There are few things that warm my heart more than people who make children happy. That’s some A grade quality Karma right there! :) I’m hoping to spend a day discussing Bollywood movies and playing games with these little tykes soon and must give props to Abhik Bhattacherji who does it everyday. xoxo
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Would the school management adapt to the radical changes that he’d bring, his fancy technology, his magical imagination, his burning desire to change every archaic thing from the word go? Most importantly would he become more than a teacher? In a country whose most fundamental crisis is inequity in education, where one in three children who begin primary school drop out before reaching 5th grade, thankfully the answer is yes.
Two years have passed in two of Bombay’s worst classrooms where I worked full-time attempting to amplify the potential of a group of India’s poorest children. While we had the extravagance of four walls and a ceiling, the children did not have the attitude, resources or desire to learn. They could not read, write or speak in English; their confidence was battered and their lives were stuck in status quo. And they were more than four years behind private school peers. Where would and could we start?
My colleagues at Teach for India and I began with a sense of urgency. We realised that a mammoth world of magical possibilities awaited and only hard work could get us there. We celebrated spontaneity and differences, encouraged risk taking.
This was a challenging experience for me, to be patient and nurturing to 50 children every single day. To be humble around bitter school management and learn to control my emotions when I saw corporal punishment and various forms of abuse. To be resourceful when we needed a library or a field trip and to invest friends and strangers when I felt isolated in my journey. I also looked deeper within myself when my children were not showing progress, to re-strategise when my class was destructive and disruptive. I learned the virtue of patience and the lessons of never giving up on anyone and that my serving small serves nobody. I learned the distinction between education and literacy; I learned to walk into a slum over and over again to involve families, to invest them in their child’s incredible future. I learned that change truly begins by re-engineering my internal dialogue, my prejudices and my limited mind set.
Each of these children had one thing in common – they burst with unconditional love. They live in Bombay’s darkest slums with families in which a patient ear, a loving word, a nurturing touch is a luxury. They see drugs, alcoholism and many are victims of sexual abuse and physical violence. They use the same shoe for three years, get the worst medical care yet find pristine joy in a one rupee packet of pickled berries.
I introduced these children to concepts such as love, peace, respect and unity, through art, literature, technology, out-door experiences or just by bringing the outside world into the classroom. The classroom soon seized to be isolated and became a safe place to learn and play. Through this experience of inquiry, observation, discussion, demonstration and participation we learned to balance academic excellence and holistic development.
After two years of intervention, these children are definitely smarter and confident but most importantly they are beginning to trade their mediocrity for excellence, their indifference to education for the joy of learning. To me, the triumph of a liberalised, more open-minded India is that today, unlike two decades ago, younger leaders are walking into such classrooms, with their convictions intact, an immense sense of possibility and the honesty of intent. Each day they thwart limited dreams, liberate children’s ambitions, repair the lost faith in our country and truly ensure that one day all children attain an excellent education. Because in this new, braver, brighter India, young people are given a chance to exhibit possibilities.
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