Blogging provides a community — or a paycheck — to Idaho Falls mothers

Idaho Falls Moms Blog MAIN

Every detail of Valerie Illguth’s life is potential fodder for her blogs.

She started her travel blog, 51 Cent Adventures, six years ago to write about all the unique and under-the-radar places her family visited on vacations. Over the last few months, she has been writing about all the details of Yellowstone National Park that they encountered while living in an RV near the park last summer. In December she joined the newly started Idaho Falls Moms Blog as one of a team of volunteers writing about her life and the area. Her most recent post talked about the effects of her son’s autism.

Why did Illguth enjoy blogging enough to write for two sites?

“I don’t know,” she laughed. “It’s a good hobby. I don’t need to have any other items around than my laptop.”

It’s easier than ever to create a website and share your writings online. WordPress, one of the world’s largest blog-supporting websites, sees more than 70 million new posts every month.

Not all of those blogs will draw in a ton of traffic or earn their creators money — the average WordPress post gets fewer than six views a month— but most bloggers aren’t looking to make it rich as long as they attract some community of readers.

In the last year, a handful of new blogs have started adding their content to the web out of Idaho Falls. One is a collective effort from more than 20 women looking to help local families, while the other is one woman’s attempt to expand her platform to speak about her disease.

The Moms Blog

In August, Idaho Falls became one of the 92 cities represented by the City Moms Blog Network. Idaho Falls Moms Blog, staffed by nearly two dozen volunteers from in and around the city, is the only city in Idaho, Utah or Wyoming to join the network.

Idaho Falls Moms Blog
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Heather Jarrell speaks to a Post Register reporter about the Idaho Falls Moms Blog on Thursday, May 16, 2019.

“We’re kind of a dot on our own over here,” Idaho Falls founder Heather Jarrell said.

Jarrell started the blog as a one-stop location for parents like her to see what the opportunities are for families in the city. The blog gets a lot of traffic from its roundup of the weekend events that will be happening and the guides offering advice on where to find splash pads or host a kid’s birthday party.

“I felt like I was hearing about all these great things that were happening in town and wanted to get all that information in one place,” Jarrell said.

The blog is run by a team of volunteers, many of whom only post once a month. It gives them freedom to write about any subject, whether it’s recent things that happened with their children or advice on what to do during the summer. Some posts are sponsored by local businesses — Jarrell said health-related events have proven especially popular.

Some of those contributors also manage blogs of their own outside the Idaho Falls Moms Blog. Valerie Illguth started her travel blog six years ago while her husband was stationed in Fort Hood, Texas. She said her friends enjoyed hearing about the unique places she would stumble across with her husband and children, so she began writing about them online to get a wider audience while her husband was serving.

“He was deployed to Korea and I was at home with four kids. I would turn on ‘Toy Stor,’ and I would sit and write so I would feel like I was communicating with the outside world,” Illguth said.

The Illguths live outside Pocatello and she isn’t the only mother from outside the city limits writing for the Idaho Falls Moms Blog. The blog posts generally shy away from controversial topics or politics but the differing ages and experiences of the writers allow for some variety in the writing styles. Contributing writer Kim Lewis thought that style combined with the local focus of the blog has helped to grow its audience.

“It’s validating to hear from others in the community that are dealing with the same things,” Lewis said.

{strong style=”font-size: 1em;”}Hailey and a Spoon{/strong}

{p dir=”ltr”}Hailey Williams has been managing a YouTube channel for five years, since around the time her second daughter was born. Her videos were focused on parenting and her family life until she was diagnosed with celiac disease in 2016.

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Hailey Williams enjoys the freedom being a blogger provides. Williams is able to work almost anywhere and that allows her to spend more time with her family. She often blogs in her garage so she can be near her two daughters Khloe, 7, and Kaelyn, 5, while they play outside.

{p dir=”ltr”}She switched the focus of her channel to gluten awareness and advocacy. She cut back her number of videos to just one a week but saw her subscriber count rise from just over 1,000 people to nearly 6,000. Last month, Williams used that momentum to launch her own blog called Hailey and a Spoon. She admitted that, before she had launched a blog of her own, she hadn’t been that interested in reading food blogs.

{p dir=”ltr”}“I know if I was going to do blogging it would have to be my style. If I’m not going to like writing that, why would anyone want to read it?” Williams said.

