Updates with Yuva
On March 15, Yuva assisted individuals from the slum communities to submit their oppositions of the Mumbai Port Redevelopment Plan (DP) to the Bombay Municipal Corporation (BMC). It was a fantastic turnout with over 3000 people who showed up to demand that the current DP not be implemented. Shortly thereafter, the media made frenzied reports stating that the BMC had decided to scrap the plan completely! This left the NGOs involved in the campaign worried that the last four years of hard work advocating for the rights of the slum communities was a waste. The campaigners believe that changes are essential for helping the development of Mumbai, but they must be representative of the needs of all members of society. They have been advocating for the DP to be revised, but not dropped. If the DP was completely scrapped, then this would halt modernizing the city. Come to find out though, the media was actually just presenting inaccurate information! The State of Maharashtra has given four months for the DP to be altered, so it would simply be impossible for an entire new DP to be designed. It is too soon to know what changes are going to be made in the DP, but it could be promising considering the BMC announced revising the plan just after the massive opposition from the people living in the slums.
It is now a waiting game to see what the BMC announces with regards to the DP and so there is not much work to be done by doing field visits to the slums I was previously visiting. This has resulted in me shifting my focus in working with Yuva. Currently, I am doing visits to a slum community called Ambujwadi to gather qualitative data regarding individual’s perceptions on the education system. I had the pleasure of working alongside other students from TISS my entire field placement, but now that their semester is over, I am on my own. It has been difficult for me to travel to the slums by myself due to the language barrier and the somewhat far away locations of the slums. I finally am decent at navigating the trains in India and there are Yuva workers placed in Ambujwadi who speak some English so I can take initiative in a final project by myself. This makes me really happy!
After two hours of travel, I finally arrived in Ambujwadi where I met the workers from Yuva. We were attending a meeting together that day. When I learned we were going to a meeting, I assumed it would be with professionals regarding some educational issues. During lunch with the workers, I found out that it was actually a meeting with the children who participate in one of the Child Learning Center (CLC) initiatives by Yuva. The CLC is a supplemental program to the formalized education that children in Ambujwadi receive. It incorporates topics which are not taught to the children in school and offers activities which help the students enhance the skills and knowledge which they have already gained. I was thrilled to meet the children.
I think it is so important that the feedback from the students is taken into consideration. From my experience in the U.S., it is usually PTA meetings, parent and teacher reports which are used for understanding what is working and not working in the educational system. To sit down with a group of 20 students and hear their perspective can be really empowering for them, I believe. With regards to reducing child mortality and having less frequent births, Dreze & Sen (2013) indicate that women who are educated can be expected to have decreased birth rates. Typically, educated women have more say in the household, and with that they have more power and status (Dreze & Sen, 2013). Education, in this context, is the social change which empowers women to have a stake in their fertility. I am thinking the CLC initiative with Yuva is the mechanism of social change which empowers to children to be change agents in their educational structure. My heart was touched when an eleven year old boy called me over to show me the chalkboard with various bullet points written in Hindi. “Look”, he said, “These are all the things we are going to get the government to change in our schools”! I was amazed that a child his age was so enthusiastic about working with Yuva and actively participating in creating macro level change! It was inspiring really! I wish I would have had the time after the meeting to ask the Yuva worker more about the initiative at this location, but she was busy talking to parents who were picking up their kids. When I head to the community on Wednesday, I am certainly going to find out more about this.
Ambujwadi community visits
During this meeting, children ranging from ages 6-14 were present, as well as a worker from Yuva and myself. The children went to either private school, public schools (BMC schools), or had dropped out. I was able to sit with them and ask them questions regarding their educational experiences, what they found to be facilitating their learning, and what they wanted to change.
Here are some of the main findings I gathered from interviewing the children:
BMC schools provide a free education, uniforms, books, and other school supplies whereas private schools provide nothing for free. A 40 minute lunch plus one hour of play is granted per school day at BMC schools. A lunch meal is also provided to the students, although they do not believe it is enough food. Contrarily, at private schools, there is 30 minutes provided to student for a break in which they can eat lunch and play. Meals are brought from home, the school does not provide them. Comparable to Yuva’s previously collected data on the Ambujwadi community, students reported they think computers/technology education would be useful to them. Students identified that BMC schools provide less opportunity for computer access than private schools, similar to previous findings by Yuva.
One of the biggest issues the students identified is that teachers are unreliable. They have many absent days leaving the children with no one to teach them. The students attending the BMC schools provided more negative feedback about this than the students from private schools, but the students from the private schools gave voice that it was a high cost for their education and the absence of teachers hindered their learning; high cost for a lackluster education. In fact, students who had dropped out stated that the reason they did is because they would make the long commute to school and then there would be no teacher, so it is more sensible for them to stay home and help their parents take care of younger siblings than to attend school. Students from both BMC and private schools stated that teachers do not encourage them or use enough praise. Physical abuse by teachers is an area for change identified by both students from BMC and private schools. It is common in both schools for teachers to pull students by their ears, to hit them with sticks, and in some cases force them to stand still outside in the hot sun light for an hour as punishment for misbehaving, as identified by the children in the CLC.
