Education that is Multicultural: The Role of NGOs in Education in India

Blog #5

January 5, 2017

This blog is authored by Study Abroad in India student Lauren Fleming who is a graduate student in Early Childhood Education at the City College of New York. She currently works as a paraprofessional at P.S. 95 in Queens, N.Y. and wants to become a certified NYC teacher.

Today we visited two non-profit organizations also known as NGOs - Pratham and Indusaction. We rose early and embarked on our journey. Traffic was moderate this morning so we were able to get to our destination in a timely manner. When we arrived we had no idea what we were about to experience, but with open minds we entered a community different from anything that we had already seen. 

Our first stop was Pratham.  The name Pratham in Sanskrit means first. We were told by the director of the NGO that the definition of the name Pratham gives light to its function and existence. It was the first NGO to begin bridging the gap between education, the family and the community in India specifically targeting the very economically disadvantaged communities. NGOs like Pratham, along with the government, provide schooling for as many poor children as they can between the ages 2-14. Pratham coordinates community-based childcare centers that are facilitated by community volunteers who conduct classes in small 6'x6' rooms in their own homes. In the preschool classroom, there was one teacher and 19 students. Classroom time runs for 3 hours each day. These classes are within the communities so parents feel comfortable in letting their children go to school because of its close proximity to their homes.

Pratham founders believed that children learn best when they are interested in the content that they are learning. Play-based child-centered learning was the main and new focus. They began to implement programs such as link library which was comprised with activities that would capture the students interests as they learned. Over time, officials noticed that as they were beginning to accomplish their goal of getting children into the schools, a new stumbling block surfaced - although children were in school they weren't learning. An assessment tool called ASER was launched by Pratham in 2005 to survey how much children had learned in each year of school. The tool could help teachers determine whether or not the student can read or do basic math by the end of the year.

We had the opportunity to enter a preschool and an after school program and witness what the Pratham organization had put into place. As we entered the preschool, our hearts began to melt as we watched the students feeling comfortable in their learning environment. We entered into the room to hear the chorus of children say, "Hello Ma'am". We took off our shoes and joined them in circle time as they were engaged in their sorting and counting lesson. They sang and danced as they learned the content in the context of their culture. It was interesting to see the resources they had. Teacher-made materials with vivid colors filled the classroom walls. It was a print-rich environment with many words in Hindi and some in English. There was student work on the walls as well. What warmed our hearts most was the smiles on the faces of the children as they were so happy to learn and welcome the American visitors.  

We exited the preschool and went to the after-school program. This program helped students attain literacy levels according to their academic level and not their age level. There is a morning session as well as an afternoon session. Each session is gender specific.  We were able to come in during the end of the boys' session into mixed-age classrooms. For example, the first and second graders were working in the same room focusing on a particular subject; the third and fourth grade were together and so on. Once again we were greeted with a hearty "Hello Ma'am" as we entered. The students were happily completing their science and mathematics class work. These students were between the ages 6-14. They were as happy to see us as were to see them. They asked us our names some even used the English language. What a wonderful experience!

Our afternoon stop was at the Indusaction headquarters. We met with the NGO's founder Tarun. After working in a large corporation he made a career change after being motivated to find something that was more socially meaningful where he could make a difference. Indusaction is a non profit organization that ensures the implementation of The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act (RTE).  "This act ensures that every child has the right to full time quality education that satisfied basic norms and standards." Indusaction aims to implement RTE by helping  economically disadvantaged families in Delhi to place their children in quality private schools and get children off the streets. The flyers emphasize the targeted populations including orphans, transgender, boys, girls, physically challenged and the disabled.  Indusaction runs a busy backend tech center where several volunteers make calls to deepen awareness of the RTE policy.

Both organizations, Indusaction and Pratham, are very instrumental in promoting and enforcing the governments education policies to improve quality and access to education  throughout India. Both groups promote efforts to get children off of the streets and into centers where education is fostered. They want to ensure sure that all children exercise their right to education.

