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Youth spearheading change in rural Gujarat, India

The phase 1 and phase 2 activities, workshops and stakeholder consultations of the Youth-led monitoring project have recently concluded and resulted in revealing insights . Read the summary here.

August 2018,  Gujarat, India---For the past two years, under the aegis of the T-Learning component of the Transformations to Sustainability project of the International Social Science Council and its own Rethinking Youth Programme (the other lines of work are Rethinking Learning and Rethinking Policy), UNESCO's Category 1 Institute, the Mahatma Gandhi Institute of Education for Peace and Sustainable Development has been working with 4th Wheel Social Impact (a youth-led organization that works In rural Gujarat, India) to implement/operationalize an issue-based, technology-enabled and youth-led crowdsourced Global Monitoring Framework for the SDGs - any community-centered issue and learning. 

The implementation is structured in three phases: understanding the contexts; consultations and workshops for a manual (non-tech) trial; using the Insights of phase 1 and 2 to build the technology (App) in phase 3 - underway.

In a paragraph, phase 2 involved around 15 workshops and consultations with youth and senior education stakeholders In Burj and Gandhidham. The combined workshops/consultations reached around 1,800 youth from 3 schools and 5 colleges. The 7 activities co-curated and implemented at these workshops spanned across: contextual understanding of social development aspects; participatory methods asking youth to identify key needs in the education system - with the aid of hypothetical budget of 10,000 INR to invest on the three issues; stakeholders and power dynamics etc. They were aimed at gauging the Issues that young people and other stakeholders care about, as well as the possibility of deploying youth-led technological mechanism to act and monitor (collectively) social change and learning around such Issues.

The remaining part of this article will be devoted to the nuances and other details of the consultations and workshops. 

When the desert city of Bhuj was shaken to its roots by the 2001 earthquake, thousands of people died and hundreds of buildings demolished. Located in the heart of Kutch district, Gujarat State, North-Western India, the city and its nearby villages are known for its rich culture demonstrated through the craftsmanship and local Gujarati cuisine. Many communities, specifically the women, rely on craftwork like bhandani (a local tie-dye technique), mirror and embroidery work and batik printing for sustenance. While the official language of Kutch is Gujarati, the indigenous population prefer to interact in the local Kuchchi dialect of Gujarati. Despite the disastrous calamity the people in Bhuj faced, through communal participation, a complete city rehabilitation took place where its people managed to overcome and move ahead towards progress together. This communal harmony and participation has been one of the defining traits of Kutch. 
With this spirit, the project to implement the issue-identification pilot project to track and monitor community-centred issues within and beyond the framework of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and most importantly, community learning around such issues using technology for social change began with the youth of Kutch.

The underlying premise of the project is to provide a technological tool to monitor community action and learning around community-centred issues. Though the current focus is education (Goal 4, 4.7 in UN lexicon), the tool should be able to aide community monitoring on any issue. In order to ensure that all community members gain the necessary knowledge and education to live in a sustainable manner, it is pertinent to create communal engagement and participation by all citizens. Therefore, the project primarily focuses on testing and establishing an active role of the youth for social change. The overarching goal would be to provide the community members with a new form of social learning – a transformational and transgressive learning -- for overall community growth and development. The emphasis of transformational learning is on a comprehensive and all-encompassing education where knowledge on gender equality, human rights, global citizenship, and sustainability is given focus through “co-learning, cognitive justice, and the formation and development of individual and systemic agency” (Lotz-Sisitka, Wals, Kronlid & McGarry, 2015).

This message is further reiterated through the crowd-sourcing data collection methodology wherein young change agents take an active role (rather than relying on the passivity that comes as part of a survey or interview method) in the study. Since our sample is the youth population comprising of students in higher secondary school and college, the pilot study focuses primarily on education. 

In July, the team visited schools and colleges and undertook workshop sessions and interactions with the youth population, and leadership stakeholders of Bhuj and Gandhidham talukas. During the workshops, descriptive sessions were given about the project scope, goals and the application setup and procedure. Further, the study team also conducted activities with the students using participatory tools to gauge their level of understanding and engagement in social issues in their respective regions. After our initial assessment, an application will be developed which will allow our young change agents to report on issues and actions taken specifically within the education space, and engage with each other for group participation. Underlying these interactions Is the Importance of listening more, of drawing out and working with the reflections of the community members on Issues pertaining to their own community. The short video recordings (currently being transcribed) had the impression of a community that is rich, free and reflective. One could see the agency and the energy exhibited by the young change agents as they reflected -  in their own dialect - on issues pertaining to their community, especially that of education and learning in a fast-changing world. 

