Malavika was recently a nominee in the University of Manchester’s Social Responsibility Making a Difference Awards. She was highly commended in the category of Outstanding Social Innovation, for her work around education in India. She also recieved two commendation awards for equality, diversity and inclusion, and Outstanding contribution to widening participation category. This blog outlines her invaluable work.
As a 25-year old Indian citizen, I would like to present the dichotomy in the standard of living I have witnessed over the years. Considering India’s remarkable performance in Information Technology and Information Technology enabled services, it is no surprise that the country is regarded as a global knowledge and service hub. It would be easy to assume the country is making significant economic growth and progress towards achieving Sustainable Development Goal 1 of eradicating all forms of poverty (UN, 2022).
Income over education
However, I would like to present a different perspective that highlights a side of India where the increase in income at one end of the spectrum does not “trickle down”. It is common in India to see children knocking on your car window and asking you to purchase items from them as you wait at the traffic signal. When I asked one child why she isn’t at school, she replied “I dropped out because I did not understand what was happening [in school]. Supporting my family income is of greater importance!” The current hierarchies and social inequalities are such that parents would rather have their children supplement the family income instead of attending poor quality schools.
Learning gap between schooling and learning
As the Indian Government pushed for the no-detention policy (no child can be held back or barred from school until they complete their elementary education) along with the vision to universalise elementary education under the Right to Education Act 2009, more children started attending schools and a phenomenon referred to as “silent exclusion” became apparent. Students were physically sitting through many grades of education without acquiring the required grade level literacy and numeracy. They were unable to comprehend the classroom medium of instruction, were discriminated against, deemed “weak” by the teachers, and received insufficient pedagogical attention. This vicious cycle of social exclusion eventually pushes children to engage in domestic/manual labour and manual scavenging (hereditary job that entails cleaning human waste from an unhygienic pit or latrine, determined at birth by caste) due to lack of other opportunities.
Chalo Padhe Online – Remedial Education project
To ensure that the pandemic did not exacerbate existing inequalities and become a reason why education is taken away from children, I joined a remedial education project called Chalo Padhe Online [Let’s study online] as a team leader in June 2020 (during the height of the pandemic). The project supported 200 students from lower-income families of Nehru Nagar and Daya Basti tenements in Delhi by providing them with school supplies, smartphones, internet packages and specialised online learning programmes. The project was undertaken through the generous support of our main organisation, Lakshya, and other affiliate non-profits.
Upon interacting with families and students belonging to these tenements/villages, I got to know that the main breadwinner of the family (father) engaged in blue-collar occupations such as being a labourer in a metal, bulb or shoe factory, a tailor or a carpenter to name a few. They earned a monthly income of approximately INR 7000 (£70)! As the demand for these jobs declined during the pandemic, dropout rates, from predominantly government schools, increased as the father reallocated the budget for education towards affording more basic requirements such as food and rent. Students from government schools abandoned online education and were anxiously waiting for the economy to open up again.
This project aimed to challenge the traditional teaching methods commonly referred to as “chalk and talk” in schools. These conventional techniques often limit opportunities for enhancing teaching and learning outcomes, especially for students with diverse abilities. The key focus was on students who were falling behind academically. Instead of delivering standardised grade-level lessons, the project aimed to tailor the pedagogy to the individual student’s current level of ability.
Most of the students in the project, although technically educated in English-medium government schools, their English proficiency was limited. They had little to no confidence to speak or write in English because the mode of communication in such schools was predominantly Hindi (vernacular) with bits of English.
To make children grade-ready by the time schools reopen again, we focused on teaching them the correct pronunciation of English alphabets (with confidence!) through connecting English alphabets with Hindi syllables. I could see the passion and gratefulness in their eyes as they wanted to be educated individuals, able to fulfil their dreams and bring their families out of poverty. By November 2020, they were gradually catching up with the small English passages in their school textbooks as they confidently connected the alphabets to form words and gradually even sentences! Months of practice made them move closer to perfection. They had begun their journey of Spoken English!
Inclusivity and Impact
To ensure SDG 4 of inclusive education and lifelong learning, the project always aimed to broaden the horizons of these students, explore their untapped potential, and give access to opportunities which schools could not afford to provide. To ensure the overall development of the children we worked with, along with academics, the project supported students with weekly co-curricular activities by professionals in arts & crafts, dance, yoga, nutrition and Social- Emotional learning (SEL).
I spearheaded a talk show called “Sunday Success Story!” that aimed to connect children with professionals from diverse sectors, including fashion, finance, government, and charity. Every Sunday, our show provided a platform for children to be mentored by these accomplished individuals, who generously shared their personal stories. Moreover, they offered valuable tips and secrets on how to overcome challenges and achieve success in their respective fields. A crucial aspect of “Sunday Success Story!” was our commitment to the Sustainable Development Goal 5: Gender Equality. We recognized the importance of ensuring equal opportunities and leadership roles for all, particularly emphasizing the inclusion of girl students.
Inspired by the transformative impact of improving learning outcomes of children and witnessing them unlock their untapped potential, I decided to pursue a Master’s degree in International Development with a specialisation in Poverty and Inequalities at the Global Development Institute, University of Manchester in 2021. This educational journey allowed me to delve deeper into understanding the root causes of poverty and inequalities, and equipped me with the necessary knowledge and tools to address these issues on a larger scale.
Adding to my sense of fulfilment, one of the students from the project reached out and invited me to be his mentor and guest on the show, which has continued to run successfully. This invitation provided me with a wonderful opportunity to share my personal journey, including the challenges and excitement of living in Manchester and pursuing higher education. By sharing my experiences, I aimed to inspire and motivate the children, demonstrating that with determination and resilience, they too can pursue their dreams and overcome any obstacles they may encounter.
Note: This article gives the views of the author/academic featured and does not represent the views of the Global Development Institute as a whole.