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Masti ki paathshaala

Priya Chaphekar visits a school that is part of the Teach for India Movement and comes away impressed

Used to watching kids around me cribbing (I have done my share of it too) about school and throwing tantrums for that sparkling pencil or latest school bag, the kids of the Globe Mill municipality school in Mumbai were an eye-opener. The school is a symbol of the Teach for India Movement, which along with the NGO Muktangan and the BMC, is doing a great job of educating the underprivileged.

As you enter the school, you will see a line of neatly arranged footwear. The corridor is decorated with drawings and colourful bags hung from hooks. The clean surroundings are remarkable. You won’t find a single biscuit wrapper on your way.

Ruchira Banerjee, who is a Teach for India fellow, introduced me to her class of approximately 40 seven-year-old kids. I was greeted by a loud “good morning”. When asked about her equation with the kids, Ruchira said, “The kids often call me mummy; they sit on my lap. Coming to Muktangan was great because the NGO already has some of the techniques in place and the teachers are very co-operative. I start with a group hug because that helps the kids open up, they can then talk to you about anything.”

“Children here come from diverse backgrounds.” said Gaurav Verma, another Teach for India fellow, who teaches the Std II kids. “The parents of some kids are rag pickers, whereas the others are auto-rickshaw drivers, tailors, carpenters and clerks — basically low-income backgrounds. Some of the kids also come from disturbed families where his/her mother is regularly beaten up.” It is heart-breaking when a child comes to you and says, “Mujhe maro, mujhe kuch farak nahin padta.”

Apart from the usual subjects like maths, languages and EVS that most Std II children study, Teach for India has introduced a new subject called Circle Time. “It is a time where we sit in a circle so that everybody is on the same platform. It is not a teacher-student relationship during that time. We are peers and we share our lives and feelings, sing jingles, and strengthen the bond.” explained Gaurav.

Teach for India also insists that the children have two meals during the school time. “We have a short-recess and a long-recess. The breakfast is taken care of by the school where they are given a bowl of khichadi or kheer and a fruit. Sometimes, we give them packaged milk and biscuits. They have to get lunch from home and it has to be a vegetable and chapatti. Once a week we allow them to get something different.” said Gaurav while serving breakfast to the children. And by the way the kids took out their hand-made tablemats and laid them under their bowls, it was evident that the teachers placed a lot of emphasis on manners and etiquettes as well.

“Muktangan believes that the teacher-student ratio shouldn’t be more than 10:1. We have 4 teachers per class so that we can build a close bond. I have also incorporated pranayam in their course, I teach them to meditate, relax and visualise. I teach them dancing as well.” said Ruchira.

“The kids have opened up to me big time. They are free to touch my hair, play with my dupatta and say anything about me. If I’m not sitting upright, they tell me to because I have given them that liberty. Until and unless they can talk to you as a friend, they won’t open up.” she added.

And it is fascinating just how quickly they accept you. Five minutes with them and they were revealing their secrets, posing for close-ups, asking me when I would visit them again or if I would be their teacher. I can’t wait to go back. What are you waiting for?

-Priya Chaphekar

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