Finding our places in our little school
Contributed by – Abhimanyu
There is one important underlying reason why our padhai sessions have yielded consistent participation from our children. Our children are fascinated by padhai. Our children have the desire to do what regular school going students do. They like taking a bath, dressing up, packing their bags for school, doing their homework, getting their homework’s checked with a red pen, singing rhymes, learning new words and being part of a group. Our children are one of a kind, in that they would never let a facilitator leave the school without giving them homework. Having the children show up has never been a very tedious task for us. The space is inviting and what we do is in sync with the deepest desires of our students.
While our children do show up, not everyone is at the same level when they’re inside the classroom. There are some who have been to school prior to coming to Lucknow and have a very basic grasp of alphabets and decent arithmetic skills. Raju and Rashmina fall under this category. They are two of the eldest students in our school, and getting them to study and take responsibility for the school has never been an issue. They have constantly shown ownership for the program, starting from teaching other students on school off days to playing important roles in rebuilding the school building. Rashmina takes up the responsibility herself to call everyone living near her home, to find a broom for cleaning the school and often carries the flex we sit on back to her home. Similarly, Raju shows up when there is important work, like when we had to rebuild the school building. With these students we naturally have a higher expectation and evaluate them according to a certain standard.
Then there are other elder students, not as active as Raju and Rashmina but who’s maturity comes in very handy. Phoolchand is one example. Phoolchand attends most of the classes and is one of the best at mathematics. But what separates Phoolchand from others is his maturity and understanding that learning is what we come to school for. He can often be seen scolding other children for being distracted, asking them to focus and explaining things to them in their language when they cannot understand. We are hoping for increased participation from and an increased sense of ownership from Phoolchand as time goes by.
Among the youngest ones, there are a few gems who would immediately catch the eyes of the facilitators. Rashid-ul is one who has been the most committed to the padhai session among all. His face lights up when we sing rhymes and he is always helping his peers out during the session. Similarly, Shahida shows a lot of interest for studies while often taking the responsibility of taking the flex with her to her home. Bare in mind that these two were extremely naughty when we started! But they have gradually become responsible and sincere students and rarely cause disruptions, at least inside the school.
There have been other students who have initially felt out of place in the school, but are gradually understanding their roles in the space and opening up. Mahib-ul and Lalchand are two such examples. Mahib-ul joined us a bit late and he barely understood Hindi. He would give us a blank look every time we came and would not speak out inside the class. But what we saw in him was persistence and his subtle ways of trying to grab our attention during the session. He has eased into the padhai session now, he gives us a warm smile whenever we come and also shows his restlessness towards the end of the classes when all he wants to do is leave! The change in Mahib-ul is something that we could not foresee when he came initially. Lalchand on the other hand has always been quiet and reserved. He does not try to bring the facilitators attention to him, even when he’s struggling with something. But constant encouragement and appreciation has worked with how Phoolchand is shaping up. Giving him responsibilities and giving him the student of the day has made him a different person since the last few weeks. We can see that he likes the feeling of being responsible for things and likes it when we trust him with work. We have a lot of work to do with Phoolchand for getting him on par with the rest of the elder children, but the rise in his involvement recently is a very hopeful sign.
Then there are children who come occasionally, but we can count on them to take responsibility for the school. Shabik-ul is the eldest of all and is visibly the least interested and excited about the school. It is probably a bit frustrating and demoralizing for him to sit among kids much younger than him and try to catch up to them. He does not feel a part of the group like others do. But Shabik-ul enjoys contributing to the school by being swift about any help we ask him for, whether it is arranging a broom or getting the softboard fixed inside the school. Shabik-Ul does it both for appreciation but also out of the understanding of the importance of the school in lives of his peers.
Making this school as fruitful for all as it is for a few, is an important challenge we face. We are attending to it as of now by customizing our approach with the needs of each and every child. An approach that works with one may backfire when used with another child. Five new children have joined us two sessions back, and it adds to the challenges of taking everyone together on this journey. However, we hope that sticking to principles of being child centric in making lesson plans, in giving student of the days, in allotting responsibilities and in setting expectations from each child should help us move past this challenge.