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UNICEF has been working in India since 1949 advocating for the rights of children and young people.

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The WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme for Water and Sanitation which is the global body responsible for monitoring progress towards the MDGs Target 7c. (halve, by 2015, the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation) has just released its last annual update. Data shows that open defecation is practised by 48% of the population in India which stood at 1,236,687,000. This means that the number of people practising open defecation has come down from 620,746,000 in 2013 to 593,609,760 in 2014. More significant is that the number has fallen below the 600,000,000 mark!

This means that good progress is being made in increasing toilet use in India through the Government of India’s flagship programme for sanitation, the Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan (NBA). This momentum has to be maintained and increased if India is to achieve its stated target of becoming Open Defecation Free by 2022.

Text: Neha Khattor

Twice winner of the Ideal Teacher Award at the district and block level, in his 12 years as a teacher, Kailash Maurya has managed to bring over 600 kids, mostly from Schedule Tribes, to school in remote part of Uttar Pradesh. This wonderful teacher now has only one mission: to see that all children go to school and reach their potential 

MAHARAJGANJ, Uttar Pradesh, India - At first, Dr Kailash Nath Maurya, a PhD with a Masters in Commerce, appears a misfit in this backward village of Mathura Nagar in eastern Uttar Pradesh’s Maharajganj district. But if you listen to him speak for 10 minutes, you will know that he is exactly what this village and its children needed.

When Maurya took over as the headmaster of Mathura Nagar Primary School (MNPS) in 2011, the school building was a dump-yard. The previous headmaster hardly came to the school and the villagers used to defecate in the school premises. The temple of learning, the very foundation over which a strong society is laid, was in a neglected state.

Born to a poor farmer and a third in four siblings, Maurya himself struggled to complete his education and, thus, understood how villagers felt. “Most of the people in this village are farmers and labourers. So when you have to struggle each day to feed a family of five, spending on education becomes the last priority,” says Maurya while adding convincing parents who had never gone to school was difficult for they didn’t understand the role that education could play in the lives of their children.

But Maurya did not give up. He first mobilized a group of like-minded villagers to create a team that would help him spread awareness about the benefits of education. “We would go to each house and ask parents to send their kids to school rather than take them to the fields. We would give their child a pen or a book if they agreed,” he explains.

“There are girls as young as six or seven who have to cook lunch before they come to school. So I made a point that the gates of the school are never closed. They are always welcome to come and study,” he adds.

The next step was to revive this dying school. “The first thing that we did was to clean the premises and put up a fence,” he recalls. “Explaining to the villagers that it is for the benefit of their children, many agreed to repaint the school without charging any money for their labour. During the rainy season, the kids used to fall on their way to school. So road that leads to the schools was paved in order to facilitate the access.”

From 116 enrolments in 2012, today 360 students attend this school. Many in the community are now even withdrawing their kids from private schools and enrolling them in MNPS. But there is one particular community that has experience a substantial improvement since Maurya came into their lives.

Living on one edge of the village is a group of families that belong to the Kanjar caste, a Scheduled Tribe. Earlier, the tribal kids who came to school used to be regularly humiliated and beaten up by those belonging to the upper castes. “They had lost faith in school and their fellow villagers,” says Maurya. But he took the personal initiative and got the kids back into school. “I promised them that the safety of their kids would be my responsibility.”

For Doori Lal, mukhiya of Kanjar basti, the headmaster is nothing short of a messiah. “Unhone mere bacho ko sirf maan hi nahi diya par sabse bada gyan diya… akshar ka gyan. (Not only has he ensured our children are treated with respect, he has also given them an education.)” In order for the kids to study at night, Maurya personally arranged for solar lamps to be distributed in the tribal community.

Twice winner of the Ideal Teacher Award at the district and block level, where 137 out of 151 teachers voted for him, Maurya knows perfectly all the students in enrolled in the school and he even remember their names and favourite subjects. “Each child is talented in some way. While one would be good in Maths, another would be good in science. My job as a teacher is to see that each child is nurtured,” he states.”.

Maurya has setup a small library in his room. Last month, he even got a TV for students to watch educational films. Seen as a father figure more than a teacher, his students confide everything to him, from not having a pencil to a parent using foul language at home.

