During the lockdown, we had sent videos to parents, showing some activities that aid the physical development of young children. In the rural areas, it is quite rare to come across a father playing with his child, teaching her to crawl under a rope. We had initially thought that sharing videos with parents and having them conduct activities with their children at home during school closure would be a simple project. But when we actually started the project, we came across quite a few challenges. We were aware that there would be some gaps between the on-paper plan and the actual implementation. However, the QUEST team soon realized that there were many things that they had no clue about while planning.
As the ‘unlock’ phase started in the state, the QUEST team members started visiting the parents in various villages to understand the benefits of the project. But, after a few inquiries, many mothers reported that they had no idea about such a project. In the beginning, the team felt that there might be a mismatch between the child’s name and the parent’s whatsapp number in their database. Else, the parents would have known by now that the project had started. They checked the data thoroughly and observed that barring a few exceptions, the children’s names and their parents’ phone numbers were matching perfectly.
To understand what the problem was, the team finally conducted a parents’ meeting in the Anganwadi. Many mothers attended the meeting as requested by the Anganwadi Sevika. In this meeting, the root of the problem was revealed. Many of the mothers said that the mobile phones were with the children’s fathers, who were away at work the whole day, and they had not informed them about any messages about such a project. Some others said that the women in their households were not allowed to use mobile phones, and they didn’t know how to use them anyway.
In this scenario, the only way forward was for the women to demand access to a mobile phone. In subsequent parents’ meetings, the team started talking about the project in detail and the need for mothers to have access to mobile phones. The team explained that though the Anganwadis were still closed, the children were growing up quickly and needed to learn what they must learn at this developmental stage. Hence, they asked the women to tell their husbands that they must have access to a mobile phone to watch the videos to teach their children. Accordingly, the women spoke to their husbands and some of them succeeded in getting access to the mobile phone for a few minutes every evening to watch the videos.
This was quite a learning experience for the team – they realized that they were dealing with 18th century problems and 21st century problems simultaneously. They learnt that they cannot take certain things for granted in rural areas which they would otherwise do in urban and semi urban areas. It is not that they were unaware of the gender discrimination in villages. But it did seem surprising and saddening when it became apparent in such simple matters.
After some discussions, the team came to the conclusion that they would need to visit children’s homes to get a better understanding of their environment. During the home visits, they discovered some more problems. The team found out that the parents had trouble in understanding some of the instructions that were sent with the videos. They were finding it difficult to imitate the activity just by watching the video. Many parents were unable to think of what to say when their child gave a response different from what was shown in the video. Therefore, the team decided to demonstrate the activities during the home visits to address the parents’ difficulties. These demos were quite useful. Many parents started asking us to include them in the whatsapp groups.
All of us are hopeful that this project will lead to at least one good thing. It will perhaps break the hold of the belief among parents and the society that ‘anyone can teach young children’. It will make the parents appreciate the complexity of an Anganwadi Sevika’s tasks. They will also understand the efforts she has to take and with that her social status in the community might rise a little.
Some of the fathers have responded quite enthusiastically to this project. Here is a video shared by a father:
It was heartening to see the video of Tejal’s father who was teaching her as he worked on the farm. Using vegetables from the farm as educational materials was quite an innovative idea! Although he did not have the educational aids used in the video, he was not deterred. His skill in teaching by understanding the goal of the activity and using the materials available to him as he worked is rare even among professional teachers.
The real task for us is to increase the number of such fathers who take an active interest in their child’s education, as seen in the video. Could you suggest how we should go about it? Please share your responses in the comments section. Your suggestions will definitely help us to make our ‘Anganwadi Majhya Ghari’ initiative more effective.