A few weeks ago, when 35-year-old Guddi visited the Tehsil office of her village with her husband to obtain some documents, she picked up a pen and signed her name in the register. She laughed heartily at the look of shock on her husband’s face. “My husband did not know that I can read and write now. I want to learn more and help my husband become literate as well,” shares Guddi.
The story is equally heartwarming for Guddi’s classmate Draupadi, a 47-year-old mother—a Panchayat member. She would sign the circulars and notices like a puppet, without understanding a single word. Now with her newly acquired knowledge of letters, words and sentences, she can understand everything.
The same story gets repeated in the case of over 800 women who have become literate in Karauni village, Uttar Pradesh thanks to Global Dreams Literacy Mission (GDLM). This hugely successful literacy drive was launched by famed educationist Sunita Gandhi four years ago. The former Project Manager at the World Bank, is the founder of the NGO ‘DEVI Sansthan’ which is funding the entire project.
The literacy programme is a first-of-its-kind exponentially scalable model which started in 2015 with educating 22 women in Karauni. Soon, these 22 women turned teachers for 180 more women within the first few months. The impact has only escalated from there on and now more than 800 women in Karauni can perfectly read and write, including women above 80 years of age!
Incidentally, the initiative was an experimental pilot that achieved unprecedented heights. GDLM was originally targeted at children and has successfully educated thousands of underprivileged kids in Lucknow, Kanpur, Hyderabad, Chennai, Bengaluru and Mumbai.
Sunita always wanted to work in the education sector. Her father, Dr Jagdish Gandhi, had also done remarkable work on mass education in India. In fact, he is the founder of the world’s biggest school in terms of students—City Montessori School in Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh.
Sunita holds a PhD in Physics from Cambridge University, and had been associated with the World Bank for ten years as a Project Manager and Economist. Her research-based educational models have been adopted in 14 countries across the world.
A few years ago, she was amazed to find that Ernakulam district in Kerala have achieved 100 per cent literacy in just one year. That’s when she decided to quit her job at the World Bank, and devote herself to her dream – 100 per cent literacy in India.
“Not one, not two, but six of my previous literacy curriculums for Global Dreams failed to work out. I designed the final curriculum with the help of a few educators from the USA–Mark, Trudy, Jonathan and Rose who were associated with the popular education programme for the homeless in the USA. They volunteered to assist me in my mammoth mission,” shares Sunita.
To my utter disbelief, in the first phase, we made 79 young learners literate in over just 15 hours!
The most outstanding feature of GDLM comes in a small cardboard box – termed as the Global Dreams Toolkit (GDT) and priced at Rs 50. The magic box is the result of Sunita’s meticulous research over the course of several years, to frame a sustainable literacy curriculum for the vast population of rural India.
“Besides the quintessential slate-chalk-duster, it contains around 30 carefully curated storybooks, plastic letters, tactile boards, pictographic flashcards etc, along with a rug for sitting.”
The box has been curated carefully to manifest the aspects of intuition, visuals and memory in education.
Initially, in 2015, forty women and men responded to Sunita’s call for trainers for the literacy drive. Twenty two iron-willed women, most of them 10th pass or so, were determined to bring their village sisters within the ambit of literacy. Their dedication reflected within just two months, when 180 women were prepared to appear for the National Literacy Mission examination. Seventy per cent of them passed with flying colours. Over the years, the percentage of successful candidates has increased considerably.
Certain out-of-the-box teaching techniques have made the programme the success it is. For instance, whenever the learner asks a question, the trainer refrains from answering. Rather, she urges the learner to find the answer herself, even if it takes a long time. “The moment they discover the answer themselves, their confidence is boosted automatically. This is crucial for learning at any age,” Sunita believes.
The trainer, who is provided with a Global Dreams Toolkit, is usually in charge of ten other women. The trainers visit individual homes and conduct short learning sessions, not lasting more than thirty minutes at a time. It must be noted here that since one toolkit is educating around ten women on an average, the per-head cost of learning comes to be barely around Rs 5.
“Many of the adults in villages and slums have this ingrained belief that education is very difficult. That’s why we have capped the session time to 15-30 minutes so that it doesn’t get overwhelming for them,” informs Sunita.
At one time, learning was not a possibility for Draupadi, who had to spend hours every day looking after her sick husband. “I thought that giving time at the learning centre would disturb my whole schedule.”
But, like most of her batchmates, the short sessions of Global Dreams enabled her to become literate in no time, without neglecting her household duties.
40-year-old Sufia once thought it was a ridiculous idea to learn at her age. Thanks to her friend-cum-trainer’s persistence, she emerged to be one of the fastest learners at Karauni. In just a month, Sufia became literate. Now she even teaches her own daughter Shazia.
“We have launched a mobile app for GDLM, which is in the beta-testing phase at present. The app will upscale the model while promoting digital literacy in the remote villages. In the app, the entire curriculum will be available in 13 Indian languages,” Sunita informs.
It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to assert that Global Dreams Literacy Mission is one of the most effective literacy programmes in India. The unmatched insights of Dr Sunita Gandhi, coupled with the unflinching dedication of the women at Karauni, have rendered the programme extremely successful in a short span of time. The proliferating model aims to educate more village women in Uttar Pradesh in the next few years.
(Edited by Saiqua Sultan)