Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Article 5: What about their “Education”?

We bring you the 5th Article by Rajani tai from Chaturanga, a supplement of the local newspaper - Loksatta. In this article Rajani tai puts forth yet another important question:
Our system emphasizes on basic education and tries to fit in everyone in this set framework.  Some children have special skills, specific likes and dislikes and find it difficult to conform to the system. What about the children from the deprived strata of society for whom this education itself is non doable and yet have special skills? ? How do we bring forth their talents? We keep saying that let them learn what they like and automatically they would learn to read and write – but where do we find this option? Maybe, we may find some way out for some children, but there are many whose talents never see the light of the day and are snuffed unseen – what about them?

28th February is designated as the National Science day. This article is written taking into consideration the appropriateness, in discussing this day – a slight digression from the topics discussed so far.

We work in various slums all-round the year and reach approximately 2500 children every day. True, this number includes more of the children from the migrant communities, but we do have children who start from Balwadi and reach the 10th -11thgrade. For these children, once they settle down to the school routines and are proficient in basic reading and writing, then we introduce English, Mathematics and Science. To create interest in Science and understand its basic tenets we conduct small experiments related to their day today living. The main reason for our emphasis on science is because of a Science laboratory called “Quest” in our area. The motivational force, the energy, the guide, the person setting its direction, in short everything this organization stands for is one Shrimati Malati Kelkar.

We started taking our children to her lab. About 14 years ago. The children were made to perform experiments on their own. This helped the children to get the information, learn the principles and reason out results. Like all things, it started in a small way, but as our area of operation expanded it started becoming difficult to get children from far away centers to the lab. On the other hand, it was clear that the children liked this initiative, they were different from the other children at school in understanding all concepts and moreover even their teachers at school specially mentioned or promoted these children. So now we started thinking of ways to reach the children who were at a longer distance from the lab.

 We decided on two things – first, to prepare kits and reach to the centers away from the lab. And second, train the teachers to conduct these small experiments and explain the rationale and principle of these experiments. (Mind you, many of our teachers are just 10th grade or 12th grade graduates). Some of the experiments included were making soap bubbles and then seeing the various colors when exposed to the sunlight. - And then finding out why? Or the experiment demonstrating how soil erosion can be reduced by afforestation. For this we took 3 plastic bottles and cut them across the length not exactly in halves, slightly above the spout to let off the excess water. This created a hollow – something like the rain water drain. We then filled the hollows up with soil. We sowed wheat and garden cress seeds which sprout and grow very fast in one bottle, in the second one we sowed garden cress but sparingly and in the third we didn’t sow anything. After the sprouts had grown sufficiently tall we carried out our experiment.  We watered all the 3 bottles – in the first one the excess water which dribbled out was clear, in the second one it was slightly muddy and the in the third one it was completely muddy. The children did these experiments on their own and the principles of the seven colors of light and soil erosion were permanently embedded in their brains. The children perform such small experiments and learn.

For the past few years, we have been holding Science Exhibition on National Science day. The participating children choose their experiment, perform it for the visitors, and then explain the principle behind it and how this principle can be used in our day to day lives. There are several types of children here – some who learn the whole explanation by heart and blurt it out but keep quiet when posed with questions – some who try to explain but not very convincingly and very few who not only understand the principles but go a step head – beyond what is taught.

 In this year’s exhibition there were two such examples.  The first one was utilizing the air pressure. A young boy had made a model of earth moving machine (common parlance JCB), using syringes and moved the arms of the machine by pushing and pulling the syringe plunger. The second one was, utilization of solar power. Actually it was not just an experiment as this boy uses solar electricity every day at his home and supplies electricity to the neighboring 15-20 hutments for charging mobiles and one single light bulb. He along with his uncle had found the solar panel and all the other storing and wiring material from the scrap which they used to collect. His uncle taught him how to use it to produce electricity. Unfortunately, his uncle passed away. But this young lad of 10 years who has studied only till 3rd grade, who hardly knows any reading or writing , has put to use the “knowledge “ given by his uncle to produce electricity and use it daily. One feels surprise as well as remorse.

Remorse; because if this boy doesn’t attend school, then he has no accredited, approved option available to pursue his interest in this field. If he has to complete schooling then he has to spend at least 10 years of his life at school. The children we are taking about very rarely complete 10 years of schooling. Some of them start working while others are not ready to do menial jobs as they feel they are educated and get enmeshed in a delusion of self-esteem.   Then they fall prey to various addictions and the parents are left regretting that their dreams of seeing their son being educated and becoming an officer are shattered.

Education for all is essential and a must, but then what part of this must be compulsory? When will the children get education which will give scope for their inherent skills and likes dislikes to be enhanced – skills like music, painting, acting, dancing, scientific curiosity, mathematics, carving to name a few. Moreover skills which would help them earn something while learning. This thought or idea is nothing new – many have elaborated it many times but as yet such options are not available to all and sundry. Then what happens to the creator of JCB or solar panels? How do we bring forth their talents? We keep saying that let them learn what they like and automatically they would learn to read and write - but where do we find this option? 

Maybe, we may find some way out for the children mentioned above, but there are many children whose talents never see the light of the day and are snuffed unseen – what about them?

For the original article in Marathi, please visit Shikshan Sarvansathi (Education for all) - Article 5

Rajani Paranjape

Translated by Wasudha Korke

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