For children who have never ventured beyond 30km from their village, Maurya is teaching them to have ambitions and to realize their purpose in life. Among his students is Saraswati Chaurasia, studying in Class V. She wants to plant a tree in the school. Why? “So that I can leave my mark here. When the tree grows and students sit under its shade, they’ll know that it was planted by me,” says Saraswati.

When asked whether he would like to move on to another city, Maurya has no doubts: “Never,” he says. “If all of us our going to think about ourselves, who is going to think about these kids?”

He now has only one mission: to see that all children go to school and reach their potential. In his 12 years as a teacher, Maurya has managed to bring over 600 kids to school and, he says, he has not stopped counting.

New Delhi, April 15, 2014: It is four years since the historic Right to Free & Compulsory Education (RTE) Act that ensures free and compulsory education for children in the age group 6-14 years, was enacted by the Government of India. Tremendous progress has been made in the area of delivering education for all children as the RTE Act has been successful in bringing more children to school, improving the infrastructure and achieving the first milestone of near universal enrolment. However, there still needs to be a continuous focus on the quality of education and improvement in learning outcomes. 

In order to amplify the discussion on the diverse facets of the historic RTE Act, UNICEF organized a media roundtable in the capital today. The meeting brought together representatives from the Government, multilateral agencies and academicians. 

Ms. Kushal Singh, Chairperson, National Commission for the Protection of Child Rightsand Mr. Louis-Georges Arsenault, Representative UNICEF India Representative opened the discussion and the plenary experts included Dr Geeta Menon, Education expert, Dr. Dhir Jhingran, Senior Advisor, Education, UNICEF India and Dr. Indu Khetarpal, Principal, Salwan Public School, Ms. Urmila Sarkar, Chief of Education, UNICEF India,

The discussion focused on three key facets - the increased institutional capacity to implement RTE, the extension of RTE to cover preschool and secondary education and the critical element of quality focusing on transition from ‘Right of access to Education’ to ‘Right to Learn’.

The roundtable was an opportunity to highlight significant initiatives undertaken and reflect on ways to address challenges as well as identify innovative solutions that show the way forward. 

To enable all children to benefit from child-centred learning processes in child-friendly and inclusive learning environments, the focus has to be shifted from ‘Right of access to Education’ to ‘Right to learn and quality education’. This will lead to enhanced learning outcomes. Discussions highlighted that there are schools even in some parts of the country which are child friendly, where children are full of joy while interacting with teachers, where children feel safe and secure and where interactive and creative tools are used to ensure that children are happy and learning. Experts suggest the need to collectively advocate and offer support for promoting such child friendly schools in India. So that children are not just in school but are actually learning.

“Just imagine India when all of its children are learning and thriving in preschool through elementary and secondary education. What better way to secure the country’s future,” said Mr Louis Georges Arsenault, Representative, UNICEF India. 


The panel discussion also pointed out several scalable examples in states and the way forward to meet challenges on ground. For example, to tackle the gap in teacher recruitment and the large number of untrained teachers, Bihar has set an example by initiating training of untrained teachers through an innovative two year distance education program. In 27 districts across Bihar, 10,800 teachers have been trained and teacher attendance rates have gone up by an impressive 90%. 

UNICEF has been supporting the Government of India and states in the implementation of Activity Based Learning (ABL) to reduce learning gaps, social barriers and discrimination. Moving away from rote based learning, this innovative child centered pedagogy is now being practiced in 250,000 primary schools across the country. Evidence demonstrates major improvement in academic and co-curricular outcomes. 

“We need to shift the focus from ‘right of access to education’ towards ‘right to learn’, in order to achieve the promise of RTE and quality education with equity for all girls and boys,” said Urmila Sarkar, Chief of Education, UNICEF, India.

On the issue of extension of RTE to secondary education, experts shared their views on the need for inclusion of preschool and secondary education in the Act. In this regard, UNICEF celebrity advocate Kareena Kapoor who recently visited adolescent girls in Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidyalaya in Rajasthan shared that there needs to be a considerable thought about education at the secondary level, especially for adolescent girls above 14 years of age, for whom, being in a school is crucial from many stand points…. to be in a protected space, to prevent early marriage and hence early pregnancy, to develop life skills, to empower herself with knowledge.” 

