The world outside

Nikunj Beria

The ‘Be The Change Project’ (BTCP) is an additional project that every Teach for India Fellow takes on in the second year of the Fellowship. In this project, the Fellows focus on the problems that affect their school and community and look beyond their classroom based issues. The Fellows then work towards creating a process to solve the most pressing problem according to their preliminary research and understanding of the various challenges. Thus, the BTCP is a tool to engage the Fellow in work that he/she deems important to bring about continuous growth in the school and community. The BTCP continues to help Fellows bring about a higher level of impact while also pushing them to apply their knowledge from the first year of the Fellowship.

Here are two narratives from TFI Fellows.

I tried changing my style of teaching. I tried the good old method of giving incentives. I tried making the exercises interactive. Yet, there were always incomplete notebooks in my classroom.

It had only been six months since I began teaching in a government school in Malvani, Mumbai, and I found myself at a probable dead-end already! For, no matter what or how much was altered, somehow, something was not enough and homework was never done. Why is it that some students do not engage with the learning process? And, what can we do to fulfil this gap?

Questions such as these are often the nightmare of many teachers. And seeking solutions only makes matters worse, not because finding the solution is a task but because we often do not know where to look for them.

I, for instance, was constantly looking for solutions within the classroom, within myself and within the students. Only when I explored further did I realize that this was a problem that affected my students from outside the classroom, and needed to be solved, thus.

I visited a few students’ homes and I was made aware of their daily routine. They would wake up to housework, attend Arabic classes, walk to school and walk back home. By the time they were back home, it grew dark. In the dark, it was impossible to get any reading and writing done. There was no electricity in these homes!

It was suddenly so easy to see why the books were incomplete!

It had nothing to do with teaching or learning but with something more fundamental. Something that we take for granted and would not even account for while thinking of making our classrooms more productive.

Once I hit upon this problem, I was sure I could not let it be or think of it as an issue beyond the classroom. To me, it was a matter that affected the lives of my students and my classroom deeply and therefore, a matter that I needed to address.

I began by trying to locate the root of the problem and why there was no electricity in that slum. I spoke to members of the community about the issues. I also tried to find out the cause by talking to some individuals working at a private utility company. At this stage, I thought it would perhaps be sensible to try and set up a small social enterprise in the locality, to provide energy through renewable resources. I sought help from a few friends to survey the entire area and figure out ways of setting up systems for the provision of solar energy or wind turbines.

To cut a long story short, eventually, I found out about an NGO called Chirag Rural Development Foundation. Working with some of the team members of the Foundation, we were finally able to come upon a workable solution. By this time, we realized that the project could not be limited to the smaller issue of having a study light, but about the larger aim of the provision of electricity for the community to carry out other basic work.

We provided two lamps which were powered by solar energy, at a nominal rate, to 20 homes as part of the first phase of the project. One of these was a smaller lamp for the purpose of study and the other was a roof-light for the house. I am aware of how 20 is a small and probably insignificant number. I think about the remaining households and the larger issues of livelihood and infrastructure. I often think about the students and the current status of their learning experiences. I often think about their homes and lives.

Yet, even with this sense of a limitation, what the journey has taught me made my experience as a teacher complete. I realized that the role of the teacher probably extends beyond the walls of the classroom; and that the ‘classroom’ itself, perhaps, extends beyond the walls of the classroom. And we, as teachers, should not look at ourselves as classroom administrators but also concern ourselves with the lives of our students. I know that this is a tough call and perhaps nearly impossible to achieve, but even if we could begin to account for the realities of life within the classroom, it would be a step in the right direction. It still disturbs me to imagine the plight of the child who is reprimanded for being ‘irresponsible’ or ‘forgetful’ or ‘naughty’ when in fact, it was simply a great challenge for the child to read under a kerosene or candle light and come prepared for the next morning’s class.

I know now, that, an apparent problem in the classroom might have its roots somewhere beyond the control of the student. And, as teachers, maybe it is not always going to be possible to solve it, but it is possible to acknowledge it. In acknowledging it, what we really begin to do, is to seek alternative solutions which lead to long-term and sustainable results. And it is then that we ourselves do what we ask from our students – learn, for life.

The author has been a Teach for India Fellow from 2011-13 and has two years of teaching experience. He is currently working as the Government Relations and Alumni Impact Manager at Teach for India. He completed his graduation in Electronics & Communication Engineering from the Manipal Institute of Technology. He can be reached at nikunj.beria@teachforindia.org.

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