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Grassroots Experiences of Inclusive Education

An Educational Experiment with the Manjhis

By Fr. (Dr.) Anto Joseph, S.J.


Introduction

There are two important contexts to this seminar on “Inclusive Education”. The first context is our recognition that quality education is a fundamental right of every individual. The right to education is not just any right, for it is the right without which it is practically impossible to gain access to other human rights and to enjoy basic human freedoms. In a globalised and knowledge driven world and economy, if one does not have access to quality education, one is also denied from access to many other crucial rights. The second context refers to the existence of a large number of children without having access to quality education. There are nearly 67 million children and adolescents in the world without access to education. A good majority of these 67 million children come from our country. We had made a pledge to make quality education a reality by 2015 along with other countries in the world. We realize in 2014 that we far behind fulfilling the one pledge among the many others!

The facts that access to many crucial rights for a dignified and healthy life depends to a great extent on one’s access to right to quality education and that there are a large number of people in our country and the world who do not have access to quality education challenge the government and civil society to attach utmost ‘urgency’ in doing everything possible for bringing quality education to all. We may say that ‘accessibility to quality education for all is a goal to be achieved today and not tomorrow’. Such is the urgency of the task. Hence this seminar assumes great significance. We are here in an attempt to synergize our efforts for the fulfillment of this fundamental human right to all.

This gathering knows well that the concept of ‘inclusive education’ has many interrelated meanings. In our context, the concept primarily refers to the inclusion of the many excluded communities in to the mainstream education in the state. In other words, it refers to the task of making quality education accessible to the excluded communities. It is a task we need to achieve without any further delay. The concept also refers to the ongoing task of making the content, method, and the process of education gender, community, language, and culture sensitive and inclusive, a point that well articulated by PACS-DESHKAL position paper. Needless to say it is a crucially important aspect of right to quality education and it refers to one of the four “As” (adaptability) of right to quality education. Even when we have attended to education disparity in terms of availability of and accessibility to quality education, the process of making quality education inclusive with respect various factors will continue to be an ongoing process.

Our presentation is centered on the primary meaning of inclusive education as mentioned above. As this is more urgent in Bihar than the second, our efforts had been primarily on making quality education accessible to the excluded communities. We shall share the salient features of our journey with the Musahar community in realizing their right to quality education. The Musahar community is the third largest Scheduled Caste in Bihar, numbering about 30 lakhs. The Musahars are primarily landless agricultural laborers ranking at the bottom on all indicators of development. They have the lowest literacy rate in the state.

Our presentation has three parts. The first part briefly describes the process that lead us to evolve a meaningful educational model that in our assessment can ensure quality education to the Musahars and many other excluded communities. In the second part, an effort is made to highlight the major insights on inclusive education that we have gathered in our journey for the last three decades and more. And finally the third part suggests a few recommendations to take the task of inclusive education forward on the basis of our learning.

An Educational Journey with the Musahars
Patna Jesuit Society through a network of its voluntary organizations had been involved for the last three decades or more with the task of promotion of education in the state. Manthan in Khagaul, Patna, and READ in Bettiah, West Champaran were among the few District Resource Units in Bihar approved by the Central Government for Adult and Non-Formal Education in Bihar. Manthan had been an integral part of the creation and evolution of Bihar Education Program (BEP) in the state. Our efforts towards spread of education were primarily among the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. Many of us continue to experiment and explore more effective ways to achieve quality education for the most excluded communities in Bihar. We realize that the concern is too large and our efforts are too small. However, our efforts provide us with a set of useful learning.

The Musahar Self and Exclusive Education Program
In the beginning, we wondered how the Musahar children can be motivated to education. Manthan with its vast experience in mass education in the 90s and early part of this century did not know why Musahar children preferred to play or to go for fishing rather than studying in the village centres established for them as well as for other dalit children. We noticed that children of all the other dalit communities came forward and benefitted immensely from our interventions. However, none of our efforts had made any remarkable impact on the Musahar community.

Fr. Manthara knew the ‘Musahar Self’. Thiers’ is a self primarily formed from negations and exclusions heaped on them by society. They, being on the periphery, rejected all efforts by the ‘centre’ which has been perceived by them as a force that negates them. They kept on rejecting various educational programs offered to them by the ‘outside’ society which negates, rejects, and devalues them. We realized that they had been rejecting our efforts not because of their lack of awareness but because they perceived these programs as part of the overall environment of negation and rejection.

