…Hindus, Muslims, Christians, boys and girls", were the heart warming words of Afreen Sultana, a promising class IX student of a government aided English medium school in Matadahalli, R.T. Nagar. A fornight ago, it all began as a question on the difference between a nest and a cage with Firdaus (of class VII in the Urdu medium government school nearby). This led to the meaning and importance of freedom for all living beings, eliciting interesting responses from Alan, Chetan and Abhinaya (in classes VII, IX and VIII of various government aided English medium schools in North East Bengaluru) on accepted behaviour in public. Fortunately, this resulted in an enjoyable discussion on the interpretation of independence, patriotism, the country, our diverse identities and unity and finally the spontaneous utterance.
These students are among the children at the after-school tutoring and mentoring centre of Dream School Foundation (DSF – www.dsfindia.org), in R.T. Nagar. Located near the popular Radhakrishna Theatre in Matadahalli, this space caters to around 25 children from Urdu, Tamil, Kannada and English medium schools in the neighbourhood. Stocked with colourful story books, multimedia desktops having internet connectivity and other learning aids, it operates seven days a week under the warm and watchful eyes of two young teachers, Kavita and Arifa.
Since January, almost all my Saturday and some holiday afternoons have been amidst these energetic and enthusiastic kids. We started building a rapport by talking about our interests and reading from children’s newspapers with short breaks for warm-up games sometimes. Come March and the focus switched to school lessons and exams and the much awaited summer holidays followed. This kept the kids busy with various activities involving computers, general awareness, an exciting overnight rock climbing trip and preparing for their annual celebration.
Word games like Actionary (miming/drawing clues for simple English words for others to guess), short discussions on public utility service providers (like BBMP, BESCOM, BMTC et al) and naturally, the general elections have filled our days. Alternating with songs and dances by some of the unstoppable artists amidst an overview of Microsoft Powerpoint, Word and the Internet. Of course, the children did not need an introduction to Paint! They have used these tools to express their dreams, favourite holiday activities, knowledge of animals, the environment and the universe in a creative and colourful manner. Exploring animals through Wikipedia, searching for interesting facts via Google and reading news online simply delighted the children who are anyway familiar with email. They are keen to continue their quest for the unknown offline too, as evident in recent debates on why Pluto is not a planet anymore and the difference between clouds of rain and smoke.
Started in 2005, DSF operates on a voluntary and minimal overhead model aiming to improve the standard of public education by engaging with the direct stakeholders like the government, school administration, teachers, parents and neighbouring communities. Apart from regular intervention in some high schools in North and East Bangalore through sessions on functional English, Science, Mathematics, Computer Basics and Life Skills, it monitors and reports the children’s challenges and progress to everyone concerned, constantly. It also assists a smooth transition from the primary stages of education to the secondary striving to ensure continuity till the 10th grade of vulnerable and underserved children through the learning centres (in Yeshwantpur too). Overall, DSF is working towards making the right to quality and equitable education and a happy childhood with holistic development in a sustained manner, a reality for the child.⊕