Another issue we discussed was the physical infrastructure of the schools. Students at the BMC schools stated that there are no doors for the toilet or water to wash their hands. Some doors do have locks, but the locks are too high for some of the younger students to reach. Students from the private schools said they do not have this problem and that the bathrooms are clean. Students from both schools stated that they would like to have better floors as the ones in the school are just dirt and not an actual human-made floor structure.
Similar to the student reports, Dreze & Sen (2013) state that absenteeism in teachers is a significant issue in India’s educational system. Furthermore, half of the teachers in the study whom were present did not teach for the duration of the researcher’s visits. Dreze & Sen (2013) also include that teachers in public schools are paid rather well. The Pay Commissions determine the salaries for jobs in the public-sector and they tend to posit rather comfortable salaries for such professions (Dreze & Sen, 2013). However, the Pay Commissions do not tend to take into account how such salaries will be funded or how the professions whose salaries are not determined by the Pay Commissions will be impacted (Dreze & Sen, 2013). Since it is expensive to hire teachers in public schools, some Indian states have shifted to hiring contract teachers which are teachers who tend to have less formal education and have shown to perform “no worse than regular teachers” (Dreze & Sen, 2013, p.135). Yet this is a significant issue because India is seriously behind in quality education standards from an international perspective (Dreze & Sen, 2013). Accountability in the education sector is lacking and the biggest hindrance is the belief that it is something which should just be accepted because nothing can be done about it (Dreze & Sen, 2013). A remedial measure to enhance education quality in India set forth by Dreze & Sen (2013) is the collaboration among teachers unions and the acknowledgment of the responsibilities of school teachers.
During my next visit to Ambujwadi, I will be interviewing some of the teachers from a BMC school. At least I am hoping I am, but since absenteeism is a significant issue there are no guarantees! Although Dreze & Sen (2013) pointed out some issues facing India’s educational system, I am curious to find out what is influencing teacher’s absenteeism and how they are perceiving the educational system. What do they believe as needing to change? I would also like to inquire about parent teacher associations (PTAs), teachers unions, and whether or not contract teachers are employed in the district. I am going to find out what, if any, Yuva’s role is in working directly with the schools instead of just the CLC. I believe it is important to gain a thorough understanding of all the stakeholder’s perceptions in this community in order to identify a suitable intervention that will address these macro level issues.
During another visit to the CLC at Ambujwadi, we played a video on how to prevent sexual abuse for the children. I found the video fascinating, honestly, because it was rather different than what I experienced as sexual abuse prevention in the U.S. The video showed a white male approaching a young boy who lived in the slums. The man was very friendly to the boy and invited him for a weekend getaway. The young boy was thrilled to accompany him, yet the young boy’s mother was reluctant to let him go because she needed him to work that weekend to make money to support the family. The man handed the mother money and she agreed to let her son go. The video showed the two in a hotel with a video camera set up and the man coerced the boy to engage in a pornographic film. It might sound graphic, but I think that it was age-appropriate for the children and then we engaged in a discussion about the film and the children did indeed understand the lesson. At the conclusion of the film, the young boy witnessed another child spending time with the man. In a panic to help the child, the young boy sought the help of an “ex-street kid”, not the police. The video even had a subtitle pop up which identified the vigilante as an ex-street kid.
With regards to reported rape cases in India, Dreze & Sen (2013) state that “police are often quite unfriendly to the victims, the courts are slow to act, and convictions are hard to secure” (p.228). They also note that rapes are frequently underreported and they may actually be five to ten times more common than what is known. Perhaps this is why the video showed the young boy seeking the help from a street savvy man. I was slightly surprised to find out that such preventive education is not provided in the schools in this community which is why the CLC included it. It’s unfortunate because if children are not getting this type of education, it will likely only perpetuate sexual exploitation, underreported cases of abuse, and a significant problem of rape.
Working with the Ambujwadi community is certainly allowing me to see firsthand some of the educational issues which I have only read in books. I feel very privileged to be able to interview individuals and understand how they are viewing the educational system. There is still much I need to learn in my future visits about the extent of Yuva’s work with the community and the advocacy work they have done. I hope that there are teachers available for interview on Wednesday because I think that there is a lot of merit in gaining their perspective. It could be an opportunity for more collaboration with Yuva and/or the students. I wonder if they are even aware of how the students are being impacted by the structural issues of the school. I have lots of research to do and not very much time, but I am confident I will have an enriching final couple of weeks left in my final year field placement.
Dreze, J., Sen, A. (2013). An uncertain glory. India and its contradictions. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press