Good health without doubt contributes to better learning and mental growth. Sadly, with the quality of education still substandard across several remote villages in our country, unhealthy practices in such environments often take a toll on learning. Schools lacking in infrastructure and resources, such as tables and chairs, make a direct impact on not just the posture and eyesight of students, but also on their motivation to attend school on a regular basis.
Assessing a similar situation in the Rajkiya Madhyamik Vidyalaya school of Bhoola Village, Sirohi District, Rajasthan, 22-year-old Deepshikha Chhetri, a public health nutritionist from Delhi is working to address the issue and better the education quality through interactive mediums. She is also using her knowledge of nutrition for curriculum-building to design interventions that ensure better health practices.
To understand the need
The plight of the students at Rajkiya Madhyamik Vidyalaya is wound up in daily struggles. With majority of the children having to walk 5-6km just to get to school everyday, what makes the travel worse is carrying books to school without a proper school bag. Moreover, the school that provides education from Class Ito X suffers from poor infrastructure. The students are made to sit together in one class with arrangements also made in the corridor. The monsoons are their worst enemy. Water leakage from the roofs results in the children attending classes in the corridors, having to sit on the floor to attend classes, as there are no tables and chairs in the school.
Beginning her journey with the students in August this year, Deepshikha, who has been greatly inspired by her father, an Indian Army officer, took to the route of community service and is presently working for India fellowship in association with Kshamtalaya Foundation, a non-profit organisation that supports school children in disadvantaged settings so that they develop into socially and economically active young adults.
Talking about her initial month with the children she says, “My role was to go in depth, understand the village, the people of the community, their knowledge and opinion on the ongoing developmental projects and programmes. Along with this, I spent my early days conducting observations in school so as to get familiar with teachers and students. I learnt that Bhoola village has lower literacy rate compared to 46 percent of the Sirohi district.”
After one month of class intervention and noticing the conditions of the classrooms, Deepshikha realised that the children were in desperate need of a playful learning environment and infrastructural support. “The absence of proper tables and chairs to write and study in the right posture had resulted in immense stress on their backs and eyes. During the field visits, I also observed that due to the poor financial conditions, these children did not have proper tables at their homes to study after school.”
Portable infrastructure as a solution
To find a quick fix to these troubles, Deepshikha shares that her first thought was to arrange for a few tables in each classroom, but she later gathered that the problem was much bigger than just the need for tables.
“Just like there was lack of resources for these kids at school there was lack of resources at home as well and I wanted fix this. I was taken back to days when I was excited about a new school bag and fighting over my favourite desk in school and was immediately drawn to the thought that quality education is for all. That a child studying in a remote tribal area has equal right to resources just as much as a child in a city. This drove me to assess the need and find a better and permanent answer for the children.”
After brainstorming for ideas, Deepshikha came up with the plan to ensure that all the students of the school got a better study infrastructure to study effectively, both in the school and home. She proposed to get each one of them Deskits, a unique product which is a school bag with an in-built and detachable study table/ portable desk, for them to attach to their bags and use as desks as and when required. “The idea will help them greatly in improving their posture and have the facility to study within the classrooms instead of sitting in the school corridors,” she explains.
Bringing hope to education
To turn this dream into actual occurrence for 310 students, Deepshikha has launched an online crowdfunding campaign, Bringing Hope to Education. Speaking of how the project will be executed, Deepshikha says, “At present, Deskits are being used by 5,000 students across eight different states in India. The expected durability of a Deskit is two academic years. We need to raise Rs 1,40,000 to make this a possibility. The children will be oriented on the importance of the kits and how to use them. We will also collect Rs 50 to instill a sense of ownership, engage in a parent-teacher meeting and monitor feedback after a month of distribution.”
“This will motivate the students to study better both at home and at school, improve posture, eyesight and most importantly improve attendance and the literacy rate,” she adds.
Along with this particular project, Deepshikha is also currently focused on health interventions for the future and is working on introducing WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) both in the school and community, personal hygiene, menstruation hygiene and a mid-day meal as part of her two-year tenure in Bhoola. To make WASH in school a reality, she is trying to collaborate with other organisations and also the stakeholders at the Gram Panchayat level to work on the hand-washing infrastructure for both the school and community.
With a positive outlook, Deepshikha continues to remain optimistic and determined as she travels everyday to better the lives of these kids and the community around. “I am doing a pilot study with two hamlets of the Bhoola village by helping them in construction of their very own hand-washer. Similarly, I am planning for a solution that is impactful and sustainable to ensure healthy menstruation hygiene practices. For now, my aim is to garner enough support to help these children learn better, attend school regularly, and take full advantage of every opportunity to learn and, thus, explore and experiment with their ideas.”