See the video on https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?v=10152228515294123&set=vb.100807979122&type=2&theater


About UNICEF
UNICEF promotes the rights and wellbeing of every child, in everything we do. Together with our partners, we work in 190 countries and territories to translate that commitment into practical action, focusing special effort on reaching the most vulnerable and excluded children, to the benefit of all children, everywhere. 

For more information about UNICEF and its work visit: www.unicef.org and www.unicef.org/india 
Media interest: 

Ms. Caroline den Dulk, Chief of Communication and Advocacy,
UNICEF India, Mobile: +91 981 810 6093
Ms. Geetanjali Master, Communication Specialist,
UNICEF India, Mobile: + 91 981 810 5861
Ms. Sonia Sarkar, Communication Officer, 
UNICEF India: Mobile: +91 981 017 0289

Urmila Sarkar’s presentation: https://www.dropbox.com/s/4k75s151sibfl38/RTE-Media%20round%20table%2015%20April-Final-ppt%20for%20media.pptx


Concrete targets to reach the 2.5 billion people across the globe still without adequate sanitation, and the almost 750 million without safe drinking water have been set at a High Level Meeting held in Washington by over 50 countries, joined by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake, and World Bank President Jim Yong Kim.

Children in particular will benefit from the new commitments, according to UNICEF. The organization says diarrhoeal diseases linked to water and sanitation kill 1,400 children every day, and contribute to stunting in over 160 million children globally.

“The poorest children have the least access to safe water and adequate sanitation and they pay the highest price - so they have the most to gain from these new commitments, as do their communities,” Lake said. “The commitments made here today will help meet the right of millions of children to safe water and sanitation. This can literally transform their lives and their communities.”

Major commitments at the High Level Meeting include over 260 concrete actions by over 50 countries to strengthen institutions, improve planning, and increase domestic spending and donor investment in water and sanitation. Seventeen countries committed to end open defecation by 2030 or earlier, while over 20 countries went even further and pledged to achieve universal access to water and sanitation within the same period.

Latest data from UNICEF and the World Health Organization released at the High Level Meeting show that rapid progress is possible.  In sub-Saharan Africa, more than 30,000 people per day gained access to an improved water source between 2000 and 2012.  Ethiopia cut in half the proportion of people practicing open defecation over the same time period and managed to do it across all income levels and provinces.

In general, however, global progress has been uneven, and those already at the bottom are falling even farther behind.

“We cannot address water and sanitation without addressing inequities, such as disadvantaged girls who can’t go to school because the bathrooms aren’t safe or because they must collect water for their families during school hours when they should be building their futures,” Lake said. “When the global community set the goal of providing water and sanitation for all, that included these girls and every child, everywhere.”

About SWA

Sanitation and Water for All is a global partnership aimed at achieving universal and sustainable access to sanitation and drinking-water for all, by firmly placing sanitation and water on the global agenda with an immediate focus on achieving the MDGs in the most off-track countries. More information is available at www.sanitationandwaterforall.org

Every weekend for the past five months, Ashok Kumar, Government school teacher, has been cycling from his home to Bikram in district Patna -16 kilometres each way- to attend the Open Distance Learning, organised by the Educational Research and Training (SCERT) with the support of UNICEF.

The efforts of Ashok Kumar and 10,800 other elementary teachers are bearing fruit. The innovative open distance learning course that teachers in 27 districts across Bihar are undertaking, free of cost, is already benefiting not only teachers but also students in Bihar.

Attendance rate for teachers has gone up by an impressive 90 per cent and, more importantly, the training is already impacting their teaching style and helping them improve the quality of learning in the class rooms.

Text: Freeny Maneckshwa
Photos: Sumit Dayal

Every weekend for the past five months, Ashok Kumar, Government school teacher, has been cycling from his home to Bikram in district Patna -16 kilometres each way- to attend the Open Distance Learning, organised by the Educational Research and Training (SCERT) with the support of UNICEF.

The road to the District Institute of Education and Training (DIET), where Ashok attends the course, is rutted in places and turns into a muddy morass during the rains. No concessions have been made even for public holidays like Holi or Chhath - Bihar’s biggest festival. Besides giving up a weekly holiday, Ashok Kumar also puts in about two hours of daily study which is in addition to his teaching duties.

