Saturday, 19 November 2016

A Step in the right direction: Giving new meaning to Women empowerment

As I narrate this, I do so with pride: Proud at having been able to witness the events of change unfold before me. I had always imagined "important meetings" to take place in high profile offices. After having been a part of the social sector, I have realised that it is the willingness to work and an undefeatable sense of purpose that is essential; and an "important meeting" can take place in a room, a shack or as in this case, in a government school.

At MANTRA, one of the key elements of our project is working on enabling community. To this end, we keep exploring meaningful partnerships that can bring (economic) opportunities to the doorsteps of these people in the community. Today’s is a story from one of such communities that we work very closely with.

It is a community like any other low-income community that has blended so seamlessly with the more affluent part of the city that nobody gives a second thought about its being, purpose or reason. The agenda for the day's meeting was to create self sufficiency amongst the women in the community. These women work at the local ‘beedi’-rolling and ‘agarbathi’-making factories in order to supplement the meagre income that their husbands bring. The wages that the men in the family receive often reduces before they reach home due to many habits, they have inculcated over the years. 
Along with Mantra came the rather influential benefactor of the community and Mr. Venkat Raman Iyer and the other people in attendance were the women in the community. Having turned myself into the photographer for the event, I happened to notice how raptly everybody listened to Mr. Iyer as he spoke of how in a similar community, he along with the women in the community formed a self- sustaining group. They make cloth bags that are sold to nearby shops. While the women earn some amount of financial independence, an environment-friendly alternative is being provided. What a brilliant example of killing two birds with one stone..! Thus, the meeting set the wheels of change in motion.

About a week later, I visited the community in Koramangala with my colleague, Pallav and the ladies from our community. We met the group of ladies who successfully run the cloth bag enterprise. As we entered the house of the 'aunty' who manages the entire process, we witnessed piles of cloth bags and cloth material, covering every inch of the floor. We seated ourselves on one of those piles and 'aunty' dove straight into business. She opened by explaining different kinds of materials used for making the bags and followed it up by demonstrating how to measure and cut each kind of material. Once she felt that sufficient practice time had been provided to the ‘visiting’ ladies, she moved on to explaining how to maintain and tally accounts effectively. It was impressive to watch how she articulated her experiences as manager and shared them with the audience. She went onto say that it is imperative that the accounts manager make each tailor sign in a separate book mentioning the number of bags submitted, once they have been counted in front of the tailor, in order to avoid misunderstandings later on. She then let the ladies use the sewing machine in her house, so that each of them can practice sewing a bag. As the machine whirred on and each lady got to work, they started sharing their experiences in their community. They disclosed that they don't feel valued and often are at a disadvantage of being a woman. This meant that they don't get paid regularly for the work they do. The work being rolling 'beedis' and 'agarbathis' in the nearby factory.
As they each flourished a cloth bag proudly, I overheard one of the ladies, Gulnaz promise Pallav that she will stand by us for the good of the people.

As I took leave of the group, I walked away light-hearted, yet excited.

The blog piece has been written by Ms. Amrutha Krishnan, who works as the School Transformation lead at Mantra4Change. 

Wednesday, 2 November 2016

Aims of History and Social Sciences Education

In my previous post, we explored “What kind of Social Sciences is worth teaching.”
Will there be any contention if it is stated that travelling to see places, armchair politics and stories concerning people- famous and ordinary, are among the top topics of non-work discussion for ordinary people in India (and elsewhere as well)? I do not think so. Ask any tour operator and he/she would confirm that our local tourism industry is thriving; Check any discussion forum, be it an informal gathering or a formal, one will find that politics is the most discussed topic; and a glance at the daily supplements of our newspapers and general magazines confirm the marketability of stories concerning people. If we strip the subject of social science down to the bare minimum, one can see that it is all about stories of people, places and institutions and we see all around us people tuning into stories, be it on the television, movie screens or newspapers.
However, survey of people, in general, on how interested they were in any of the social science subjects during their school days will indicate that either they were bored and hence completely switched off or disinterested because they saw no value add from these subjects to the practicalities of living life. And this when the subjects are all about living life!
In 1964, the Kothari commission said that one of the aims of teaching social (studies) science is to help students acquire certain values and attitudes which are critical for participation in the affairs of the world other than the acquisition of knowledge of the environment and understanding the human relationships.

The subjects that make up social science in school connect us to the past to understand, appreciate and learn how we have reached to where we are now; they also connect us to the present through the study of institutions that govern us; and contextualise the past and present by providing us with an understanding of the larger ecosystem that we are a part of.
Social science helps us to dream of building a better world. Practical questions related to human development such as ‘How to make our cities better, improve standards of living, reduce crime rates, overcome discrimination, provide better governance, improve productivity’ are what social science is made of.
The social sciences are sometimes described as the policy sciences, although the contribution of disciplines such as sociology and political science to the making of policy is indirect and limited. In any case, it would be unrealistic to aim to make school students into policy makers or even policy advisers. At the same time, a general awareness of how economy, polity and society work can help them in later life to understand the role of policy in public life. It can provide them with a basis for taking an informed view as to why some policies and not others are adopted, and, among those that are adopted, why some succeed and others fail. My view is that the more significant contribution of the social sciences is not in the training for policy making, but in the education for citizenship. An educated citizenry is indispensable for the proper working of a democracy. One does not pluck the qualities that make a good citizen out of the air; one needs a certain kind of education to acquire and promote them. To be a good citizen, it is not enough to be well informed about physical and biological phenomena; the good citizen must also have an informed understanding of the social world of which s/he is a part.
In 2005, in its position paper on social science, the NCF said that it is important to ‘reinstate the significance of the social sciences by not only highlighting its increasing relevance for a job in the rapidly expanding service sector, but by pointing to its indispensability in laying the foundations for an analytical and creative mindset’.
Educating students for citizenship, for example, requires encouraging them to think clearly, systematically and objectively about the social as well as the natural world. Beyond that, in the social sciences, it is important to give them some knowledge and understanding about the varieties of economic, political and social arrangements in such a way that the description and analysis of facts is not subordinated to the preferences and prejudices of teachers and writers of text-books.

In the next part of this blogpost, we’ll explore how teaching of the social sciences to school children is complicated by what may be called the ‘value problem’ in these disciplines.
The blog piece has been written by Ms. Vasundhara, who works as the School Transformation lead at Mantra4Change.