Community Participation And Collective Action In Uttarakhand Villages

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Educate Girls Globally (EGG) was founded by an economist A. Lawrence Chickering in 1999 who believed that education of the girl child had a huge impact on both family as well as the national income. It was also helpful in improving health conditions, controlling population, and in decreasing political extremism. With grants from the Inter-American Development Bank, in 2002 Lawrence partnered with SBMA- a local NGO, in the state of Uttarakhand and implemented the program through SBMA on a very limited basis in about 1,400 schools. EGG aims not only at improving enrollment of the girls but also at their retention and academic performance in government schools by influencing the local community and government resources. This they achieve by inculcating a sense of ownership amongst all the stakeholders.

1.2 Shri Bhuvaneshari Mahila Ashram- SBMA

SBMA was started in the year 1976 by Swami Manmathan (popularly addressed as Swamiji) who, moved by the plight of destitute women and children in the hills started SBMA as an asylum for them. The local people contributed their time, money, and labour for setting up this place. SBMA has its head office in the Tehri district of Uttarakhand in village Anjanisain and branch offices in a number of other districts of the state. SBMA runs several projects aimed at community development. But, the common feature of most of the programs is community participation. SBMA believes that no community development initiative can be a success unless the need is felt by all the stakeholders involved and a sense of ownership is induced in them. This also happens to be the way SBMA was established by Swamiji and the way in which he achieved many other objectives as in the popular movements of Uttarakhand such as The University Movement, The Chandrabadani Movement, The Silkot Tea Estate movement, and the Bantha Water Movement.

1.3 A People's Initiative for Learning (APIL)

The APIL program was launched in the year 2003 by EGG in association with SBMA which today reaches out to more than 1400 schools covering 80000 children across Uttarakhand. APIL is a sort of meeting grounds of the ideologies of both EGG and SBMA who believe in invoking community participation. EGG believes that bureaucratically run government schools are the reason for the failure of the education system since none of the participating agencies have a sense of ownership. SBMA, on the other hand, believes that the education system needs to be sensitized to the needs of the rural populace so as to increase the enrollment and literacy of the girl child. These two, not so different, thoughts find their meeting grounds in the APIL- EGG program wherein all those involved in imparting education and those at the receiving end actively participate to come up with a solution to solve the prevalent problem of girls' education.

2.0 More about APIL-EGG Program

2.1 Mission, Objectives, and Aim

SBMA's mission is to promote primary and secondary education of girls in Uttarakhand through active involvement of the local community.

The Objectives of the program can be summarized as:

To improve the quality of education in Government Schools, in order to provide better opportunities for girls.

To identify and analyze the various factors affecting the enrollment, retention and achievement in elementary education of girls.

To ensure community participation in improving elementary education in general by ingraining a sense of ownership among the community members. (http://www.sbmahimalaya.org/projects_apil_objectives.htm, accessed: 27th February 2011)

It aims at achieving these objectives by evoking people's participation in the process of educational reforms to bring about accountability, equity and quality. It firmly believes that the present system has to become more sensitive and responsive to the contemporary needs of the girls so as to create an environment for better education opportunities. This, it plans to achieve through self-governance so that the educational reforms that come about are not just superficial but are those that have evolved from the grass roots level through dialogue with all the parties involved. This will finally lead to the community managing the educational process and will equip them to address any deficiency in the local education system in the long run thus eliminating the problems that thwart girls' education in the area. This will also help in marinating the quality of education in the govt. schools which is a major hindrance towards education of all. Apart from this, other problems such as lack of infrastructure and basic amenities are also solved through a participatory approach.

APIL Approach towards Improving Education of Girl Child

The APIL-EGG program was planned to be executed in three phases. The first phase aims at data collection on a number of issues like the number of school dropouts, available school infrastructure, and tries to gain insight on the prevailing norms and attitude of local people on the issue of education of girls. This phase operates in two steps:

Step: 1 School Information Campaign (SIC)

The purpose of SIC was data collection on

School- about available infrastructure, activities undertaken, facilities etc.

The students- no. of students enrolled and the number of dropouts; &

The local community's attitude towards girls' education.

During the SIC process, data was generated on infrastructure, facilities in the school, availability of teaching aids, government educational program, village education committee, and mid day meal scheme. Apart from this, data was also gathered on the local community and other village level Institutions.

