Deccan Herald, Sunday, March 30, 2003

Adding joy to learning

Bharathi Prabhu profiles a unique school education programme, striving towards universalisation of elementary education through joyful learning, community participation, school 
sanitation and inclusive education

A white washed and inviting building, colourful boards and lots of aids prepared by the facilitators and the learners, smiling children and involved teachers, surely this can’t be a village government school? Wait, there is more, the toilets are clean and there is even a small patch of garden that the children themselves tend to. We also spot a girl wearing a hearing aid and a boy with crutches in the classroom. 

When the predominant image of a government school is that of dilapidated building, disinterested teachers and discouraging results, the above mentioned welcome scenario has been possible due to Janashala programme. 
Janashala programme was started in 1998 as a 5-year project funded by the 5 agencies of the UNO. Implemented through the Ministry of Human Resource Development across 9 states in our country, this programme has been in effect in 10 blocks, covering six districts of Karnataka through the Department of Public Education. Funded at a cost of 11.37 crores in the State, this project has now received an extension of 2 years. 

Universalisation of elementary education (UEE) or Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan -- so essential for the development of our country -- is a difficult goal to achieve. Though economic and social factors are the chief obstacles in achieving this laudable goal, factors like the geographical location of a village and presence of a disability also hinder implementation of UEE projects. Janashala aims to achieve UEE by addressing these issues. 

In the first year of Janashala programme, blocks were identified -- a block consists of several clusters and each cluster has 12-15 schools from nearby villages -- block resource coordinators (BRC) were selected, village education committees were formed and women leaders who would be responsible for the working of the school were selected. In addition village to village survey was carried out to identify the number of children in and out of school and also those with disabilities. Teachers were selected from these clusters for training. All this required enormous planning and coordination.

The Janashala programme has four facets, joyful learning (Nali-Kali), community participation, school sanitation and inclusive education.
Nali-Kali, is an innovative method that lets a child learn at his own pace. It has produced excellent results with children in the lower primary classes. Under the Janashala programme selected teachers undergo a 12-day training in the implementation of the Nali-Kali method. Even without textbooks and homework, traditionally considered a must for school education, children have blossomed into confident learners. Teachers too have begun to enjoy this new method. 

Community participation is vital for the success of any people oriented programme. Villagers, as mentioned earlier, are very much a part of Janashaala programme. Making the community own the school is another means through which Janashala is ensuring community involvement. In an ample proof of the community’s involvement villagers of a particular cluster are now willing to construct pucca road to the school at their own cost. 
The school sanitation programme, termed School Water And Sanitation Towards Health and Hygiene (SWASTHH) is a comprehensive health programme that involves the teacher, children and the community. The clean toilets and multi-hued compound walls and availability of drinking water in most Janashala schools are a result of SWASTHH. Basics of School sanitation are taught to teachers in 4 days.

Inclusive education, which experts agree is the best approach for a good number of children with special needs, has been implemented in coordination with several other organisations, both governmental and non-governmental. Requiring concerted efforts from several sources, IE has opened up hitherto unimaginable opportunities to several special children.

Inclusive education like other aspects of Janashala faces many challenges. The challenges here are even more. Trying to address the physical and psychological blocks of the children and villagers are the Multi category Resource persons (MRP), who are teachers selected for IE training on the basis of their performance in an aptitude test. These teachers undergo an intensive 45-day residential training at Seva-in action, an NGO. They receive training to handle five disabilities -- hearing, intellectual, visual, physical and learning. The training equips the teachers to identify disabilities with the help of a resource kit. They gain field knowledge by going back to their concerned blocks and identifying the disabilities.

They also visit various institutions such as R V Integrated School (hearing impairment), APD (physical impairment) and Ramana maharishi academy (visual impairment) and learn to draw up unique curriculum as well as adapt existing curriculum. Their performance is evaluated and feed back given at the end. After the training a MRP is expected to visit other schools in her cluster to identify disabled children and to train other general teachers in inclusive education. Her work also includes parent counselling and maintaining reports of the disabled children in her cluster. She is responsible for getting the necessary help for the special child, be it a medical certificate that ensures financial assistance, a hearing aid, a pair of calipers or even language exemption certificate for a child with learning disability. After one year the MRPs are given refresher courses.

Janashala has also organised composite medical camps to distribute aids and appliances. After implementation of IE, statistics show that enrollment and attendance of special children have definitely improved. General teachers, who also get 3-day training in IE and regular help from the MRPs, are aware of the special needs of these children and are willing to go that extra mile to help them. “We now attempt to teach these special children, earlier we thought they could not be taught. Our entire out look has changed. We no longer use the terms kivuda, kuruda.” they say. 

The joy of a 10-year-old with Cerebral Palsy when he was first wheeled into the school or the happiness of a mother when her girl stood up for the first time with the crutches provided by Janashala are sights worth watching.

Having gone as a resource person to the IE programme, I’ve seen the work being carried out by the entire Janashala team. Though there are a few drawbacks, the achievements definitely stand out. Here is a programme worthy of emulation.

Janashala can be contacted at 6523564 or 6528983

Copyright, 1999 The Printers (Mysore) Private Ltd., 75, M.G. Road, Post Box No 5331, Bangalore - 560001
Tel: +91 (80) 5880000 Fax No. +91 (80) 5880523