and Experiences from the Aga Khan Development Network, by Kathy Bartlett, AKF, June 9,2006


Digantar sees Curriculum as a conceptual map of human understanding, which individual learners reach this understanding through flexibly defined routes.

The emphasis is on Clarity, consistency, potential for anticipation and projection, and capacity for self-examination and refinement. Human knowledge is also divided into several categories based on the concepts and ways of testing and verification. The categories are mathematics, science, history, aesthetics, ethical understanding and philosophy.

Another dimension of curricular development is development of skills. Skills are understood in the context of actions to bring about change in the world.

Lastly, language is seen as the very condition of knowledge. The process of the development ofunderstanding and the development of language are seen to progress in close interaction with each other.

Based on this foundation Digantar identifies five streams of learning which
move concurrently in elementary education. These are:
- Language;
- Mathematics;
- Environmental Studies;
- Handicrafts
- Expressive Arts

The range of curricular material Digantar has prepared is large. They include storybooks for children, introductory books on a subject, workbooks, and guidebooks for teachers, and self-instructional material for children. The work on curriculum is still going on. The current development is taking place in a concerted way in English language teaching and art. Several other schools and educational programmes are using material developed by Digantar.


Prashika (Prathmik Shiksha Karyakram), the primary education programme of Eklavya, was conceptualised in 1983. With the belief that Educational intervention programmes need to take into account the distinct socio-cultural characteristics of the communities, Prashika developed an integrated curriculum in two schools in 1986. By 1989, the Madhya Pradesh Government allowed Prashikha to try out their new programme in 25 schools, and by 1993 a complete curriculum for classes one to five was introduced in the entire Shahpur Block of the Betul district, in 129 government schools.

The main components of the programme are:
New contextualised curriculum based on local community characteristics
Texts and teaching materials
Initiate processes of thinking and problem solving
Discourage cognitive overload
Activity-based learning
Orientation courses and teacher training sessions transforming their assumptions and attitudes
programme of monthly meetings, classroom visits and post-orientation discussions.

The textbooks for use in classes I and II are designed chiefly to help children overcome their inhibitions in a new and alien atmosphere and to encourage them to participate in classroom activity. The Class I text is designed primarily for the teacher since children are not expected to deal with textual learning at this early stage. The curriculum at this level seeks to evoke an interest in learning and to familiarize the child with an unfamiliar physical and social space, i.e., the classroom. There is an effort to bring into the classroom the childrens' out-of-school knowledge and skills and to integrate them with classroom learning.

The original Prashikha curriculum envisaged an integrated syllabus where language, mathematics, science and social science concepts were presented in the same texts. Classes 1, 2 and 3 continue to have a single text for all subjects but in classes 4 and 5, there are now separate texts for language, mathematics and environmental science. Teachers felt that by dividing the disciplines they were better able to keep track of what was being learned and to give students a sound base in each subject. The teachers are expected to make connections between discipline-based knowledge and to draw upon these connections in the course of their teaching.

By class V, children are introduced to concepts as diverse as governance, major events in Indian history, map drawing and map reading, biological concepts such as the digestive system and physical concepts like energy and heat. The mathematics syllabus covers the four operations and goes on to concepts of decimals, fractions, profit and loss and measurement of area, volume and length. The areas of knowledge that children are expected to master are not different from what the national level curriculum recommends.

The texts especially at the earlier levels, make use of familiar objects such as vegetables, animals, fruits and flowers as also familiar situations like life in the village and its surroundings. Concepts and content is introduced through stories, poems, riddles and songs: all of which are proven techniques for sustaining children's interest. Children are encouraged to initiate activities and to actively participate in whatever goes on in the classroom. Word games, teasers and activities which generate questions and debates are used to hone the linguistic skills of the children while introducing them to basic concepts in science, math and social studies. Practical activities which encourage children to explore their immediate physical and social environments are an important part of the curriculum.

taken from 'Khushi Khushi': An experiment in making primary schooling a happy experience. - By Anupama Mohorkar www.sutradhar.com/features/featuresdetails_6.shtml

The Hoshangabad Science Teaching Programme(HSTP)

The Hoshangabad Science Teaching Programme (HSTP) has been encouraging . children to learn science by discovery, through activities and from the environment. Rather than treating the child as an empty receptacle to be filled with knowledge, HSTP emphasizes training in the process of science, promoting scientific temper and making the child a lifelong self-learner.

