On the occasion of International Literacy Day 2022, we present an inspiring story of literacy and education bringing the light of empowerment to the lives of tribal people in India.
Satyam Mishra is a maths teacher from Bhagalpur, Bihar, India, determined to change the way children look at the world through his pedagogy. Not only does he believe that education and literacy are fundamental rights for everyone, but he is also involved in various projects working to uplift children in difficult situations across the country and the world.
As India celebrates its 75th Independence Day, ‘Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav,’ something remarkable happened - India elected its first tribal woman President! As a proud Indian and a firm believer in democracy, I was joyous to have Droupadi Murmu Ji as the ‘First Citizen of India’ and the ‘Commander-in-Chief’ of the Indian Armed Forces, the fourth MOST powerful in the world!
Countering the pandemic as an educator
We are all aware of the adverse effects COVID-19 had on all of us - health, economy, and loss of loved ones, to name a few. Though everyone on the planet was affected in some way or another, I guess the students were the worst affected by the pandemic. At one point, 1.6 billion (1600 million) children were out of school!
The second wave of the deadly pandemic struck India, killing many of our fellow citizens and further extending the closure of schools. The schools by that point had more or less remained closed (or remotely controlled) for about a year, starting March 2020.
At this juncture, my former Principal, Rev. Fr Jose G. Chakalakal, had been working extremely hard to help every child in his school, Mount Assisi School (MAS), Poreyahat, Jharkhand reached out to me. Mount Assisi School (MAS), Poreyahat had been established in 2006 to help provide access to an excellent education to students from the tribal community.
MAS Poreyahat is unique in many ways. The school is an English medium ICSE school, offering the highest standards of education in one of the remotest places in India.
Over 40% of the students attending MAS Poreyahat come from the tribal community.
In fact, the students are not just from Poreyahat but from across regions in Jharkhand and Bihar, who are ambitious to study, work hard and change the trajectory of their lives forever, and make use of the hostel facilities to do so.
The turn of events
Fr. Jose G Chakalakal and I got in touch to brainstorm on how we could help students compensate for the loss of learning hours during the pandemic. We created a group with the students of Grade 10 and started working together to counter the ill effects that the pandemic had had on their learning.
We would work every single day - on weekdays, weekends, and even on Public Holidays.
The students also gave their best; and finally, it was time for the ICSE results in 2021-2022.
We had broken all records
The students who had been a part of our initiative ‘The Online Classroom, MAS Poreyahat’ had scored an average of 95.5/100 in Mathematics in the ICSE Board Exam 2021-2022!
The result was even more special as we had fought for perfection in the most challenging of times. Their parents and the Principal wanted us to keep going and continue teaching the children. Incidentally, a month after the ICSE results, India elected Droupadi Murmu Ji as the President
Ambition + Student Leadership = Transformation
If you check the statistics, India is almost 75% literate - which translates to 1 out of every 4 Indians can not read/write even in the 21st century.
For the tribal community, on the other hand, the literacy rate is at a mere 59% which means 2 out of every 5 Indians from the tribal community can not read/write.
For our leadership team at the school, it was an opportunity to change the narrative. It was an opportunity to work with student leaders from the tribal community, guide them to succeed and then make them ambassadors of ‘Education and Excellence’ in their community. It was aimed at helping the student leaders from the tribal community to inspire confidence, increase the enrolment rate for tribal girls in school, and reduce the drop-out rates (we observe a spike in the drop-out rates after primary school and secondary school, especially for girls).
Mahamahim - our ‘dream’ project :
I firmly believe, based on my personal experience, that girls can excel at anything they choose to. I asked myself, as an educator, can we create a group that is all-girls and from the tribal community, with the aim to ace STEM subjects?
“Yes! We Can!” And we did!
In honour of our democracy and the Hon’ble President of India, Droupadi Murmu Ji, we created a group named: ‘Mahamahim’(Mahamahim - translates to ‘Her Excellency’), particularly to train girls from the tribal community to ace in STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics) subjects and lead by example.
For us, the drill just does not end at securing high marks. The project aims to develop a lifelong love for learning and hopefully prepare girls interested in Mathematics and Science for a STEM career, exposing them to the numerous career options in the future and helping them discover their passion and true calling.
I have witnessed how the election of a woman from the tribal community to India’s highest Public Office has caught the imagination of the people from the tribal community, especially the younger generation. We are here as educators to leverage the strength and confidence of our vibrant democracy and help young people lead their communities by example, excellence, and vision. Transforming education with the help of young leaders from the community is promising and long-term.
The girls from the tribal community are ready to learn and follow their hearts. We hope and pray that these bright minds go on to contribute majorly to India and cement the roots of a vibrant, plural, and democratic India. Let us determine to make India a true and giant global power that has every community and region contributing to its growth and development.