Step: 2 The Gram Shiksha Sabha (GSS)

Once the data was collected pertaining to the various aspects of girls' education, it set the stage for discussion with the village education council (GSS) constituted by SBMA in the villages. This council comprised members of the village Panchayat, teachers, parents, Mahila Mangal Dals (Women Welfare Groups), Yuvak Mangal Dal (Youth Welfare Groups) and other members of the village. The discussions thus facilitated involved a dialogue between the community and the field workers to create a positive attitude towards the education of girls. The follow-up measures taken by the SMC after the village meetings ensured sustainability of the process of educational reforms to some extent.

However, it is not possible to address all problems and the needs of the girls by dialogue alone. Other factors such as basic infrastructure, quality of teachers, and socio-economic factors that prevent schooling of girls cannot be solved by dialogue alone as these are beyond the purview of the villagers. Dialogue was a mere instrument to make the girls realize the importance of education just as it was a medium to make the community aware of their rights towards quality education. It is a means to reiterate to the villagers the fact that the responsibility of providing quality education lies with the state and they need to assert their rights (if it was the poor quality of the education which was a hindrance to girls' enrollment).

Once the data and other relevant information were gathered from the community and the people were sensitized enough, the program moved into the second phase. Here, village specific plans for quality improvement of govt. schools were made. This phase involved the teachers, school staff, management and parents to a greater extent to evaluate the effectiveness of the inputs provided by their schools for the students. They are thus able to see their shortcomings and formulate policies and assessment procedures for the inputs that they provide to students.

Finally, the phase 3 is the implementation phase wherein girls are provided with necessary education. The education is skill based for girls above 14 years of age and who dropped out of school or never went to school while schooling is provided to those who are under 14 and either, were never enrolled or dropped out early. The approach followed by SBMA to increase enrollment and retention of girls in school draws ideas (though not intentionally) from different models of collective action wherein community is mobilized to co-operate citing various reasons.

3.0 APIL-EGG in the Backdrop of Various Collective Action Theories

3.1 Social Mobilization

As mentioned in preceding sections SBMA wanted to solve the problem of girls' education by involving the local community and seeking solutions from them to tackle the problem such that it would be a long lasting solution. Not only the community but also other stake holders such as the Panchayat, village elders/learned people and the educational institutes were involved in the process of creating awareness amongst the masses about their rights and to demand development of education system in the area and the delivery of quality services by the teachers and other related authorities. Whether this initiative taken by SBMA will be able to sustain itself after the EGG program comes to a close is a question that needs to be explored. SBMA may just be acting as an external agent shaping the mentality of people which may not last after the catalyst (SBMA) is removed. Also, the deeply entrenched lackadaisical attitude of the school teachers towards education in villages may revert back when the community stops questioning them.

3.2 Convergence of Like-Mindedness as a means of Mobilization

The poor quality of education and an apathetic attitude of school authorities towards the lower strata of the society has been a hindrance not only to education of the girl child but to education in general. However, People in rural areas have not voiced their concerns or have never stood up for their rights simply because there was a clear paucity of a leader or a means of mediation between the general public and the authorities. Both parties had their own secluded opinion on the subject without either addressing the real problem. SBMA's EGG program, as an external agent, has not only helped in carrying the idea of need for education of the girls into the community but also has mobilized people to act collectively as a group to demand for their rights. We can see that while the need for quality education was already felt by the rural societies it was the initiation by the NGO that brought everyone together at one platform to demand resources from the school authorities. Thus, we see the convergence of likeminded people catalyzed by the presence of the external agent- the development organization.

3.3 Collective Cost v/s Individual Cost

No matter how hard the NGO may try it would not have been able to bring about this collective behavior among people if the villagers had greater interest and lower costs involved in individualistic behavior than in forming the collective. The state of Uttarakhand is a relatively new state with meager resources. Govt. Schools form the backbone of primary and secondary school education in most of the places with the private/public/convent schools being limited to the cities. Moreover, many of these private schools employ inexperienced teachers or recent high school/ college pass-outs which puts the credibility of these schools in serious doubt. In such a situation, those who can afford prefer to move to nearby towns or cities for better prospects of education for their children. However, there is a vast majority which is left behind and has little choice beyond the locally run Govt. schools. In such a situation the need for good schools is felt not only for girls but for one and all.

Since, it is not possible for most of those left behind to send their wards to the cities due to monetary constraints, organizing themselves as a collective to claim their right to good schools is a better and more inexpensive an option. Thus, the collective cost is much less than the individual cost and this forms the basis of the collective action here.

