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E-classes by professionals help Santhal students in Bengal village crack board exams

This was the first year when 832 Santhal students wrote the class 10 board exams in Ol Chiki script.

kolkata Updated: Jun 08, 2018 09:37 IST
Hindustan Times
West Bengal,Bankura,Volunteer
Students of Chandra High School in Bengal’s Bankura district attending classes by teachers based in distant cities before the board exams that began in March.(HT Photo)

In the past few months before the class 10 board exams began in March, Amardeep Tudu, 16, son of a marginal tribal farmer in West Bengal’s Bankura district used to download audio lessons in physics from ‘cloud’ that his teachers in the US and Bengaluru uploaded for him the day before.

The soft -spoken boy, son of a marginal farmer, who was compelled to migrate in other districts in search of livelihood as farm incomes dipped, was one in a batch of 30 Santhal students from Chandra High School near the Susunia Hills in Bankura, about 200 km from Kolkata. Their teachers of different subjects were located in distant cities of Bengaluru, Kolkata, Phoenix and London.

Read: Meet Shikha Mandi, the first RJ to host a show in Santhali

All 30 students have passed the Bengal board exams the results of which were announced on Wednesday. Tudu topped the list of the tribal students who appeared for the exams, popularly known as Madhyamik, this year.

This was the first year when students belonging to the Santhal tribe could write their answers in Ol Chiki script in the board exams.

The content was created by the team members and uploaded in ‘dropbox’ in the cloud. The students were taught how to download the content from cloud and use for their studies. Mock tests were held two months before the board exam.

“On holidays we attended the classes by the distant teachers thrice a day -- morning, afternoon and evening. On weekdays, we attended the classes twice -- before and after school hours. We got immense benefits especially in science subjects and English,” said Amardeep Tudu.

Read: Gondi, Walmiki, Malhar, Korga: Mother tongues India risks losing

“Tudu who scored 80% overall with more than 80% in four subjects,” said Rajib Das Sharma, founder of project EducateOneKid, an endeavour that has pulled together about 20 volunteers based in India, the US and Europe.

The volunteers are engineers, school teachers, working professionals, senior students of premier institutes such as the IITs and IIMs. The project has been completely funded by volunteers.

“We were immensely benefitted by the project. In the absence of full-time teachers, we have para-teachers in the school. The professionals based in other cities helped us greatly,” said Dharmadas Tudu, the headmaster of Chandra High School, a 70-year old institution.

Though the school has Bengali medium students, the volunteers extended the help to the Santhali students who are from the fringe of the society.

Read: Santhali to ring out at Inter Parliamentary Union in Geneva

“They imparted the lessons in Bengali. If any student had trouble following students, we explained it to them in Santhali,” said the headmaster.

“The volunteers are based in different time zones. We network among ourselves to decide who will impart what lessons, who will teach real time and who will upload audio instructions,” said Das Sharma.

Students from class 5 to 10 are covered under the programme.

The project kicked off in 2013 offering help to 25 students in class 5. It provides books, bags, solar lanterns and other infrastructure including computers, Internet and projectors.

Read: The ‘conservation vs people’ approach to protecting wildlife has hit tribals hard

This year the volunteers are focusing on creation of more audio and video content for the benefit of the students. A science laboratory will also be set up this year.

The programme has become a hit in the area, and students from other schools also attend these lessons. “Now about 250 students in four villages are benefitting from the effort,” said Das Sharma.

Incidentally, the volunteers spotted the school by sheer chance, when in 2012, Das Sharma, who was volunteering for an orphanage in Kolkata met a gentleman who took him to the village where the school is located.

“In 2015 we began working with the children. Initially we thought of paying for the salary and getting more teachers for the school, but then we realised if we could deliver lessons though IT-enabled infrastructure, it would perhaps mean more. Though we have not spent more than Rs 5 lakh to set up infrastructure and buy books and other equipment, we have devoted thousands of man-hours to teach the kids,” said Das Sharma.

Read: Tribal women walk the ramp in Jharkhand to break stereotypes

Among the other volunteers are IT professional Soma Bhattacharya from Phoenix, Subhabrata De who teaches maths and physics in London, AI expert Bhaskar Mandal in Bengaluru, arts teacher Suman Sengupta in Delhi, English teacher Madhulika Chandrakumar in Bengaluru, English teacher Prantika Ghosh, IT professional Suprabudhdha Nag and engineer Biswajit Biswas in Kolkata.

Dharamdas Tudu and Paritosh Soren, the two teachers of Chandra High School and Babunath Tudu and Lakshmi Tudu of Marangburu Chachoo Marshall Ashram helped the volunteers to organise the classes.

“English was perhaps their weakest point. But with hard work and assistance from the volunteers and content creators, their expertise in English and other subjects improved significantly,” said Das Sharma.

To improve the knowledge of English, mathematics and science, EducateOneKid also provided the students with a library with books on various topics outside the text – biographies, stories, audio books, general knowledge, science and travel. Each student was also provided with a grammar and writing book to ensure they can practise at home and hostel.

The volunteers said a particular challenge was to instil the confidence in the students so that they could attempt all questions in the exam.

First Published: Jun 08, 2018 09:37 IST