The intangible outcomes of Chalo Bihar

– Posted by Jasmine Luthra and Soumya Nair (ASER Centre – New Delhi)

It is said that overcoming one’s own limits leads to new avenues of self-discovery. Meeting people with a different point of view, undertaking fresh challenges, experiences that startle you, are all a part of this process of growth.
Among the unplanned outcomes of the Chalo Bihar assessment were the many ways in which our ASER-Pratham team members unearthed their latent potential and discoveredtheir strengths and weaknesses. The assessment posed some of the toughest obstacles of field work: soaring mercury and hot winds, intensive physical rigour of training, monitoring and survey, time constraints, all the while maintaining accuracy and precision. In this first-of-its kind, school-based assessment in partnership with the Bihar government, the mounting pressure to ensure we complete the survey was immense.
Yet our brave men and women have risen to the occasion and successfully completed every step of the survey in under three weeks. Proving that all it takes is team effort, perseverance and focus for any mammoth job at hand.
“This exercise has certainly helped me build on my soft skills. For example, when you work with a team under a tight deadline, conflict resolution skills really help avoid complications. And I’ve had to think on my feet and resolve many small issues that could’ve flared up and affected our work,” says Suraj Das,ASER Regional Manager, Assam, “I’m slowly getting ready for a leadership role.”
The state-wide assessment, besides capturing learning levels of children in Classes 2, 4, and 6, also attempts to build capacities of its participants in the process. Each surveyor is trained in survey methodology, administration of assessment tools and monitoring mechanisms. These pre-requisites go hand-in-hand with soft skills that have naturally developed at every step of the way.
“During the district-level training, retaining the attention of 60-odd participants was a challenge. An audience who is not familiar to you or the content that’s being delivered requires your quick wit and intelligence. As a trainer, it forces you to be alert and active for at least 8 hours at a stretch,” says Peeyush, ASER Associate from Uttarakhand.
The survey has officially concluded, and state teams are on their way home, all of them brimming with stories and anecdotes from the field that they feel will stay with them for a long time to come.
Kumaresan, our Tamil Nadu ASER Regional Team Member, is excited about getting back to his state and start planning forfuture projects. “I want to remember this experience as a well-executed effort. Chalo Bihar! has shown me that no matter which district you are in, no matter who you are working with, if you’ve done your homework and are ready to tackle a problem head-on, you will be guaranteed at leastan 80% success rate. I want to remember this valuable lesson while working in my state.”
But what about all the surprises that field work throws up? Can any amount of pre-planning and leg work prepare you for the field?
“I would say it boils down to ‘tact’. We were under immense pressure while working in Bihar. Many districts are still very backward and posed their own set of problems. We had to ensure the survey was successfully completed without ruffling any feathers. Patience and tact can go a long way in ensuring that,” advises Sneha Dash, ASER Regional Team Member, Odisha.
Terming the past month as an enriching experience will not nearly be enough to describe the month that was. Having battled poor health, heavy rains, dietary issues, fatigue,amongst other things, each of them have made it back filled with ideas and many a learning lesson.