It has been fantastic to have Hunar Ghar School open over the past few months and children laughing and learning together in and around the school again. In November, the school kitchen was permitted to re-open too. Since then, hot nutritious meals have been freshly prepared on site and served to students each day. This has encouraged more regular daily attendance across all year groups, with full tummies helping to improve concentration in class and energy levels.
“After the school reopens, I am so happy to meet my friends and talk to teachers but along with that food is also necessary for good study…my family is not cook breakfast for anyone so I need food…I feel so happy after a hot meal…I am getting different food for a whole week.”
Hunar Ghar Student
With students back at school, the Hunar Ghar teachers are very aware of gaps in their learning and knowledge. Even before the pandemic, students, who are mostly the first in their families to go to school, needed a lot of support to develop their literacy and numeracy skills. These basic skills are vital to children being able to understand and explore broader curriculum topics and concepts and to develop their academic knowledge. The interruption of regular classroom-based learning over the past two years, has had a significant impact on children’s learning levels and confidence, with some students forgetting what they have previously learnt.
Hunar Ghar School is committed to tracking students’ progress and achieving age appropriate outcomes for all learners. This year, it was an official partner of an annual rural education survey which tracks children’s educational access and learning levels. All Hunar Ghar students have been assessed as part of the survey and the findings will help guide the support needed by different individuals and year groups, including provision of additional classes and specialist learning resources.
Hunar Ghar School students received the highest scores in literacy and numeracy skills amongst schools in the local area. However, many are still in need of support to master age expected foundational skills. Recently the team benefitted from an online training session from Varthana Foundation to provide guidance and ideas about different activities for students who are struggling with their learning.
“Through this training, we learned new things mainly for the slow learner and we also asked some questions about how to maintain classroom discipline…and how to do more engaging classes…The training was very helpful for us.” Hunar Ghar Teacher
Training sessions will take place on a monthly basis and in the interim, there are regular opportunities for teachers to observe each other’s lessons. These classroom observations encourage feedback and ideas sharing so that the team keep developing their confidence and skills.
Teachers are encouraged to integrate interactive learning opportunities into all lessons. Peer-to-peer sharing is a powerful way for students to consolidate their knowledge. Over the past few months regular opportunities for students to demonstrate what they have been learning in class have been reinstated.
Students share what they are learning about in class.
It has also been possible to arrange school-wide celebrations for important events like Children’s Day in November. Students have had opportunities to take part in painting, speech, essay writing and Mehndi (henna) competitions, sharing their creativity and talents to mark special occasions.
In December, a special four day workshop was run by an organisation called Shikshantar. Students from the whole school took part in fun games and activities and had the chance to learn new skills and make things by recycling materials. A fair was held at the school on the final day of the workshop. Students gave performances and displayed their arts and crafts to community leaders and members.
It has been wonderful to start to invite parents and community members back to school to see what their children are learning. This helps place emphasis on the value of education and regular attendance.
The first parent-teacher meeting to take place since the school has reopened was a successful opportunity to share how the school plans to track individual students’ progress and to use technology in class more. Parents views and opinions are important and soon elections will take place for parent representatives on the School Management Committee.
Bal Sansad/Children’s Parliament Elections
It’s not just parents’ views which are important. In December, the children had the opportunity to choose new student representatives for the Hunar Ghar Bal Sansad or Children’s Parliament. Out of a field of over 30 candidates, seven students were elected to take on responsibilities for a range of areas including education, culture, sport, health and food. The students will contribute to discussions and decision-making for school improvements, sharing their perspectives and the experiences, concerns and wishes of their peers.
Community Health Outreach Work
Accessing Healthcare & Support
There remains a lot of concern in the area about Covid-19 and this continues to impact on people’s health seeking behaviours. The community health team has been encouraging community members to get vaccinated against Covid-19. Over half of all community members have now been vaccinated.
The Global Hospital and Research Centre mobile clinic is an invaluable service as it ensures access to professional healthcare on a regular basis. It is well attended each time it visits and over 300 community members have benefitted from consultations in the past few months.
Antenatal Care & Nutrition
The community health team ensures comprehensive support for pregnant women and new mothers. Women are regularly visited at home and accompanied to the local Primary Healthcare Centre for antenatal care appointments and vaccinations. They continue to receive nutritional support, including pulses, rice and vegetable seeds – a new component of this programme which is very popular.
The team has been working closely with the local primary healthcare team to make sure that all children get up to date with their recommended vaccines after disruption to normal vaccination programmes due to the pandemic. Over 300 pre-school children have received childhood vaccinations recently and over 70% of all Hunar Ghar students are now fully up to date with their childhood vaccinations.
In October, a team of doctors from Geetanjali Hospital visited Hunar Ghar to carry out health assessments. Over 280 students had a full health check and eye test to enable early identification of any health issues. Some students have been referred for further checks and others prescribed medication as appropriate. All students continue to have their height and weight measured regularly to track their healthy growth and development.
Improving Secondary Education
While secondary schools in urban areas have recently closed due to an increase in Covid cases, rural schools have remained open. The Kshamtalaya team are supporting ~340 students in five year groups at Mandwa and Jhed secondary schools. Over half of students aged 15-18 at both schools have now had a Covid vaccine.