Simultaneously, the role of the teacher is transformed from a 'fountainhead of knowledge' to a facilitator and guide. HSTP also fosters the spirit of enquiry by encouraging children to ask questions. A fictional character called 'SAWALIRAM' features in the science workbooks for children to send their questions to, and share their experiences with. (Bal Vaigyanik' workbooks for classes six to eight have been designed to make the child an active participant through field trips, experiments, observations, recording, analysis and discussions. In addition, a low-cost kit including magnets, test tubes, chemicals, lenses, microscopes, etc. is provided in schools for children to experiment with. And, 'Hoshangabad Vigyan', the in-house bulletin of the programme has become an important forum for communication with the teachers.

Jeevan Nirvah Niketan

Jeevan Nirvah Niketan (JNN) is an open school in a slum in Mumbai started by a retired school principal in the early 1990s. When Snehasadan established 15 homes for street-children in the same area, it had to adopt a multi-pronged approach as regards their education. Those who managed to pick up fast were admitted to the formal school. Those who could not were admitted to the open school. In 1996, when the Mumbai Police rescued child-prostitutes from red-light areas and sent them for rehabilitation to shelter homes in the same area, the necessity for an open school for girls who could not adjust with the mainstream education came up. The third category of students in the open school are the child workers from the locality. The shelter homes constructed a new building to house the open school. Now, the open school has a huge building with all modern amenities, well-equipped units for technical and vocational training, and school buses. It provides placement for the students in professional social work institutions. The success story of JNN has inspired the State government to replicate this model in all educationally deprived areas of the State. -Schools to empower women, VIBHUTI PATEL, Frontline, 01/08/2003 , [C.ELDOC.N00.01aug03frn20.htm]


Lokmitra, works with local NGOs in Deeh Block of Rae Bareili.

Its four-pronged approach involves
  1. direct intervention to improve the quality of education, through supplementary teachers, activity/resource centres and organisation of residential camps for adolescent girls;
  2. collaboration with three local partners, working on elementary education, in order to build a wide network in Raebareli district, besides closely working with some of the select organisations in Uttar Pradesh
  3. collaboration with local government bodies, including Basic Shiksha Adhikari and the District Institute of Education and Training (DIET), besides entering into a Memorandum of Understanding with the local education administration; and
  4. working with the parent community in order to ensure increased enrolment and attendance of students, as well as greater awareness on local educational issues.

Typically, Lokmitra would intervene in places where the government school would be in a state of neglect. Lokmitra would meet parents and community leaders, and local CBOs (Community Based Organisations) and create awareness which lead to the formation of a Education Committee.

Lokmitra would supplement teaching effort, by bringing in and training a para-teacher, who would demonstrate demonstrated interesting and effective methods of teaching to regular teachers. This would lead to the teachers deploying innovative approaches to their classroom delivery, desisting from scolding the children, ensuring an improved attendance at the school.


The Marushala (desert school) is an alternative school conceived by Urmul Trust. An NGO working in the deserts of Western Rajasthan. The project began in 1992 and at present there are 6 marushalas.

Western Rajasthan has a low level of literacy, especially among women. Pupil absenteeism peaks at the time of seasonal migration to the Dhanis (newly-created hamlets in the command area of the Indira Gandhi canal), when many children work in the fields. By following the agricultural calendar, the Marushala ensures that children are able to study while contributing to family labour. All the marushalas are located in places where no other school exists.

Children from the age of 3 are admitted to the marushala. However, they are taught only from the age of six. Pupils are taught Hindi, mathematics and environmental science. The syllabus has been designed by Digantar, a Jaipur-based NGO. Digantar also provides support in the form of regular training and evaluation of teachers. Compared to other schools, the marushalas have plenty of teaching aids. The teacher-pupil ratio is also much higher than in ordinary schools.

The children in the marushalas set the work agenda. Though teachers prepare for the following day, they modify the plan according to the preferences expressed by the children. The relationship between children and teachers is one of camaraderie. The children are trained not to accept anything blindly, and encouraged to be curious and inquisitive. They are not burdened with homework every day. They are given weekly homework, and the syllabus is designed to be easy for them to comprehend.

