Visit to a Pratham Center in Bainganwadi
By Dilip Menon
After several talks with Tanvi (earlier member of Pratham) and Rakhi, I finally was able to visit the Pratham center in Bainganwadi. I met Rakhi at the Ghatkopar Railway Station and then proceeded to take the bus no. 379 to Bainganwadi. Since it is the last stop, it is pretty easy to get there. However once you land there, it is a confusing place. The streets are well marked, but for an outsider it just looks like a cross mesh.
First Stop: A Pratham Shelter Facility
We met Rakhi’s Team-Lead at the bus stop. She was the one who knew the directions and was leading this place. The first stop was the shelter facility of Pratham. This place used to be a shelter facility. However now it is mostly a day-care facility. We arrived there around 11:30AM. When we got there, the main person was not there. There was a substitute girl, who was holding the class together. There were around 30 kids there, an even mix of boys and girls. Most of them looked to be in the age group of 4 – 7 years old though there were a couple of older and younger ones. Some were writing the English alphabets, while some were writing Urdu alphabets. When one of the kid came out for water, Rakhi started chit-chatting with her. The kid mentioned that she was not planning to go to school, since her parents did not allow her to go. She had an older brother who went to school (she did not know the name), and a younger one at home. (This girl looked pretty energetic, since she kept volunteering to recite poems. So it does seem that the parents did not allow her to go to school, since she looked enthusiastic.)
Rescuing Kids who Involved in Child Labor
A little while later two more Pratham staff members who ran the school came down. The main staff person, (I believe the name was Mangala), gave me some insight into the center’s activity. She mentioned that earlier it was a shelter facility, but now the shelter part has been moved to Mahim. This facility is primarily involved in the rescue of kids who are involved in child labor. So they look around for kids in this ward who are victims of child labor and are made to work at hotel, factories or any other facilities. If any kids are found working, owners of these establishments are given maximum of three notices to release the kids. The owners are asked to give the kids back to their parents. So some kids are sent back to their villages, while some are local and some may have to be sent to the Pratham shelter facilities.
A Starting Point for School
This center acts as a grooming ground for the kids. The kids are encouraged to go to regular school. For this, the kids are taught some English, Urdu, Hindi and other basic things. The goal is to make the kids comfortable in basic items that other kids usually learn in kindergarten. Once ready, the kids go to the municipal school. There are several municipal schools around and so the kids can choose to go to one of them. To encourage parents, P ratham also gives them a monetary reward if their kid attends regular school. Thus the parents do not have to be worried of losing money due to the absence of the kids. In addition this center also at times caters to the local girls, to teach them some extra skilled labor which helps them get a job.
Some things I noticed here – there were several charts stuck on the walls with basic things – pictures of fruits, alphabets etc. Then there was a library section which had several Hindi and Marathi story books. So kids can come down and read these books while they are at the centers. There were several basic books – teaching kids on behavior, elementary science and long stories.
Pratham’s Presence in Mumbai
Additional info I gathered on Pratham from here: There are around three shelter facilities belonging to Pratham in Mumbai. These are places where the kids are provided boarding, and possibly some extra tuition to help their studies. Most kids in Pratham shelter homes go to municipal schools near the shelter homes.
Visiting a Balwadi
From here, we moved on to the next place. Since it was raining heavily, we made the journey a little by foot and little by an auto-rickshaw. We finally got to the balwadi place. Now a little about the balwadis of Pratham. There is one balwadi, for each section. A section is basically around 6 streets. Now these balvadis are not anything spectacular. They are run within a person’s house. We went to one such house run by Shabnam, a Pratham Balwadi teacher. She has around 10 kids in her balwadi and also runs a mobile library. Her activity is a 3 hour balwadi class from 9 - 12 and then she takes a walk along 2 lanes of her area with her mobile library. Since she has around 6 lanes to cover, she does 2 a week and repeats it twice a week.
She mentioned that at times when she finds kids who are not comfortable with reading, she sits down with them and helps them, using the Pratham reading methods. Since Pratham balwadis start only in October she did not have any kids at her place. However she was really wonderful enough to go and get some local kids. We met 4 kids. None of these kids belong to the Balwadi, but they were part of her library program. We talked to them on their favorite stories, school and subjects. After this we bid them good-bye and moved on.
Pratham Office in Bainganwadi
Now after this we decided to go back to the Pratham office in Bainganwadi. There were 4 staff members. Back here, Rakhi explained to me a bit about Pratham work. The main programs are – Balwadi, Library, Scholarship and CCP. Since I had visited the first two, she explained to me the latter two.
Pratham Training & Scholarship Program
During schooling there are two scholarship exams. The students usually get special training from specialized teachers. The Pratham Scholarship program is to send possible people for the scholarship training program which would help them be self-reliant. These people get the training, and can then choose to be associated with Pratham or may have their own tuition classes for students. Pratham balwadis are scheduled to start only around October since they have estimated that 6 months of preparation is good enough to prepare the kids for school.
SarvaSikhsha Abhyan Class
After this I went with a Pratham volunteer Sakhina to visit the SSA (SarvaSikhsha Abhyan) class. The SSA is a government funded activity, and Pratham is used since they have a wide network. So Pratham just acts as a mediator to pass the government fees to the teacher. They encourage teachers to find 10 students and start of a class. They give the necessary training to the teacher, and also assess the capabilities and progress of the teacher. There are several Pratham volunteers in the field to do this. For Bainganwadi, I believe there are around 6 such volunteers, and they have around 20 such SSA schools. I visited the SSA class and found the teaching being conducted in Urdu language. The kids were learning Urdu alphabets. We sat down for awhile to see the teaching. Sakhina talked to a few students and asked them questions on whether they go to school, and also checked their books. I did not venture to do this, since I had no clue of Urdu. After this she helped me find my way to the bus stop even though rain struck with a vengeance.
Overall I am extremely happy with the way Pratham is functioning. They seem to be ensuring that they are able to reach more students and taking the Read India campaign to every nook and corner. The SSA is a great way to do this, and Pratham is a perfect medium to ensure that it spreads out wide. I believe the main part that Pratham needs to work on is to ensure that the students do go to regular school. This cannot be achieved overnight and will take some time. However I am sure that Pratham volunteers can achieve this.
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