Saturday, November 5, 2011

Barsaat and Sahil

I have been quite a model procrastinator when it comes to blogging about my classroom experiences as a Teach for India fellow. It's been 3 months now and I feel that I now know a lot more about my 62 kids, fellow teachers and school. This incident happened within my first month of teaching.

It was the month of August and this time in Mumbai, one would count himself to be lucky if it's not raining. We (Anish: my co-teacher and I) had held up a few kids after school for extra instruction time. Sahil was one of them. After the class, we waited till all the kids leave the school. However, Sahil insisted that on leaving with us and since his house is a little further away, we should drop him near the exit of our community. During our walk back, I tried to ask him about his thoughts on the new class, new Bhaiyas and studies. He pauses and looks at me with his wide, bright eyes. Then he asks hopefully - 'Bhaiya, I speak Hindi?' 
I refuse and encourage him to try in English. He must have been disappointed. He thinks for a minute and blurts out in Hindi anyway - 'Bhaiya, mujhe English padna nahin aata hai (Bhaiya, I can't read English).'
This gutsy and straightforward admission hit me hard. Really hard. Here we were, asking our class to speak in English. Giving them pages of text to read, interpret and form opinions on and Sahil can't even read. How must he be feeling in the classroom? *

Then, as it always happens in Mumbai, it started pouring heavily. There was only one umbrella between Sahil and me, which was mine. In Mumbai rains, one umbrella is not sufficient to protect even one person, forget two with bags on them. I had important things in my bag which I did not want to get wet. Neither did I want Sahil to get wet. So I instructed Sahil to be under my umbrella. We were navigating a narrow street lined with shops and hawkers, full of water puddles and people rushing by. We tried to avoid all these obstacles while staying under the umbrella.
Once in a while, someone would come in the way and we would get separated. Then I would wait and Sahil would rush to get under my umbrella. Then we would move again. Whenever, I saw a puddle or a hawker, my primary instinct was to avoid it by jumping left or right and at times, I forgot about Sahil. Once, I jumped to the left and walked along the shop while Sahil went ahead. Later he stood in the middle of the road in the crowd and looked around, his eyes searching for me. When I reappeared a moment later with the umbrella over him, he says to me with surprise and indignation - 'Bhaiya, where you go?'
I was amused but also became aware that I had to be beside him. The rest of the walk saw a gradual shift in my instinct from being protective about me to being protective about him. Holding the umbrella over him when he would drift away while getting drenched myself. It must have been quite an image - The two of us making do with one umbrella, dodging the hindrances and walking in rain. A Chopin piece could be composed on that walk.

Turns out that all of us were drenched by the time we reached his house (we had decided to drop him to his house obviously). Our first community visit and were we welcomed! Despite our protests, we were made to sit on their dry bed and drink tea while we discussed school and life.

* Since then, we have realized that we were fairly wrong in our estimates about the level of our students. After 2 units and conducting their reading tests, we realize that they are just beginning to learn English and we had been teaching them fairly high-level stuff. In fact, the students in my school can't read any language. A year back before Teach for India fellows, even the students in our class couldn't read anything. Sometime back, I had asked a kid from 5th standard, who had been held up after school to complete his homework, to read a sentence from the pages of text that he had been copying blindly. He couldn't read the word 'number' or anything more than 3 letters. I was shaken. How are students spending 6-7 years in school without learning to read? What are the teachers doing? What is wrong with the system and why does it not focus on student learning?
India needs to invest heavily in good teachers and teacher training. All kinds of technology and gizmos will not enable the student to combine letters to form words and make sense of them. We need teachers. An article in the same vein about the new 'Akash' laptop by Atanu Dey.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Nice article and i guess that now you would have definitely found out what's wrong with our system, rite??