{p dir=”ltr”}That shift in the focus of the blog is not unique to Williams.

{p dir=”ltr”}Former Post Register commentary page editor Katie Stokes ran her own ‘mommy blog’ in Idaho Falls for several years, around the time that blogging first peaked early in the days of the Great Recession.

“It was an easy way to women who were staying home with their kids to pick up some income,” Stokes said.

{p dir=”ltr”}Since then, Stokes said a lot of parents have dialed back on the details they shared about their children. The blogs would stay online forever, meaning an embarrassing story from when a child was 3 could follow them for the rest of their life. Stokes deleted her blog a few years ago in an attempt to remove some of the more personal details she had shared.

{p dir=”ltr”}Williams’ husband recently earned his technical degree and began working as a mechanic in town, but her YouTube channel and blog has become her main source of income. She runs the occasional sponsored video reviewing a gluten-free product and works with the local gluten-free store Mom’s Place. Last month, she traveled to Utah to create videos and meet representatives from celiac-friendly brands at the Nourish Festival.

{p dir=”ltr”}Traveling to Utah also allowed her to connect with other people who blog about the same subject. Gluten-free recipe blogs are much more common in Utah than in eastern Idaho, which has made it tougher for her to befriend other local bloggers.

{p dir=”ltr”}“There’s not a lot of what I do here. I have a niche, so it’s harder to make an acquaintance or friendship easily,” Williams said.

{p dir=”ltr”}Creating a website over the last month and becoming a blogger has led to changes in Williams’ life. She had to learn about website design and coding without any formal training on the subject. Her schedule moved around to let her post regular weekly content — Monday nights are preparing for her YouTube videos to post the next morning and Friday nights are the final touches for her Saturday blog posts.

{p dir=”ltr”}The trade-off for those nights of work, however, is that Williams can easily spend time with her kids at home or take them wherever they need to go without worrying too much about her schedule.

“I can work from the house, the park, the garage. I like being able to work from anywhere,” she said.


A decade of blogging: Making sense in the cyber highway

BLOGGING is currently the prevailing practice by individuals who have the passion to write and tell stories about places, people and events using advance technology as the fastest and most effective channel of communication.

Before technology dominates the cyber world, people had a hard time communicating. Even in relationships, one has to physically visit the person who is the love interest. It involves a lot of hard work because one has to court the whole family only to win their hearts and eventually the heart of the love interest.

People used to communicate either by letters or phone calls (landline), through friends and through mutual interactions. Those were the old days.

But now, with the advent of technology, everything is made easy even in courtship, business, and family relations.

Petty quarrels even occupy the interest of the cyber community, which is quite a downside. But people become more conscious about their looks, clothing, behaviors, and language and have all the reasons to celebrate in most if not all occasions.

But here comes blogging, few individuals put together their passion and formed a group named the Negrense Bloggers. Their group rings a bell in the corporate world. They just marked their 10th anniversary on May 25.

The Negros Bloggers started in May 30, 2009 with pioneers Ruby Caberte, May Castro and Glady Tomulto, who felt the need to professionalize their craft of blogging.

They held meetings and sponsored blogging seminars to gather and network with other bloggers based in Bacolod City.

Soon, through blog hopping, link exchange and social networking, the group grew by leaps and bounds, attracting many Negrense bloggers based in Bacolod as well from other parts of the country.

This has led to the creation of the Negrense Blogging Society, Inc., a Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC)-registered, non-profit, non-stock association.

Negrense Blogging Society, Inc. is the juridical personality behind the Negros Bloggers.

Their mission is to promote, preserve, and develop the arts, culture, business, environment, tourism, and history of the Negrenses in the blogosphere.

They are also a community of bloggers who help one another develop and professionalize their craft, foster camaraderie and friendship, while at the same time gather other Negrense bloggers together through link parties, seminars and guest posts. They help each other look for new opportunities that may benefit their readers.

They are governed by the core values of honesty, integrity, excellence and ethics in our blogging. We build mutually beneficial linkages with other bloggers and blogging networks in other cities and provinces in the Philippines and around the world who share our values, passion, and philosophy.”

Ruby Caberte, founding President said, “It’s been ten years since we started Negrense Blogging Society, Inc. It makes me really happy and very proud that they have come a long way and have become one of the premier blogging organization in the country today. To my Negrense Bloggers family, keep on shining and growing! Cheers to the next 10 years and more!”