Learning in marushalas takes place in a relaxed atmosphere. The children look forward to going to school, and often reach there early. They stay long after the school hours are over, playing with other children. No fees are charged, but parents contribute cash voluntarily. There are no classes in marushalas, but children are graded. The children move from one grade to another depending on their pace of learning. They undergo tests every 3 months, and the tests are conducted as part of the normal school routine. No special emphasis is laid on the tests, so those children do not dread them.

There is no physical punishment in marushalas, though pupils may be mildly scolded if they disrupt other children’s work. The teachers meet the parents regularly in their homes and at school, and inform them of the progress of the children. These meetings also enable the teachers to bring in children who for various reasons do not attend school.

Some parents, however, believe in the dictum that if you spare the rod you spoil the child. Hence they are not comfortable with the marushala philosophy of not punishing the children. The children who are trained in the marushalas also face an adjustment problem when they move to the formal school system in class 6. Unlike the marushalas the formal school system believes in conformity, physical punishment and denial of space for the various skills of children. Children who join the formal school after being in the marushalas are often bewildered by this. Also, they are not enthused by rote learning and such. However, children from marushalas perform well in whichever school they join. - http://www.ashanet.org/projects-new/documents/umbvs-probe


The starting point of MV Foundation’s work is: to get every child to school. It has successfully campaigned to define child labour as that which keeps the child out of school. This implies that all child labour which keeps children out of school should be declared illegal and Education Guarantee for all children.

Noting that first generation learners, are vulnerable, and pressures at home affect the quality of education received and learnt, MV foundation focuses on detailed initiation and follow-up program which ensures minimal drop-out.

The process of getting the working child to school
Once a village has been selected for inclusion in the programme, the first step is to identify a core group of grassroots leaders who can internalize the working philosophy of MV Foundation. These could be local youth, school-teachers, the sarpanch, or committed individuals. This is a critical group that assists MV Foundation in its mobilization campaigns as well as works independently to achieve its own objectives. These volunteers are not paid but they receive training in social mobilization and consensus-building. MV Foundation has found that village youth are its best allies in conducting and sustaining the fight against child labour. As first-generation literates, they have had to undergo similar struggles to get educated and are therefore in the best position to reach out to the community to convince them of the dignity that formal education can give.

Several different entry-points are used by MV Foundation to make the first contact with a village: street theatre, pada yatras or processions on foot through the village, cycle rallies, public meetings, door-to-door or child-to-child campaigns by the Foundation staff and local volunteers. The local dialect is used and real-life incidents are woven into songs and plays to convey a story that is both plausible and carries the clear message that all children should be in school and not at work. This often inspires an immediate commitment from those present and children, youth, parents, even employers speak up in favour of education and against the full-time work of children.

-Residential Camps
Residential camps provide a bridge between work and school and act as a stepping-stone from one world to the other. Separate camps are held for boys and girls, and the duration is between four and fourteen months. The costs of keeping the child in the camp are borne by MV Foundation. The camps prepare the child to enter the formal school system and children leave the camp only when they are ready to be enrolled in school in classes appropriate to their age. Simple teaching methodologies are used to hold the children's attention and to bring them up to a level where they can enter formal school. Teachers focus on the children's strengths and experiences and involve them actively in the learning process. For example, instead of using standard texts, stories and poems told by the children are used to teach reading and writing. Similarly innovative techniques are used to teach mathematics, science and other subjects in the school curriculum. The ease with which the children - many of whom have never been to school before - pick up these skills speaks volumes about their desire to learn and the commitment of teachers to impart knowledge to them. The teachers are themselves trained on an ongoing basis by MV Foundation.

Short-term camps lasting three days each are also used to bring together working children who are not yet fully convinced. Children who have never been to school draw strength from each other, learn about their rights and about the support structures that have been put in place to convince their parents and employers.

Residential bridge camps lie at the core of MV Foundation's strategy of trans-forming children from labourers to students. This period of adjustment is crucial in ensuring the conversion. For the first time these children are given a clear space of their own where there are no demands on their time and there is ample opportunity to learn and play. At the end of this process, working children are ready to access the school system in a more meaningful and sustainable manner. But it is not just children who get converted in this process; parents begin to feel a sense of pride in their children and there is a change in their self-perception. From being parents of working children they now see themselves as parents of students who deserve more time and attention. They feel proud when children write home from the camp - often this is the first letter they have ever received. Rather than depending on the child's income, they now find it worthwhile to spend money on the same child. It is a common sight to see parents carrying parcels of food and other small gifts when they visit their children in the camps. This is a period of adjustment for the family as a whole as well. The absence of the working child for several months establishes the fact in no uncertain terms that the family is not really dependent on the child's income or lab-our. Similarly, the attitudes of the village community undergo a sea-change - from a position of indifference they now take enormous pride in belonging to a village that is actively involved in eradicating child labour.

