Manthan Program: Improving Education in Bihar, India

In July of 2011, hundreds of homes, cultivable land, schools and livestock were washed away by devastating floods in Bihar, one of the poorest states in India. Two years later, the schools in Parsoni Village had still not been rebuilt, while layers of silt on the land make it uncultivable. The government relocated families to temporary homes on higher ground, though even here children do not have access to education and families have lost their sole source of income and food security - their land.

Education is the most powerful tool in fighting social inequality and extreme poverty, but millions of children still do not have access to a safe and supportive learning space. In 2009, the government of India created the Children's Right to Free and Compulsory Education Act, also known as the Right to Education Act (RTE), declaring that children ages 6 to 14 are entitled to free schooling. While this represented an important step forward, implementation has not been successful. Five years after RTE's enactment, millions of children in India are yet to receive an education, and the quality of education provided in government schools is poor, particularly in rural areas. Where education is accessible, children are often advanced to the next level ("grade") regardless of performance, creating devastating gaps in literacy, writing, and mathematics that ultimately hinder a child's ability to attend post-secondary and break the cycle of poverty in their communities. By helping communities create an after-school program ("Manthan"), WEIF has provided disadvantaged children with the basic pillars of education they need to reach their full human potential.

The Manthan Program was developed by Indian NGO Divya Jyoti Jagrati Sansthan (DJJS) with the aim of providing essential educational support to children in remote rural communities and urban slums by supplementing, or in some cases substituting traditional daytime schooling. Manthan includes academic subjects, extracurricular activities, life-skill training, and field trips. Students also receive nutritious snacks and health care. From 2013 to 2016, WEIF worked with DJJS to transition the Manthan program into full time schooling.

2013 was WEIF's first year of supporting the development of DJSS' Manthan Program. With grant support from the Alberta Community Initiatives Program (CIP), WEIF supported the operating costs for four supplementary schools in Bihar, enhanced the Manthan program by ensuring regular and substantial meals were available, and increased the level of health care provided to students. WEIF focused on improving teacher conduct, knowledge, and practice by providing teachers with additional training at the Rishi Valley Institute of Educational Resources (RIVER) to build the capacity and create a more conducive learning environment for students. On November 4th, 2014, 17 teachers from Bihar and Delhi schools participated in a six-day workshop in the Multi-grade Multi-level (tMGML) methodology. MGML is an innovative activity-based teaching-learning methodology developed by the Rishi Valley Institute of Educational Resources (RIVER)—a program with over 20 years of success that is currently improving education for six million children across India. In 2015, additional teacher training was provided by staff from the Nareshwadi Learning Centre in the form of a week long discussion on classroom learning and pedagogy. By bringing teachers together to discuss educational strategies, WEIF ensures that the teachers in both the Manthan program and in the full-time schools are able to support students throughout their schooling. Teachers, who were previously working on a volunteer basis, have been receiving payment since January 2014, and WEIF has provided the resources that should be a part of every child's education: basic reading and writing supplies, books, backpacks and nutrition.

Maintaining the growth of the Manthan program required an investment in local infrastructure and in 2014, WEIF committed to expanding the Manthan program to include full-time schools to further ensure students in rural Bihar are able to access quality education. In 2015, WEIF worked on construction of two full time schools in Bodhgaya and Parsoni, which were completed in 2016 in time for both schools to open for the 2016-2017 school year. WEIF came to an agreement with the government of India that once construction and teacher training met government requirements, these schools would become recognized educational institutions entitled to national funding, and the Government of India would assume operating costs.

Support from Alberta's Community Initiatives Program (CIP) as well as corporate and individual donors allowed WEIF to construct these permanent schools in Bodhgaya and Parsoni, which accommodate classes from ECE to Grade 5 on the first floor, and higher grades on the second floor. These schools and the ongoing Manthan program are now overseen by DJJS with support from the local government to ensure long-term sustainability.

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