Glady Reyes said, “After 10 years of blogging, we want to give back to the community by mentoring the youth who want to go into blogging as platform for their advocacy and business.”

Couple bloggers Dennis and Sigrid Lo are grateful of their blogging and their organization.

Sigrid said, “I’m grateful to be part of the Negrense Blogging Society. While we may be called bloggers, we uphold blogging ethics and journalistic values by reporting only facts and sharing opinion based on facts. It has been our group’s goal to be a channel of change and positivism in the city, promoting Bacolod to the world through our websites.”

Dennis said, “We are against fake news and together we stand to share only information about our society and about life that is helpful and true.”

They even had influence on their kids Shawna Din and Dorothy Shane who also have their YouTube vlog channel: sistersactkidscantell.


OnePlus 7 Pro receives exclusive update that improves camera, fixes other bugs

The OnePlus 7 Pro was launched earlier this month.

ONEPLUS 7 PRO CAMERA IMPROVEMENTS: OnePlus 7 Pro has started receiving OxygenOS’ newest update that fixes some camera issues and ambient display problem. The OxygenOS 9.5.4 is exclusive to OnePlus 7 Pro, meaning other OnePlus devices would not receive this update. The update is being rolled out in stages so it might not be available on every OnePlus 7 Pro device at the moment. You may expect it in the coming weeks.

OnePlus launched the OnePlus 7 Pro earlier this month. The smartphone was praised for the features it brings at a reasonable price tag, but some users complained about its camera quality. The company promised an update in about a week’s time to fix the issues.

According to the official changelog, the v9.5.4 update fixes issues like unnatural smoothness in beauty effect, lack of details, smudgy areas in telephoto images and more. The update also fixes white balance issue in pictures as well as focus issue in several scenarios.

Apart from this, the update also improves system optimization. That includes a fix for the ambient display, double tap to wake the screen, audio delay with the Bluetooth headset during gameplay and other general bug fixes.

The OnePlus 7 Pro is currently available in two variants – 6GB/128GB priced at 48,999, 8GB/256GB priced at 52,999 in Mirror Grey colour. The OnePlus 7 Pro will be available in an all-new Nebula Blue colour in 8GB/256GB priced at 52,999 and 12GB/256GB at 57,999 from May 28, 2019 on

It features a 6.67-inch Fluid AMOLED display panel with a QHD+ resolution and refresh rate of 90Hz. The display is notch-less and has curved edges, much like the Samsung Galaxy S10 and Huawei P30 Pro. It is powered by Qualcomm’s new Snapdragon 855 SoC paired with three RAM and storage configurations that max out at 12GB/256GB. It comes with a “RAM Boost” mode that allows app to load from RAM memory instead of ROM, hence reducing app load times. It is also the first smartphone to ship with UFS 3.0 memory which offers speeds up to 79% faster than the previous UFS 2.1 standard.

At the back it sports a 48MP+16MP+8MP combination. The 16MP and 18MP sensors have wide angle and telephoto lenses respectively. The front facing pop-up mechanism houses a 16MP camera. The phone is backed by a 4,000mAh battery.


5 steps to make your blog rank higher on Google


Blogging can be a complicated task to take on thanks to the always fluctuating landscape of search engine indexing, like Google. Here are five things every blogger should be doing to stay at the top of the results page.

Websites with blogs rank higher on search engines like Google than those without because they’re an immensely powerful on-page SEO asset. This makes blogging an indispensable tool for any marketer or website owner who wants to grow their organic traffic.

Blog writing comes with its own set of challenges, however. It’s not about getting a couple of paragraphs on a page just to have something there. There’s a lot of planning and thought, not to mention strategy, that goes into creating high-ranking blog posts. Therefore, it is important to do it right from the start. Or risk wasting hours toiling over something that won’t pay off.

This article won’t cover everything there is to know about blogging and SEO. Rather, the list below contains five basic steps that every writer and blog owner should already be following.


Google has been emphasizing the importance of intent within blog posts in recent years. This means that they not only look at long-tail keywords but also at LSI keywords. They then factor in how relevant the blog is to the reader (through their search keywords, but also other online habits and location).