-Motivation Centres
In every village there is a hard-core group of working children, particularly girls, and their parents who are not convinced by the various mobilization activities of MV Foundation and its volunteers. Motivation centres are set up as one strategy of main-taining a continuous drive to get such children into schools. The motivation centres are particularly useful in providing a space where these children and their parents can meet in an informal manner to discuss their hesitations and problems. The centres are usually run in the local school before school opening times, and their average duration is three months. The school headmaster and teachers, along with MV Foundation volunteers, are involved in supervising and running these centres. The simple fact of using the school premises increases familiarity with the school and its functionaries in a non-threatening manner. Although some literacy skills are taught, the stress here is not on formal teaching but on providing a support group where children and their parents can discuss issues, share experiences and gain confidence. The motivation centres are not permanent structures, but rather a transitional stage to the residential camps, and eventually school. The main aim of these centres is to ensure that at the end of the process children and their parents are sufficiently motivated to voluntarily reject work and opt instead for school.

Muskaan, an organisation that is working in the area of education, health and community development among the urban poor, started in 1999 as an informal group to provide educational inputs to slum children in a single slum in Bhopal. Muskaan has formalised its work and spread its reach to five other slums, reaching out to 412 first generation learners through their educational interventions. Muskaan runs Non Formal Education Centres for non-school going children, provides academic support to school going children and works towards mainstreaming children in government and private schools. The main components of their programme are:

The Naandi foundation focuses on improving the quality of education in government schools, and support innovation in this field.
a) Tribal Schools in a tribal areas: Naandi teamed up with the community and local NGOs to set up 161 learning centers in a tribal area.
The community donated both land and labour to construct the schools. Teachers and assistant teachers were appointed from amongst the local youth - who had moved out of the area for education purposes - with basic qualification high school qualification.
To make the schools sustainable and, parents have been encouraged to form School Education Committees (SECs) with the teachers and monitor the activities of the school.

b) Supporting Government schools in Andhra Pradesh: Since drop-outs in government schools are high, Naandi is providing support to prevent this by
Naandi has also involved corporate bodies who are not only contributing financially but provided volunteers to interact with the students, staff and parents to work out solutions to improve the schools, make representations on their behalf to the education department and ensure the schools get help.

Teachers are being recruited to better the adverse student-teacher ratio in the schools. Teaching staff is being trained and encouraged to introduce activity-oriented classes.

More learning opportunities are being given to the children through computers, by encouraging sports meets, by taking them on exposure visits to museums and planetariums and involving them in creating art and craft materials.

Toilets, whitewashed classrooms and infrastructure facilities are gradually being improved. Efforts are on to conduct campaigns to involve the children's families into taking more interest in the schools.

c) Support to government 900schools in 61 clusters in Sheopur district of Madhya Pradesh. through: (a) Quality Assessment Survey (QAS) and analysis; (b) enhancing the learning environment; (c) strengthening the community-school bond; (d) promotion of science, mathematics and language skills; (e) capacity building for planning, monitoring and motivation; and (f) early child development. The project includes interventions to address the issue of girls' education by providing remedial education and bridge courses, awards for the school adopting best practices, teacher training focusing on gender sensitization and community mobilization on girls' education. The project also has a school health programme, which provides for regular check-ups, health education and monitoring the quality of mid-day meals served in the schools..

Nali Kali

The Nali-Kali (Joyful learning) approach to learning began in 1995 with UNICEF assistance when a group of 15 teachers from Heggada Devana Kote (HD Kote), a remote tribal block in Mysore District of Karnataka, visited the rural schools run by the Rishi Valley Rural Education Centre in Madanapalle, Andhra Pradesh. Inspired by the principles of pedagogy which are entirely based on child-centered, activity-based learning, this group of teachers set into motion the processes for adapting the pedagogy to their own situation in HD Kote. Drawing on their experience of classroom transaction, the teachers

The three core subjects for primary school – language, mathematics and environmental studies, were to be taught/learnt through art and craft, poetry, song, dance, activity cards, games, field visits, surveys, simple experiments, etc. Activities were developed for each competency as well as additional teaching learning material, all of which were analysed. Remedial teaching methods and evaluation tools were devised.

