Until as recently as the beginning of October, 13-year-old Kunal Kumar, was unable to read simple words in Hindi, let alone full, complex sentences. However, with determination, hard work and a roadmap prepared by teachers, Kunal can now understand full sentences with ease. Hindustan Times spoke to Kunal and tracked his journey from a non reader to a reader, as a participant of the Delhi government’s Chunauti Mission.
After the baseline tests conducted on 30 September at his school, the Shaheed Hemu Khalani Sarvodaya Bal Vidyalaya, it was found that though the VIII grader could identify the different letters of the Hindi alphabet, he could not differentiate between maatras. “I used to get stuck when I read. I could not differentiate between the shorter “a” sound and the longer “aa” vowels, or the shorter “u” and longer “oo” vowels. If the word said Kaali (black), I would many a times read it as Kali (flowerbud),” he claimed.
Kunal’s world was turned upside down when he was moved from the high achiever’s Pratibha section, to the non reader Nishtha section. “I was very upset in the beginning. I cried a lot; all my friends were in a different section now. And to add insult to injury, some of my classmates made fun of me as well; they laughed in my face,” he claimed.
During the first week, his new teacher, Vishnu Kumar, took them through simple exercises and activities to understand where each kid stood. Kunal explained that during this week, the teacher mainly engaged students using games and other activities. “Guess the Letter/Word” was a particularly popular one where the teacher would trace a letter of the alphabet in the air, and the students had to guess what it was and write it out on the blackboard.
“The first week was easy, as the focus was mainly on the letters of the alphabet. I knew this already,” claimed Kunal.
Things got a little tougher for Kunal during the second week. “We started looking at words that used maatras. This is where I started experiencing some difficulty,” he claimed.
The teacher would make them read short stories, and make them practice the words they would find difficult. “He made us rewrite words that we found difficult, and also introduced us to around 5 new words daily,” he said.
The students are tested every week to check their progress; but during the 3rd week, the teacher conducted multiple tests and dedicated the week to revision. “This also gave us a chance to clear any doubts we may have had,” he said.
“I was able to read and write the word Cycle (in Hindi) this week,” beamed Kunal, speaking of the personal milestone.
The students were made read whole sentences and then asked to identify and note down words they found difficult. “This week I was able to read an entire sentence, with words that even had maatras in it. ‘Ravi ki nayi cycle aayi.’ (Ravi’s got a new bicycle),” said Kunal.
Kunal claims that they were taught at least 10 new words daily this week, which they were asked to practice at home.
Students were taught to read paragraphs during this week, and with progress, the workload also increased. “We used to have to write 5 pages as homework, almost daily. We had to rewrite the paragraphs and sentences we were learning,” said Kunal.
He also claimed that they learned around 20 new words in a day by this time.
The last week, before the November 14 deadline, the students were not only asked to read paragraphs, but also to write short paragraphs. “We had 5-10 pages of homework almost every day. We also got to learn 20-30 new words every day,” claimed Kunal.
Kunal can now read entire paragraphs with ease, and will demonstrate his prowess with great enthusiasm to anyone who is willing to listen. He claims he was motivated to work hard by his desire to go back to his previous section. “I have a lot more homework now. But that does not matter. It just means that I will learn a lot more, a lot faster. Then I can go back to my old class, and my old friends,” he said.
Kunal’s pride in his progress is evident in his enthusiasm to share his story. His parents also share in this pleasure. “I was tensed earlier. I knew he had difficulties in reading. But his teachers said that he was not making an effort, and that he was just a little weak. Now I am very happy. I feel proud when his teachers and even outsiders comment on the progress he has made,” said Santosh Kumar, Kunal’s mother who works as a peon in Okhla.