In India, we are working with more than 500 women, many of whom are illiterate, to prevent more than 3,000 marginalized children from dropping out of school during the Covid-19 pandemic. A true educational success story for children, our programme is creating more opportunities for women to learn and become “agents of change”.
In the districts of Alirajpur and Jhabua in the large, central state of Madhya Pradesh, India, children’s education is often not a priority. Here, literacy rates are among the lowest in India, school enrolment remains extremely poor, especially for girls, and teacher absenteeism is notorious.
To encourage local communities to better understand the importance of education, our teams in Aide et Action India have been working with local women to train them as advocates for education where they live to initiate behaviour change towards education.
These women who have participated in the project are largely uneducated themselves but are very active members of society according to Pravin Bhope, member of the Aide and Action team in South Asia. “These women are generally illiterate themselves, however, they know how to manage a family, take care of children, they are wise and very active in society,” says Pravin. “Most are members of women’s groups, mothers, self-help, they are very involved in social issues.”
Faced with numerous droughts and climatic disasters in their villages, many of the men in these areas left to seek employment in the cities, leaving the management of the villages to the women. As they plan for the future of their children and for their village, Aide et Action is asking them to factor in the importance of education as well as teaching them the skills required to do so.
Avoid giving up school and dropouts
Once selected to participate in our project, these women receive training. Their mission: to create bonds and trust between teachers, parents of students, and the children themselves. They go to schools, classes, meet parents, participate in school governance, and discuss with authorities so that everyone understands the importance of education, the difficulties and the objectives to be achieved to eliminate absenteeism and dropouts. However, since the COVID-19 pandemic, their mission has taken on another dimension.
Jangudi Bai, a project participant, says initial school closures caused her to fear increased drop ou rates. “During the first lockdown, all schools in the village were closed and parents immediately asked children to take care of the animals in the fields,” says Jangudi. “I feared that many children would drop out of school and never come back so I went door-to-door to convince parents to take the children with me and recreate a learning centre to conduct reading or review activities. I started with 5 students and in less than two months there were 18.”
Like Jangudi, nearly 500 other participants have ensured educational continuity in 300 centres and with more than 3,000 children during lockdowns. A feat that they achieved only with their own motivation and easy-to-use educational material, adapted to their level and prepared by the Aide et Action teams. Faced with such a success, teachers themselves got involved and came to lend a hand during lockdown by offering children more educational activities.
This success was not lost on Madhya Pradesh’s state authorities, who have now institutionalized the presence of mothers’ committees in school management committees in order to have “a more holistic view of child development.” The amazing results so far have led these women to be named by our team as”agents of change.”
Since the end of lockdown, these inspiring agents of change continue their mission in nearly 125 learning centres in 90 villages. “In the event of another lockdown, we will now easily be able to ensure pedagogical continuity, particularly at the primary level,” explains Pravin.
The material created by the Aide et Action teams is now used in all government-created childcare centres and helps strengthen the language and numeracy skills of thousands of young children.