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Two Years

‘Two years?! Are you actually going to give up that much of your time to do something so different and unrelated to architecture?’

This is the question thrown at me every time I mention the fellowship. Even now, 16 months into my fellowship, I am still asked the same question.

13th August 2016. Out of the 40 odd kids writing the weekly History test, only about 6 are still diligently writing. They have been struggling with memorising and rote learning. As have I. I don’t really see the point in it. It does not help the kids learn and grow. They are just replicating what already exists often without understanding. What exactly are the board exams testing? The presentation and memorisation skills? When the kids are out in the world what good is knowing random dates? How is being able to write in detail about the World War going to help them?

‘Education is not the filling of a pail but the lighting of a fire.’ This quote mocks me from the cover of Ruchi’s book, as I am grading the latest test. And the same thoughts haunt me. Why can’t we build skills? The ability to look at a problem and think critically. Analysing facts and forming opinions. And having the skills to express those opinions. Communication skills. Social skills. Financial skills. Things that will help the kids actually survive in the world.

This is what I have been struggling the most with since I started my fellowship last June. Academics or enduring skills and values. We are a 10th grade, second year intervention class. My kids are going to appear for the board exams this March, so our focus has been majorly on understanding and rote learning, as is required for the exams. The time we have is nowhere near enough to give the kids everything they need. These kids have been ‘educated’ in the system till the 8th grade, which basically means that they just sat in class all day, while the teachers were ‘busy’ with work. They have not had a dedicated teacher for their class until Teach for India intervened in the 9th grade. Their English levels range from 0.5, which is kindergarten level, to 3.5, which is 3rd grade level. The burden on these kids is enormous. They have been pushed a grade higher each year, without actually learning much.

A year from now these kids will be scattered across various junior colleges in the city. How are we preparing them to cope up with that? To be able to communicate freely. To be confident to speak to their teachers. To be able to make friends and have fun without any self esteem issues. To be able to voice their opinions with confidence. To have social intelligence and improve the lives of the people around them.

Every week a new problem is thrown at us. But this one remains constant. How can we teach them skills to survive in college if we are not sure if they will pass the boards and get into a college? And if we do drill them with academics and get them into a college, how do we make sure they are equipped to deal with everything? College is a completely different ball-game. They need to take ownership of their learning. They need to be able to understand what is being taught. How do we do that given their current academic levels? It feels like every time we take a step forward, we are moving two steps behind.

Sure, we are in a much better place this year as compared to last year. We have battled and shifted to a new school, where we now have two classrooms for 10th grade. XA now has 25 kids who can understand English and are rapidly bridging the gap between where they were and where they should be. But we still have 21 kids in XB, half of which are struggling with the basics, and the remaining half do not believe in the education system. 12 kids have dropped out of school in this year.

Sabeena has moved from scoring 17% to topping in English. Maruti is analysing his papers and has decided he needs to focus on inference based questions now. But Farhan and Ganesh are failing in the unit tests, despite focusing and rote learning. Shabaz not only studies sincerely, he encourages everyone around him to focus in class, but Pratima is sliding back down because she can’t cope up with the pressure. Soni and Alishfa are acing the tests and helping their classmates, but Shani has started questioning if he will ever get to the top.

Neelam, who was petrified of speaking in groups, gave an amazing Independence day speech in front of the whole school, but Akash and Anil are still teasing and disturbing their classmates.

Two years. I need way more than that with these kids. They deserve every single minute of the two years, and then some more.

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