Ask six-year-old Sakshi Thakur to identify primary colours on a chart and her mind races to the blue pomfret and red snapper on her class pin board. Her classmate Ruhi Raut rattles off the alphabet, rounding it off with a “W for well”.
Thakur and Raut, students of the St Anthony’s Convent, Vasai have over the past eight months been part of NGO Tara.ed’s rural education programme. The brainchild of Goldman Sachs Global Leadership Award 2007 winners Ritika D’Souza (21) and Australian student Jennifer Purcell (22), the programme aims at equipping rural school students, many of whom speak only Marathi and Hindi, with English language skills. D’Souza is now assisted by classmate Mehjabeen Jagmag (22) after Purcell took charge of the programme’s Australian wing.
And they do this by simply adapting the syllabus to the children’s daily experiences. “Our syllabus suffers from an urban bias due to which many students drop out midway. It’s important for children to identify with their subject,” said D’Souza.
So the school’s 300 Class 1 students, all inhabitants of the nearby fishing village, have learnt to pick verbs from an essay on ‘Daddy’s Day Out Fishing’, brushed up on their addition with images of Bombay duck and mackerels and even staged a play on ‘Life Under the Sea’.
Sounds like just another bunch of young crusaders out to change the world? A rather expensive dream given the absence of funds, only students for administrators and the use of a fourth of their part-time salaries to stay afloat.
But the team managed to put a system in place. A board comprising lawyers and experienced teaching professionals, 45 collegians who dedicate two days a week to preparing lessons and teaching aids and fortnightly conference calls with their Australian counterparts for fresh ideas.
The plan seems to have worked, with three new Thane-based school projects lined up for academic year 2009-10.
“There is a need for such voluntary help to support the education system,” said Awghadi Ghodke, project coordinator, Rand Research, who helps the team establish academic contacts.