ASER IS MORE THAN A TINKERING LABORATORY

Manjunatha B G

Master Trainer, Mysore District and a volunteer with Pratham Mysore

ASER is a treasure trove of field experiences cutting across the subjects of humanities and science. Great scholars in the development sectors have always endorsed ‘’go to the field’’ model to get a first-hand experience or understanding of how static or dynamic is the fabric of our society. This is the 4th time I am participating in ASER. Every time I kick-start my motorbike to go to sampled villages, my thoughts are numerous like the patterns of a kaleidoscope. I differ with people who categorize it a survey. It is an annual or rather a perspective project in a little more than 17,000 villages, because it leaves behind a lot of positive externalities on whoever it tinges upon. It is much more than a tinkering laboratory; unlearning to learn is the key.

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A sampled village in the tribal belt, H D Kote Taluk, Mysore District

When I venture into villages, I ask myself, if the Gandhian principles were relevant even today, then why are our villages still not empowered as they ought to be? But one thing is explicit. Acculturation has happened in almost every village. Urban norms and lifestyle patterns have passed on to villages. The world has become a global village. Whether this process leads to more awareness and ultimately empowerment of villages is a different issue. A mother in a sampled village, which is in a tribal belt, in Heggadadevanakote Taluk in Mysore District was rather happy that her 10 year old child was struggling to read Kannada words. ‘’I have admitted her in an English medium school’’ she exclaims and insist that we give her child the English assessment.  I was taken aback with this firm response of the mother in such a backward village.  The mother felt it was below par if her child is assessed in Kannada. I tried to explain her that children should be equally taught their first language to complement and reinforce their English learning at the primary level. She didn’t budge. ‘’I have seen in TV serials how important is English“, she cites her own experiences which weren’t wrong either. The flip side of the same village is that more than half of the households in the village were not electrified, I enquired further only to find that most of the children in the village were infested with worms, all males in the household stray in to the forest every dawn and dusk to hunt wild animals. But this lifestyle of the villagers has beautiful embellishments- the households that were not connected to the power grid for electricity supply were equipped with solar power, a patch of forest area is conserved as a sacred grove, an ayurvedic hospital is set up as a cooperative trust by the villagers to de-worm children, they hunt animals not protected under the Wildlife Protection Act, the market linkage to sell the forest produce is well laid with mobile phones in every household.

What perplexed me was how the culture has trickled down from urban areas to remote areas. While a few mothers were obsessed with their children learning English and every household had a mobile phone, some had not done much to de-worm their children or get their home electrified. The story has a similar dimension in every village I visited and to every parent I spoke. But when I ask most of them, “what can be more basic than education and if their children are attending schools?’’, the answer is synonymous. They innocently paraphrase Nelson Mandela’s words “education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world’’.