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Going beyond the syllabus

mumbai Updated: Feb 19, 2010 00:50 IST

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Around board exam time, mathematics teacher Susan Babu, solves a different kind of problem – that of disappearing students. “Most of them just want to escape from studying, they are so stressed,” she said. Holy Family School at Andheri, where Babu teaches, has several gates and the multiple escape routes keep Babu on her toes. “I have to actually run after them on the road sometimes when they slip out of their supervised study time,” she laughed. She even sends staff members to pull the boys out of their homes to come to school and study.

Babu, with her 25 years’ experience, reaches out to her students during this season of stress. She supervises their four-hour evening study session, clearing doubts and answering questions. “The biggest challenge is getting the weaker students to study. Many have never studied for long periods at a stretch,” she said.

During study breaks students and teacher bond over snacks that the school supplies. “Unless you have a rapport with your students, nothing works,” she said. Babu fields a barrage of queries on her phone – from maths doubts to parents seeking answers to their own anxieties. “I can never be tired when I am with my students,” she said.

— Bhavya Dore

When Ivan Deshmukh first volunteered to teach at St Xavier’s School’s night school at Dhobi Talao, the principal was initially skeptical that someone would offer to work for free. But for the past five years, that is precisely what Deshmukh has been doing.

Twelve students, who Deshmukh has been tutoring in algebra and geometry, will appear for the SSC examinations in March. “One of the biggest challenges is to raise the students’ self-expectations,” he said. “Many don’t have role models, or are first generational learners. We have to make them believe that they can do better than just pass.”

At this time of the year, Deshmukh really steps on the gas. Apart from teaching the usual six evenings a week, he gets students to come in on Sundays and public holidays, to maximise their study time before the examinations.

Deshmukh, a trained teacher and former telecom industry professional, also photocopies past question papers, makes revision sheets and distributes these among students. At Deshmukh’s behest the school is considering setting up an honours board for the night school students, similar to the one already in place for the day school students. “It’s important to recognise their efforts too, and give them a sense of achievement,” he said.

— Bhavya Dore

Poring over a computer textbook, Devyani Hadkar, is the picture of concentration, just like the three students in the room, clicking away on computer keys.

But this is no ordinary classroom setting.

Two of these three deaf-blind students will be appearing for their first HSC examination paper in April.

“Around this time of the year, we try to decrease the students’ stress levels,” said Hadkar, signing on the palms of her students to assure them that the exam will go off smoothly.

A total of four students from the institute are taking the HSC examination in phases starting in April.

Special students can complete the entire set over two and a half years.

Hadkar and her colleagues Devyani Balaji and Gayatri Ahuja are helping these students prepare for their first big encounter with a public exam.

They spend up to 12 hours at the institute to distill the syllabus into comprehensible lessons for the students.

“We have to drastically adapt the state board syllabus for our students. The grasping style and learning pace of each student is different,” said Balaji.

“When our students understand a concept or do well in an examination, it’s the most satisfactory feeling,” she added.

— Bhavya Dore

Having taught mathematics for 17 years, Priti Bhargava is well aware of the tension that children go through while preparing for the board exams. She has set up a 24x7 helpline__her mobile phone__which her students can call at any time before the board exams. She patiently hears out students’ doubts in maths and even their personal troubles.

“There are some instances when the children aren’t comfortable sharing their troubles with their parents. At such a time, they need somebody they can trust to comfort and guide them,” said Bhargava. She described when a troubled student whose parents had separated had broken down over the phone because she could not handle the pressure of her mother’s expectations.

Bhargava also conducts extra classes for them either before their regular classes or after school hours. “I segregate the students into groups based on the topics that they find difficult to grasp and take lectures for those topics,” she explained.

While extending her work hours does take away the time Bhargava has for her husband and two daughters, the family supports her initiative. “It’s worth it when I see the effort translating into good scores for them. Their gratitude is overwhelming,” she said.

— Raghav Rao