Students teach English at government primary schools
One of the important themes that runs through the TRINS school culture is the importance of community service work. An earlier blog posting on the Food Fest showed one of the ways in which the students can help out. Another program that offers students a more direct service experience involved all of the members of the 11th grade class who board a bus each Wednesday morning and visit three near-by local government run elementary schools. The purpose of the visits is to teach students from grades 1 to 5 a little bit of English language during the weekly hour long visit. From what I observed, there was a whole lot more going on than language instruction.
Government elementary schools normally start the school day at 10:00 am but on Wednesdays, the children voluntarily come to school an hour earlier to participate in the program.
The design of most government schools I've saw reminded me very much of a long row of stables - one door into a room that often had no lights at all, a concrete floor, grimy and cluttered walls, and a minimum of classroom furniture. At the end of the day, the doors are secure from the outside with large padlocks. Aside from texts, a chalkboard was frequently the only tool the teacher had to work with.
I asked the boys to show me their muscles...
Government schools in India are typically poorly resourced, overcrowded, often bleak environments for children. The school we visited not atypical in this regard though bleak would be too strong an adjective for the school we viewed during our visit - the students were quite lively upon the arrival of the TRINS students and it was clear that a close repore has developed between the TRINS kids, who worked as a pair in each classroom, and their energetic students.
The only light in the room came from the windows and small opening in the ceiling.
Acquiring a tolerance for a lack of space is learned early.
A number of the TRINS students are not from Kerala and do not speak Malayalam, so communication can be a rather challenging task sometimes.
What I witnessed was quite impressive - the TRINS kids worked alone in the classrooms without the teacher present and had control of the class. Like benevolent big brothers and sisters, the students practiced introducing themselves then recited nursery rhymes such as "1,2, buckle my shoe" to practice numbers and vocabulary. Everyone involved was having a great time. With only one 50 minute English lesson per week, none of the children seemed to be making dramatic progress toward English fluency, but they were enjoying themselves and being exposed to older students who were serving as positive role models. For the TRINS students who mostly come from quite comfortable economic conditions, the chance to give of themselves to others less fortunate can be a powerful experience for building compassion and developing a sense of commitment to assist the disadvantaged, an attitude that quite frankly is lacking in many Indian people.
Learning numbers with rhymes
What's a buckle?
Education has become big business in India as more and more people seek alternatives to ineffective government schools. Kerala leads the country with regard to the education level of its citizens so these schools are producing results despite their worn and primitive appearance. Still, one can't help but wonder how these kids might learn if provided with adequate learning resources. Parents ask the same question and don't wait to find out - numerous private schools available at a mostly manageable cost are filling with students leaving local government schools. We were told that in an effort to persuade parents to not remove their children in favor of a private school, the school we were visiting recently began to serve a free breakfast to the students upon their arrival. The photos below offer a glimpse of what this breakfast experience is like.
Breakfast is served
I came away from the visit completely impressed with the way in which the TRINS students conducted themselves - these weekly school visits offer as much education as their lessons back in the classrooms. I also tried to imagine the conditions of government schools in parts of India that were much more poor and less educated. Half of India's population is under 25 - providing an adequate education for all young people will continue to remain one of the countries most difficult challenges.