11 responses
Entering the pre-school and learning center the energy from the children was so beautiful. Noticing that children themselves are helping other children in their communities learn made my heart melt. A strong community with goals can surely make great and beautiful changes for education.
As we visited the Pratham community based schools, I noticed no matter what classroom we went into, all the students were humble and filled with energy. The way the students said "good morning mam" showed so much respect and pride. After observing all of the classrooms I realized, those children do not have center time or leisure time, yet they still get good quality education. It made me think about my own previous beliefs on learning through play. It made me think, do children really need centers in their classrooms to get a meaningful education? These teachers in the Pratham schools, have nothing to work with, yet they educate these children the best way they know how, with their hearts.
The love in the classroom is very evident at these learning centers. Kids seem so comfortable with their teachers and peers and are so engaged in the teacher's lesson. When one teacher asked her students a question, every single hand shot up into the air to answer. That type of energy is so refreshing in a classroom setting.
Learning is so exciting, but even more so in the classrooms we visited at Pratham. These kids were not wearing shoes, sat on the floor in very small rooms, yet they seemed so happy and eager to answer questions or help each other out. The enthusiasm of the teachers we visited along with the dedication of the students made their education experience so beautiful and very authentic. It was an honor to have the opportunity to witness such powerful moments.
This day had to have been the one day that impacted me the most and what I was especially looking forward to. Becoming a teacher has been my passion since I can remember but within the last year I've learned that I want to eventually move away after college to a city away from NYC where kids are under bad living conditions and become troubled in the classroom setting. Children are the future and they deserve the best, going to these slum schools were exactly what I want to do and I couldn't be more excited to make my students one day have great ambition as these less privileged kids did.
At the pre- school and in the community learning center the positive vibes I felt there is inexplicable. The bond between the teacher and the children is something we should all aim for to do as teachers. I was glad to be able to have hands on experience on these two sites. I was able to feel the environment's spirituality, despite of how small the classrooms sizes were and the large amount of children. It brings me back to the notion, that it is not about the material things we need to depend on to make our classrooms better, but rather a deeper connection between you, students and natural environment.
Well written Lauren! It was an amazing opportunity to enter the preschool and the after school program. To witness what the Pratham organization had created is beyond what I imagined. My heart did melt when I saw the younger children greet us with wide eyes and smirks. The respectful greeting of "Hello ma'am" will always stick to my mind. The small room blew my mind as well as my other classmates since back at home we must have space for the children and we must make sure we follow A-Z in prodocals. One thing that stuck out for sure is that these children didnt need space, they had all the room in the world for singing, learning and dancing. I agree with you Lauren, it was interesting to see the resources they had. It reminded me back at home where I believe teacher-made materials is more creative and informative then typical cookie cut materials. It was an amazing experience and one that will stick me with me forever.
The visit to the preschools were definitely the highlight of my day. It was refreshing to walk into the small classrooms and greeted with all the smiles. Despite the limited resources and space given to them, the children seemed eager to learn, and the way in which the teachers interacted with the students was amazing. One can tell just how much those teachers care about their students and giving them a proper education.
Sustainability is key, and that is exactly what Prantham prioritizes. It was refreshing to hear that their educators are people from the community not only because it creates a culturally relevant environment for the students but also because it embraces a model that can be replicated and sustained in various regions. Prantham's approach to assessment with the ASER, is also feasible to implement adding to their sustainability model. It is clear that this organization is incredibly intentional and thoughtful throughout their process of implementation and is consistently reflecting on ways to improve their practice. These are the same methods and skills that the strongest teachers and classrooms inhibit.
Two things struck me from today: 1) ‘To look at things from an achievement standpoint, rather than a deficit standpoint.’ The leader of Pratham pointed out that there are strengths from the students in the lower SES group bring i.e. better fine-motor skills and ability to handle adversity, which lend themselves to better Math skills. Experience from helping their family with their business i.e. counting inventory money etc. further this skill as well. 2) I noticed that many well educated Indians [Tarun or the professor's nephew from our visit to the Supreme Court] returned to their country after studying abroad, even in a prestigious university or job opportunities they choose instead to return to India. Is this based on the importance of doing good? of family?
Visiting Pratham, the pre-school, and the community learning center that Pratham supports had to be the most rewarding experience during my stay in India. with little to no school supplies or even a proper classroom for the preschoolers, the children were all still so eager to learn. They craved knowledge, and that was such a humbling experience. Surrounded by all these beautiful little faces, I could not help but to think about all of those children back home who complain about going to school, even college students who have complained their entire lives about school. It seems to have become habitual. I now believe it is not about the school itself it is about the teacher-student relationship. Supplies are not needed to engage the imagination and creativity in children. These children will always be etched in my memory, motivating me in all of my future academic endeavors. If they can manage with so little, I definitely have nothing to complain about.