The efforts of Ashok Kumar and 10,800 other elementary teachers are bearing fruit. The innovative open distance learning course that teachers in 27 districts across Bihar are undertaking, free of cost, is already benefiting not only teachers but also students in Bihar.

Attendance rate for teachers has gone up by an impressive 90 per cent and, more importantly, the training is already impacting their teaching style and helping them improve the quality of learning in the class rooms.

The lack of trained school teachers adds to the challenge of over-crowded class rooms.

In 2006 a decision was taken to fill this yawning gap by recruiting Shiksha Mitras/Panchayat Shikshaks or people without the necessary academic and training qualifications to teach on a contractual basis.
However, the Right to Education Act 2009, which has been four years in existence, makes it mandatory for teachers to be professionally qualified and trained. In Bihar, only 54 per cent of teachers in the Government schools hold such certification. There are some 1.61 lakh teachers who are not professionally qualified.

“Removing them from their posts would have created far more pressure on the pupil teacher ratio than what already exists. Such a step, moreover, spells unemployment for these teachers, many of whom have gained good teaching experience,” says Dr S A Moin.

Way Forward- Training Existing Resources
“The answer was to impart training to those in service”, explains Parul Sharma, Education Officer for UNICEF in Bihar.

UNICEF which had already been supporting SCERT and Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan in Bihar in addressing the skewed student teacher ratio and quality and equity issues in education, extended its collaboration to find a solution to the issue of untrained teachers.

“Several programmes and approaches were reviewed. ICT-based courses were suggested but could not be a viable option owing to poor power connectivity in rural areas. Eventually, a module, based on a South African open distance learning programme, with inputs from many educationists and pedagogues, was specially designed,” says Dr. Moin.

The two-year course which confers a diploma in Elementary Education is spread over four semesters with internal exams at the end of each semester and a final examination to be conducted under the Bihar University. The programme kicked off with online registration of untrained teachers on September 5, 2013, the anniversary of Dr. Radhakrishnan, the second President of India and an eminent teacher.

“As the course got underway some concerns emerged relating to attendance, participation and maintaining uniformity of inputs. To address these UNICEF helped SCERT in developing supportive supervision and monitoring mechanisms and now, to a great extent, these problems have been addressed,“ says Parul.

The course, which is a break from many traditional courses, lays great emphasis on self-learning. A proactive approach is adopted with sessions encouraging group discussions.

“Participants are expected to frame their own questions on what they consider to be crucial issues and take these up during discussions. The professionally developed programme enables the teachers to apply and experiment with the techniques they are learning rather than wait until the training period is over,” points out Abha Rani, principal of DIET.

“Some of the subjects taken up in the module over the semesters include an overall understanding of education, child development, how to teach language, the role of ICTC in teaching techniques, art, environmental studies, how to teach maths, English and Hindi and others,” adds Abha.

Training already impacting teacher’s style of functioning.

Although there are infrastructural problems as many study centres function from dilapidated, dingy, dark buildings due to power shortages, participants keep up their enthusiasm. It is early days but many teachers say the training has already begun impacting their style of functioning in the class rooms. I am learning how to handle children of various abilities in my class,” explains Shaheena Paligani, who also attends the training at Bikram.

Sunita Kumari, woman teacher at the study centre in Badshah Navaz Rizvi Training College (BNRT), Gulzarbagh Patna, adds that she can now gauge the varying abilities of a five-year-old and a seven-year-old in the same class. “I realise I need to give some children more time to answer a question or do an arithmetic exercise,” says Sunita, who has learnt how to strike an emotional chord with the young children and how to effectively communicate with them at their level. “Whilst children have become habituated to learning by rote, it is crucial to try and make them understand and comprehend their lessons,” she adds.

Also Ashok Kumar is experiencing the benefits of this programme. “I no longer prevent pupils from expressing themselves in their mother tongue. Learning cannot be forced. I must adopt child-friendly methods and make them feel I am their friend,” concludes Ashok.

Currently running in 27 districts, the programme is expected to be extended to others and to include more untrained teachers.

Around India today and in the many days still to come - as we go out to vote for change - let’s put the children of India first. 