The vision of Nali-Kali that it would allow for joyful, child-centred education is a major shift from the earlier teacher-centred education. Nali-Kali encourages peer learning within the classroom; the teacher plays the role of a facilitator in the learning process, breaking the traditional hierarchical space normally existing between teacher and student. ( Taken From Seeds of Hope, Lokayan )

In the seventies, Nirmala Niketan College of Social Work took an initiative to work with municipal schools in Mumbai.

Pratham began with the belief that dropout, wastage and stagnation in education are not problems of the poor, but that of the system. Thus the solution was not to provide education alone; but the the whole package of support systems, including nutrition, uniform, books and so on.

Pratham mission is "every child in school… and learning well".

Greater emphasis is placed on ensuring that children in school "learn to read" (and do basic math) in three months or less so that they can "read to learn".

During the first six months of 2003, over 150,000 children were covered by the "learn to read" activities of the Read India Programme, at a cost of less than Rs.100 per child. When implemented by the government school teachers, the cost per child is Rs.10 or less. Government school teachers in all of Maharashtra are already implementing the "learn to read" technique of Pratham reaching an estimated four million children by the end of the current academic year.

The Pratham model is cheap, low-cost and replicable; it uses existing resources- "your resource, our mechanism". By 2002, the organisation has spread to 21 cities, (ten of which are in Maharashtra).- Pratham - preparing the very young, Farida Lambay, Humanscape, 01/10/2002, [C.ELDOC.N00.01oct02HUS.pdf ]

Programmes at Pratham

The Balwadi programme for pre-school education and basic health
    intervention to children in the age-group of three to four years.

The Balsakhi programme to help children of the second standard in municipal
   schools who are bordering on illiteracy.

The Bridge Course to impart literacy-numeracy skills to children who have
    never been to school or dropped out.

The Outreach Programme provides educational opportunities to child
    labourers, street children, pavementdwellers and children in conflict with the

Computer Assisted Learning aims at familiarizing municipal primary school
   children with computers and
educational games in regional languages.

Pre-school coverage for universalization of primary education dominated Pratham’s efforts in the mid 1990s. Pratham’s low cost and replicable model of community based pre-school provision led to a rapid expansion of the balwadi (pre-school) network across the slum areas of the city. In 1995, there were 200 Pratham balwadis catering to 4000 pre-school age children. By 1996, the number had risen to 350, reaching 7000 children between the ages of three and five. By 1998, the pre-school network had expanded extensively across the city; through approximately 3000 balwadis, close to 55,000 children had access to affordable early childhood education. Pratham experiences, Rukmini Banerji, Seminar,
01/02/2005, [C.ELDOC.N21.01feb05SEM31.html]

Although it was technically set up as a nongovernment organisation (NGO), it is really a platform that brings together the local self-government, the corporate sector and the voluntary sector. The Sarva Shikshan Abhiyan of the State is modelled on the Pratham pattern. It incorporates a community-based monitoring system. Pratham has chosen to be a supporter rather than a critic of the government. Intervention is directed at reform and improvement through consultation and participation of all involved parties rather than on designing alternative or parallel systems. Since revitalisation of the government system requires both financial and human resources, Pratham has sought to forge a triangular relationship between community, government and corporate donors.  - Backward and Forward Linkages that Strengthen Primary Education, Vimala Ramachandran, Economic & Political Weekly, 08/03/2003, [C.ELDOC.N21.Primary-Edu.htm

Ravi J. Matthai Centre for Educational Innovation (RJMCEI), Ahmedabad

The Ravi J. Matthai Centre for Educational Innovation (RJMCEI) was established in 1986. From an initial focus on institution building and higher education, the mandate of the RJMCEI has gradually expanded to include primary education and literacy. The center has created the Educational Innovations Bank, to promote teachers' development approach for use by teacher institutions. The creation of Educational Innovations Bank (EI Bank) involved the following stages:

The First Yearbook of innovations by primary school teachers is mainly addressed to teachers working in state run and funded schools operating in difficult environments. Titled 'Universalisation has to be from the village upwards', the yearbook is the outcome of a project that is based on a practical understanding of teacher development: build on the strengths that exist within, build on the experiences of those who have performed well, in spite of many constraints, using their own creativity and resources.

