Hiding behind a towering CSI Church, an Amma canteen and an open railway line, is this small neighbourhood of Saidapet slum, where the dreams of a kid are bigger than his one room house for a family of 5.
The first time I visited this neighborhood, I was struck by the contrast between the bright enthusiasm of the teacher, Ms. Sumathi, against the backdrop of her dingy little house. Her dreams were big and SELFLESS. It was clear that she will dedicate herself to these kids’ education, come what may. The subsequent events only proved us right time after time.
Later that day we met the family that were more than willing to give us their living cum bedroom space to be used for the duration of these tuition sessions. Their generosity and modesty will make you want to believe in humanity again. The father was suggesting that he would move their single cot bed from that room to ensure all the 20 kids can sit comfortably during the classes. And in return, he expected nothing but good education for all the 20 kids.
And then, we met the kids! And oh boy, were they a bunch of hyper kids! The pictures and the videos we shared earlier do no justice to the energy, enthu and aspirations of these kids. They are content with what they have but are always curious and excited to learn something new. I fell in love with their innocence and desire to learn. Each one, be it a 5 year old or 15 year old, had a dream, a clear desire of what he/she wanted to become. They just didn’t know how and I don’t think they cared much about that. That just reminded me of my responsibility as part of the Kids.r.ok team. And that is to support them at every step to ensure they realize their big dreams, no matter what.
We tried to understand the demographics of the neighborhood before we took a call on how to structure the classes.
The general family structure was a mix of nuclear and joint families. Parents, 2 or 3 kids and grandparents, all under one roof. Most men in the locality work as daily wage laborers like laundry guys, auto drivers, etc. Women, either work as domestic help in the nearby middle class localities. Grandparents usually stay at home and take care of babies and kids after school.
Men here have been known to get home drunk and abuse wives and kids. Most of their daily wages (which goes upto Rs.500 per day) go into providing for this habit that when they get home, there’s almost nothing left to save for family. Mothers are the ones who take care of finances with their monthly wages which are usually pretty meagre to provide for a family of 5 or 6. They do not have any time to invest into their kids’ education. Therefore, most kids end up attending corporation schools for free of charge or very modest fees. But are discouraged from attending school beyond a certain grade.
This kind of atmosphere almost kills any dreams of these kids to aspire for higher education and instead prepares or even motivates them to end up taking on the same profession as their dads or moms. Boys usually give up on education after 12th and the girls after 10th. They get married too young and then give up on their aspirations since their situation becomes unconducive.
We have also observed that when so many people are living under the same roof, along with their TVs, kitchen appliances and other stuff, it becomes very difficult for these kids to focus on their studies. This is where we saw a need for us to step in.
The classes –
These tuition classes help them get away from all the noise at home and focus solely on studies. The two hours that they spend here add value to their revision of all that they learnt at school that day. I have never seen a bunch of kids so excited about tuition classes, that their enthusiasm compelled us to start the classes immediately irrespective of the lack of certain resources and training for the faculty.
The faculty –
Ms. Sumathi, a B. Ed. Gradute herself, spends two hours everyday from Monday to Friday after work to tutor these kids in all subjects. She struggles with English and grammar, apart from which she is quite capable of tutoring them efficiently. She also does intervention on behalf of Kids.r.ok with parents when she sees a drop in attendance of any kid. Since the neighborhood has seen her grow up in that very same locality, they identify with her and respect her intentions. She has set her priorities right and that helped us place our trust in her dedication and ability towards this cause. She is deeply concerned for these kids and the way they are brought up, and we appreciate all her efforts in this endeavor.
She is usually assisted by another volunteer, Mr. Kaushik, who has just completed his graduation and is going to join his first job soon. He has great patience with kids and they have taken to him pretty easily. He helps in tutoring them in Mathematics and Science.
The Students –
20 HYPER kids! From all ages and grades i.e. from grade 1 to grade 10. Each one unique but all of them bright and curious to learn. They accept you immediately with no prejudice, yes, even if you are a “Tamil teriyadhu” girl with no idea of what to do with these munchkins. They pull you in for the selfies, play with your “shiny” hair and make you do pinky promises to come back again everytime you visit.
Humour apart, these kids have access to education, just not the right one. This is the most important part of this report and it will need your undivided attention, so keep up!
The corporation schools, most of these kids attend provide both Tamil medium and English medium curriculum. Problem is, the faculty is not well trained for this purpose. Grammar in English is non- existent (shocker!). The teaching methods are obsolete, with no creativity on the teaching part, because of which learning becomes a rut more than an all-round enlightening experience.
Examinations are more of a formality with no seriousness from either the teachers or the government. Kids have to learn everything in a particular order, as in, mug up everything with zero understanding about what they are studying, since the questions in the exam come in the very same order. So, the whole examination system is to grade the kids’ memory power than to grade his levels of understanding of the subject.