The reader’s experience is now a priority for search engines like Google, and every blog should share that sentiment. Which means finding topics that the reader cares about and providing them with interesting content.


Keywords are still one of the most influential factors in a blog’s ability to rank in searches. But keyword stuffing has become a major issue, which has led to a change in the way Google looks at them.

Instead of placing keywords as often as possible, place them in these six strategic areas:

  • The Title Tag: This is the title of the blog and is the first thing a reader will see. It’s the piece of text that will show up in the search results and on the opened browser tab.
  • The Meta Description: The meta description is a paragraph of text that shows up under the title in the search results. It describes what the post is about.
  • The URL: The primary keyword or long-tail keywords should always appear in the URL, so Google’s crawlers can easily index the post.
  • The Header: This is the title of the blog post that shows up on the page and other places on the website.
  • The First Paragraph: It’s important that the primary keyword(s) of the post feature in the first few sentences of the text.
  • The Body of the Text: The primary keyword(s) should feature again once or twice in the rest of the blog post.

All in all, keywords shouldn’t feature more than two or three times in the text.

Be sure to go back and update old blog posts.


It’s such a shame to keep old blog posts unchanged when they get outdated as search engines evolve. These posts can still be relevant, and a lot of effort was put into creating them.

Blog owners should go back and update their old posts to optimize them for current SEO trends.


It’s not a hard rule that websites should move to HTTPS, but it is very beneficial for them to do so. An SSL certificate helps keep a website’s visitors safe from outside attack. Making it not only important because of security reasons but also for search engine ranking. Because Google has stated that they care about online safety and this factors into their SEO decisions.

Getting an SSL certificate requires a dedicated IP address, so make sure to get one.


It’s important to keep blog posts related to each other and the business’ interests. Most people do this through blog tags and interlinking. But it’s important to differentiate between each blog post and their topics because Google penalizes duplicate content.

Do not use tags that are too similar to one another, like “run, running, and runner.” Instead, focus on using tags that are related but not the same. Such as “advertising, marketing, and social media.”


Search engine optimization can be complicated, but blogging doesn’t have to be. Save time by following these and other expert tips to start creating engaging and SEO-focused content right now.


Blogging Couple Travels The Globe While Earning $60,000+ Per Month

The Johnson Family

When Greg and Holly Johnson started their blog in 2012, they thought it would be a fun way to document their financial journey.

“We had some student loans and car loans we wanted to pay off,” said Holly. “Once we realized other people were blogging about the same things we were experiencing in real life, we decided to give it a shot.”

Since those early days, their blog has taken on a life of its own. Greg quit his full-time job as a funeral director to work on the blog in 2015, and he currently earns over $40,000 per month through his efforts. Holly, on the other hand, quit her job in the same funeral home to write full-time. She consistently earns $20,000 per month, but sometimes more. Holly also has a popular freelance writing course — — that brings in around $4,000 per month.

The crazy thing is, they’re not even at home working most of the time. Follow them on Instagram and you’ll see they are constantly in ridiculous destinations like the Swiss Alps, the Greek Islands, or the Caribbean with their kids. Since their business is entirely online, the pair can basically work from anywhere. And that’s exactly what they do.

Vivian Johnson overlooking the mountains of Switzerland

Vivian Johnson overlooking the mountains of Switzerland


How They Balance Work and Play

Earning a significant income while traveling 16 weeks or more each year may sound inspiring, but the Johnsons say it’s a lot of work. They say they are always “working ahead” when they are home so they can spend some downtime on their trips. That often means working weekends or evenings for weeks at a time.

Since Holly is a professional writer, she has a lot of deadlines she has to meet no matter what. So, she often ends up working while she travels, which isn’t always fun.

“It’s a trade-off,” she says. “I get to travel all the time, but I also have a lot of responsibility.”

During a two-week trip, she said she will usually just go ahead and set aside 3-4 days to work, even if it’s just in the morning for a few hours. This helps her stay on top of her email inbox, new content, and questions from her editors, she says.

Greg doesn’t have anyone to report to so he doesn’t have as many deadlines, but he also has to put out a lot of fires. He also monitors their website traffic and affiliate income while they travel, usually by getting up a few hours before the kids while they’re on a trip.

Because they’re often working when they travel, the couple says that, overall, they probably work 30 to 40 hours per week on average.

