DISHA programme is funded by HDFC bank and implemented by Magic Bus, Life Labs, and Learning Links Foundation, in partnership with the State governments of Chattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Maharashtra. The programme aims to build life skills of adolescents, improve their learning levels in numeracy, reading, and science, and ensure first-generation learners complete their formal education. The programme works in 172 schools across four states impacting the lives of 17,500 adolescents.
One of the challenges in school-based interventions is the discontinuity that takes place when the schools are closed during vacations. Disha being such a school-based intervention, we were concerned about the long summer vacation in the months of April to May. We wanted to continue the learning process despite the school being on vacation. We wanted to ensure that nothing interrupts the learning process that Disha has fueled. This gave birth to the idea of a Summer Camp!
While summer camps are a fairly common urban phenomenon, it is unheard of in the back and beyond areas where the Disha project operates. The children living in these remote regions have never experienced anything like this. Summer vacations for these children mean visiting relatives, playing with friends; some children, especially in tribal belts, accompany parents to the forest to collect forest produce such as tendu leaves, selling the produce at weekly markets, making brick kilns. Girls end up helping with household chores. Sometimes children even start gambling, playing cards with small sums of money. Being first generation learners and with no support system at home, children start disengaging from the learning process.
We put our heads together to make it a different summer experience for our children, one that would be joyful and full of learning. The focus remained on developing life skills and improving their numeracy and literacy skills. The underlying principle was to make learning fun and engaging. We worked with the children and not with their teachers.
The camp was called Masti-ki-Pathshala in Madhya Pradesh and Dhoom Dhadaka in Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh and Maharashtra. Not all children who attend the Disha programme came for the camps due to lack of resources to cover all the schools under the programme. There were many children who had left for their native villages during the summer holidays.
Under life skills education, some of the innovative activities included Best out of Waste, Community Mapping, Collage Making, and Treasure Hunt. These activities encouraged children to work in groups, think out-of-the-box, get creative, solve problems by engaging with others, negotiate, and take decisions. Science-based activities and projects were also undertaken to ensure children have more clarity on science-related concepts that they learn in schools. To improve language and numeracy skills, innovative activities and Teaching Learning Material (TLM) was used. For example, building vocabulary related to daily life through a game of dumb charades, using story boards to narrate stories, using pebbles to teach counting, number line, learning about shapes through everyday objects.
Masti-ki-Pathshala received wonderful support from the community. Parents, Gram Panchayat members and SMC members have supported it wholeheartedly. In Chhattisgarh, 643 children attended the Summer Camp. SMCs were actively engaged in planning and organizing them. In one of the locations where the Resource Person (RP) was finding it a challenge to reach on time, the Sarpanch provided temporary accommodation to support the camp. Seeing the success of the camp, the Chhattisgarh government has recommended that in the coming year, we organize a camp across all of Disha’s schools!
In Rajasthan, 150-200 children were attending the camp every day. Those who were marked as absentees in school were found to be a regular at these camps. They have now promised to be regular in school in the new academic year. In fact, some of the schools not covered by the Disha programme have also requested for the camps to be organised in their schools’ coverage area. The camp will end with an exhibition to showcase the work done by children where community leaders and other stakeholders groups will be invited.
In Maharashtra, the Summer Camps were organized within the school premises. This was a wonderful opportunity for us to build rapport with children and school stakeholders as the Disha programme is in its inception phase here. We started the Camp in 15 schools out of the 28 schools where Disha is functioning at present. We reached out to as many as 423 children! In Nagpur, the Principal of a school was so impressed with this initiative that he purchased a cricket bat and ball along with a football for the children in his school. Teachers said that the students who would never come to the school started coming regularly for the Camps. In some schools there were no cupboards for the Science programme but post the Camp, the Panchayat resolved to pool in money for its purchase.
In Madhya Pradesh, the Camp was conducted in 10 schools. One of the biggest highlights is the role played by the Community Coordinators in getting children for the Camps. They conducted door-to-door visit, informing and involving the parents in the process. They worked really hard to develop a link between the project and the community.
By: Team Disha