The practices of the 58 teachers that have been reported in the book are responses to very context-specific socio-economic and classroom situations. However, the constraints faced by these teachers may be similar to those of a wide cross-section of the primary school teaching community. These 58 teachers have been selected from a wider pool of innovative teachers, whose work constitutes an 'educational bank', which can play the role of a 'clearing house for educational innovations'

Rishi Valley Insitute for Education Resources (RIVER)

RIVER has developed a unique structure for village education that consists of a network of Satellite Schools where a community-based curriculum is taught by village youth trained in especially designed multi-grade methodologies. The academic curriculum is graded for individual levels of learning, grounded in up-to-date information, and framed in the local idiom and, finally, where the curriculum is integrated with activities aimed to promote conservation, and sustain local culture.

The education kit called 'School in a Box' consists of graded cards. These cards represented a breaking down of the learning process into smaller units. Groups of cards are then assembled into a set of 'milestones', which lead students from level I to level V in the areas of language, mathematics and environmental science.

These carefully designed 'study cards' and 'work cards' are supported by a pictorial 'achievement ladder' that gives a clear sequential organization to what are essentially self-learning materials.

Children at different levels within a single classroom share the same kit. A textbook in each subject for each child can be dispensed with or used as enrichment material.

The cards allow children to learn at their own pace by selecting, with the help of the 'achievement ladder', the appropriate 'study card' for their level and performing the necessary follow-up activities or exercises contained in the 'work cards'. This method encourages silent self-study and individualized learning, though teacher instruction and group work are also a necessary part of the learning process. It gave ample room to the fast-learner as well as the slow-learner to progress at their own pace. Student absenteeism is not a problem in our schools because a student is able to simply take up where he or she had left off on returning to school after a period of absence.

Learning by rote and dry comprehension exercises are abandoned in favour of activity-based learning. Work cards supported by teaching aids are prepared in such a way that children are actively involved in what she is doing and the possibility of her sitting "dreaming" in front of an open book is reduced to the minimum. -yaprao@rishivalley.org

Sahmet has been working in Madhya Pradesh since 1992. Initially, its efforts were directed at re-introducing organic farming to the small and marginalised farmers in the region. Its focus on making the tribals conscious of the political process in order to empower then, was not having any impact on their daily lives. SEHMAT therefore felt that tribals could become part of mainstream society only by acquiring education. And decided to focus on giving the tribal child an opportunity to get good quality education.

In 1997, Sahmet initiated its efforts to improve rural school education in 40 villages of Hoshangabad district, by involving the youth in educational activities, providing library services, and encouraging community interface and supplementary teaching. These initiatives have resulted in an increase in enrollment rates and a reduction in the number of drop-outs in government schools. The Sahmet project operates through local, mostly tribal, young people who are trained on the job and encouraged to think of themselves as agents of change in their own communities.

SeHAT (School Health Action And Training) is an approach to school health promotion, which is curriculum integrated, child centered and activity based. SeHAT is working in partnership with local government like Municipal Corporation etc.

Initial pilot programme was run, selecting low-income schools for four years, developing methods and materials for incorporating health topics into the curriculum. These include communicable diseases, sanitation, nutrition, personal hygiene, tobacco, safety, pollution. The project has developed activity based lesson content, enjoyable learning, model of delivery, awareness of play way methods to develop awareness of healthy habits.

Teaching methods have been reoriented from didactic to child-centred approaches. The programme includes teacher training in use of health education materials.

No. of Schools: Initially 450, now expanded to 750 schools in Dehli and 100 in Bombay


Bangalore-based Sutradhar as a resource centre for children's teaching aids, seeks to promote creative education. Sutradhar goes further that most grassroots organisations who developing sets of textbooks and other materials for children, by bringing the spectrum of all these materials under one roof and making them available in the regular marketplace. Thus, they not only providing an impetus to folk toy makers, but alsowe are also providing a service to manufacturers and non-profit organisations who are developing teaching aids by providing for the end users— parents and educators," Mandira explains. Thus, there is a wide range of (indigenously made) toys available, attractively displayed on easy to access shelves and arranged according to age ranges and skills. Besides that, Sutradhar also offers a variety of low-cost books, teaching aids as well as story books.

