Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Free school mixes work and play for underprivileged tots

Mithila Phadke TNN 

    When four-yearold Sakshi joined school last year, she spent the first few months trying to bolt out of the classroom at the slightest opportunity. There were frequent tantrums, and sometimes, she bit and scratched the male teachers. It was a survival tactic the little girl had learnt from living on the streets near Regal Cinema. With her father often arriving home drunk at night, accompanied by unknown men, Sakshi had learnt to hit back at strangers, by observing her mother. 
    Little Kishore too grew up in an environment that rattled him. He fought, hit people and was agitated all the time. Neighbours called him “mad” and assumed he would never amount to anything. 
    Today, both Kishore and Sakshi are among the brightest students in their Masjid Bunder class. They are part of the 3-2-1 Education Foundation, founded in 2012. Currently operating out of a municipal school building with 10 teachers and 240 students, the initiative focuses on providing free, quality education at the kindergarten and grade 1 level to children from low-income communities. 

    The programme is the brainchild of Teach for India alumnus and educationist Gaurav Singh, a 29-year-old social entrepreneur who is also an Ashoka foundation fellow. “In this country, we do not believe in our children. The assumption is that because of their economic background, there is something inferior about them,” Singh says. “But science and common sense tell us that this is not true.” 
    While the number of out-ofschool children in India has reduced, the quality of education has some catching up to do, he adds. The Annual Status of Education Report 2013 shows that only 42.2% children in grade 5 could read a grade-2 text. The figure has dropped 6.3 %from the previous year. 

    Building on the idea that the environment in which learning happens is crucial, 3-2-1 helps kids recognise the school as a safe space. Many live in slum settlements nearby, grow up in chaotic environments and are used to fighting for everything, says Singh. “Now when a new kid comes in and they want to hoard the books, one of the older students helps them understand,” he says, smiling. 

    This peer-regulation carries over to other activities. When a group reads, one child is put in charge. He or she ensures the rest concentrate and put away books tidily. When a queue has to be formed, the little ones nudge each other into place. Asking questions is encouraged. Children animatedly discuss why they might prefer apples over oranges, give star ratings to cartoon characters, and weigh in on their classmate’s opinions. “If someone is not getting a concept right, another kid will
say, let me help you with that,” says teacher Nikhat Aga. 
    The academic content, comprising language, mathematics and co-curriculars like science, art, physical exercise and yoga, follow. Children learn about shapes and numbers by playing with building blocks and Lego bricks, with concepts like sharing, settling differences peacefully and tidiness woven in. 
    The 3-2-1 team has decided to keep adding grades to the programme as the children grow. “So the current lot of first-graders will move on to second grade next year,” says Aga. “3-2-1 will grow with its students.” 
    The initial skepticism from families has been overcome. “I love hearing the children chatter in English while playing with their friends,” says Raja Arunduthiyar, who has two kids studying at 3-2-1. “Bahut mast lagta hai (It feels 
    Mast was how the 3-2-1 team must have felt too, the day little Kishore left his gossipy neighbours speechless. One of the teachers was talking to his parents, during an at-home visit, and filling out some forms. “Kishore was peering at what she was writing, and reading it out loud,” recalls Singh. “The neighbours, who had earlier called him things like ‘mad’ gazed at him in awe. It was such a proud moment for him.”

BUILDING BLOCKS : At the 3-2-1 Education Foundation, peer regulation helps the children learn teamwork and independence.

Source::: The Times of India, 12-03-2014, p.04,

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