Udaan is the Hindi word for “to fly” and is also the name of a unique and innovative school system in India, supported by CARE across India and with support from Join My Village in two locations, one in Uttar Pradesh and the other in Haryana province. When I visited the Udaan school in Hardoi, UP recently, I met students and teachers who are testing their wings and poised to take off.
Udaan Hardoi’s vibrantly decorated classrooms are the perfect setting for the girls’ lessons which are are fast-paced and high energy.
Udaan Hardoi’s vibrantly decorated classrooms are the perfect setting for the girls’ lessons which are are fast-paced and high energy. The students use their bodies and minds to engage in learning which helps them breeze through years of content relatively quickly which is critical because Udaan brings dropouts or never-enrolled girls up to grade level in an 11-month-long boarding school program before being mainstreamed back into a traditional school. I saw students jumping up to play math games and later acting out different words in their Hindi course; the girls used their long ponytails to portray “mustache” which made the whole group erupt into giggles.
The students are clearly inspired by their dedicated and hardworking teachers. I met with Vandana, who is one of the most senior teachers after having worked at Udaan Hardoi for nearly 12 years. Vandana serves as a role model not only to her students but also to other teachers in the Udaan program who she meets with occasionally through trainings. Vandana told me that she nearly didn’t become a teacher like her parents and sister, and instead she planned to be a beautician, but after visiting an Udaan school she was so inspired by the unique model that she knew she’d found her calling.
“Women are vulnerable,” Vandana told me. “If a girl can read or write then she can do what she wants – but if she’s illiterate then she can be blamed for everything.” Her favorite aspect of Udaan is the style of teaching and learning. Interestingly, Vandana doesn’t consider the educators to be teachers so much as facilitators. “Udaan uses a peer learning approach so the girls learn from each other,” she says. True to her original goal of becoming a cosmetologist, Vandana told me she draws from her own experience: “The girls like to try on make up – but we use that as an opportunity to talk about inner beauty!”
Interestingly, the Udaan model serves as a sort of laboratory to test new curricula and training methods which are being applied across the national school system. In effect, CARE, thanks in part to Join My Village, is having both a local and national impact.
As we were wrapping up our visit, I spotted an orange and black butterfly lying on the bricks in the courtyard at the center of the school. The students, who I had been chatting with about school and their hopes for the future (many say they want to be teachers), picked it up gently. The girls taught me the Hindi word for butterfly, “titali,” and we shared a laugh over my terrible pronunciation. As we held the insect, its wings started to flutter gently as if it were about to take off and fly…
Written by Sarah Moser, Join My Village Program Director