Sutradar isworking towards having a permanent open access centre for children. "Such centres already exist for womens' studies, health and environment issues. But for children and education, there are no such accesses where one can go for material and information." - Educating The Imagination, Sushama Nagarkar, Humanscape, 01/11/1996,  [C.ELDOC.N00.01nov96HUS3.pdf ]

The Peoples’ Institute for Rethinking Education and Development

Shikshantar, a not-for-profit movement, was founded to challenge the culture of schooling and institutions of thought-control. Today, factory-schooling and literacy are suppressing many diverse forms of human learning and expression, as well as much-needed organic processes towards just and harmonious societal regeneration.

Shikshantar is committed to creating spaces where individuals and communities can together engage in dialogues to:
    1. generate meaningful critiques to expose and dismantle/ transform existing models of Education and Development,
    2. reclaim control over their own learning processes and learning ecologies, and
    3. elaborate (and continually re-elaborate) their own complex shared visions and practices of Swaraj.
Shikshantar is based in Udaipur (Rajasthan, India).


Suvidya is a Teacher Resource / Learning Centre in south Bangalore working with approximately 50 teachers from ten schools in the city. Some of the key activities being undertaken include: (a) needs analysis through a participatory process of dialogue with teachers and school administration; (b) series of teacher training workshops in areas identified through needs analysis; and (c) development of teaching-learning material.

Timbaktu -

Timbaktu Education Programme called Chiguru runs three day schools, one evening school and one residential school.The facilities available to the C K Palli schools schools, have been developed into a resource center for children from other schools from this and nearby villages.

Though Chiguru does not exactly follow the official syllabus, the goal of the schools is to reintegrate the children into government schools. The children attend the 5th, 7th and 10th standard government examinations and so far have fared very well in them. Many students have been able to rejoin regular schools and have done exceedingly well. The school, inspired by several external sources, developed its own methodology in teaching, math, science, social studies, telugu, hindi, and English. Students are encouraged to ask questions and teachers are willing to explain carefully until everyone understands. The goal is that the children enjoy learning and become interested in the different subjects. Motivated students learn quicker and better than those under pressure do. Today there are worksheets for each class and subject available and the teachers are experienced in teaching according to the principles of alternative education. Most of the children are eager to study and are very curious about the world and their environment. Prakruthi Badi as the central school, has now a comprehensive library and well equipped environmental science lab for the older students.

In the afternoon classes the children acquire skills in woolen embroidery, tailoring, embroidery, bag making, drawing, clay work, gardening, music, folk dance etc. The teachers have become good resources persons in some of these skills. The teachers taught most of the skills.

Skill training is given a lot of importance because the children enjoy them and by getting orientation in a variety of skills, they explore their potential and improve their creativity. Some activities give opportunities to children to see various academic concepts in a different context. A practical benefit that is foreseen is that for some children the skills they learn at school may become sources of livelihood in future. There is also a potential for earning while learning, which has already started on a small scale.

In the residential school, each child works on an organic vegetable plot, and documents the process and produce. The children also have a chicken coup, and breed country foul. The produce is used in the school kitchen, and payment is made into the child’s account, which is in turn used for special outings, educational tours etc. Thus besides learning the skills, they learn respect for land based activity, as well as learn to value their work.

The Children in Chiguru schools spend a lot of time singing, dancing and playing.. A lot of emphasis is placed on the traditional folk songs and dances of the local area.

Vidyankura - the District Quality Education Programme (DQEP)

Vidyankura is a project to enhance the quality of elementary education undertaken by National Institute of Advanced Studies, Bangalore, in collaboration with the Karnataka Sarva Shikash Abhiyan.

The project is premised on ideas that ‘quality’ in elementary education must include:

The programmes are::

1. SCHOOL-COMMUNITY CONTACT PROGRAMME focuses on the need to integrate members of the community and parents into the functioning and orientation of the school and to introduction of new methods to enhance learning. A handbook for parents has been developed to help them to understand issues related to the functioning of schools, ways to contribute towards them and to support their children’s learning levels.

2. STRENGTHENING RESSOURCE CENTRES of SSA at the CLUSTER and BLOCK levels through a one year capacity building certificate course and regular trainings to develop perspectives, knowledge and work related skills and field based follow ups. Strengthening of the resources of the Cluster Resource Centre is also envisaged.

The faculty at the Block level is trained in technical and academic development and planning. Further a library and resource centers of resources for curriculum materials is also being upgraded.

