In Gujarat, Quest Alliance began implementing IBM’s STEM for Girls project through a facilitator-led model in 2020. Currently, the project runs across 143 schools of 6 districts. Building on systems-driven change, STEM for Girls builds capacity of school teachers to become champions of STEM education for their students, and to carry the work forward in schools through modules on self-awareness, gender-awareness, computational thinking, and career-awareness. Facilitators from Quest Alliance and implementation partners work with the school and the community as a whole to develop an ecosystem that encourages students, especially girls, to pursue their interests in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics). Progress and change, however, are varied and subjective across locations.
5 Educators and their realities on the ground: Facilitators talk about the challenges of their jobs
Dhaval Patel and Jessica Parmar embarked on their facilitation journey with Quest Alliance in 2020 when STEM for Girls kicked off in Gujarat. Today, they are seasoned facilitators, but not without having faced challenges. As a male facilitator in an all-girls’ school, Dhaval would be met with giggles when he started to explore the differences between sex and gender with his students. But, with examples of how one has to fill in their sex or gender in application forms, he got his message across.
“A teacher’s body language matters. Strong content is not enough, strong facilitation is key,” says Dhaval.
He notes how rampant gender stereotypes are. But, it is not only stereotyping, but also concern about unsafe environments that drives parents to restrict their daughters. In a parent engagement event, a parent commented to Jessica, “You are asking us to let our daughters study away from home. Who will be responsible when they elope? How will you help then?!” Taken aback, Jessica realized how deep-rooted are the issues with which we are faced.
In rural Gujarat’s Banaskantha district, Mahmad Iliyas, a facilitator of Quest’s partner, Human Development and Research Centre (HDRC), finds that he cannot conduct sessions on menstruation. Instead, he calls upon help from female anganwadi workers to speak to his girl students.
Facilitation that drives change
Jessica recalls how a particular teacher sat in her training sessions to understand why a student who rarely responds in his class, is an active participant in Jessica’s! With increasing emphasis from the government on smart education, teachers, too, understand why the curriculum is important, and encourage students to explore Scratch (a block-based coding language for young learners) in the school computer labs – in a government school ecosystem, this is a change that our facilitators are proud of.
In Iliyas’s schools, teachers, headmasters, and parents have come to know about and support our work with students. Influential community members pay visits to schools, and running water has been made available so that girl students do not need to stay at home during their menstruation cycles.
Facilitation as mentorship
When a student confided in Jessica about how her mother is abused at home, Jessica informed the school authorities to ensure a proper intervention.
Facilitators like Khyati Kadvatar from our partner, Navajeevan Trust, find inspiration while they inspire. Under Khyati’s mentorship, her students Niyati and Jhanvi from Rajkot have grown confident and articulate. Niyati dreams of becoming an architect, and designs home plans on her mobile phone. Jhanvi is a recipient of the district-level Inspire MANAK award for her model of a foldable solar panel, and will soon compete at the state level. In fact, it was upon seeing Jhanvi’s art work in projects did Khyati encourage her to begin building the models she drew.
Khyati, as well as her fellow facilitator, Vaishali Parmar from HDRC, enjoy facilitating the curriculum. Their methods are student-centered and engaging.
Facilitators as champions of impact
Our facilitators agree that true change begins one person at a time – and, often, with how they each change their own lives! Jessica recounts how she did not have such awareness of gender, self or career when she was a student, and now knows how deeply gender stereotypes can be challenged. For others like Dhaval, Khyati and Vaishali, facilitating curriculum in classrooms and aiding positive change is a way to fulfill their purpose of enabling gender equity and enabling quality education opportunities for their students. The curriculum has impacted them as much as they have impacted their students.