Thursday, September 30, 2021

Meet Sakshi, who proved that Persistence is the key to success : Priyanka Kaushik

Nineteen-year-old Sakshi, an edu-leader of Batch 4, is going to complete her fellowship this month. She hails from Farda village in Jamalpur block of Munger district, Bihar. Farda is situated on the banks of river Ganga. It is one of those villages that see a rise in water level very early in the rainy season, due to its proximity to the river. This year, the village was submerged in water for 45 days! 

Sakshi got to know about the fellowship from her mother, Partibha Bharti, who is working at the JEEViKA office in Munger. “The Government of Bihar, through the Bihar Rural Livelihoods Promotion Society, an autonomous body under the Department of Rural Development, is spearheading the World Bank-aided Bihar Rural Livelihoods Projects, locally known as JEEViKA, with an objective of social and economic empowerment of the rural poor.” JEEViKA had partnered with i-Saksham in 2019 to implement this program at grassroot level.

During her fellowship, Sakshi was teaching in Madhya Vidyalaya Banktola, Farda. Sudarshan, the headmaster of the school, welcomed her with open arms, as he was so happy to have someone teach in his school and implement new pedagogy techniques. He gave all his support during her initial days and continues to do so till today.

When the headmaster had joined the school in 2016, there was no infrastructure, the walls were dirty and only one room was used as both the classroom and the headmaster’s office. Though there were four classrooms in the school, the other rooms were locked permanently and used by community members whenever they wanted, such as during elections or polio campaigns, and they could also be accessed by government officials. The previous headmaster had been tied and beaten up by the community persons; he managed to get a transfer for himself. Nobody wanted to serve in this community and particularly in this school. Two teachers were recruited along with the headmaster, but both quit within a week because of the geographical location and the community’s orthodox mindset. The same community is spending lakhs during Durga pooja and Saraswati pooja and they don’t have a penny to support the school where their students study – this is the harsh reality.

When she started teaching, Sakshi also faced many issues. She realized that the school lacked basic infrastructure; for example, there were no floor mats, windows or doors in the classrooms. Students were not used to wearing school uniforms and shoes. Fortunately, her regular attempts of persuading the students encouraged them to start wearing uniforms and shoes (those who owned them). A student of class 3, Khushi, shared that when she was asked to wear a school dress for the first time, she had to convince her mother that as Sonam and Anshupriya, her best friends, and other girls of the class had started wearing school uniforms, she had to wear one too. She told her mother that Sakshi Didi had said that school uniforms make students beautiful and she wants to wear it too. 

Now, the school walls have also been painted, the classroom is equipped with basic infrastructure, electricity connection has been installed in the school building, print-rich classes are being held and a hanging library has been made in the classroom. Sakshi also introduced innovative teaching-learning processes in the school, for example, storytelling, phonics, word-mapping and reading aloud. Moreover, because of Sakshi’s regular community visits, there has been a significant increase in the number of enrolled students. The attendance rate of the students also increased by 50% in the academic year 2019, though since the appearance of Covid-19, this level has gone down.

Sakshi using a 3-D chart of Hindi Varnamala to teach her students

In the difficult times of Covid-19, Sakshi along with Rajmani (another edu-leader) conducted Parent-Teacher Meetings (PTMs) in the community. She prepared her students to share their learning with their parents through activities like reading aloud and storytelling. In the first PTM, very few parents turned up. For the next PTM, she made a plan. She went to students’ homes and the fields to meet their parents and convince them to participate in the upcoming PTM. It worked and many parents turned up for the next PTM! It was all due to Sakshi’s willpower to bring the parents to school. She shared how she introduced and elaborated the word PTM to both students and parents, as the concept was completely new to them. This helped them understand the importance of PTM, which perhaps convinced them to come for the meeting. 

PTM is an opportunity for parents to know their child better. Sharing the daily experiences and observations of children with their parents can help both parents and teachers plan, prepare and execute ways to improve learning outcomes of children. She along with her fellow edu-leader Rajmani discussed and shared their overall observations of children with their parents, which included aspects like his/her behaviors, manners, habits, attitude, learning styles, relation to self and society, and so on. 

The teaching style that Sakshi followed comprises the use of teaching and learning materials (TLMs), worksheets, crafts, and the use of the library. She also used daily classroom objects like footwear to conduct realia -- a technique using real objects around you to teach concepts. Teaching through realia reinforces language skills as well visual and kinesthetic learning in all age groups.

Some ill-mannered people would pass comments and tease Sakshi during her initial days. When things got worse and started affecting Sakshi mentally, she shared the incident with her mentor Prince. He motivated her to be courageous and confident. His push and encouragement helped her overcome her fear of these people. At that time, she was not comfortable sharing these things with her parents. 

When the headmaster of the school, Sudarshan, got to know about this, he took charge and investigated the matter. Soon, everything was sorted out by his intervention. 

Sakshi also faced a lot of criticism from the people in her community. They would make comments like why does she keep wandering all day, what changes can she bring to society all by herself? However, Sakshi ignored these comments and carried on with her work. 

Now Sakshi is encouraging new edu-leaders to become more resilient and courageous and to give their best during the fellowship. She shared how there was a day when she cried because she did not want to teach in that school or visit that community; but her consistent efforts and support from the team made it possible for her to overcome this and change her perspective. Now, she just wants to share all the knowledge she has. 

Thanks to her efforts, there was a sustainable impact on children, parents and the school stakeholders. There is more discipline in the school now and the children have started wearing uniforms regularly. The parents have also started showing more interest in their children’s learning outcomes. 

Sakshi is more confident now and is ready to go anywhere in the community all by herself. She had never stepped outside her village before this. She is grateful to i-Saksham for all the training she has received for becoming who she is today – a great teacher. She feels she is perfectly equipped to become a teacher at such a young age. 

Sakshi (extreme right) participating in a Village Organisation (VO) meeting with its members

Currently, she is in the first year of graduation at Munger University. She wants to become a bank manager in the future. She joined the i-Saksham team in July this year. Because of i-Saksham, she is getting help in English communication and goal setting for her studies.  

Sakshi is a batch-4 fellow and i-Saksham team member now. 

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