Fr. Philip Manthara, the founder of Manthan was the first one to understand this dynamism. He, therefore, advocated the cause of the Musahars as a special case with the government of Bihar. He wanted to run an educational program exclusively for the Musahar children. He was then given a fund by the government under Sarvashiksha Abhiyan to organize an educational program exclusively for the Musahars. The Musahars being always on the periphery, and excluded at all levels, required an exclusive environment of affirmation and recognition.

What we saw was unbelievable! There were 1200 Musahar children organized under 40 centres of ‘Alternative and Innovative Education”. The motivation that we saw among the students was a sure sign of educational awakening among the Musahars. To be correct, it was not a new educational awakening, rather the first opportunity they, whose existence was primarily being defined by exclusion, received within the ‘home of their own’ to learn reading and writing like other children. In this exclusive education program, they began their march towards education. They woke up to a new journey leaving the long night of many generations behind! The rest of educational efforts that we had initiated were basically determined by the overwhelming demand by the children expressed in different ways for quality education.

The government funded education program came to a close. In the final evaluation meeting of the teachers, we arrived at three remarkable observations. First, we observed that the children who were part of the education program have remarkable motivation for learning. Second, we observed that the children were intelligent, capable and talented. Third, we observed that those centres whose children perceived their teachers as genuinely loving them had outstanding results in terms of regularity of their attendance and academic competency. These observations became founding stones of our further engagement with the education of Musahar Children. We began to see the link between affirmation of the Musahar Self in an environment of love and their motivation and capacity for learning.

Chulhaichack Declaration and Human Resource Centre
Children are intelligent and motivated. They want to study. The children as well as all of us at Manthan were deeply aware that both the environment and the quality of education in the government schools are not sufficient enough to take their motivation for education forward. They wanted Manthan to accompany them in realizing their motivation to attain good education. Manthan had no resources to respond to their educational motivation.

In the afternoon of 31 December 2007, a good number of children and me gathered in the heart of Chulhaichak Musahari under Danapur Block. On the one hand we were a group of Musahar children motivated and wanting to achieve good education and on the other hand we were faced with lack of opportunity to realize this dream. In fact this was the first time we realized the value of opportunity. The Musahar children do not have an opportunity to realize their dream for quality education, even though the government may have opened a primary school in the village. Very often it is lack of sufficient opportunity and accessibility to the same that account for lack of education among many excluded communities. In the midst of the tension between motivation demanding opportunity on the one hand and lack of opportunity on the other, we made a solemn declaration. We declared that chulhaichak and many other hamlets of Musahars are hubs of human resources. These hamlets will be known for abundant and rich human resources. This declaration was an affirmation of what children had come to realize about themselves. Giving expression to the sentiment expressed in the declaration we initiated a centre to facilitate ongoing education of children of four Musahar hamlets in the neighborhood of Chulhaichak. We named the centre as “Human Resource Centre”. Our declaration was something like standing on the Red Fort in Delhi and telling everyone that Human Resource is not merely in the cities, big educational institutions in the country, but also in this far out hamlet of Musahars which our country allows without any remorse to be wasted away!

The name suggested an assertion by the children that they constitute a rich pool of human resource amidst the misery and poverty that define their surroundings. The name also suggested a conviction and possibility of creating a new identity for these children centred on a collective search for quality education. The centre was an experiment in bringing together the educational motivation sprouting in different hamlets, synergizing this motivation so as to multiply the overall motivation of the community towards education. This centre was built around their pride and self dignity.

Thus the HRC catered to children who are motivated and enrolled in class VI or above to study together in the evening hours. Two teachers were appointed to guide them in their study. Children collected some money every month to purchase daily news papers, story books, and electric bulbs to illuminate their study centre and organize occasional celebrations. The experiment succeeded. The centre emerged as a central place in the life of children wanting to attain education. The sense of ownership of this centre developed over the time has transformed this centre into a truly community institution that fosters education among the poor. With help from some agencies, more HRCs were started.

