A wordy Competition

A wordy Competition

"Literacy is pivotal to human progress. All agree that the single most important key to development and to poverty alleviation is education", emphasised World Bank President James Wolfensohn on world literacy day in 1999.

A person is considered to be literate if he or she has attained basic skills in reading, writing and math. It has been observed that in spite of attending primary schools, many children in our country are unable to read or write simple text or perform basic math. No wonder, according figures released by UNESCO in 2002, India had about 290 million illiterates in 2000 – this means that almost a third of the world’s one billion illiterate population lives in India.

It is this sorry state of affairs that has driven organisations such as Pratham to take on the mantle of spreading education. The main goal of Pratham is to ensure that every child is in school and is learning well. But Pratham does not believe in creating a parallel system of education. Instead it creates programs to supplement the existing municipal school system.

One such programme, the Balsakhi Remedial Education Programme, is designed to help children who are identified by their class teachers as lagging behind academically. With a little extra help and encouragement, children can make substantial progress in basic math and language skills within two months or less.

The organisation targets municipal school children from Standard II to IV bordering on illiteracy and aims at helping these students achieve literacy and math skills of Standard II level. The Balsakhi – child’s friend – normally works with 20-30 children identified by the school teachers. Balsakhis are usually young girls from the local community with ample enthusiasm for working with children who are sent to schools on the request of the headmasters/principals and they work under the supervision/ guidance of school teachers.

In Thane, Pratham has been working with as many as 50 TMC schools and there is one Balsakhi each for Standard III and IV in each of these 50 schools.

In order to evaluate to effectiveness of the Balsakhi programme, Pratham has now organised a reading competition for children from TMC schools. The competition will comprise of three rounds and the difficulty levels will increase with each successive round. The organisers expect about 5,000 children to participate in the first round which will be held between January 08 and January 18 in all schools where Balsakhis teach.

In the first round, participant students will given a simple passage to read, say, about 7-8 lines. Based on degree of skill, these students will then be divided into three categories: Those who can

– read sentences or paragraph
– read words
– recognise letters

Regardless of their level of skill, all students placed in any of the above categories will be presented a certificate.

For the second round, the top five students from each class and each school will be identified. This round will be held on February 14 at five locations. This time the students will be given ten short passages to read and comprehend. The judges will ask them questions based on the passages to ensure that they have really understood what they read.

The third round will be held on February 28. About fifty students are expected to qualify for this final round. This time, the students won’t be asked to read anything. Instead they will be asked questions based on any one of the five books that would be given to them on the day of the second round. Ten best readers will be selected on the basis of the evaluation by the judges and each of these ten students will be presented with a "Gold Reader" certificate.

Coordinator of Research and Training at Pratham, Madhuri Pai reveals, "The primary objective of the reading competition is to provide an incentive to the laggards – to generate an interest – in an activity that is usually considered boring and cumbersome. With the help of the competition, Pratham will also be able to judge the performance of the Balsakhis and accordingly provide them additional training if required."

Pratham hopes to make this competition an annual feature in Thane and later perhaps extend it to other centres in Maharashtra.

Pai adds, "The response of the citizens of Thane has been extremely encouraging. Since the beginning of our project, we’ve had support pouring in from many Thane residents. But we still need volunteers for the upcoming event."

Readers who wish to make themselves available as volunteers may contact Madhuri Pai on 2534 9358 or Vasant Gogate on 2540 0859 / 2538 3483.

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