Learning under a Mango Tree
Under the mango tree, Mandira teaches a group of 26 children of the Mushahar community in Saptari. She has been running transitional early childhood care and development classes (TECCD) under the tree for the last two months as there are no buildings in the community to host a big group of children.
Mandira who has been involved in the teaching profession for nearly a decade now, says that nothing ever excited her as much as her present students do. “They reach my home an hour before the class and insist I start the class early”, Mandira says. “They are doing way better than I first thought”, she adds. When she was selected to run the TECCD class, she was worried how the children who have never been to school fare. Only few children in the community go to school and most of them work with their parents. The young ones, who cannot work yet, stay at home and look after their younger siblings.
“Children aged three to eight attend the class”, she says. “Though many of them have already crossed the pre-school attending age, we have tried to include everyone interested as they do not go to school at all”, she adds. Some of them who go to school also cannot read and write. Hence, Mandira hopes to send them back to the school with some basic skills.
Mandira pays special attention to Bhumika (3), Pustika (5) and Raju (8). The three children lost their father to an illness six months back and their mother goes to work early in the morning, leaving the kids in Hebli’s care. Hebli is a stay at home grandmother who helps working parents by looking after their young children.
“They come to class regularly”, says Mandira. “All three of them are sharp and enthusiastic about learning”, she adds. Before TECCD started operating in their village, the kids used to play in the mud the whole day. Pustika and Raju will be enrolled in school after they complete the TECCD in the new academic session starting in April 2018.
Mandira feels that she is lucky to be the first one to teach kids their first letter and make them ready for school. Her plan is to help enroll all children in her class into grade one in the upcoming academic year.
Save the Children is operating 25 TECCDs in Saptari in 2018 till April. The goal of the three-month long Transitional ECCD run in communities, where majority of children do not go to school, is to provide children with the experience of learning before actually going to school.
Generally early learning is looked at as a stage that a child can skip before enrolling in grade one. Parents tend to think that education begins in grade one and do not prioritize learning in the first few formative years of the children’s lives.
Transitional ECCDs do not only provide an opportunity to children to have an early learning experience but also demonstrate why ECCD is a corner stone to the child’s overall development.
Save the Children operated similar classes last year where children had no access to early childhood care and development. In 2017, 637 children graduated from 26 transitional ECCDs operated in the district. Among ECCD graduates, 434 children were enrolled in schools. Among them, 229 were from Dalit community. More children will go to school this year after they graduate from TECCDs.
Story and photo by Ganga Pyakurel