School Principal’s Workshop and Children’s Activity in Alwar, Rajasthan

By Anomita Goswami, CORD, India

The communication strategy for the RECOUP India partner, Collaborative Research and Dissemination (CORD), places reasonable emphasis on one particular target group – the community being researched. Implementing this strategy has often proved to be an uphill climb, especially in relation to communicating research findings – the community showed much more eagerness for information on available government schemes which would benefit them directly, rather than learning about either the research or its findings..

Following a lukewarm response to the first set of community sharing workshops based on health and fertility issues, CORD decided to find other ways to give back to the community. So, to mark the beginning of the PPP fieldwork, a school principals’ workshop was held in the urban and the rural sites in Alwar district of Rajasthan. This was triggered off by an irate query put forth by a Principal of a local private school to researcher Neeru Sood – “Let us also know what you people come and do in our community”. Neeru felt this would be a good base for CORD to organise a school principal’s workshop at the sites – and this communication event turned out to be an immensely successful one.

The purpose of the workshop included:

  • Setting the ground for the forthcoming PPP research with key stakeholders
  • Reinforcing contact with the community
  • Sharing with the community some findings from the research that were thought to be relevant within the school context.

Both workshops were held at a government senior secondary school. In the rural site, the school was in the village itself. For the urban site, a school was chosen which catered to the children living in the site. In addition to the principal’s workshop, fun activities were conducted with students of classes VIII, IX and XI. These included a quiz and responses collected on cartoons, as well as a situation related to skills and their application.

Organising the principals’ workshops at the government schools was not an easy task and involved a great deal of preparation and spadework – it also meant getting entangled in a web of permissions and approvals, and patient pursuance. However, all that work proved immensely fruitful in terms of networking and in including important district level government officials in the activity.

The Principal of the District Institute for Educational Training (DIET) presided the rural workshop, while none other than the District Education Officer (DEO) graced the urban workshop as chief guest. Both the officials showed enthusiasm about RECOUP research in their areas and said there should be more such studies. Government and private school principals (both urban and rural) as well as key community members attended the rural workshop; school principals and teachers from the host school as well as neighbouring government and private schools attended the urban workshop.

Over and above sharing of the aims and objectives of CORD/RECOUP research, Claire Noronha made a presentation focused on the findings from the skills strand and opened up a discussion on how they saw the role of the school and teachers in preparing the students for skill development and the world of work. The discussion was rich and brought out the constraints and systemic blocks that the teachers and principals perceived. The discussion also touched upon aspects such as lack of autonomy of teachers, lack of rewards and recognition, and therefore motivation, constraints and positives, as well as on ways to change the system. A few principals expressed that in order for skills training at school to be meaningful, it should not be at the hobby level but at a professional level with market tie ups.

Small creative activities for students of classes VIII, IX and XI were designed to make them think about education issues and about how they could use their own skills.  This generated a great deal of excitement. Though the levels of participation varied across classes and schools, the CORD team was surprised by the insightful responses from a large number of students, given the generally poor teaching in government schools. A total of approximately 250 students participated in the activity conducted in their classrooms in the two schools (followed by snacks!). The activities included a quiz based on government schemes in the village, citizenship, health and GK. Students were given a set of school related cartoons and were asked to write a few lines on them.

The students enjoyed the activities thoroughly and were inspired to think. Their responses provided us with a window to the way they thought about issues along RECOUP research lines. For example, one boy of the eighth standard had written about the cartoon given below, “The child is thinking, if all we do is copy from the board, year after year, then what’s the point in studying?”

To another cartoon, where the principal was shown asking a girl why she was late, one class IX girl student wrote, “because I have to do housework and take care of my young siblings, before coming to school; my parents go out to the field early in the morning. The headmaster then calls the parents and explains to them the importance of sending the child to school on time”.

The class XI children were given a case where a set of friends possessed different skills like carpentry, music, dance, masonry, etc. They were asked to think of an enterprise that all of them could start together and the role each would perform in it, and if they wished to hire any others. Some of the responses were very interesting, ranging from starting a restaurant and hiring someone to do accounting, and finding someone to invest money in it, to building a cultural institution and hiring instrumentalists, secretaries.

The RECOUP researchers conducted the workshop and activities. These played an important role in establishing contact in the community, especially for the PPP study – in subsequent visits not only were the researchers’ names called out from this nook and that cranny across the site, the participant students also played a vital role in organising FGDs or as local contact.   In addition, we felt that the presence of the district-level education bureaucracy facilitated the subsequent PPP fieldwork in no small measure – for local school personnel we had the seal of ‘government approved’ activities.  Or perhaps they felt comfortable in understanding more about what we were doing.

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