Situation of Children in India: 

- Every sixth child in the world lives in India (MoSPI, 2012) 
- 47 out of every 1000 live births do not complete their first year of life (SRS, 2011) 
- 48% of Indian children below the age of 5 are stunted (UNICEF)
- 11.8% children in India are engaged in some form of child labour (NFHS-III) 
- Nearly 45% girls get married before the age of eighteen years (NFHS-III) 

This needs to change. 

The #Vote4Me Ballot is a pledge you can sign (http://nineismine.in/manifesto) to ensure that children claim their space in these electoral debates and processes even if they are not able to vote themselves. 

The Children of India urge you to exercise your vote in favour of their issues - http://nineismine.in/manifesto

Photo Credit: UNICEF India/Dhiraj Singh 

Good quality preschool education prepares children for school and results in better achievement levels in primary grades. A lack of preparedness of children for school is a contributing factor to the high dropout in the first few years of primary education.

Research in the South Asian region, particularly in India, reveals that Early Child Development (ECD) programmes change the development trajectory of children by the time they enter school.

Findings show that these programmes made a difference of 15–20 per cent in retention, achievement levels and in the improved quality of learning of mathematics in the primary grades.

In India, though preschool education is mentioned in the Right to Free and Compulsory Education, it is not compulsory for the Government to provide it.

Join UNICEF in supporting an integrated view of education in which RTE is extended to preschool in order to ensure seamless transition of children and improving school completion rates.

A story of young teacher who left her home, stayed in the village, went to door to door and increased the enrolment of the school from mere 10 students in 2008 to 206 students now.

VAISHALLI, Bihar, India - The classroom at the primary school in Karmapur in Vaishalli district (Bihar) is brimming with students. There is scarcely any space to walk down the rows where students are crammed into their benches. Decibel levels are high as an animated discussion is taking place between the teacher, Neetu Kumari, and the students.

An ordinary poem on flying birds has been turned into a Question and Answer session. Can human beings fly through the air? An excited wave of hands and the answers come tumbling out. “Yes. Helicopter.” “Yes, in an aeroplane.” One enthusiastic child shouts out “Oxygen.” The teacher, aware that he has not quite comprehended the question, turns to him gently and explains that whilst there is a link between the word oxygen and the air, the question is different. There is no ridicule for the child’s lack of understanding.

Instead, she asks for a round of applause because he has contributed to the interactive session. The incident becomes even more remarkable when we are told that the teacher is holding a combined lesson for standard III, IV and V students.

Neetu Kumari Singh is not an ordinary teacher. She single-handedly ran the school for two years between 2008 and 2010 and only after that, she has received the support of other two teachers.

A former resident of Deogarh district in Jharkhand, this committed teacher graduated from Nalanda with a Master in education. She sought employment with the Bihar Government in 2006. In the course of her duties she was asked to take charge of this school situated amidst a grove of trees, on the sandy banks of the river Ganga.

“When I first came here I found there were only 10 students enrolled,” says Neeta.

Not only did she take up the challenge of making the school fully functional she also took up residence in the very village.

“I had never lived in a village before, but the community here was very supportive and began adjusting to this new lifestyle,” Neeta adds.

Her first task was to spur enrolment. The children were bright. Some could even read but they would prefer to run about on the sandy banks and others would even play cards all day long under the trees, much like the elders. “I went from tolla to tolla (hamlets) to persuade the parents to send their children to school,” she says.

Neetu also tackled the challenge of teaching the growing numbers single-handedly. “I used to read all I could till late in the night. I would come in early to school to set it up before the pupils arrived.”

She credits much of the relatively smooth functioning of the school to the Bal Sansad (Children Cabinets). These forums for children, which are now mandatory in Bihar schools, involve the children with various monitoring activities and are of great help in solving administrative problems.

Even as she stepped out of the classroom to talk, members of the Bal Sansad were entrusted with duties and responsibilities so that the class would continue functioning.

Neetu Kumari Singh also credits the Block Resource Centre, the Cluster Resource Centre, the Block officer and the panchayat members for extending support and cooperation. “It would never have been possible without them advising, guiding and helping me.”

She also singles out the learning facilitation manual introduced to help improve learning lessons and to create a child friendly environment in Bihar’s schools. “It is my saathi (friend)”, she says. It helped in creating groups and managing large numbers of students with hardly any teachers.

