“Every child deserves a champion. An adult who will never give up on them, who understands the power of connection, and insists that they boom the best that they can possibly be.” – Rita Pierson.
This is a saying that stayed with me when I watched this TED Talk some time ago. It reinforced my idea that every child should get a better quality education. But at that point, I asked myself ‘what is better quality’? Does it mean a better syllabus or better teachers? Even as I was thinking about this, I feel that at a young age, it is the person, a teacher who influences a child, and inspires them to find their potential. Teachers play an important role in everyone’s life, and this depends heavily on how a teacher builds his/her relation with a student, to inspire them towards a bright future. Without building this relationship, understanding the mindset of a child is difficult.
Another quote by Rita Pierson is, “Kids don’t learn anything from a person they don’t like.”
Why am I telling you all this? Because the year in front of me puts me in the role of a teacher for 500 children, in a public residential school in Sukma, Chhattisgarh. After reaching Sukma, I first took some time to clear my mind of all the news of left-wing extremism and lurking danger in the area. I internalized that this place I will stay in will be dangerous, but one has to live up to the challenge.
We at Shiksharth (the organization I have been placed as part of the India Fellow Program), focuses on the education of the tribal children of the area and the community engagement required amidst the parents for the same. We are a group of 5 young people who will be working in the residential schools (called pota cabins here), one in each pota cabin. I have been assigned a place called Burdi which is 20kms from the town of Sukma. Pota cabin is a government residential school made of bamboo. Initially these constructions were made to hide the people whenever there is a conflict situation, but later on, these constructions have been used for the purpose of education because originally schools were blasted during conflicts.
On my first day in the school, I entered as the kids were on their way to have their breakfast and a few of them, seeing me, wished me ‘good morning sir’. Listening to the word ‘sir’ left an impression on me, as no one had ever called me that before. My first class was with the 6th standard students, and as I saw 40 of them look at me, I realized how nervous I was. A small introduction from me brought out several questions from the children – they were excited to get to know as much about me as they could, Like They asked what is my surname for which I did not answered, apart from that they asked where did I came from, what I used to do in my place, which places I have seen until now and how to do the people there look like.
In the time that I have spent here, I see the teachers working around me and realize that teachers are not given the salaries that they deserve, even in these areas where they are the only bringers of knowledge in remote tribal schools. Whether or not a teacher is good, they usually intend to do good and to help the children with knowledge and learning. Many a times, we classify them as good teachers and bad teachers but that doesn’t take away their importance, especially in areas where the teacher is the only person who can engage the mind of a child in a positive way. In school, I used to be a person sitting on the last bench and making fun of my teachers, even as recent as 2 years ago. Now I see the classroom, standing on the opposite side and thinking about ways to involve children kids everyday, help them learn and how to keep order in the class.
On my first day of becoming a teacher, after the classroom interaction, we played a game to get to know each other better. We wrote what we like the most, what we fear for, and our deepest secret. We mixed all the chits together and had fun reading the secrets of the kids, each with an innocent face. Another thing I understood after some interaction was that the kids are multi-talented and we have to just align them towards their hidden skills. Dancing and singing are the two things which everyone is good at, as it plays a major role in their culture. Aligning the culture and education of a child is the basis of my work here- to develop contextual learning. Its a challenging proposition; it is easy for us to say 1+1 is 2 but explaining how 1+1 is 2 is very difficult, especially where language is not common for everyone.
After spending a month in my new role, and taking a look at the circumstances around me, I’ve grown to respecting teachers immensely. I hope to take forward the patience that will required to help children to find their own potential in the year to come.
For those who would like to see the TED Talk by Rita Pierson, click here