Beyond Data 1 – Lessons Learned from the Literacy Program Field Visit

***all photos with other people are posted with consent and the purpose was also explained to them***

Hi, folks! Here’s my long overdue blog post about my Chhattisgarh field visit experience. Just a quick refresher, the objectives of my field visit were:

  1. to pilot three instruments I have developed
  2. to observe the implementation of Room to Read’s Literacy Program and Girls’ Education Program
  3. to interview RtR staff and partner school staff
  4. to go see what Chhattisgarh has to offer (this is a personal objective. Haha!)

Sadly, I was not able to do touristy things in Chhattisgarh because each day was exhausting. While I was really tired after each day, I made sure that I was productive during my entire visit.

The flight to Raipur, Chhattisgarh was really early and because I was afraid to miss the flight, I slept at 8pm the night before and woke up at 1am. From 1:00am to 4:00am, To pass the time, I watched YouTube videos because I was afraid to fall asleep again. The flight was scheduled at 7:30am so my colleague and I decided to meet at 5:30am at the airport. When I entered the airport, I was surprised by the absence of noise. I was expecting a busy and noisy airport but apparently, it was a silent airport. Flights were not announced and schedules were only flashed on the big TV screens.

Me lowkey panicking because we might not make it to our flight

The really long lines for baggage check-in and security checks hindered us from reaching the gate on time so we were a bit late. Luckily, we were still able to board the plane.

After less than two hours, we have reached the Swami Vivekananda Airport at 9:30am. We were picked up by Room to Read State Team staff. While in transit, the science teacher in me can’t help but observe how different the New Delhi and Raipur flora are. The plants and trees in Raipur are more similar to those in a lot of regions in the Philippines. The weather was also down to 27°C from the 43°C in New Delhi. It was raining which was a great break from the heat (I didn’t want to go back to New Delhi to be honest. Haha!)

Hello, eye-bags!

when you’re already tired but you have a full day ahead of you… at the Room to Read state office

Our first destination was the state office just to print out some stuff we needed for the school visit. After printing some of the materials, were off to the first school. We were welcomed by the head teacher and she put tilak on my forehead. Putting tilak on a guest’s forehead is a sign of honoring or welcoming.

The tilak is the pink (sometimes orange) powder dye on my forehead

The actual work started with a focus group with the teacher. To be honest, it was very difficult because all my questions were in English and my colleague had to translate for me. That was probably my biggest challenge because especially in qualitative methods, wording is crucial and I know I lost a lot of the essence of their answers because of the translation. Nevertheless, I had to work around the challenges that I was facing. Because I could not understand Hindi, I had to turn to one thing I could observe and possibly understand; body language. I think body language reveals a lot of things that words cannot. I also observed the nonverbal interactions among the teachers and I think this gave me a different lens that I could use to analyze the qualitative data that I gathered.

After the focus group, we proceeded with the grade 2 classroom observation. The kids were a-d-o-r-a-b-l-e. It actually reminded me why I can’t be an early grade teacher (I was a high school teacher). It’s because I can’t get over their cuteness and I would be very ineffective as a teacher.

shoes and other footwear must be removed before entering the classroom

Once again, I understood only a few words but my teacher instincts helped me still observe certain classroom practices that did not require a good grasp of the Hindi language. I thoroughly enjoyed this classroom observation because I was able to witness how Room to Read’s literacy instruction is implemented.

After the first classroom observation, I was asked by the head teacher to put tilak on some of the new students’ forehead as I handed them their new school uniforms. I felt ecstatic to be able to do that.

had the opportunity to put tilak on the new students’ forehead

Next was the grade 1 classroom observation. It was quite difficult to observe how the literacy instruction took place during the session because it was the first day of the school year and all of the students were new.

Straight from the grade 1 classroom observation, we proceeded to the library to check some of the data input notebooks of the literacy facilitators. Among many things, the literacy facilitators determine the book borrowing rate of the children and we had to check the validity and correctness of how the data were collected. After that, we proceeded to administer the EGRA with the tool I developed to capture student background. It was interesting to see how the EGRA was administered because it brought me back to our discussion with Dr. Wagner during our Basic Education in Developing Countries class.

Since the EGRA was adapted to Hindi, Sunil, my colleague, had to administer the test while I was beside him observing the entire process

We ended our school visit at around 4:00pm on that day. I was exhausted since I’ve been awake for 15 hours already and I crashed at 7:00pm. I woke up at 6:00am the next day.

The second day was very similar to the first day. The main difference I observed was in the first school, all the teachers were female. In this second school, all the teachers were male and only the head teacher was female.

It was captivating to see the people behind the numbers that I see on the data sheets. Before the visit, I’ve been looking at multiple data entries but the downside of looking at quantitative data is that there is a tendency to lose the humanity in the numbers. It was a good reminder as to why I decided to enter educational development. It was a good reminder as to why M&E is important. The point is not to generate good numbers. The point is to make lives better through education. Well, I’ll leave the discussion to you guys as to what “better” means. We might need an entire semester of IEDP Proseminar to discuss this. Haha!

feeling accomplished after day 2

Now I would like to know your thoughts on a few things. These are some of the questions I reflected on after the visit. Feel free to reply in the comments section below and I would love to know your thoughts!

  1. Given the language barrier that I faced, how would you have conducted the focus group?
  2. How will you ensure the validity of the qualitative data you collected given the language barrier?
  3. How do you address the unsettling feeling of sleeping in a comfortable place after immersing yourself in a disenfranchised community?

an example of a literacy instruction material

6 thoughts on “Beyond Data 1 – Lessons Learned from the Literacy Program Field Visit

  1. The questions you gave us aren’t hard enough 🙄 give me another semester and I’ll get back to you. Seriously though, #3 be mindful and don’t beat yourself up for being who you happen to be

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh wow. You’re right, Liam. This is actually not the first time this happened to me and I always have that weird “guilt” in me. Thanks for telling me that. I’ll keep that in mind.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I really appreciate the Q&A nature of this (and the part 2 of this) blog post- teacher mode: activated. The questions, for me personally, are reminders that there isn’t just one approach, and there isn’t always a “right” answer. Thank you for this 🙂


  3. You’ve posed very insightful questions so I feel super dumb to fixate on this detail but I gotta do what I gotta do: You cannot possibly fathom how much I appreciate the fact that students take their shoes off before going into their classrooms.


    1. Thank you! I agree! I really appreciate that too! It shows a certain level of respect that a classroom deserves!


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