Bridging the learning gap in Assam’s villages

A mission to bring slow learners and lockdown-induced dropouts on a par with regular students is beginning to bear fruit

December 19, 2021 08:06 pm | Updated 08:06 pm IST - RONGSAI (Assam)

The two-room Salpara Lower Primary School has been the landmark of Rongsai village since 1994. But the centre of attention has been a shed the villagers built on the school’s compound 23 months ago.

The shed is where Karishma Rabha helped Rajmahanta and Utpal — two of more than a dozen COVID lockdown-induced dropouts — relearn their basics and more to be promoted to Class 6 at the Bodahapur High School nearby.

The two government-run schools in western Assam’s Goalpara district are about 140 km west of Guwahati.

In four districts

Karishma Rabha is an education facilitator, one of 45 engaged by the non-profit Centre for Microfinance and Livelihood (CML) across four districts since September 2019. The other districts are Bongaigaon, Baksa and Nalbari.

She is currently teaching numerical and fundamental literacy to 12 dropouts and slow learners of classes 1-5 at Salpara’s makeshift classroom three days a week. She devotes the other three days to a similar set-up at the Bodahapur school for students from classes 6-8.

“The students are mostly from poor families, 90% of whom cannot afford smartphones for their children to pursue studies. Motivating the parents to send their children to the special classes has been relatively easier than teaching the basics to the children who have a lot of catching up to do with the regular students,” Ms. Rabha said.

Struggle to relearn

It took weeks for her to make class 4 student Bitupan Jyoti write his name and other words in English, although he finds the lower cases a tad difficult. The rate of progress in the Assamese language has been similar for his friend Rikiraj.

“From his inability to read the alphabets a few months ago to managing words and sentences has been a marked improvement. The special class is providing the care most of parents cannot at home — either because of illiteracy or the pressure of earning a living in these difficult times,” school management committee president and Rikiraj’s father, Sukhdhan Rabha said.

At the Kongkera LP School a few kilometres away, education facilitator Kabita Sangma has had a tough time bringing Chuname back to school after a long gap since March 2020. She had to start from scratch with the girl who had dropped out of class 5.

Chuname’s ability to calculate and frame sentences have been ranging from levels 1 to 3, but her talents in music, sports and creativity such as origami have come to the fore.

“Our three-year project covers 2,363 children of 90 schools across six education blocks of four districts catering to 122 villages. The objective is to reduce and prevent dropout at the elementary level,” Kandarpa Kalita, CML’s area manager told The Hindu .

“We found that one of the main reasons for children dropping out of school is their inability to catch up with the faster learners, who the schools tend to focus attention on,” he said.

Hit by pandemic

Barely had the project taken off when COVID struck. “Our field workers visited the homes of the project children who had no access to online learning. Schools reopened in October 2021 but some children continued to skip classes,” said Kuldeep Das, the CML’s programme associate for Goalpara district.

The organisation identified 236 children who did not attend school from October 19 to November 11 and began Mission Sanjog for them. Only about 10% of these children are yet to return to school.

The mission also entails motivating the parents and relatives of such children to spare at least two hours for their studies at home. “Many parents are unable to, but some do try to convey to their children that they are interested in their books,” Mr. Das said.

The outcome of the CML’s initiative is expected to be evaluated by August 2022. But Education Department officials in the project districts said it has made some difference among the students. While a few teachers see such initiatives as “interference”, most say they have made their work easier.

“We are two teachers managing 42 children of five grades in two classrooms. It is often difficult to focus on the slow learners who attend the special class one day and our regular classes the next day with more confidence,” Salpara LP School’s headteacher, Debika Rabha said.

Top News Today


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide by our community guidelines for posting your comments.

We have migrated to a new commenting platform. If you are already a registered user of The Hindu and logged in, you may continue to engage with our articles. If you do not have an account please register and login to post comments. Users can access their older comments by logging into their accounts on Vuukle.