“It’s just more sporadic,” says Holly. “I might take a week or ten days off work then wind up working for the next 20 days straight.”

The Johnsons at the Palace of Versailles outside of Paris, France

The Johnsons at the Palace of Versailles outside of Paris, France


How They Made it Work

Anyone who has tried to find success at blogging or freelance writing knows that neither road is easy. Both fields are incredibly competitive, and it can be difficult to build long-term income that lasts.

Johnson says she and her husband have been successful because they had to be.

“We really wanted to get out of our 9-5 jobs and build a new life — one where we were in control,” she says.

When they started their online endeavors, they both used to get up early and work at 5:00 a.m. before they started their “real jobs,” and they gave up an endless number of weekends and evenings when the kids were in bed. It was hard, they both said, because they were balancing side jobs on top of parenthood and full-time work.

Greg’s success as a blogger also didn’t happen overnight. It took years for him to learn how to position their website to earn real income. And even now, their successes are mixed with plenty of failures.

“Everything doesn’t have to go right,” says Greg. “You just need to get some of the things you try to actually work.”

The bloggers spend a lot of time along Italy's Amalfi Coast

The bloggers spend a lot of time along Italy’s Amalfi Coast


Their Tips for Online Business Success

Whether you want to blog for a living or become a freelance writer, the pair offers some tips can apply to everyone.

For example, the couple stresses the importance of having multiple income streams and “not having all your eggs in one basket.” That’s part of the reason Holly still writes for a living when they clearly don’t need the money.

“We both like knowing that, no matter what happens, we aren’t going to lose all our income streams at once,” she said. “I also don’t feel the need to work with my husband 24/7. I like earning my own money even though we share our finances.”

Another tip from the pair: Keep your personal liabilities low.

“If you want to build an online business, the best thing you can do is build a debt-free lifestyle,” she says.

The Johnsons share a 2009 Toyota Prius that’s been paid off forever, and they don’t have any other debts. They even paid off their primary home in early 2018, so their housing expenses are limited to taxes, insurance (such as auto, life, and homeowners insurance), and maintenance.

Another tip for business success is “be yourself,” the couple agreed.

In the blogging and writing world, so many people try to find success by copying what other people are doing. In reality though, the same thing won’t work for everyone. You’ll have the best chance at success if you figure out who you are and what makes you different.

“We have tons of blogging friends who are wildly successful, and they all run their business a different way,” says Johnson.

The Bottom Line

At the end of the day, the Johnsons want people to know their life isn’t perfect. They work a ton of hours and they put a lot on the line to follow their dreams. It’s not easy to bet the farm on blogging when you have two children to take care of, nor is it easy to let go of stable, well-paying jobs.

But the couple seems to persevere no matter what life throws their way — which they say is due to the fact they never gave up. And they never will.

The couple likes having money and they love to travel, they say, but they love the freedom they’ve earned the most.

Greg Johnson says he’s basically unemployable now and that he “will never get a job again.” Holly doesn’t mind working, but she always plans to stay in a freelance role instead of employment with one company — even if the job was remote. She said she doesn’t miss the minutiae of regular 9-5 work, sitting in meetings, and all the time she wasted driving back and forth.

“Nobody would hire us anyway,” she said. “Who wants an employee who travels four months of the year and hates meetings?”


Share market update: IT shares mixed; Tech Mahindra down 2%


NEW DELHI: IT shares were trading on a mixed in Monday’s morning session.

Shares of Infibeam AvenuesNSE 7.39 % (up 5.16 per cent), NIIT Technologies (up 0.93 per cent), Wipro (up 0.87 per cent) and Tata Elxsi (up 0.58 per cent) were trading higher.

Tech Mahindra (down 1.98 per cent), InfosysNSE -0.21 %(down 0.88 per cent), HCL Technologies (down 0.02 per cent) and Oracle Financial Services Software (down 0.10 per cent) were trading with losses.

The Nifty IT index was trading 0.14 per cent down at 15,821.90 around 10:06 am.

Benchmark NSE Nifty50 index was up 266.65 points at 11,673.80 while the BSE Sensex was up 901.59 points at 38,832.36.

Among the 50 stocks in the Nifty index, 45 were trading in the green, while 5 were in the red.