This centre facilitated evening study of children from a cluster of 3-4 neighboring hamlets of the Musahars. The cycled and walked to this centre; they read news papers and library story books; they received one hour coaching from appointed teachers; they planned various programs and organized them; and thus the concept of Human Resource Centre began to take shape. It is a community institution of motivated Manjhi students to achieve academic competency and leadership. Around this centre of education they are defining a new identity to realize a dream for their community.

The Naming of Komal: Short Duration Residential Training
Our understanding that to keep the educational motivation of children, our interaction with them needs to be quite regular. We became more and more convinced of the intrinsic relationship of self esteem of children with their actual learning achievements. We noted that deep rooted fear, internalized negative self image is increasingly becoming a stumbling block in achieving good educational competency and self confidence. To attend to these emerging needs of the students we initiated a program of periodic short duration residential trainings for the children enrolled as members of the resource centres and enrolled in government schools. The objective of the short duration residential training had been to withdraw the children from an environment of negation and rejection which primarily determines their ‘self’ and to provide them with an environment of love, affirmation and recognition within which they can create a new self of affirmation and recognition.

The short duration residential training has five integral components. They are:
  1. Development of personality involving self confidence, self esteem, self respect, motivation, fearlessness, and leadership skills through tools of ‘awareness-meditation-empowerment’ tools, physical exercises, stage performance, voice practice, initiating them challenging tasks, etc.
  2. Development of Intellect involving ability to understand, comprehend, analyze, remember, conceptualize and communicate, academic competency in languages and mathematics through subject coaching, debates, analysis of stories and essays, drawing and painting, question-answer, memorization, etc.
  3. Development of social conscientiousness involving cherishing a dream for community and the country, ability to search for common good, helping one another, etc. through tools such as house works, group discussions, awareness songs, street plays, essay-story writing, etc.
  4. Development of circle of friendship involving confidence in oneself, enhancement of circle of friends, relationship with outside world, general knowledge through opportunities of meeting and discussion with people from various walks of life, news paper reading, organizing common programs, etc.
  5. Development of talents involving developing their talents in music, dramatics, painting, creativity, etc. through training by competent artists, in house periodic stage performance and larger stage performance.
A number of such short duration residential training has enabled us to give certain definite shape to the method and process of conducting residential training. Our educational program gives 45 days of residential training in 3 installments of 15 days each. Children come in batches of 50 taking due permission from the schools in which they are enrolled. During these residential trainings, we focus on three subjects, namely Hindi, English, and Mathematics. The syllabus is organized on the basis of the minimum level of learning prescribed for each class. A lot of physical and mental exercises are introduced to release their physical, mental and emotional energies and to shape and channel them to academics.

Why did we opt for short duration residential training to long term residential training? The immediate reason is that we did not want to limit the opportunity to a very small number of students who can be accommodated for a long term residential training. We wanted to continue the mass character of our educational intervention in the sense that all our educational efforts should have multiplier effect within the community. The remote reason for our choice for short duration residential training is more theoretical. We noted that the model of withdrawal from the village environment to an environment of love, affirmation, and recognition should be complimented by insertion of students back into the village context where they come from. In the real context of social relations and the overall environment of their village they need to encounter the transformation that has taken place in them during their withdrawal and training. In other words, their way of relating to the real life situation from a ‘wounded self’ needs to be replaced by way of relating from an ‘affirmed and esteemed self’. This can take place only in their real life situation. This awareness of growth in the real context of their living is very important to reinforce growth itself. The interplay of withdrawal and insertion reinforce and multiplies the real transformation in the children.

The second theoretical reason based on our observation is that the marginal benefit that a child gains from successive days of training keeps diminishing after a point and it becomes negative after a point. Hence, we felt that the duration of the residential training should not exceed that critical number of days so as to maximize the impact. In a sense the cost-benefit analysis of this training suggest that short duration residential training is more beneficial from the point of view of the cost of training and the impact of the training than long term residential training. Moreover, the training being very intensive, it is difficult to maintain the same intensity for a long period of time.

This process of withdrawal and insertion of students enable them to personalize the transformation step by step in their own real context. Thus they define a new way of relating to their environment from a self of affirmation and recognition unlike the earlier way of relating from a self of rejection and negation. This gives rise to new social relations. This new identity gets transmitted to others in the village multiplying the social impact of the program.

