Because of the heavy rains today, only two children (Aditya and Kusum) from class 7 had come in. One of the teachers was absent as well. In the morning today, I spent around 30 minutes with Aditya and Kusum, and was chatting with them. Aditya was generally very loud, and spoke to me very confidently. Kusum was relatively more soft spoken, but also equally confident. I’ve typed out some excerpts from our conversation (which I recorded).
Aditya: “Bhaiya, teach us something please. Today no children came to class so even teacher Ma’am will not do anything new. So let us learn something from you please!”
Kusum: “Yes, we are now learning tables in maths. Do you want to teach us that?”
We spent around 10 minutes writing and reciting the tables of 5 through 9, and Aditya struggled a lot with it, while Kusum was very fluent in it. They both recited it all in Hindi. I wanted to do something that was not math with them, so I asked them if they liked writing.
Kusum: “Yes! I love to write. We can do some creative writing bhaiya.”
Aditya: “No, I do not like to write at all. I find it very difficult to write. In both English and Hindi.”
Kusum: “Yes, he is very bad in writing. He cannot write anything. But let us do writing no!”
Aditya: “You keep quiet! I can write bhaiya, only very slowly. Tell me what to write, and I’ll show you.”
Kusum started writing a short essay in Hindi (I told her to pick whichever language she was most comfortable with) about herself, and her family. She even went on to draw a picture of her family during Diwali.
While she did this, I spent the entire time with Aditya, helping him frame sentences and then write them down (in Hindi again). From the moment we started writing, he lost the enthusiasm he had while talking to me, and had a very serious look on his face. He talked more quietly now, and stammered a lot. I urged him to say his sentence aloud first, and then attempt to write each word one at a time, and not think of the next word when writing the previous. We spent a total of 30 minutes together, and this was the outcome.
Translation of the text:
My name is Aditya.
I want to play.
I go to school.
I play cricket.
There are many grammatical errors in his sentences, and it was difficult trying to explain them to him. He struggled a lot with the first two sentences, and he kept mixing the word ‘hai’ (the last word of the first sentence) with ‘mai’ (me) (the first word of the first sentence). He had no difficulty writing his own name though – he told me that he was used to writing that down. He even showed me his name in English.
[I have this entire conversation with Aditya recorded as well.]
By the time we reached the last sentence, he was able to move forward much faster than before. The technique he was using was to first say the entire sentence aloud, then count the number of words in each sentence, and then break down each word into the individual letters as he wrote them. After writing each word, he would again speak the entire sentence aloud to see how much was completed, and then figure out which word he had to write next. Many times, he would miss out on writing a word, and skip to the next word. It took me a few minutes to also explain when he had to use a full stop in a paragraph.
After all this, it was time for the kids to eat lunch and then head to school. Aditya promised me that he would write an entire page in this way and then show it to me tomorrow. He also said that he would draw a picture and show it to me.
I then spent some time with 5 students in class 8, and Aditya and Kusum when they ate lunch. Most of the kids pack their lunch (it’s their mother who prepares the food and gives it to them). They eat their food here at Asha, and then wash their dabbas in the sink/bathroom and then leave for school. Two of the boys in 8th did not have any lunch with them – they told me that they usually don’t eat lunch, or sometimes they eat from outside. They generally don’t feel hungry at this time, is what one of them told me. Another girl mentioned that she usually doesn’t eat any breakfast, because she doesn’t feel like it, but sometimes she drinks tea in the morning. Most of the kids nodded in agreement and said that they usually just drink tea in the morning for breakfast. Everyone ate a good dinner though.
“Sometimes we eat even before Papa comes back home! Because sometimes he comes very late. But Mummy always waits and then eats dinner with Papa. If Papa doesn’t eat, then even Mummy will not eat.”
Another girl told me about a ‘mela’ (fair) that happens every year in a large open field nearby.
“It is so much fun – they have rides and games and food. Last time when we went there, we all clicked a family photo as well. It is very crowded though – you know bhaiya, there are some people who come from outside too and give small children like us a chocolate and then before we know it they take us away. It happened to one boy! He disappeared, and then we don’t know what happened. One more boy got lost, and then we found him only in the next day. So we always have to be careful when we go there.”
In the afternoon, I recorded Rekha Ma’am’s grade 7 Civics class. She started a new chapter on the Constitution today. Digvijay now has the video, and he said he would share it with me soon. He wants to add all these videos to the Asha YouTube channel.
Dr Smita visited the center today as well. She spent some time in each class, talking to the students and teachers, and also chatted with some of the volunteers. A person from Shirsa came to visit her, and she asked me to also sit in on their conversation, which took place outside in the courtyard.
[I have a 40-minute audio recording of this entire conversation, the highlights of which I have transcribed below.]
“He is my patient here. So anyway, like I was saying, I think the translation of content is our biggest problem. Someone from Asha should actually take out a special project only for translating content. There is so much of content that would be very useful for us, but it is in English and we cannot use it therefore. Look at the classroom itself – the teachers struggle to mediate between the Hindi, English, and Marathi medium students. Someone sitting in the US or anywhere can use this job really – just sit and translate all this content. It’s a brute force work we need someone to do.”
“Even splitting the kids into different sections is of no use. You see, the content is still not in Marathi. I want the kids to use the tablets and the technology, but we do not have the content for them. So what use of putting the Marathi kids in a separate section? They still cannot use the technology. We just need some dubbing really, to change the language. This is a project that needs some funding and some manpower, and Asha Mumbai cannot do it alone. We need Asha at large to direct some efforts here. Like there are loads of Asha centers in UP, and that place is full of Hindi-speaking children. So we need to show them that spending this money on this is worth it.”
“I find it difficult to trust some third-party tech tool sometimes. Because everyone is here out to get money. I need to have that level of understanding with the makers of some new tool that what they’re doing is truly worth it, and not a money-making fraud. Especially if I am paying for this, I need to be very careful. You have tons of these companies today that make these new EduTech interventions, but one needs to be careful when she is approached by such a company.”
“So many people think that the NGO is a type of business. Everywhere you see, there are NGOs coming up with schools for children. I sometimes wish I could set up more Asha centers in Mumbai, but it is difficult – I cannot directly trust someone with this kind of thing if they have the mindset that NGOs are businesses. Everyone is joining NGOs either for money-making, or prestige-making. They have that mindset – “Oh, I need to do something for the poor children! So let us start an NGO.” I do not want to work with such people, and it is very difficult for me to find someone who doesn’t think like this. There are so many people who use NGOs as a platform to make money, and then you hear of some of these cases of fraud in the news. I do not want to encourage anything like that at all.”