Shares of Vodafone Idea, YES Bank, SBI, Ashok Leyland, Adani Power, DHFL, Federal Bank, PNB, IDFC First Bank and PC Jeweller were among the most traded shares on the NSE.


‘Game of Thrones’: ET Will Be Live Blogging the Series Finale!

Image result for 'Game of Thrones': ET Will Be Live Blogging the Series Finale!It’s here.

Get ready to sing “Jenny’s Song” because Game of Thrones is officially coming to an end. After eight glorious seasons, the HBO epic is set to conclude on Sunday — and we’re still not sure who will end up on the Iron Throne.

After last week’s shocking penultimate episode, in which Daenerys ignored King’s Landing’s surrender and instead lit the place up, it’s become clear she’s not the benevolent ruler she wanted to be. Most of the Lannisters are dead — Tyrion, however, remains shocked by his queen’s actions — but the Starks are alive, and may be coming for Dany’s crown.

Despite fans’ petition to have season eight remade, we’re pretty sure this is the season eight we’ve got. ET will be live blogging Sunday’s episode from start to finish as we learn our favorite characters’ fates. Circle back when the episode starts for minute-by-minute updates of what’s going down.


Forget Sats – find a true measure of education

pupils sitting an exam

 ‘The way we evaluate schools, as well as the way we teach and assess pupils, have to be rethought,’ writes Mary Bousted. Photograph: David Jones/PA

Amanda Spielman may be warning the wrong people about exam anxiety, certainly as far as younger kids are concerned (Ofsted chief says teachers can cause ‘subliminal’ exam anxiety, May 14). My 10-year-old is not worried because I have told him Sats are irrelevant to his life. His secondary school will determine how best he will fit in, based on its own testing, when he gets there in September. I did ask him to do his best in sympathy with the people who are sweating it out this week: his excellent teachers, whose lives – and the rating of the school – depend on how he does at rote nonsense.

Meanwhile, the true quality of his education is illustrated by the year 6 leavers’ scrapbook year after year, which always tells the same story: the stellar moments each child remembers are extracurricular experiences such as acting in plays, spending a week together on Exmoor or learning about Mary Anning in Lyme Regis. We parents can also play our part – as a lawyer, I have supervised the trial of three teachers for “murdering” the headteacher, with the local police arriving to oversee the investigation. (They were all acquitted by exemplary 10-year-old jurors, I am glad to say.)

We should deliver a token of our respect and thanks to the anxious teachers when the Sats end on Thursday. Meanwhile, when will the government accept that teachers should be allowed to inspire, rather than having to cram tedious material down the throats of their enthusiastic goslings? Perhaps begin by allowing them a free day a week to seek out the child’s passion.
Clive Stafford Smith
Symondsbury, Dorset

 Fiona Millar warns us of the risks of abolishing Sats and says we should not go back to the pre-testing days of the early 1990s (Education, 14 May). But no one in the debate reignited by Jeremy Corbyn and Layla Moran is advocating a system without assessment. The right kind of assessment matters, because we need to support pupils’ learning more effectively. It matters because we need to identify problems in schools and put them right. There is no dispute about this.

What Corbyn and Moran – like the OECD and many national governments – have pointed out is that the system we have neither supports learners nor provides useful information about schools. That’s why it needs to change. Nor is anyone suggesting that changes to assessment alone will be enough to mend the damage done to our primary schools. The way we evaluate schools has to be rethought, as does the way we teach and assess pupils. To this end, we need to think boldly and comprehensively. Millar’s approach, which points to the size of the problems as a reason to doubt the capability of reformers to address them, falls short of what is required.
Dr Mary Bousted
Joint general secretary, National Education Union

 Most present and past teachers, like myself, could confirm the sense of the research finding in your report (Teacher assessment could take place of many tests, study says, 13 May). Most have been arguing for years about the negative effects of excessive testing and league tables.

Teachers work closely with students to help them make progress in their learning, while nurturing their wellbeing. It is their job – in my case, a vocation and what I spent four years training to do. I hope politicians will heed this research.
Ann Moore
Stocksfield, Northumberland

 Not long after I read your report on research suggesting that replacing exams with teacher assessments “would arguably benefit the wellbeing of students … and help to bring joy back to the classroom”, my son told me that after his first GCSE paper on Monday some of his fellow students found it so difficult that they were in tears. It wasn’t so long ago that he said he wasn’t being taught to learn, more to pass exams. Add the drop in students doing foreign languages because the papers are too hard – people should look at maths too – and it’s easy to conclude that our education system is deeply flawed.