We shall celebrate Education
The motivation that crept into the community had an important dimension. The motivation wanted to find expression in real achievements to affirm the fact that they too can achieve and to let others know that they are competent and not less than anybody else. We created opportunity one after another for them to believe that they can achieve. Each time we created harder and harder opportunity for them to succeed. We noticed them enjoying and internalizing their achievement enhancing their self image and self confidence. Searching together with the children, we encountered the idea of celebrating education festival. They said that they shall celebrate education; our identity shall be centered on our desire and competency for education. Thus we started the custom of Musahar community celebrating Education Festival, even before the state decided to organize education mela at the state level. A community hitherto excluded from education wants to celebrate education more than anything else! The education festival organized by Manthan in a large way had been on the way to become a community cultural festival. What a great idea! They who remained excluded from education almost defining their cultural identity around the dream of education that affirms their self and dignity. This celebration had many positive effects on the educational momentum within the community. The festival was a clear indication that association of communal identity and communal motivation with the dream for quality education accelerates the pace of achieving their right to quality education.

The Model

From the above narration of the long process that we went through, an education model for inclusive quality education of Musahar community emerged. The model that we now implement in our area of operation is a three tier intervention that combines community motivation, self image, personality development, academic competency and leadership. The model is not a parallel one to government education system; rather it is built on the premise that our efforts should be complementary to the government school system. The three layers of intervention complimenting the government school system are:

Tola Level complimentary education centres for community mobilization, school enrollment, school retention and academic competency up to standard V. The objective of this phase which may last for 3 to 5 years is to set in motion an irreversible educational momentum in villages in terms of enrollment, retention, and orientation to learning.

Cluster Level Human Resource Centres for interlinking of individual motivation from neighboring villages, for promoting group study, and for creating and channeling a collective search for quality education. In this phase, education takes on a collective effort of motivated children of neighboring villages. Although teachers are appointed for coaching in academic subjects and for guidance, HRC is basically a community institution of motivated children to pursue their desire for quality education. The dynamism of this centre is determined by the children who are members of this centre.

Short Duration Residential Training for HRC children to facilitate and guide their ongoing emotional and intellectual growth. Intense training to enhance their self image and self confidence, academic competency and knowledge; potentials and future possibilities are given through short duration residential training. The process of ‘withdrawal’ for transformation and insertion for reinforcement of the transformation in real life situation is integral to the short duration residential training.

The Impact

We are connected with about 4000 musahar children in five districts through the above mentioned model of complimentary education program. Nearly 50 children complete secondary education with good competency every year and this number are expected to go up in the coming years. The students of our complimentary model are seen to be doing well in schools and playing leadership role in the schools. A number of schools and teachers with whom we share our model are well disposed to encourage our students. In that sense the schools to which we are associated have become more inclusive in its approach. The students of our program are seen to have building friendship with students of other villages and castes in a remarkable manner. The students who have completed secondary education as part of the complimentary education model of ours display a rare sense of confidence and determination to pursue their further education. They also play a leading role in accelerating education in their respective villages.

Our Insights

Here, we wish to gather together the major insights that we encountered in our experience of journeying with the Musahar community to realize their right to quality education. The list of insights presented here is not exhaustive, but only indicative of a possible approach to tackle one of the dimensions of inclusive education, that of including the hitherto excluded communities in to the mainstream system of quality education.

Quality Education: High Motivation and Demand Vs Lack of Opportunity

There is an unprecedented and undeniable motivation and demand for quality education among the Musahar community. This motivation and demand is confronted with extreme lack of opportunity and accessibility to quality education. The two important factors that explain lack of opportunity and accessibility to quality education are the incompetency of the existing schools in a locality and insufficient number of schools. The former factor is more a determining factor of lack of opportunity and accessibility than the later.

An affirming environment of Love: The Key for Inclusive Education
An environment of love, affirmation and recognition is a precondition for learning. In normal case this precondition is assumed as given. The educational system developed by the mainstream treats this condition as given. But for the excluded communities, this is not a given fact of their life. Hence in the case of the Musahars and such other communities this insight takes crucial importance. Even when the material deprivations are taken care of, one encounters a graver deprivation that the community suffers from. They are deprived of social love, social affirmation, social encouragement, and social recognition. These are fundamental not only for learning, but for human growth as well.

