Saving a School – The Story of a Community in Punjab

No one is oblivious to the concept of crowdfunding. Pooling in money for a specific intervention from various sources may seem like an in-thing today; however, restricted only to an urban population or an audience with unlimited access to technology. Here is a story of change, of an enthusiastic and dedicated community that has engaged in crowdfunding and transformed the landscape of a school in shambles in rural Punjab!

Arai Majra, a village in Fatehgarh Sahib, stands tall of its achievement and its contribution to the only government school of the locality. About four months back, this school was in such a dilapidated state that it was deemed unsafe for children and staff members. For the 40 students, from pre-nursery to standard five, two teachers and one head teacher, using the washrooms in the premises during the rainy season was almost impossible.

Before: July 2018

At PYLP, we believe that the education-centric problems of Punjab can be solved locally. This can be fulfilled by facilitating a group learning process where participants who are equal stakeholders come together with the intention of learning together. As they identify and solve their common challenges, they learn to work together. This association goes a long way to sustainably resolve local issues.

Our team, eager to understand the role of the community stakeholders of this village in the development of this school created and ran a robust needs assessment survey. What came about as the result of the survey was quite astounding! The Arai Majra School was worlds apart in terms of its infrastructure from the fifteen other schools in the Saidpura cluster.

Infrastructure is a massive issue in government schools of Punjab. However, when we compare this at a cluster level, a school in any other locality had much better infrastructure than the one in Arai Majra

Ishpreet Kaur, Program Team, PYLP.

Through the needs assessment survey and multiple rounds of interaction and interviews with the children, parents and the staff members the team had a set of relevant observations. Community engagement in this school was on an all-time low. However, the main strength of the school was its highly engaged and invested teachers. They were hardworking and dedicated to teaching in spite of all the issues acting as deterrents. This sincerity of the teachers has led to the school retaining 40 students amidst improper infrastructure in comparison to other well-equipped schools struggling with just 25 to 30.

Our team saw this as an opportunity to leverage the strength and potential of local stakeholders to solve this problem. For the restoration of the school building, as a first step, we engaged teachers in the process of ‘planning.’ Jaspreet Singh, Head Teacher, took the lead in making sure all stakeholders are coming together to have a dialogue towards the school’s improvement. 3 teachers, 2 mess workers, and a few community members along with PYLP’s program team developed a plan for the school’s improvement that was then presented to the district officials and later to the entire village. In multiple conversations, the community discussed together with the importance of quality education and the role good infrastructure plays in it. Building this collective understanding was imperative and reaped many benefits one of them being fundraising! Raising funds, that earlier appeared to be a distant reality now seemed very simple.

After: October 2018

Teachers of the school created a team and pulled off a very interesting fundraising activity. What followed later was completely unexpected. A total of Rs. 15,000 was collected in a time span of one week.

“The school head teacher, Mr. Jaspreet Singh took the lead and arranged about Rs. 70,000. This was the very first time that the community came together in support of a school in their village” added a very happy and content Ishpreet.

The way forward

Through this experience, the PYLP team, teachers, and a few important community stakeholders came together to craft a plan of action, divide responsibilities and execute work in phases to achieve our school improvement goals. We got an opportunity to deeply understand the community that we aim to begin working with on our cluster transformation program. This episode taught us hands on what coming together means on the ground.

However, for us, the biggest question to deliberate on is — how do we actively involve all stakeholders? In this particular instance, we informed the Additional District Collector about the funds raised by the school and connected the school authorities with the collector’s office. We did not intend to drive any further communication on behalf of the school for we envision the school, community and education officers to collectively take ownership and be accountable to drive such engagements in the future.

Why is community engagement important?

In rural Punjab, through the example of Arai Majra, we observed that the community is closely knit and willing to come together for a common cause, unlike metro cities like New Delhi. This spirit of the collective may lead them to work on common goals of the community like providing best in class education for their children.

Although there is immense potential, yet a lot of communities are abandoning government schools. Families with decent enough resources are migrating their children to private schools; leaving behind in the government school children who cannot afford an expensive education. This of all the things sadly leads to segregation based on income and opportunity, and most importantly zero accountability to make government schools better student learning centers.

We believe the community needs to start taking ownership of the government schools in their villages. Once the community is on board, accountability will begin to emerge within the school. Active indicators of this would be a rise in enrollment rates and an improved student learning outcome in the schools. By ensuring an active collaboration between the school and the community, we are positive that together we can go a long way!

 

About Sanjhi Sikhiya

In 2017, Sanjhi Sikhiya was among the first six early-stage organization to join EduMentum, an incubation programme by Advaith Foundation in partnership with Mantra4Change. Based in Punjab, the organization is working towards its vision to build a cadre of youth leaders across Punjab who will develop into public problem solvers and work towards addressing systemic education issues with a sustainable approach.

They have also launched the Punjab Youth Leaders Program (PYLP) for this purpose. The organization is now closely working with the State Council of Educational Research and Training (SCERT) in Punjab to realize this vision.

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