It is important to consider the potential challenges before any implementation of a study wherein participants are involved. Therefore, the team had predicted only a moderate level of understanding and participation. However, the response was surprising: while the younger youth participants did face some difficulty understanding certain terminologies and concepts, most students (free to express themselves in their local dialect) were responsive and ready to interact and participate in the project. Further, due to active cooperation and facilitation of the leadership stakeholders like principals of schools and colleges, and the District Education Officer (DEO), the sessions went smoothly. While technical and logistical issues due to lack of proper infrastructure did curb the ambitious number of participants the team wanted to reach each day, the overall experience was nothing less than remarkable. Within a period of four days, the team managed to reach approximately 1000 youth students with the support of six education institutes spread out in Bhuj with a diverse population of students. What made the field visit to Bhuj even more worthwhile was the benevolent and accommodating nature of the five leadership stakeholders – primarily principals and head of departments in colleges - who aided the study team and provided us with insights and suggestions for the implementation of upcoming stages of the project.

With the culmination of the first phase of the pilot implementation, the team is currently in the process of designing and developing an application that can capture the issues, actions and indicators of change, while keeping a user-friendly and interactive platform for our young change agents to operate, engage and learn. With the level of response and participation, it is expected that the second phase of the study – application usage – will be equally fruitful.

Brief reflections :
Mr Paresh Raval (Principal of R. R. Lalan College)
Question: What are the power dynamics in this region? Who are the main actors (play the main roles)?
Our society is underdeveloped and stagnant, and if not directly, there is indirect discrimination based on land ownership and communities under the veil. There is poverty and inequality. Further, whatever growth and development has occurred, there is still a lot of inequality [still prevalent].
Some people have extra power, whether it is financial power or political power. There is also [an issue] of gender bias and caste-related issues…and because of all of this...while it may appear that everything is balanced, some people have a lot of power and some people are dependent on these powerful people [and structures] and they have adapted to it.

Question: Which groups have greater social/financial/ or political power?
"Whichever groups have more land or are working in the transportation industry have greater power. I can’t exactly about the castes, specifically. But areas like Gandhidham, Kandla and Mundra… people who have money, they have the power. Also, we are teaching arts and sciences here, and [the enrollment rate] has increased in the last few years, but otherwise people go for professional courses. We were not teaching professional courses…..So even though we are teaching them important courses, it may not have much financial value. [Our demographic] are people from extremely poor background who manage to pass 12th grade…for them there aren’t too many opportunities; we are preparing them".

Mr Yusuf Khan (Principal of Muslim Education and Welfare Trust)
Question: What do you think about the issues in this region?
"Our school is a Muslim minority school, so 90% of the children here are Muslim, naturally. The problems that they face is that their parents are still not [educationally inclined]. They do not give proper attention to their child’s education; they depend completely on the school and the teachers.
Our main issue is that since parents are not literate, the students [do not show] the results or improvement others could have".
Question: What do you think could change?
"Our organization is working since the past thirty years; we started this school in 1987. In the beginning, we only had some 10-12 students. Now we have 3000 students from kindergarten to 12th, in Gujarati medium as well as English medium. So this has been an improvement in the last thirty years because of the Trust and the staff. Our school is leading in the Muslim minority. And even in Bhuj, our school has the maximum strength. [Minority Representation] is getting better in the society and community…progress is good but development takes time. Destruction is easier; development takes years".

Consultation with Students of R. R. Lalan College
Question: What are the main issues in your region?
Student 1: "I believe there is a water problem in Kutch. Every week there is one day when there is no water available…."
Student 2: "And girls face a lot of problems here. They are scared of boys and they are afraid to leave their house. Sometimes even parents don’t let them leave the house because of boys".
Student 1: "Not physical violence. It’s just that [the parents] believe that to keep them safe and secure, it’s better they stay at home. [The girls] don’t have the same level of freedom that boys do. Since people live in villages here, this is their thinking".
Who do you think should be involved in addressing these issues?
Student 1 and Student 2: "We are responsible. We will have to fix these issues. As in, whoever is responsible [for creating] these problems will only have to [change]".

For more information: 

4th Wheel Social Impact
Ms Juhi Vajpayee
Ms Sharon Weir
Ms Payal Mulchandani


Mr Saksham Pathak
Mr Kuany 

Transgressive Learning