She brushes away suggestions of her being a remarkable person. “I see the children in this village. What future can they have without good education? They will be condemned to becoming labourers if they work outside or then toiling in the village’s hot sands for dredging purposes. Some may also be drawn into criminal activities without schooling.”

The fear of an attraction towards crime is genuine because villages along the banks of the river are often sought as a haven for criminals. The close proximity of the river enables them to make a quick getaway to the other side and another district.

Neetu Kumari Singh, however, takes the children of her school into another world. A world where birds soar as do the children’s imagination and aspirations.

Text: Freny Manecksha
Photo: Sumit Dayal

Four-year-old Akansha lives with her grandparents who work as cobblers at Indira Colony in Dausa in Rajasthan while her parents are daily wage labourers in neighbouring Jaipur.

For children like Akangsha who come from weaker section of the society, the shift to being part of school like Krishna Public School, which caters to relatively affluent section of society, would have been difficult had it not for the Right to Free and Compulsory Education Act.

Till now, 140,000 children, like Akanksha have benefited from the RTE Act and are now in schools due to the efforts of State Government. The initiative has been supported by UNICEF who have reached out to schools and the community, informing them about the provision.

Photos Credit: Syed Altaf Ahmad

Four-year-old Akansha lives with her grandparents who work as cobblers at Indira Colony in Dausa in Rajasthan while her parents are daily wage labourers in neighbouring Jaipur.

For children like Akangsha who come from weaker section of the society, the shift to being part of school like Krishna Public School, which caters to relatively affluent section of society, would have been difficult had it not for the Right to Free and Compulsory Education Act.

Till now, 140,000 children, like Akanksha have benefited from the RTE Act and are now in schools due to the efforts of State Government. The initiative has been supported by UNICEF who have reached out to schools and the community, informing them about the provision. 

Four-year-old, Akanksha rushes through the main gate of the school to join her classmates for the morning assembly. She says quick good bye to her grandparents who had come to drop her at the Krishna Public School in Dausa district in the western Indian state of Rajasthan. Akansha lives with her grandparents who work as cobblers at Indira Colony in Dausa while her parents are daily wage labourers in neighbouring Jaipur.

For children like Akanksha who come from weaker section of the society, the shift to being part of a private school like Krishna Public School, which caters to relatively affluent section of society, would have been difficult had it not for the Right to Free and Compulsory Education Act (RTE) that was enacted in 2010. As part of the RTE, it is mandatory for all the non-minority unaided schools and schools belonging to specified category to admit 25 per cent of the strength of the class from children belonging to weaker sections and disadvantaged groups

Students like Akanksha have been enrolled due to the efforts of government officials. The initiative has been supported by UNICEF who have reached out to schools and the community, informing them about the provision. Till now, 14,555 schools have granted admission to 140,000 children, like Akanksha have benefited from the RTE Act and are now in schools.

"When we went for her admission, we didn’t know about the provision. The school administration was kind enough to inform us that we wouldn’t have to pay fees," says Akanksha’s grandfather, Ram Swarup, heaving a sigh of relief. Swarup is very optimistic as Akanksha is very bright and says that she will get a good job and secure a bright future someday if she studies diligently.


Sulagna Roy, Education and Child Protection Specialist at UNICEF in Rajasthan, who has been supporting the Government in its efforts to monitor RTE’s implementation in the state explains that there are six categories for the weaker sections of society for the reserved category. “The programme is tailored to benefit the poorest of the poor at the entry level, which can be pre-school or Grade I.


”The headmaster of the Government Upper Primary School (1st to 8th grades) in Gopalpura Devri, Prem Ballab Khulve, feels that the 25 per cent provision is helping children reach their actual potential all over Rajasthan. “There was a time, though, when disadvantaged parents couldn’t even imagine to send their children to private schools,” Khulve recalls.

Amita Saraswat, a nursery school teacher from the same school who has been in the profession for 30 years, says that teachers are doing their best to bridge the divide.

“Initially, the children who hail from the weaker sections of society have adjustment issues. As a teacher, it is my job to ensure that the child keeps up with the rest. We get involved with parents also as they need to be instructed. All this takes time and eventually the changes become obvious,” she explains.