By Jessica Bahr:
In a time of incredible economic prosperity, social progress, and making headway toward becoming a global superpower, India is enjoying a plethora of development in a variety of areas of life.
At first glance, modern India appears to be flourishing. Despite this progress, however, the vast majority of India’s rural areas are impoverished, with peoples’ lives continuing to be shaped by ancient caste systems and no way to escape. In these areas, people often lack access to basic necessities such as education and the literacy rates fall far behind those in other large and powerful countries.
Although the government is implementing a number of policies and curriculum changes to combat this, the sheer number of people living in these areas makes change extremely difficult. Fortunately for the students, a number of NGOs are working within India to enable children to receive an adequate and comprehensive education.
The Samarpan Foundation is a non-for-profit group established in New Delhi in 2006, working to provide assistance in a wide array of areas including ecology, environment, humanitarian issues, and animal welfare. Within education, the Samarpan Foundation runs a program wherein they support students who have previously been unable to attend school through tutoring, teaching them to sit in class, assistance in settling in, and shaping the students to catch up to those in their age group.
Shivani Singh, 22, is a full time volunteer with the Samarpan Foundation, and says that a majority of NGOs in India are based on education due to its high level of importance and value.
“I think about 60% of NGOs focus on education because it is a primary sector. If you change a child, you can change the whole sector. So most NGOs are education centric. If you influence a child, it influences the family, then the community, then the society as a whole.”
“But a child who hasn’t been in school for the first 13 years of his life can’t go straight into the section which is their own grade. So what we do is go to the community, start with a basic free kitchen, where children get to know us and become friendly with us. While they are friendly with us, we start slowly and make them sit for some time. While they start sitting with us, we start teaching them slowly and try to uplift them to their age appropriate class. Then we send them to the government schools. We just had our first set of three girls who have graduated,”
“It’s a little extra effort to bring the girls to school because boys still come, parents still send them, but girls are expected to stay home and do the housework, help the mother, help with the housework,”
“But the mindset is changing. You see this thirst. Once they get a taste of education, they really want it. They see all the people around talking in English, walking a different way, dressing a different way. They want to do the same and they know education is the way.”
While the Samarpan Foundation’s education program is primarily centred on working with the students, other NGOs focus on other aspects of the education system. One such example is Tara.ed, founded by Australian Jennifer Star. Previously trained in Archaeology, Jennifer made the transition into education following a three month volunteer trip to India and becoming inspired to change the lives of children living in rural and low socioeconomic areas.
Tara.ed works to foster cross-cultural relationships between Australia and India while training teachers to provide quality education in classrooms. The program aims to change the lives of 20, 000 students with 2000 teachers across the two countries by 2020.
Jennifer says that in Indian government schools, while children may be able to physically access a school they often do not have the opportunity to learn at an appropriate level, as teachers are often untrained, absent, or overwhelmed with classes as large as 104 pupils.
“Or they just don’t turn up at all because they’ll still get their salary if they’re not there. Once I went to a school and they said the teacher was a the hairdresser, and I waited about 45 minutes and then ended up taking the lessons,” she says
“I went to the hairdresser and found out the teacher WAS the hairdresser. He got his teaching salary, the authorities check he’d taken the role, so he’d do that and then go take hair and then come back at the end of the day to let the kids out,”
“I’m obviously biased because of my work, but I think the greatest thing India can do is invest in its teachers. A teacher can have a 30% impact on a child’s achievement levels. And if India invests in its teachers, it will automatically have a stronger education system.”