My summer at ASER Centre, New Delhi

– By Nabina Chakraborty, Summer 2016 intern, Communications team, New Delhi

“I think the hour hand of the clock was small, shouldn’t it be a bit long? Oh! Also, add the second hand,” said Shikha during the feedback meeting where the assessment team was discussing the responses of the children after a field pilot of the proposed ASER 2016 tools. This was my first day of a two-month internship at ASER Centre in New Delhi. I was in awe of the kind of minute details that the assessment team got into while discussing children’s responses. No time was wasted; the feedback meeting started as soon as the team returned from the field. The pilot was conducted in villages of seven states – Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Bihar, Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand. It must have been very hot, after all this is peak summer in India. This was also the second round of pilots.

I am a second year undergraduate at Fergusson College, Pune. I wanted to do an internship during my summer holidays, so I wrote to ASER Centre in New Delhi and promptly got an opportunity to intern with their communications unit. I was so excited at the prospect that I did not hesitate to come all the way to New Delhi. My main task was to capture the excitement of preparing for ASER 2016 on video as well as to create communication materials for two international conferences that ASER Centre was hosting in the first week of June in Aurangabad, Maharashtra.

When I reached New Delhi, the Delhi government was conducting a three-week summer camp for the children of Std 6. Pratham Education Foundation had provided content for the summer camp and and we volunteered to observe the proceedings in the schools. I chose a school in Munirka, not far from our office and where I stayed, and carried a camera.

Delhi summer camp visit

For me, the summer camp was the journey of becoming “didi” to the children from “ma’am”. The most exciting moment was when a few children came to me and said, “Didi hume Sunday ko bhi school ana hain.” (We want to come to the school on Sunday). I clicked photographs of the camp in action and captured it on video too. I must admit, it took a while before the children got used to the photographer in their midst!

Soon after the Delhi summer camp, I travelled to Bhopal, where the assessment team was conducting their third round of the ASER tools pilot. I visited a village near Bhopal with around 150 households and was surprised to see the villagers being comfortable in front of the camera because I had expected just the opposite. I could see that the parents were taking an interest in what their children were asked to do. It was a short visit but it showed me all that I otherwise wouldn’t have learnt, had I not visited. The best thing about working with ASER Centre is that you get to work on various projects at the same time. On my return to New Delhi, I was instructed to assist the assessment unit with a literature review, a task that was completely new to me. But at ASER Centre, you get the time and encouragement to learn something new.

Capturing the build up to ASER 2016 has so far been the most interesting work. I was given complete liberty to decide the way I wanted to work. Figuring out what questions to ask, coordinating with the different teams and getting them to speak in front of the camera were left to me to decide. Most of them were very scared of the camera. But I helped them overcome their fears, encouraging even the behind-the-scenes team, Sanjeev, Saleem, Vandana and Vijender, who have been an integral part of the core team ASER team since its inception to come forward and share their stories as well.

As my internship comes to an end, I am determined to volunteer for ASER 2016. I wish that the 2016 report will show that the children in the country are learning better than before.