The disruptions caused by the pandemic have impacted on school attendance. In rural communities, where adults have not gone to school themselves, it is more of a challenge to encourage children to come to school each day. When children are not in school for a few days, Kshamtalaya team members visit them at home to check on their well-being and to find out why they are not in school. The team have been in contact with 95% of all students enrolled. Some girls have got married and some other children have migrated with their families or have started to work to earn household income as daily wage earners in unskilled employment. The team counsels students to come to school and shares with them and their parents the value of them continuing to study.
“I feel good to come to school, to learn more because the environment you have created. You also kept us connected and supported in the community during Covid-19 lockdown.” Jhed School Student
Broadening Horizons & Aspirations
A recent survey of career aspirations amongst older students in Class 10 and Class 12, revealed that most have no particular plans and teaching is the only profession students name as a possible future career. The team is focusing on broadening students’ horizons through offering careers guidance, assistance with finding work experience and help with applications for further studies and/or employment opportunities. The intention is to provide mentorship and support to these young people to help them explore different options for their futures. These young people will become role models for other students as they pursue different further studies and employment pathways.
Passing Exams & Gaining Qualifications
However, the students need to gain the qualifications and skills needed to enable them to pursue opportunities they identify for themselves. A key challenge in both Jhed and Mandwa School has been a lack of teaching staff with subject specialist knowledge. Over the past few years, dialogue with the headteacher and local education officials has led to an increase in qualified teaching staff at Mandwa School. Kshamtalaya team members have worked with teachers to support lesson planning and provided additional classes outside school hours to review curriculum topics with students and help work through content that they have not yet mastered. The team has had a particular focus on supporting students taking compulsory exams. Exam passes are the gateway to accessing both vocational training courses and further academic studies, which in turn will enable access to other career opportunities.
The pandemic has disrupted the exam schedule in 2020 and 2021, but all secondary school exams are expected to take place this year. To practice and to check on their progress, students had to sit mid year exams in December. Across both the schools, Kshamtalaya worked with teachers and students to ensure that all prescribed curriculum topics in Science, Maths, Hindi and Social Science were covered by the end of November. The team then supported students to revise for the exams, creating study notes and practicing questions covering curriculum topics. Final year exams should take place in April.
The team is concerned that there could be further school closures that will impact students’ learning over the next few months. They have also observed that more older students have access to mobile phones this year than previously. In view of this, and as part of developing students IT skills, the team has been showing students how they can use mobile devices to continue learning if schools have to close. Digital literacy sessions have covered an introduction to the Internet, and demonstrating how to use Zoom to participate in remote learning sessions.
For now though, it is wonderful to have students in school learning together. The team has been encouraging students to learn from each other and to participate more actively in class. Learning by rote, more conventional practice in rural schools is being replaced by interactive learning experiences. Mindfulness practices are also being integrated into lessons. This is supporting concentration and student well-being.
Supportive Learning Resources
The team has set up a maths tool bank in both schools which is a repository for geometry equipment for students to borrow to support their studies. Students can either use items in class or to take tools home to practice solving geometry problems. A special ‘teacher’ geometry set was also purchased for each school which enables teachers to demonstrate how to use equipment to solve problems on the board.
“This is my first time using the geometry tools to draw. It’s fun and amazing, thank you so much for providing this.” Jhed School Student
Supporting Bakhel School
Kshamtalaya has been asked to provide support to another government school in the area which is expected to provide secondary as well as primary education. Bakhel School has ~270 students aged between six and fifteen, two classrooms and one teacher. Kshamtalaya is in dialogue with local education officials to discuss government investment in the school and its needs. It may be possible to review the scope of Kshamtalaya’s programme work in the area to support the school and enable more students to have a meaningful education. A couple of Kshamtalaya team members provided some teaching support as part of a pilot scheme at the end of last year. The children were delighted to benefit from their input.
“Teacher taught science very well and also did experiments in science. It was first time we saw and it was fun and amazing” Bakhel School Student
“We couldn’t understand before, we have started to understand now, we want to come to school more.” Bakhel School Student
Kshamtalaya works closely with community members and leaders to involve them in the accountability of schools in the area. The team is providing training on the role of a School Management Committee (SMC) and responsibilities of SMC members and how an SMC can help lead to improvements in schools. Several workshops took place at the end of last year, in which about 20 community members participated. They were supported to map out their visions for their local schools. The intention is that Kshamtalaya will facilitate regular SMC meetings, supporting SMC members to discuss problems facing individual schools and to identify possible solutions.
We are as ever enormously grateful to all those who support our programme work. Thanks to you, children growing up in remote communities in rural Rajasthan are having a healthier start in life and accessing meaningful learning experiences:
“I enjoy studying and playing with my friends in school…I get daily breakfast as well as delicious lunch…Along with that I do many activities in the school like sports and drawing. I enjoyed Shikshanter workshop where I got good knowledge about how to make different products from waste material and even I made some products at my home.” Hunar Ghar Student