EDUCATION

Half the children in the rural areas where we work do not attend school, and over a third have never been to school. Through our 173 alternative schools, 3 annual Learning Camps and scholarship program, we offer out-of-school children access to quality primary education. At a deeper level, by educating thousands of first-generation learners, striving for equal enrollment of girls, and partnering with government schools, we are slowly transforming the demand for quality education among families from the most disadvantaged backgrounds.

QUALITY PRIMARY SCHOOLS

Need

About half of primary school-age children in our work area do not go to school. The average literacy rate among villagers aged 14+ is 33%, dipping as low as 20% among women. These statistics reflect the poor quality of government schools, which are often inaccessible and characterized by teacher absenteeism, rote learning and low levels of achievement.

Seva Mandir’s Response

Seva Mandir runs 173 primary schools which provide quality education to out-of-school children at a cost to Seva Mandir of $4 per student per month. Most of our graduates go on to secondary school - 900 students annually - where they outperform their government school-educated peers. Almost 45% of our students are female, defying dominant cultural norms that prevent girls from obtaining an education. Our schools are distinguished by their:

Instructors: men and women from the local community who receive a minimum of 11 days of professional development per year from Seva Mandir.
Pedagogy: child-centered, activity-based and creative.
Camera Monitoring System: based on an action research project by M.I.T.’s J-PAL, teacher absenteeism has been slashed from 36% to 15.4% by linking date-stamped photos to teachers’ salaries.
Community Participation: tuition fees pegged to families’ ability-to-pay; regular parent-teacher meetings; involvement of the local Village Development Forum through monitoring, teacher evaluation & in some cases contribution to teachers’ stipends & school-building rent.

LEARNING CAMP

Need

Poverty compels many children to do agricultural work or migrate for seasonal labor. For other children, there is no government school nearby. These children forgo their fundamental right to an education.

Seva Mandir’s Response

Seva Mandir runs Residential Learning Camps to give out-of-school children and dropouts basic literacy and math skills. After 3 camp sessions of 60 days each, the average camp graduate qualifies for entrance into Class 5 in government schools. To take a child with zero educational attainment to Class 5 costs just Rs. 34,500 ($600). Over the past 12 years, Seva Mandir has run 35 camps enrolling an average of 575 children every year.

While the Learning Camps focus on an academic core curriculum, they take a holistic approach to children’s development. Children receive health checkups from Seva Mandir health staff, and are taught basic hygiene (e.g. washing hands before meals). Activities and games impart invaluable non-cognitive skills, such as discipline, teamwork and leadership. At the end of camp, students prepare and perform a cultural show for parents and the community.

Perhaps the most transformational outcome of camp is that it arouses both the child’s and the parents’ interest in further study. About 70% of children enroll in schools after camp.

SCHOLARSHIPS

Need

While our Learning Camps motivate out-of-school children to enroll in school, follow-up revealed that about half of these children later dropped out. In isolation, camps are sometimes unable to counter the strong economic pressures for parents to keep their children out of school and send them to work.

Seva Mandir’s Response

Seva Mandir awards to selected graduates of our Learning Camps a scholarship equivalent to their earning power as migrant laborers (Rs. 3,000, or $52, per month). The results are impressive: during the 2010-2013 pilot, 81% of scholarship students stayed in school. A rigorous, randomized monitoring system ensured scholarship installments were conditional upon attendance. Seva Mandir now plans to concentrate more resources on the scholarship students in an effort to raise levels of achievement and support them through Class 10, a critical benchmark for employ-ability.

IMPROVING GOVERNMENT SCHOOLS

Need

Local government schools are the only option for most village children. However, these schools are plagued by high teacher absenteeism and counterproductive teaching methods such as rote learning and corporal punishment. Little learning can occur in this kind of environment, and students are often demotivated or drop out.

Seva Mandir’s Response

Seva Mandir runs five Activity Centers that work with more than 800 government school students. The centers are housed within government schools but staffed by Seva Mandir teachers. Classes rotate through the centers during the school day and are taught lessons designed to complement their regular coursework through experiential learning. After school, the centers turn into study and tutoring spaces where Seva Mandir teachers provide individualized help to students.

  • Quality Primary Schools: Flowers Of The Forest (video)
  • Learning Camps: Togethering Dreams (video)
  • Learning Camp: “Transforming Kids in 60 Days” (news article)