Kids have also shared how the teachers or examiners or invigilators simply write the answers on the black board during the examination to ensure all kids pass the exam (Because a part of their salary
depends on student pass rate). There is rarely a third party checking of the premises, so there is no stopping them. This has been going on for quite a while that senior students discourage junior students from studying, giving them assurance that the answers will be provided during the exam. Such is the sad state of government sponsored education systems here.
What Kids.r.ok team is upto –
After identifying the need gaps and the lack of proper systems in place to check and provide the right education to these kids, we shortlisted 20 kids to join this project, for which we had provided registration forms with a declaration from the parents promising that they will participate and partner with us in their kids’ education. We have also collected the basic info about their families and schools to have a track for future reference. We structured the classes in such a way that no single class will have all 20 kids at a time in order to help the teacher give her attention to each kid in class. Seniors i.e.
Sunjeet and I, along with a couple of more volunteers started the classes in the home of the loving family that opened their doors for the tuition classes, in March 2016. We observed an initial drop in attendance of a few kids, but with a quick follow up and intervention by Ms. Sumathi, helped us get these kids back to classes. Noticing that the grammar they are being taught has some fundamental errors, I stepped in to help tutor them in grammar. A few classes helped them pick interest in the one subject they avoided and understand the basics correctly. Now, they look forward to the “English Akka’s” visits every week (). During exams, we have asked a few volunteers to help in preparing these kids since a few of them had seriously low understanding of basics.
A class 4 kid, doesn’t know how to spell the word “cat”. She knows there is a word “cat” and that she needs to orally recite it as part of an order of animal names she learnt in school for an exam but she cannot tell a “c” from a “t”. She has no understanding of what the alphabets she learnt look like. This is the case with quite a few kids and the fact that they have been promoted to the next grade without any hiccups every year is mind-numbing.
With the help of volunteers we have been able to train these kids in the 2 months we had before their exams. I have not received their results yet, but hopefully, they will be good. I will share their results once they I receive them.
We have also seen some of their graded answer sheets from previous exams, and it seems like the teachers have no idea how to grade and cannot really tell what’s wrong from right. So, we have decided that after every exam, we will collect these graded sheets and re-grade them ourselves and share the feedback with the kids, irrespective of what the schools want them to believe. Our aim is to teach them right, not teach them anyway. We will also look into the key aspects of every subject that these kids need to be aware of and employ certain innovative teaching techniques to help them learn better.
Recently, we have also conducted a Spoken English workshop (20 days) for the teacher to ensure she picks up basics herself, so she can confidently handle the kids’ queries. Sunjeet will share the feedback about that later. We will be conducting more of such faculty training workshops based on the need we observe as we go along.
We are also going to spend time, money and energy to make these kids aware of child abuse, their rights and other essential life lessons through proper workshops and activities. We will also be visiting the families of these kids at least once a year to ensure that they are connected to what we are doing and start taking an interest in their kids’ education themselves. We are also exploring the option of meeting with the teachers at these schools and see if we can collaborate to improve the current system employed in their schools.
We were also thinking of buying uniforms for these kids on behalf of Kids.r.ok and invest in their stationery needs. We have already bought a white board and a few white board pens and duster to be used in the class. Going ahead, we plan to incorporate some teaching and learning material that will help the teacher and the kids to have a more practical approach to understanding their subjects.
What we need:
Thank you for supporting us with your prayers, suggestions, time and funds.
In our effort to ensure right education, there’s still room for a lot of improvement, and for that we will need you, yes, each and every one of you to guide, mentor and help us through this journey.
I believe that involving oneself in a kid’s education doesn’t stop with just that, but extends to involving yourself in his whole life. There is no denying that. So the most important resource we need is your time. Your time that you can use to effectively make yourselves a part of the kid’s life and upbringing, your time that could be used to enriching the kid’s education and understanding of several life lessons. Your time is the investment that will bear the greatest fruit of all our efforts.
Please volunteer or suggest in ways we can use our experiences to teach these kids. One thing that comes to my mind, is to spare sometime and write to them. Yeah, I am talking about the long lost art of writing letters. Letters that will help them cherish every written word of wisdom throughout life, apart from helping them in a few aspects of language. Visits whenever you are here to the project will also inspire them to aim for better education and better careers. Also, if you could suggest some helpful learning workshops or activities or interesting teaching methods that can be employed to help these kids, which will be greatly appreciated too.
I know there are a lot more people to thank, but I guess incorporating all the names might not be possible right now.
Above all, we thank God for His guidance and leading in every aspect of the project.
Thanks & regards,
Mrs. Swetha Sunjeet
Project Coordinator & Marketing Director
kids.R.ok – Saidapet Slum Education Project Saidapet
Chennai, Tamil Nadu