Turning education crisis into entrepreneurial Opportunity
With an aim to address the issues of increasing school drop-outs and child labour, our partner organization Vidyalaya Udhyam(VU) focuses on building entrepreneurial capacities at the local village levels by working with the children and women from the tribal communities in Udaipur. The organization works with a community based approach, however, due to the pandemic, they had to adapt, innovate, and redesign their approaches.
Identification of the problem:
It has been well-known by now that the pandemic affects every section of the society but the organization, working as the front-line warriors during this time, witnessed the worst situation on the roads, highways and railway tracks. They were the village locals who had gone to metropolitan cities in search for employment, yet we call them migrants in our own country. These sights deeply affected our change leaders at VU, where they realized how the pandemic defined a new divide in the society; migrants and natives.
At a time where irrespective of the social, political and economic privileges, people felt helpless and struggled to return to their respective home lands, the returning laborers faced the worst and the direst situation. It is worth emphasizing here that these laborers mostly come from the rural and tribal areas, who usually work on daily wages, surviving hand to mouth. Their small savings couldn’t help them and their families get through the lockdown.
The trend until the dawn of the pandemic had been one of massive children’s migration from villages to cities to contribute to the already surging urban labour pool with very limited earnings. The change in the dynamics and demography due to large-scale ‘migration’ of labourers back to their villages have let to many unanticipated consequences. Besides the family economics of migrant labor, the education of children has got adversely affected.
Due to this, many children dropped out of schools and are unable to avail the nutrients provided through the mid-day meals. Although the government provides them a dry ration to compensate for the missed meals, the children still miss out on food with main sources of nutrients, such as milk and other protein.
Opportunity waiting to be leveraged:
The situation is indeed grave and gloomy. However, there is a recognition of the fact that this pandemic gives us an opportunity to return to our roots, build resilience and co-create scope for the local economy. This is an opportunity that can be leveraged at this moment to ensure a stronger village economy with grassroots development.
“Crises and deadlocks when they occur have at least this advantage, that they force us to think.” – Jawaharlal Nehru
The words of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru are befitting the present circumstance, where the organizations world over are thinking and innovating novel ways to beat the impact of the crisis.
The education departments, as per the guidelines of the Government and International Organizations, have begun learning programs through social media. However, in Vidhyalay Udhyam’s case, using social media or online medium was not a viable solution as in their block (SARADA, Udaipur), only 10% students have access to smartphones.
However, it should be kept in mind that the children are mostly not idle, as they help their families in the livelihood opportunities. This has been a perpetual problem affecting their school attendance. In the absence of the guardians, the children will be responsible for taking care of animals and fetching water from well, thereby missing school. This close proximity of the children with their community can be used to optimize community learning during this time.
Scope for the children | Birth of an idea:
As every section of the society wants to return to their roots, there is a realization of the need for boosting the local economies. It is well-established that local economies need contextual knowledge, indigenous skills and local solutions.
This pandemic reflects the real idea of schooling “To realize the inner potential and applying skills to solve the real time challenges”. The civil society organizations working in the area of education have agreed that the school should be the replica of the community rather than a foreign element in the village. As schools remained shut, students got time to apply their skills to solve the problems in their local communities.
This problem-solution approach was the inception of “Micro Maker Labs” by Vidhyalay Udhyam in tribal villages, where students apply their skills to create prototypes to solve the local problems. We find scope for children to apply their skills, grow and build an entrepreneurial mindset to fight against the economic crisis.
Implementation of the idea:
Due to lockdown schools are closed, movement is blocked and resources are limited. With micro labs, 4 to 5 children in groups can start ideating, brainstorming and prototyping the products for the community. From 4 to 5 small groups VU witnessed children applying their solution-based thinking in different themes like recycling, farming (landless and land), stitching, product design, Robotics etc.
To finance these maker labs, participating students started contributing 20 INR each. After lockdown, there was an increase in the students’ participation, a membership fees for each student to run the maker lab was charged. These young and dynamic students made products out of waste to sell and earn, one of the group running campaigns for COVID free panchayat through selling their products like touch free sanitizer dispenser, sanitizing chamber and mask.
Impact so far
Using the solution-centric approach to create products, the community saw great potential in the idea of maker labs. The students also received monetary compensation from the sale of their products, which localized the solution. Students with access to smartphones started optimizing their use of the internet and practiced ‘21st century’ skills. This has also led to the restoration of faith in the local economy and they participated in creating new economies for their villages.
Vidhyalay Udhyam (VU) is in the process of scaling the idea and making 100 micro makers’ labs in 100 panchayats that are driven by students. The organization also plans to start theme-based courses to solve the local problem through local resources for the children. These makers’ labs will be shared with the government schools to create a ‘makerspace’ in the nearby schools; where young facilitators will be responsible to run it. Each maker lab will have some basic courses with 4 stages: Beginner, intermediate, advance and projects.
These ingenious methods to approach problems and find contextual solutions are the need of the hour. The education sector has been worse hit due to the pandemic and its ramifications are dreaded by all, however, with such innovative learning skills, the damage is being undone and the children are being honed to work with solution centric mindset, which allows for an entrepreneurial development of a child.
-Written by Mr. Ashwani Tiwari, Co-founder, Vidhyalay Udhyam and Ms. Deboleena Dutta, Team EduMentum