Here’s a look at the First Generation Learners (FGLs)
The house is silent. It’s 7.30 pm. Not a sound other than the ticking of the watch and the usual spoiler of a mosquito whizzing by. The dogs can be heard howling, and the faraway trudging of the tractor is reassuring in a way that people are returning back to the confines of their huts and bricked homes after a hard day’s work on the farm.
Living in dread
As a reader, you wonder where this paragraph is leading to? This is the home of Saavi, a 10-year-old girl, who has just begun her schooling at the local municipal school. The location does not matter, what matters is the silent pleading in her eyes which conveys a different story. Every day she lives in dread of whether her father, a daily wage earner on the nearby farm, will stop her from going to school. He might get her married, get her to help on the farm and be with the mother, or then sell her off to the highest bidder prowling the village basti.
Courage to face all odds
Saavi’s mother, Laxmi has been in talks with the local NGO and has mustered the courage to go against her husband’s wishes and send Saavi to school. Laxmi was smart enough to get operated and not undergo the burden of mothering too many children. Saavi is a First Generation Learner (FGL). She is the first one in her family and the first one of her generation to learn the alphabet, recite tables and hold a pencil in her hand. She values her school time, is never late and tries to absorb all that her teacher teaches her. Sometimes, she does her addition and subtraction along with making cow dung balls. The other kids laugh at her. Because they don’t know what school means as yet. Once in a while, Saavi acts as a teacher and attempts to teach them by drawing circles and squares on the dusty ground.
The Dangling Carrot
The NGO reps have been talking to the village panchayat about getting more children from the neighboring villages also to attend the school. And the resistance is not surprising. Big words do not work with the simple folk. Things are broken down for them, touching the grassroots level.
They ask, what’s in it for them if they send their kids to school? The NGO reps are smart. Since the villagers take for granted anything that is given for free. So, they have devised a rule, saying that if they send their kids to the school, they are eligible for a basic version of a smartphone. This dangling carrot gets at least four of them to enroll in the school. However, this in itself poses a major challenge. The NGO, on the other hand, keeps looking for more philanthropists to support this cause and value-add to their CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility).
Challenges are aplenty
The second challenge for the NGO is to get the parents to make sense of what their child is learning at school.
Since parents are unable to grasp the progress of the child, they are quick to judge like all other parents, even of Non-FGLs. The NGO reps have constant conversations with the parents. Separate sessions are held for the parents as well. In the age of mixed reality, artificial intelligence and major leaps to the Moon and Mars… we are still stuck on ground zero. But what we have is a stubborn heart, hope, faith, and hard work. And that is more than enough to cross the odds.
It is exciting to see the small leaps of progress by Saavi in learning the English language. Her father was left gaping when Saavi read the headlines of a local English daily, albeit with a few wrong pronunciations here and there. But, it was enough for her mother Laxmi to brag about to her friends for almost a week.
The Bigger Picture
We have FGLs in the city schools as well. How can we help them? What can we do for them? As an educationist who deals with such situations day in, day out, I feel that the principal of the school plays a major role in inspiring the FGLs and their families to actually look at the bigger picture here.
Here are some steps to follow-
The principal would have to be firm and assertive to make sure that the child is not made to feel inferior. Instead, give equal opportunities to excel and even fail in academic as well as extra-curricular activities.
Careful Handling of issues
The principal, along with her core team of dedicated teachers, needs to handle school woes put across by the families of FGLs. This must be in a more specific manner and not deterred by challenges of not understanding the language, or even a financial crunch being faced by the families.
Time to allocate
The school may begin a night school or set aside a day slot for such families, who are eager to learn and educate themselves along with their children.
Talents to appreciate
Parents who approach the teacher for explanations regarding certain school processes should not be discouraged. In fact, the teachers need to graph the child’s progress and appreciate his/ her talents.
Dialogue helps to minimize the educational gap and help harbor healthy interactions. Initiate interactions with other Non-FGLs through fun DIY workshops in school.
Instill Qualities like self-esteem, self-respect, and self-confidence in both the parent and the child so that they are not shy about their roots and existence.
It’s a given that the principal and teachers must constantly encourage and monitor the child. This keeps both the child and the parents involved in looking forward to the outcome of learning the next best thing there is under the sun.
School newsletters and magazines are an excellent way of featuring their progress and making sure the FGLs are accepted within their peer group as well.
Walking the extra mile
These are small milestones which are accomplished step-by-step. This would also mean going that extra mile for each one of us who are associated with making sure that education is not just about learning but primarily about creating more grounds for humanity to keep its head up and live a dignified life. It’s all quite possible! As far as Saavi is concerned, she is now teaching beatboxing to her new friends in school. The world is not so bad after all. Acceptance of the FGLs is all that is needed.