In manifold ways their body, mind and whatever constitute their being have been rejected and negated by society. To join the mainstream, they must discover their original face. To put it more correctly, the mainstream society through its structures and social relations must affirm the ‘original face’ of theirs. It is inevitable that they are enabled to define their self worth and self-dignity in society. It requires a social mindset and environment that love, affirm, and respect their being. The educational energy of the community can be encountered and released only if the environment of negation, rejection, insult and fear is replaced by an environment of love, acceptance and affirmation.

The present school system is perceived by them as part and parcel of an environment of rejection, negation and insult. Hence it is almost a violence to consider that Musahars should join the mainstream school system without attending to their self, defined to a large extent by experience of negation and rejection. Hence it is important to have well designed and competent community specific programs to complement the existing school system. Positive changes in the inclusive nature of the school combined with the proposed complimentary education program can meet the growing demand for quality education among the Musahars.

Community Identity and Motivation: An Accelerator of Inclusive Education
An Educational model evolved around Communal motivation, identity and collective dream generates determination and accelerates learning. What went through in the process of the naming of Human Resource Centres and its growth and the celebration of education festival as a celebration of the community itself show that an educational program that awakens community motivation, identity, etc. can immensely accelerate the spread of quality education and make it more and more inclusive among the Musahar community.

Long Term Accompaniment: Need for Community Institutions

Long term accompaniment of excluded communities through complimentary education is vital for ensuring quality education to them

Creating manifold opportunities to affirm their self through real life achievements is integral to enable them join the mainstream education system

Long term and sustained efforts involving highly developed psychological tools and insight into the “Self of the Community” is important to build their self esteem on which their learning achievements rest to a great extent

Enlarging the knowledge space of the excluded communities is an intense and long term process. As we witness the many achievements of the children and remarkable growth of children in the field of education, we encounter the ‘small knowledge space’ within them. Due to a life primarily defined by exclusion for generations to fill the mind with knowledge, concepts, ideas, information is not easy at all. It would take more than a generation. This enlargement can take place not only individual children are educated but, families, communities are educated and in the mainstream of education and information. This is not achievable in a generation.

Recommendations

From the above engagement with the education of Manjhis, the following recommendations are proposed:
Enhancement of Quality of Government Schools
This recommendation is based on the fact that the responsibility of providing quality education primarily and fully rests on the government. No other body, however large, can fulfill this role. Moreover, what is required for inclusive education is not parallel systems of education but transforming government education system fulfilling the principles of quality education, namely, availability, accessibility, adaptability, acceptability, and accountability. One of the major factor accounting for lack of opportunity faced by Musahar children is not non-availability of school per se, but availability of competent and good schools. Hence our first recommendation is to transform our schools and educational system into a competent system would include dignified and competent school campus, buildings, school facilities, socially conscientious and competent teachers, competent and more decentralized school management system, appointment of support staff in schools, etc.
 
Establishing ‘Komal” Panchayat and Block Education Resource Centres
The proposal for ‘Komal” Panchayat Education Resource Centre is to motivate, guide and assist the learning process of Musahar children in a Panchayat as in the case of Cluster Human Resource Centres described as part of our experiment. This centre will coordinate and guide the students of a Panchayat and function as an important link with the schools in that Panchayat.

The proposal for “Komal” Block Education Resource Centre is to coordinate and facilitate the educational process of Musahar community at the block level. This centre is envisaged to organize community specific training programs to enhance their confidence, competency and knowledge. This centre needs to have a competent infrastructure and human resources to provide the children with competent trainings and coaching. The involvement of the community leadership in the management of this centre may be necessary.

The resource centres both at the panchayat level and block level need to be established on the principle of ‘giving the best’ to the community. It should be a very competent institution. This centre will build their social self, competency and personality. The nature of its governance and management is not dwelt with here, but it requires much deliberation.
 
Call for deliberation on practice of creating parallel institutions of excellence
This refers to establishing a few hotels, residential schools as response to educational exclusion suffered by certain communities. In our view this is built around the principle of exclusion itself, excluding a larger population of the excluded communities in favor of selected few. We are reflecting on this method in the context of our insights based on short duration residential training.


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