Monday, March 13, 2006

Sun-nu Moon-u

Recently, DSF did an assessment of it kids. We have adopted 6 primary govt. schools. And, at each of these schools (except the urdu school), students of 2nd, 4th & 6th std were evaluated. Language (Kannada) and Math skills were checked, tests were carefully designed by Megha, & Vinay, with expert support from Juveena of NEEV. This assessment would help us in knowing the kids better, and point to where we stand, & which way to go.

Herz an account of it by Kavitha, a DSF volunteer, who moved out of her familiar turf to join the team at Murphy town, Ulsoor.

February 25th was the day set for evaluation for the kids at Ulsoor School. I wasn’t expecting anything more than a small room besides a garbage-dumping yard with little or no furniture. I had imagined a mud road with lots of potholes that would lead to this small room that might perhaps have either a leaking roof or crumbling walls. I was also concerned that the volunteers might not be able to locate this tiny little room, as there might not even be a board to display the name of the school.

The auto driver who drove us to the school seemed to be well versed with the locality as he took us to the school without having to ask anybody for the directions. When we arrived at the school I was pleasantly surprised to see a single storied neat building located in a decent neighborhood. There was a board with the name of the school and that confirmed we had indeed reached the right school. Some kids peeping out of the classroom windows waved their tiny hands at us and called out aloud “aunty”. This was a welcome sign to the volunteers. The children greeted us like they had known us, though it was our first visit.

We took the stairs to the first floor and I was rather too impressed with the painted boards in the corridor displaying the English months of the year, “Kaagunita” etc. The classrooms also had a few hand made charts. The two teachers in the school greeted us and informed that the principal wasn’t around. They appeared excited that their kids were being evaluated. They were very co-operative and gave us complete freedom to assess the kids in the manner that we thought was apt. They were also very enthusiastic and enquired if they could help us in any way. We assured them that we would only need a classroom for the assessment exercise and some time alone with the kids.

Vishwas, Thiru and I opted to evaluate the second standard kids. Vinay and Arvind chose to evaluate the fourth standard kids. Our first task was to make the kids comfortable and not give them a feeling of being “tested” or “evaluated”. We introduced ourselves and the kids who initially seemed shy and hesitated to tell their names later sang a few Kannada songs for us! They only needed a couple of minutes to feel comfortable and then they were their bubbly, cheerful selves again. The people in the neighborhood were celebrating a festival and a loudspeaker was blaring loud music. The children seemed to be least disturbed with this. It appeared to me that they were so accustomed to such disturbances they had learnt to live with it. The teachers expressed their concerns about such disturbances occurring frequently. Their repeated requests to reduce the disturbance didn’t seem to have much effect on their neighbors. They had requested the neighbors to turn down the volume of the music when the “volunteers” would be evaluating. But the neighbors felt it was more important to celebrate the festival with loud blaring noise than children learning to grow up to be responsible citizens contributing to the welfare of the society. But this did not deter either the teachers or the children. The teachers wanted their children to learn new things. Dedication in teachers is a rare quality even in some private schools. But this seemed to be in abundance with the teachers in this little known school at Ulsoor. Teachers in Malleswaram Government School sometimes personally go to the kids’ homes and bring them to school.

Majority of the children attending this school speak either Tamil or Urdu at home and hence they spoke with either a strong Tamil or Urdu accent. Some kids couldn’t differentiate between the two languages and they liberally mixed Tamil words assuming they are Kannada words :-)

I pointed at my ear and asked a kid what it was, he innocently replied “Kaadhu”. “Kaadhu” is the Tamil word for “ear” and its Kannada equivalent is “Kivi”.I pointed to the picture of sun to another kid and asked him “idenu putta?” meaning, “What is this child?” He replied “Sun-nu”. When I asked him “Kannadadalli enantaare putta?” meaning, “What do they say in Kannada child?” He replied “Moon-u” :-)

I asked another girl “ ‘Aa’ inda shuruvaago yaavdaadroo ondu pada helu putti” meaning “tell me a word that begins with ‘Aa’ “ she sang a song that begins with “Aa” :-)) Apparently the kids cannot differentiate between “word” and “song” as the word “pada” means “song” or “word” in different contexts.

I pointed to the word “Rajanikanth” on a flash card, to a kid and asked him to read it. He was struggling to identify the alphabets and I turned the flash card and pointed to the picture of “Rajanikanth” on the other side. He smiled and said “PASHA” or perhaps it was “Basha”???

We then asked the kids to read a sentence from their Kannada textbook. One sentence read “avaLu ondu dhoni maadidaLu” meaning “she made a boat”. When Vishwas asked a kid what it meant, the kid very innocently said “cricket-u, dhoni”… J . Apparently the kids thought Dhoni referred to the Indian cricket player Dhoni!!!!

Language did not seem to be a favorite subject with the kids. So it was now time to move on to the next subject Mathematics. Most kids dread mathematics. They do not get the fundamentals clear in their elementary school and it wouldn’t be surprising if these kids didn’t fare well in this subject. I wasn’t expecting them to fare well either. I announced “sari eega ellaaroo lekkha aata aadanva?” meaning “shall we all play a game in mathematics?” I was expecting a couple of kids to groan or make it evident they didn’t like what they heard or look disinterested. How wrong I was! The children smiled and very enthusiastically said “sari. Naanu barla aadakke?” meaning “Ok. Shall I play?” almost instantaneously.

I held a few different colored objects (building blocks) in my hand and asked a kid to count them. Next I divided the objects into two equal portions and asked him to tell which had more number of objects. He smiled at me and said “eradralloo ashte ide. Yaavdu jaasti anta helodu?” meaning “both the heaps are equal. How can I say which is greater?”I held the objects in my hand and then asked a girl to count them. She happily counted them for me and then I placed the objects in her hand and asked “eega helu putti eshtu ive?” meaning “Tell me child how many objects are there”. She said “Nim hatra ZERO nan hatra entu” meaning “you have zero objects in your hand and I have eight”. This was very impressive! The kids knew the concept of ZERO! After all we Indians taught the world the concept of “ZERO” :=)

We finished our evaluation exercise with the second standard kids and helped Vinay and Arvind evaluate the fourth standard kids. The kids could all read simple alphabets, but they had some difficulty reading the compound characters (othakshara). Also their comprehension wasn’t very good. This definitely causes some concern. If they are not good in Kannada, which is the medium of instruction, they cannot learn the other subjects like social science well. It didn’t surprise us that the girls fared better than the boys. There could be a Kalpana Chawla, Shakuntala Devi, Sudha Murthy, Indira Gandhi, Arundathi Roy or a Kiran Bedi among these kids. I would have loved to stay a while longer and find what they dream about. But a glance at my watch said it was time for the kids to have their afternoon meals. We distributed chocolates to the kids, waved bye to them and returned home.

Volunteering with Govt. primary schools is a lot of fun. Kids from 1st std to 7th std. Shy & Cheerful faces, calling you 'Uncle', 'Aunty', 'Anna', 'Akka', 'Sir', 'Miss'. Childhood stares & smiles at you. Itz Heaven. Help the kids realise their dreams and keep their smiles on. Interested ? write to Mrs Maitreyee, our DSF co-ordinator.

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