3.4 Vision of Future

Also, the vision of bright future for their children, something which they could not enjoy themselves, propels people to engage in the collective and seek remedial actions.

3.5 Dialogue as a Tool for Mobilization

APIL makes use of the power of dialogue to create awareness amongst people about their rights and claims and about the importance of girls' education. This is to be done at two levels. Firstly, the local community comprising the parents is to be made aware of their right to demand education. Secondly, the local governance body- Panchayat is made aware of the various programs that have been sanctioned for the local school and have not been implemented by the school authorities.

However, this is not an easy task. To strike a dialogue with any community to whom SBMA is an unknown name is almost impossible. It is important that the local people have faith in the workings of the organization without which the community may not come up with their problems readily which may slow the development process. Thus, SBMA had a crucial role to play in the sense that it's continued presence in all these villages in the past and deep involvement in the various development activities taken up here had brought it enough fame and most importantly trustworthiness which was of prime importance. Since, people had enough faith in the institution of the organization the process of initiating dialogue with the community and most importantly with the girls (which happens to be a sensitive part of the project) went on without much difficulty. Thus, the awareness created by the NGO helped the mobilization process.

Another important aspect of the program was redressal of the grievances and problems put forward by people. This was achieved by taking the problems to the local school authorities. Here again, the problems were put forward not as complaints neither was coercion used to get the authorities to agree to the demands made by the villagers but was merely put forward and their feedback sought on the same, common grounds were reached and changes brought about.

3.6 Moving from Mythical to Critical Consciousness

Before the exercise conducted by the NGO people in these villages can be considered to be in a state of mythical/magical consciousness where they believed that they were resigned to their fate and there was little that they could do to change the status quo. They were unaware of their rights and as a result did not question the inequities existing in the society. The dialogue, was a powerful tool used by the agency to help the villagers move from a state of magical consciousness to a naïve one and finally to a critical level of consciousness where they began to perceive the problems not as mere 'accidents' that struck them but as facts related to socio-economic contradictions. When they awakened to this fact they realized that organizing as a collective gave them the power with which they could transform things around them.

3.7 Eliminating Dualism between Individual and Society

This also helped them see themselves as an agency which can bring about changes in the society of which they were a part. As long as they were trapped in the mythical consciousness they saw themselves apart from the society and as an object of atrocities and injustice. But, awakening to the critical consciousness made them realize that there was no dichotomy or fine line separating them from the society but rather it was a continuum and they were transforming the society as much as they were susceptible to be changed by it.

3.8 Institutionalization of the Process

To solve this problem, it would be worth considering the institutionalization of the process that SBMA has adopted to mobilize the community towards demanding resources on which they have right. Lack of institutionalization may result in this initiative losing effect with time and ultimately becoming defunct like most of the projects by NGOs which show results only till the NGO is operational in the area. Institutionalization is also important from the point of view of improving quality of education the onus of which, to a great extent, lies with the teachers and authorities. SBMA is quite an influential organization in the state of Uttarakhand with almost all major development programs being routed through it. As a result, the teachers in the Govt. schools may work towards the improvement of quality of education initially and may continue till they find the presence SBMA in the village but may go back to their old ways once the NGO is non-operational. Thus, resulting in failure of the program.

An education council, with representation of each of the stake holder groups, may be constituted to oversee the working of the schools and address the needs of the students and parents. Also, this group should be a well infirmed one so as to be able to assert people's right to quality education.

4.0 A Success Stories

Case Study1: Initiatives of SMC

Initiatives of SMC

A GSS was organized in village Jissua of Kalsi block on 3/12/03. The meeting was attended by the village head, school headmaster , dropout girls and many others from the community . On sharing the data from their village it was found that there were ignorant about many facts and figures. The school building in the villages had been sanctioned in 1997 but was still lying incomplete since none took the initiative. After the meeting it was decided by the members of SMC and others to immediately start the construction followed by enrollment of all the children in the school. Two dropout girls Sharmila Sharma and Meera (13 yrs, 12 yrs) also got enrolled.

Case Study2: A Case of Village Haripur

Village Haripur in the Bhagwanpur Block of District Haridwar is a Tongya village situated amidst the forests. As per the rules and regulations of forest department no construction can be erected in these forest villages and therefore there was no school building. Due to this more than eighty children could not get proper primary education. APIL organized a GSS in this village and got the community mobilized to demand for the rights of their children. As a result the Education Department was compelled to construct a school building in the adjoining village land Buggawala. Now this school is in function.

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