STREET SMART

These tutorials for slum children are literally run on the streets, finds Rishi Majumder

Photographer: Rana Chakraborty

chalu notes
Narasimhan Prabhu (name changed) sits on a pavement chewing a broken bangle piece he picked up from the road. The son of illiterate, slum-dweller Telugu speaking parents (his father’s a construction worker who spends most of his money on alcohol) —he can barely understand Hindi, let alone English. He’s in the second standard at a mu
nicipal school, but prefers to spend his time climbing lampposts. What kind of classroom would it take to educate him? Try the pavement and street off Juhu Versova Link Road, with batches of students arranged class-wise (standards one to nine) on chatais, a blackboard and paid teacher attached to each. “We started with two students—now we have 800,” smiles Nanddas Kotawala, a trustee of charitable organisation Asha Kiran, which set up this tutorial for children for municipal schools as well as other interested slum dwellers five years ago. The classes span seven locations in Andheri West, six days a week, in the mornings and evenings.
“I came here, like him, in my third standard,” says Venkatesh Balakrishnan, in class seven now, pointing to Prabhu. “But now I’m doing well in school. I’ve seen this doctor in my slum. I want to be like him…” “Sure a student can concentrate on the street side—as long as the teacher can make them!” comes from Pramilla Kalbhar, one of teachers hired on the basis of a higher secondary degree and the “compassion to connect with a class” (they’re given a trial run to determine this). Besides free teaching, the children’s text books, stationery and sometimes school fees are taken care of by the trust. For students who don’t speak Hindi or Marathi, the trust has appointed Telugu teachers and translators. “But most important is accessibility,” remarks MS Kohli, an honorary trustee. “So we’ve located these ‘centres’ all over, rather than sticking to buildings—so that we can be five minutes from the children’s residence.” They’ve also enlisted bus services to get in kids all the way from Kandivli.
But, finally, comes the lure: “Idli-wada, wada-pav, halwa,
puri-sabzi…even chocolates,” lists volunteer Ramesh Raut. In addition, there’s prizes to be won for regular attendance and scoring good marks in the school exams. Taking this carrot to a psychological level is “asking the children what they’d like to be and connecting the subjects to that end” as per teacher Renu Kesarvani (remember the doctor?). And to complete the endeavour, children who pass class nine are enlisted for their 10th standard, all expenses paid. “Still, out of 20 students who reached class 10 last year, only one cleared the Matriculate,” Raut mulls. Well, one at a time, the adage goes…

the tutorial

This article originally appeared in Mumbai Mirror, Times Of India: http://alturl.com/rpnv

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One comment

  1. Wynand · October 20, 2009

    Is this a Rishi I know? Prabhu Narasimhan (by way of etymology is a brahminical name) is not a name you would commonly associate with a slum kid in Andra Pradesh – did you know a Prabhu Narasimhan?

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