In India's villages, teachers using comics, films, puppets to bring students back to class

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In India's villages, teachers using comics, films, puppets to bring students back to class

When Sonia Chauhan was transferred to Upper Primary School Abdulapur Leda in Thakurdwara tehsil of Moradabad in 2013, she found that students hardly showed interest in studies, absenteeism was high and students could not even summarise the stories taught in Hindi literature. After Chauhan attended a four-day workshop by cartoonist Sharad Sharma in Lucknow, she thought of making comic strips of difficult chapters to arouse the interest of students. It bore results as students easily understood and enjoyed comic strips.
After UP government awarded Chauhan with Zero Investment Innovative Award in 2016 for her efforts, many teachers across the state implemented the idea in their schools. A few schools in UP are also using other means like puppets, short films, interactive sessions, songs and poems. The movement has now spread to schools across rural India.

According to the Annual Survey of Education Report (ASER) 2017, 50% of boys who left school did so for either lack of interest (34%) or because they had failed in exams (16%). For girls these numbers are 19% and 17%, respectively. ASER 2017 stated that about 25% students in the age group of 14-18 years still cannot read basic text fluently in their own language. More than half struggle with division (3 digit by 1 digit) problems. Even youths who have completed eight years of schooling lack foundational skills.

Sharad Sharma, who started Grassroots Comics in 1990s, told TOI, "After learning about the poor quality of reading and writing in schools, we started training teachers, students and others in UP, Chhattisgarh and north-eastern states to tell a story using only a pen and paper. As teachers in government schools have limited resources, comic strips turned out to be powerful teaching tool."


Chauhan, who was given Best Teaching Award by the President in 2017, said, "After I got overwhelming response to comics on Hindi and English literature, I am now planning some on mathematics, history and geography. Some teachers say their art skills are not good enough to draw comics. I have suggested they can cut pictures from old books. Students at my school are also practicing to stage plays based on the comics."


Yatika Pundir, assistant teacher, Primary English Model School (Kamalpur) in Meerut, said, "It is difficult for rural students to grasp concepts easily. To teach a chapter on 'Saving Trees', I make comic strips on the blackboard with speech bubbles for trees and human characters. I use finger puppets to make them learn a chapter on 'My Family'." Pundir's Powerpoint presentation on her interactive ideas was recently selected by the state government for replication in other schools.


There are 271 students in the school, of which 51 are in Pundir's class. When she had joined school, attendance in her class was hardly 30%, but now it never goes below 90%. In fact, 100% attendance has also been reported as students look forward to a new activity every day.


Meanwhile, at a school in Muzaffarnagar, comics like Champak are a part of the library. Akhlaque Ahmed, principal, Primary School (Titawi-1), said, "We have a library which has comic books. These help students learn about stories which they would otherwise not find in text books and also since these are interactive books, it improves their self-understanding levels. We also show short films and poems on projectors to the kids."
 

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