3. MULTIGRADE LANGUAGE CURRICULUM DEVELOPMENT : focuses on the Tribal Schools of the district. By development of a reading test, classroom observations and textbook analysis.

4. POSTGRADUATE PROGRAMME to develop a cadre of well-trained education professionals.

5. MATERIAL DEVELOPMENT, DOCUMENTATION for teachers, teacher educators, parents and children in order to support the new learning programmes in Kannada as well as case studies and handbooks for trainers, teachers and teacher - educators are being developed.

6. COLLABORATION AND ADVOCACY to reach a wider audience through joint workshops, lectures and consultations. ( taken from http://www.iisc.ernet.in/nias/site/vidya.htm )


The Vigyan Ashram at Pabal was started 25 years ago by Dr Kalbag. It aims to provide multi-skill training in technologies among school children.The philosophy is that doing things with ones hands helps improve ones capacity to learn, thus the intellectual and physical pursuits are brought together. It also gives confidence to learn new skills as well as to face real life situations.

The course at the Ashram is a year long one with introduction to varied skills in the following areas: Engineering [plumbing/ welding, masonry etc.], animal husbandry and agriculture, food preservation, health, energy and environment [maintenance of various gadgets, motor winding and repair, fabrication of bio-gas plants / solar water heater etc.]

The emphasis is on doing real life projects, with proper costing done and the students labour charged for. It is a requirement of the project that each student earns at least Rs 1000 by the end of the course! This means that work is done with a lot of seriousness and every class session is challenging and intensely engaging for the student.

The programme has been running successfully for the past 25 years. That it still continues with a lively spirit and enthuses so many students to come and learn is a testament to the sound base on which the whole idea rests and the the way the course is conducted. The Maharashtra Govt is now trying to replicate the course for school students in rural areas- http://newsfromthulir.blogspot.com/2006_01_01_newsfromthulir_archive.html

Viswa Bharathi Vidyodaya Trust (VBVT).

VBVT covers schools in 303 villages of Gudalur and Pandalor blocks in Gudalur district, Tamil Nadu. VBVT is also setting up Area Education Committees to interact with the parents on a regular basis through community meetings at the village level, besides having tuition centers and, village study centres, permanent libraries.

The Vidyodaya Resource and Training Centre trains village education workers, area coordinators, animators, village librarians and government schools teachers, besides bringing out well illustrated booklets in tribal languages based on the documentation of adivasi stories, songs, riddles, etc. completed by ACCORD.

VBVT is also focusing on vocational training in collaboration with local agro-based industries like coffee / tea boards and tea factories. VBVT is documenting and contacting institutions where vocational training and placements can be organised, conducting series of trainings for adolescent girls and boys, in collaboration with local industries and government institutions / schemes like the community polytechnic and finally, providing career counseling for high-school students.

The Vidyodaya School, managed by the tribals, is the base for providing in-service training to teachers, development of teaching-learning material and demonstration of quality education.


Karl Polanyi, the great economic historian, pointed out,

'All the functions that we would regard today as economic, were fulfilled for social rather than economic reasons, mainly to satisfy kinship obligations and to achieve social prestige.'

Today even alternative schools are so organised that they require large amount of money. Thus we have a situation where schools can run only with hugh funding!

The state originally took over from local communities, and which were largely subsidised by the public so that they could be provided for free for those in need. Now these functions are to be taken over by unaccountable corporations who would charge the maximum price that they could get away with - creating an unprecedented number of poor people who would thus be deprived access to the basic requirements of life.

Will NGOs also act like the Corporations? Private Education is already like that. In what way are we different?

Surely a more sustainable education system will rely of educational services being provided as a social function, which involves "free" or "love" services from each member of the community in different forms, save for a few dedicated staff.


Systems Failure, An interview with Anil Sadgopal, Times of India, 04/05/2004,  [C.ELDOC.N20.04may04toi1.pdf]

Private schools for poor?, Sabith Khan, Deccan Herald, 04/03/2004, [C.ELDOC.N21.04mar04dch2.html]

Improving the Quality of Government Schools: by Mandira Kumar & Padma M Sarangapani. Sutraddhar. Books for change.2005.[B.N30.M2]

[Digantar documents: "Theoretical Basis of the Digantar Programme",: "Shiksha Kram" (Curriculum)]

Seeds of Hope, Lokayan

A Handbook for Parents of School-Going Children - Developed by the District Quality Education Programme, National Institute of Advance Studies (NIAS)

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