Some things melt your heart; some others make you restless. And then there are things that make you move and hustle. For me, that is our classroom full of kids in a government school. I volunteered to teach these kids aged 13-15 along with Aditee Zanpure , my co-volunteer who has been there in taking this initiative ahead. Both of us prepared them for the National Means-Cum-Merit-Scholarship exam - the NMMS exam.
The entire project was being managed by an NGO, and I was required to teach the kids for 4 hours every Saturday, for the next 4-5 months. I felt it's just not fair that children with immense potential and a strong will to shape their lives fall behind due to lack of opportunity and resources.
NMMS is a scholarship exam conducted by the government every year for class 8th students. This is very similar to the NTSE exam conducted for class 10. You can consider it an analogous exam for class 8. The purpose of NMMS is to reduce the dropout rate by encouraging children to continue their studies. The students who clear this exam are offered a scholarship every month until they complete their class 12th.
When I had started, there was an ocean of problems to address. The situation was worse than we had expected. These class 8 students were struggling with basic mathematics and reading in English. Things had to be picked up right from the basics. Add to that the language barrier. This was a school in Bangalore, and I didn't know Kannada.
But this problem was quickly solved as the classes began getting more and more fun and we got volunteers from the class itself who would act as English to Kannada (and vice versa) translators. The kids were divided into groups, with one translator in each group to help them with their doubts. It worked quite well, and I also began understanding Kannada.
Unfortunately, the government schools in India are underfunded, and the teachers are very busy with administrative work. This means that their attention is divided, the kids being the worst sufferers. We had to fight battles, to get the kids in the class every time, as the kids were also engaged in all sorts of 'mandatory activities' other than studies.
Also, kids being kids, their natural priority was- 'anything other than studies'. But this picture began to change soon. We developed a beautiful bond with the kids. All our interactions slowly got more and more transparent and candid. The kids started to trust us. Even though we did not speak the same language, we understood each other.
This was observed during one instance where the kids were being forced to participate in other activities with the exam just a few weeks away, and the kids all got together and refused. They would open the classroom at 9 am sharp and would wait for us. And this is just one example of the grit shown by these kids. We also tried to make learning fun for them. They used to wait for the 'chocolate question' where the kid solving the sum first, would get chocolate from us as a reward.
Somewhere in between all this, I had my little struggles. Imagine your friends and colleagues in the office, partying every Friday night, while you go home, have your dinner and go to bed early to be able to wake up early and reach the school on time. Sometimes we even had to skip our breakfast to take extra classes.
Was it all worth it? Absolutely. I was enriched and humbled by the sheer force of determination shown by these kids. They finally started enjoying the process of learning.
I am gearing up for online sessions as schools will not be opening anytime soon. I look forward to a new adventure every day as I step ahead in my journey as an educator.
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