Though his school education project has been stopped owing to the recent curfew in Kashmir, engineer-turned-teacher Mainak Roy hasn’t given up his dream of bringing a change in the lives of the Valley’s children. Affected by persistent violence and conflict, a number of students here are worried about their uncertain future.
Despite lifting of curfew Kashmir continues to be on the edge. The teachers here are constantly fighting odds to help the students collaborate and compete with each other in school. On their part, the children want to learn even though at times they are too scared to step out of their homes. They need to be motivated.
“The government school education model in the state needs to be improved. It needs to be more structured and streamlined. The children need to be encouraged to pursue their ambitions seriously, putting the situation in the Valley behind them. The students are keen learners with dreams and aspirations and want to achieve a lot in their careers,” says Roy, who recently started Taleem, a school-development programme in Kashmir.
Even though work at Taleem is on hold due to curfews, Roy is optimistic it will resume soon. It was initiated in collaboration with the Directorate of School Education, Kashmir, in the districts of Srinagar and Bandipore. “We started with 10 schools, eight of which are in rural areas, and we were working with two teachers from each school and the headmasters,” he says.
Poor infrastructure, lack of staff and other basic facilities is another challenge for students. Many of them have to travel from remote areas and instances of violence affect the academic calendar with schools remaining shut till the situation normalises. The examination schedule is also affected in such conditions and students also have to bear the brunt financially.
Citing an example, Roy says, “Panzinara School in rural Kashmir is one such case. The basic infrastructure is weak and there is a dearth of facilities but the teachers and students are severely affected. They have, however, made efforts themselves to improve the situation.”
The good thing, however, is that the students are confident and outspoken. “During several interactions with the students in Jammu and Kashmir, I found them to be inquisitive and very motivated to learn, despite the turmoil they are witnessing,” says Roy who is the co-founder and director, programme and impact, at Simple Education Foundation, a Delhi-based not-for-profit organisation.
A Teach For India (TFI) fellow, he started the foundation recently. “After I graduated from the fellowship in 2014, I continued to work in TFI as a programme manager and strengthened my understanding of pedagogy, classroom development, leadership and personal transformation. I also got to take a stab at defining student leadership and teacher development through different engagements with TFI and the foundation,” he says.
Interestingly, nine of these 10 schools have headmistresses. “This shows that the passion to learn and educate themselves is not restricted to the young girls I have met so far. The women here take education seriously as opposed to common perception,” he says. Roy and his team have developed an instructional leadership module designed to equip teachers with a set of skills that will enhance the teaching-learning process in their classrooms and also promote stronger learning outcomes for the children.
The teachers are assigned coaches who observe them once a week. Both teacher and coach share their observations about the classroom and find the positives and the areas of development. The teachers also meet once every three to four weeks as a big group and attend sessions that are based on the instructional leadership curriculum. These sessions equip the teachers with knowledge, skill and help develop an approach to take on the challenges in their classroom.
The headmasters, too, go through a leadership development module which is designed to help them explore the leader within them. “They meet once every month and explore their leadership styles through reflective questions that help them understand the different facets of leadership,” says Roy who is currently involved in designing and training teachers under the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan scheme in Jammu and Kashmir.
“We have designed the entire programme and are helping the Department of School Education, Kashmir, reach out to more than 80,000 teachers across the state. In 2015, we got the opportunity to work with the Department, to launch Taleem as a pilot initiative in government schools. We’re currently fundraising to run the programme for the academic year in 2016 in 10 schools in rural Kashmir. This will be our test of what it takes to build an equitable learning environment within our system. We aim to build an environment that nurtures continuous learning and allows teachers and students to take ownership of the knowledge they seek to impart and gain,” he says. Roy finds the teachers and students to be very welcoming and proactive about implementing new learning techniques. He is also working on adding co-curriculars to the curriculum in the schools such as poetry, design thinking and athletics. However, there are challenges given the situation in the Valley. Taleem is on hold for some time as there is curfew in some parts of Kashmir.
“We have to keep working amid these challenges to improve the quality of learning in the state,” he says. He has always been interested in teaching, but before the fellowship it was mainly college education that he wanted to focus on.
“During the course of my engineering degree, I started to think if I land a job that deals with electronics in an MNC, all I’ll be doing is thinking of how to make devices slimmer, smaller, faster and what not. I wondered if it was something that I really wanted to do, because I have always wanted to be someone who creates an impact. I realised that in a corporate job, my impact in the community would be little to none. It was around this time that I came across the TFI. I read more and learnt about the deplorable state of the education system and that’s when it struck me. If I do not take up a job at a MNC, there will be 10 other people ready to fill in. The chances of someone taking up such a job is almost 100%, but how many people will take up the challenge like the fellowship? That is when I knew that this is what I wanted to do,” adds Roy.