‘Indian Campuses Under Siege’ Says Fact-Finding Jury of Human Rights Defenders

'Indian Campuses Under Siege' Says Fact-Finding Jury of Human Rights Defenders

New Delhi: In the last few years, the number of universities in Gujarat has swelled from 15 to over 50. “But these universities have no buildings, professors, vice chancellors, clerks, registrars, etc. Several of them are said to be in primary government schools or in tehsildar’s office.”

Professor Hemant Kumar Shah, of the well-known H.K. Arts College of Ahmedabad, stated this to a fact-finding jury put together by a nation-wide collective of human rights defenders called the People’s Commission on Shrinking Democratic Space in India (PCSDS), to delve into the state of university campuses since 2014.

Professor Hemant also added that the shortage of teachers “was so bad” in his state that he was asked by his head “to teach environmental science to all second semester students in the college together in the hall which has a seating capacity of 735 people, since the college didn’t have enough teachers to take division-wise classes”.

In February, Shah was in the news for resigning from his post as the in-charge principal of the college protesting the trust body’s decision to cancel an event in the institution featuring its alumnus Jignesh Mewani.

Ramakant, a student of the fine arts department of Patna University could identify with Shah’s outlook on the shortage of teachers in government-funded universities and colleges, mainly stemming from an increased cut in funding. Ramakant and fellow students have been demanding the appointment of permanent teachers among other facilities in their university for some time now. He told the jury members comprising PCSDS’ People’s Tribunal on Attacks on Educational Institutions in India that,

“The university doesn’t have any permanent teacher and even the ad-hoc teacher has been removed.”

The report, 'Indian Campuses Under Siege' Credit: Special Arrangement

The report, ‘Indian Campuses Under Siege’ Credit: Special Arrangement

The state of Delhi University is marginally different, he said, because although there are 5000 vacancies, “almost all are filled with or operated by ad-hoc teachers.”

Such testimonials of students and teachers – of as many as 50 institutions and universities from across 17 states – are now a part of a one-of-a-kind report on the condition of various university campuses under the Narendra Modi regime. The report, titled ‘Indian Campuses Under Siege‘, was launched in New Delhi on May 7, 2019.

According to Anil Chaudhary, the convener of PCSDS, a total of 130 testimonies of students and faculty members were received from these states between April 11 and 13, 2018. They spoke to the jury comprising Justices (retired) Hosbet Suresh and B.G. Kolse Patil, professors Uma Chakravarty, Amit Bhaduri, T.K. Oommen, Vasanthi Devi, Ghanasyam Shah, Meher Engineer and Kalpana Kannabiran besides journalist-columnist and The Wire‘s public editor Pamela Philipose.

It points out the drastic cut in funding universities, leading to a shortage of teachers and a steep hike in course fees (in some cases from Rs 5,080 to Rs 50,000, triggering the drop-out of students from mainly to SC, ST and OBC groups). Other key findings include centralisation of the admission process; increased privatisation of institutions through policy changes; distortion of history, syllabus and saffronisation of education; appointing loyalists as university heads; the rise of Hindutva forces within the campuses; suppression and criminalisation of dissenting voices; and use of legal measures to curb students’ protests.

The report records, in detail, many cases of students and faculty members who have had to bear the brunt of it, several of them belonging to marginalised sections of society.

The report also says,

“Testimonies presented by students and faculty before the jury revealed a socially exclusive and unjust system prevailing in the higher education institutions, designed to replicate the marginalisations in society. As revealed from the testimonies, the attacks of privatisation and authoritarianism in the campuses have changed in the social composition of students on campus, directly impacting the marginalised sections of society, in particular, the SC, ST and OBC. Coupled with this, the educational institutions have failed to address the systems of oppression and discrimination faced by students both inside and outside the campus on the basis of caste, language, gender, secularity, religion and region.”

From the launch of the report in New Delhi. Credit: Special Arrangement

From the launch of the report in New Delhi. Credit: Special Arrangement

Recording his testimony before the jury, Abhay Flavian Xaxa from the Campaign for Dalit Human Rights said ‘intellectual lynching’ of ST, SC and OBC students is occurring during the present regime. This, he said, is done in three ways: “physical discrimination, fiscal discrimination and barriers put up against the policies meant for the educational development of ST, SC and OBC students.”

