A recent opportunity to interact with kids from an underprivileged background had this parent thinking about the enormous gap in exposure between sections of society.
By Ritika Jain
Of late, I had been pondering over ways in which I could contribute towards a social cause. I often see intolerance around us and think that it boils down to education to cure people of this malaise. So when a neighbour asked me if I would fill in for her at a local MCD school, I readily agreed to teach English to Grade 3 kids. The classes are for one hour, thrice a week. It may seem like a small step but I’m sure even the smallest pebble causes a ripple. Initially, I had thought taking out three hours in a week isn’t a big deal but once you commit, it’s a fixed task in your schedule and teaching isn’t something you take up casually. For one, the kids get attached to you and actually look forward to the next class. Their eagerness to learn, in turn, is actually what keeps you going.
When I started, the first thing I noticed is the irregular attendance at the government-aided school. Compared to my daughter’s reputed public school, where you need to take a leave application for missing even one day of school, this is the norm here because most of the parents are day labourers who themselves don’t understand the importance of good education or aren’t much bothered about the kid’s homework at the end of a hard day. I was also shocked to see the gap in the vocabulary of a third grader here versus that in an elite private school. It’s not that the kids aren’t intelligent, but just that nobody reads to them and nobody in their vicinity speaks with them in English. In fact, their Hindi is far better than kids in private schools.
I would like to illustrate this with an anecdote. I had figured out a way in which I could have them all engaged simultaneously, by drawing whatever we had learnt in class. Each one of them loves to get a ‘star’ and a ‘very good’ at the end of each class. I had asked them to observe and describe their classroom. I would explain the usage of ‘There is’ and ‘There are’ as we went along and sometimes offer to translate certain words to Hindi, their first language. I told them rules mean Niyam and cupboard means Almaari. Then, pointing to a map, I said map. Quickly, a bright young spark corrected me and said Naksha. So it wasn’t one-sided, I internally chuckled to know I was being taught too.
I hope to keep them interested by way of inclusive activities, where even a non-reader can contribute and gradually pick up pace to match a student that can read an entire passage. As for spoken English, they get bonus points simply for trying, especially when they aren’t too confident of using a word. I hope this small nudge will propel them towards better opportunities in the future and make them believe that they can strive for more than what their immediate environment would have them believe they’re good for.
If only I could give you a glimpse into this classroom, where naughtiness goes hand in hand with innocence, where the fights are about who will bring a chair for the teacher and who knows more about Halloween; the smiles and ‘V-signs’ that go up when you take their photograph; so you’ll know that kids are kids no matter where they come from. Their upbringing might be different but they all respond to praise and encouragement, and they all want to share their stories.