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The master trainer and two ASER volunteers would be covering the villages near Aurangabad. Would I be interested in going? This was something that I had been wishing for, for quite some time, so without a second thought, I agreed.
Before I knew it, I was on a train from Mumbai to Aurangabad. Pradeep, a jovial man who was co-ordinating my trip, said that he would put me in touch with Ravi, the master trainer who would accompany me to the villages the next day. It was to clarify any questions that I may have about ASER and also to help me out with the local language, Marathi, a language that I don’t speak or understand.
To get to know a village, volunteers have to first walk around the entire village before they can start mapping it. A good way to do this is to ask children of the village to show the volunteers around. After this process, a rough map is drawn. The purpose of this map is to understand the habitation patterns of the village. Once the map is made, surveyors select the households and the survey begins.
When we reached the first house we meet two brothers-Krushna and Dhanraj. They were being tested. While Krushna managed a shy smile, Dhanraj looked me straight in the eye and asked in Hindi, “ humare photo kyun le rahe hain?” (Why are you taking photos of us?)Before I could say anything Krushna looked at his brother and said, your picture will be all over the papers. Like a real movie star!That seemed to pacify Dhanraj and both continued working on their assessments.
Next, we went to Priyanka’s house. Clad in a blue and green salwar kameez, Priyanka gave us a bright smile and began to read. Even though Priyanka is in Grade 10, the Grade when Indian students take their secondary school examination, Priyanka can only recognise alphabets.
While this may be shocking to some, this is the all pervasive reality of the Education system in India today. According to UN Data, India is home to the largest number of illiterate adults.
The next decade will be a crucial one for India. In order to progress and grow as a country, India must use its resources judiciously. If we strengthen our primary education system and ensure adequate literacy and numeracy skills, we are sure to reap its dividends in future.