Update (19th March '09): This post is now published at YouthKiAwaaz.
"It is not about how much you know. It is about how much it matters to those who do not know. And that, quite honestly, is infinite" [~Times Of India, Teach India campaign]
It is this statement which I saw some 6-7 months back in a full-page Ad of the ToI TeachIndia campaign, that spurred me to go and register for the program. A month after I registered, TeachIndia contacted me with a message that I had been placed with the NGO Youth4Seva. I was invited to attend a kind of induction program where all the volunteers who had joined from TeachIndia were given an overview of Youth4Seva and its activities.
The real excitement, and responsibility, came up when I went one Sunday morning to the Deena Seva Sangha in Seshadripuram, to actually start my teaching. I was asked to choose between Spoken English and Maths, the audience being a bunch of 10th Standard children, from a hostel next door to the school where I would be taking the classes. I chose Spoken English.
So it started. I took classes for the 7 boys every Sunday morning from 8 to 9:30 or 10. In the very first class, I realized that I had underestimated the effort it takes to teach! Secondly, I now realized that Maths would have been a better choice – since there's a fixed syllabus which one can teach, and it is easy to measure the children's progress – unlike Spoken English.
But another thought which occurred to me was that I had the opportunity to make a real difference in the children's future. It is my belief that to be competent in today's world, it is a must for a person to have a fair knowledge of the English language – written and spoken. Nothing hi-fi .. only basic communication skills in English. So I now had the opportunity to give these 7 kids a greater chance at being competitive.
I was suggested to look for Prakruthi N Banwasi's books, but I could not find any in the book stores. I settled for another “Spoken English” book. My first day in the class was an experience in itself.
The class started off with introductions all around. The first thing I noticed was the students' enthusiasm to learn. They were all from the disadvantaged sections of society, but that was not at all evident from their smiling faces or their general behaviour. Knowing the local language definitely helped me in bonding with the kids. I soon went beyond the teaching hours and started playing with the kids after class hours.
But, the crux of the matter remained dissatisfactory. The children were very weak in the basics. Some of them had chosen English medium in their school, but even they were very weak as far as their English knowledge goes. I started trying out different things to get them to open up more and converse with each other in English during the class hours. I started getting the sports page of the newspaper to class, to encourage the kids to read about it out and try to interpret the meaning. I asked the students to narrate what they did during the previous week, what movies they watched, what part of the movie they particularly liked, and other such stuff.
Although they gradually became more forthcoming and started using English more often, the improvement was not sufficient. Their board exams were approaching fast, and I was trying to complete my course before that.
It dint work out that way. The pressure started piling up on the students, with special classes in their school. I too had to go out of town and missed a couple of classes. These frequent gaps in the classes hampered the continuity, and hence the progress.
Eventually, I stopped taking classes for the 10th Standard students since their board exams are just round the corner now. I thought I'd switch over to teaching something to other children (the 9th standard students were in need of English and Maths teachers). However, they too have their exams soon. It is too late for me to get started now. Which means currently, I am not doing any teaching at all.
So, should I be disheartened that my contribution to TeachIndia has not amounted to much?
I think not.
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I state my belief that change should be at the grassroots level, which inevitably, is a slow process. I was not able to achieve what I set out to this year, but its not the end. I will go back next year and make sure I make a difference in the lives of the next batch of kids. Of course I will be left with a lingering guilt that I have failed the 7 children who are currently in 10th Standard – but on second thoughts, its not really a failure.
At the end of the day, TeachIndia for me has been a very satisfying experience so far. Give back to society brings a satisfaction like nothing else. I need to learn from this year's experience and commit more time next year.
Another thing I need to do is inspire more people to contribute to any such cause which gives hope to the Indian Citizens of Tomorrow. A small, but strong commitment (in my case – 1.5 hours per week for 12 weeks) is all you need to make to change lives for the better, forever. It need not be teaching (since that might require you to know the local language) – it could be anything – monetary, spreading awareness of issues (like hygiene), street plays, spreading the word and encouraging peers to join this cause, photography, blogging, web page design – anything you can think of. I urge you, my reader, to involve in any such activity which you think you can contribute in.
Hope being the foundation of this blog, I end this post Hoping for a better future for the Future Citizens of India. JAI BHARAT.