Offering an instance, Xaxa pointed out that under a new directive on reservation for faculties, “in the Indira Gandhi Tribal National University at Amarkantak in Madhya Pradesh, they advertised 52 positions for professors, assistant professors and associate professors. However, not a single post has been given to ST and SC candidates.”

The jury felt, “there has indeed been a systematic onslaught on the very idea of higher education in India…this is deliberate since an educated gentry can put questions to those who rule and is essential for the furthering and deepening of democracy.”


Closing the early education gap for rural families

The mountain of evidence that early childhood education has profound and life-long effects for students has been building for decades. Educators have made efforts to expand access to high-quality early education opportunities, but that access is not evenly distributed–rural communities are often left out of the loop entirely.

Approximately one in five Americans live in rural areas, and, according to the Center for American Progress, 59% of rural areas are defined as “child care deserts.” This term refers to areas that have fewer available child care spots than there are children in need of them. Even more concerning, there’s no guarantee that those available spots even offer high-quality preschool instruction.

My formal title is director of curriculum and instruction at Greenburg Community Schools, but I also serve as the coordinator for our Federal Title I, Title II, Title III, and Title IV and Rural and Low Income Schools grants, as well as those for high ability and gifted students.

These positions allow me to see where students are when they enter our school system at the kindergarten level and watch them evolve, experience, and mature through graduation. We see students who have been enrolled in childcare facilities since they were six weeks old, others who have attended preschool for two or more years, and still others who have never been away from home before they enter kindergarten.

I have found that there is no simple, one-size-fits-all solution to providing early learning opportunities for rural communities, but at-home, online programs are helping to fill the gap.

The Challenges

A lack of available preschool options isn’t the only challenge facing rural parents seeking to educate their children. With more than a quarter of rural children coming from economically disadvantaged families, cost is also a significant issue. In my own experience working with rural populations in Indiana, I’ve seen this firsthand. Many parents are unemployed or underemployed. They may be working but no longer able to earn a living wage after factories that paid upwards of $20 an hour have closed, forcing them to make due on part-time work from temporary staffing agencies that pay $9–$15 an hour. Some preschool options can cost as much as $200 per week, which puts them firmly out of reach for many rural families.

Transportation is another significant hurdle. Rural communities are geographically isolated. Coupled with the grim economic picture, this means many families cannot take their children to preschool, either because they cannot afford it or because they don’t have flexible enough working hours to take them. A lack of public transportation in these rural areas often takes preschool completely off the table as an option.

The Solution

Luckily, the answers are suggested by the challenges themselves. If high-quality early education is too expensive for rural families, let’s educate their children at no cost to them. If transportation woes prevent them from taking their children to free high-quality options, let’s bring those options to them.

One organization I partner with–the nonprofit–offers an online early learning solution called Waterford UPSTART, which is designed to help children develop early literacy, numeracy and science skills.

I had previously worked with this organization when I was at a larger district. While there, I saw how the platform helped struggling and at-risk students prepare for kindergarten. When I moved to my current position at Greensburg, we adopted it as an early intervention tool with the help of an Early Intervention Literacy Grant.

All of our kindergarten students and our seven kindergarten teachers at Greensburg use Waterford UPSTART. I also serve as a local education partner with the organization for a project in which they provide the program free to pre-K students. Participating children are asked to spend 15 minutes a day, five days a week working with the program. If the family doesn’t have a computer, Waterford provides one. If they don’t have internet access, that’s provided free of charge as well through programs such as an EIR grant.

Families get their own academic coach, who monitors the frequency and duration of use and checks in with them frequently to ensure their children are neither over- or under-using the program. My role is to help promote the program in our district and identify students eligible for the free benefits.

Connecting with Families

As an educator, it has been a joy getting to know the local families I’ve had the privilege to work with and watching “my” children grow from our first meeting through our frequent family engagement events. In April, Greensburg Community Schools will hold its annual Kindergarten Round Up, where we’ll hold an open house for our new students and their families before administering baseline assessments for all incoming kindergartners. I look forward to comparing my online pre-K students’ results to those of their peers and cheering them on as they progress through their academic careers.