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Ranajit Bhattacharyya – a Pratham veteran

‘Can someone tell me what is happening here?’, demanded an emphatic middle-aged lady! We are outside Sirajuddin Gain’s home in village Purba Bhoyda of Haroa block in North 24 Parganas. Today is the inaugural day of Pratham’s month-long ‘summer campaign’ across the country. We are here to witness some of the volunteer-led classes in Haroa block. Sirajuddin’s two daughters, Umme Kulsum and Nafsina Parveen have each volunteered to run a class in their home. While Kulsum awaits her high school results, Nafsina is a Std 11 student.

Shahida Bibi (extreme right)

Rahana Parvin, a Pratham team member explains to the curious lady, the purpose of the congregation. Shahida Bibi promptly demands to know why such a class cannot be held in her home. When Manoj points out she can also volunteer to hold a class like the ones being run by Kulsum and Nafsina, but would she volunteer to teach. She directs her fingers at her granddaughter, Annika Khatun and declares ‘she will teach’! Annika has completed Std 10, and Rahana will contact her to explore the possibility of starting a class with her.

Over the past decade or so, Pratham has experimented with community summer camps, during school summer holidays, in many states, to help improve children’s ability to read and compute basic mathematics which has been worryingly low for 2 decades, as evidenced in ASER surveys. This year, after two years, Pratham has again got an opportunity to resume the exercise. This year’s summer camp gains more significance because the schools were shut for almost 2 years, and in the interim children’s access to learning activities has been limited and variable. Families helped to fill the gap in education while children were at home and teachers tried to send learning materials from remote while schools were closed. Despite the efforts of families, communities and school systems, there is widespread concern about children’s well-being, social-emotional issues, and academic learning loss.

The summer camp this year, in West Bengal, attempts to help children of primary school age, who go to Std 4 to 6, to “catch up” on reading and arithmetic and to build/re-build their foundational skills. This endeavour involves mobilising community volunteers at village, who are trained and provided teaching and learning material (TLM) by Pratham, to teach children daily (barring Sunday) in a community space for an hour or two. In return each youth volunteer can participate in a digital readiness course, to gain the skills to perform a wide range of everyday tasks through digital means.

Pratham West Bengal team in Haroa

The summer campaign is called “CAMaL ka Camp'' and the approach to engage volunteers is called “Education for Education” (EfE).

Pratham West Bengal currently works in 300 villages, spread across 13 blocks of 12 districts. The focus of the summer camps is to reach out to 1,300 new villages in the catchment area of 13 blocks.
The Haroa team comprising Bishwanath Ghosh, who is the district leader and 5 team members Mrinmoy Mandal (Sr), Mrinmoy (Jr), Pradip Das, Sridam Mandal and the relatively newly joined Rahana Parvin, who was earlier a Pratham library volunteer have managed to mobilize volunteers in every new village in Haroa, numbering 75!

This was of course made possible because till 2017 Pratham ran a library programme in more than 50 villages of Haroa, and the linkages made then with the panchayat, schoolteachers, community members, other NGOs working in the area by them helped!

Shabana Khatun is also one such Pratham library volunteer whose class we visit today, in village Ramnathpur. Her class, like every other class we visited, has children who are in Std 1 to 3 as well! They cannot be stopped; they also wish to learn. We certainly have to think about this scenario. Quite honestly, one month is not enough to get them to catch up.

Sharmina Khatun, a university graduate also from Purba Bhoyda tells us, ‘I have joined this campaign because our children were deprived of education during the Covid-19 lockdown, and it is our duty to ensure they do not suffer. Sharmina runs a class with 2 other sisters, Taj and Apruja Khatun.

The 1st day of summer camp has clearly created a buzz amongst children, community and the volunteers! We are confident that the activities will have a positive impact on both the children and the community in the next one month. We also need to think about how to sustain the gains in the next one month.