Pawan Kumar, Renée McAlpin, Amrita Vohra, and the Headteacher at New Adarsh Public School
During my recent visit to India to meet with Opportunity EduFinance partners, I had the chance to hear directly from children about their aspirations and educational experiences. Over my career as a practitioner, working to improve access to quality education for children, I’ve found that it is unintentional yet common to overlook the perspectives of the children we are working to support. Ensuring children’s first-person perspectives are represented and given equal credibility with that of school leaders, teachers, and parents is essential to the development of a holistic education program.
Aim for the Awareness of Society (AAS) is an India-based entity currently partnering with EduFinance to pilot Parent Workshops on education literacy, with the goal of driving increased engagement with their children’s education. These sessions also and link parents to School Fee Loans, ensuring their children can remain in school despite instability in family income. AAS also provides a network of teaching and pastoral care for out-of-school children, many of whom are homeless and living in informal settlements in Indore, India. During my visit to one of their after-school clubs, the children wrote letters about what they want from their teachers and parents. These 19 short letters were insightful, honest, and reflect some of the most pressing challenges facing the education sector in India today.
Letters from AAS after school club
Success in teaching is dependent on mastering pedagogical techniques, classroom management, domain-specific and domain-general skills, to name just a few. Students’ impressions of teacher quality may not always be considered, yet their writings show deep understanding about how teachers can best engage their classes. Abdul (age 12) highlights the importance of fair behaviour management without resorting to corporal punishment:
“While our school has set rules, children don’t follow them. If there is a slight mishap with school furniture, children are beaten. There is also discrimination between young and old students. Even if I score well in exams or participate in all activities, older students end up getting ‘Student Awards’ even in cases where older students don’t know how to read in Hindi. I want to explain to my school not to discriminate between students and treat everyone fairly.”
Anusuiya (age 11) agrees, emphasising how teacher education is fundamental to ensuring fair discipline:
“I want to bring change in my teachers. I want new educated teachers so that they can answer every question we ask them. Teachers shouldn’t shout at or beat kids while teaching, but instead should explain things patiently to children.”
Sumit (age 10) writes about how training and use of innovative techniques are crucial to teacher performance:
“Teachers should be trained in schools. These days, schools pay very low salaries to teachers and expect them to teach. Teachers should also use different techniques to teach so that students enjoy in the classroom and come to school regularly and pay attention in classes.”
EduFinance partner school visit, Chandra Shekhar Azad School
Parental involvement in, and attitudes toward, learning are fundamental to their child’s education. A clear message within the letters from the children in Indore is a demand for greater care and attention from their parents towards their academic lives.
Asha (age 12) wrote about the importance of listening:
“I want to bring about an attitude change in my parents. If I share something with them, I want them to take me seriously. They use abusive language very often and I would like them to understand what I am saying and not use abusive language or support ‘outsiders’ over me. Even if it someone else’s fault, I get blamed for it.”
Asti recognises the need for mutual respect between parents and their children:
“If I share something with my parents, they generally ignore me. I want them to not treat me like a child. I want my mother to think of me as a friend so that I can share what is my mind with her. At the moment, I cannot do that. My father has not spoken to me till date. He only talks to his friends or others in the family. He doesn’t like talking to other family members as well. I want my father to have a conversation with me.”
Ambition to do well in school was expressed in all of the letters I read. When parents are engaged and encouraging of these ambitions, children have a greater chance of success. Himanashi (aged 12) writes:
“I was told that I could become something in my life in school. But my parents who are illiterate were not told this. I read in a book that APJ Abdul Kalam (former President of India) was a renowned scientist and came from a very poor family. I am inspired by his story to achieve something more in life. But my parents have no aspirations or ambitions for us. I want my parents to understand me and what I want to achieve much in my life. I haven’t even told them that I want to become an engineer because they have never encouraged me to do so. They have instead told me not to dream big.”
EduFinance partner school visit, New Adarsh Public School
These first-hand accounts from the children I met provide a powerful insight into their ambitions and the expectations they have for their parents and teachers. As EduFinance and AAS partner together to test the impact of Parent Workshops to change perceptions and increase engagement with their children’s education, linking them to the financing necessary to cover school costs, these children’s perspectives will be central to the group discussions.
“I want to bring about a lot of changes in my school. But I am unable to convey this.” Pranjal (aged 10).
Opportunity EduFinance is working to ensure children’s perspectives are incorporated into the feedback loops in our program design, implementation and refinement, and reflected back to parents and educators whenever possible so we can collectively learn from the voices of those with the most at stake
I learnt a great deal directly from the school leaders, teachers, students and parents whom I had the pleasure of meeting. I look forward to future visits and collaborating further with our fantastic current and new partners in India as the EduQuality program expands in the coming months and years, as we work together to expand access to quality education to more and more children.