Sanju Pal speaks to students in a Krishnagar school. Picture by Pranab Debnath
Sanju Pal, originally a Nadia resident but now a teacher from London, has started a unique Bengali literacy programme in Nadia.
It is supplementary education in different schools in Nadia for Class V students who are at the risk of dropping out because of their poor skill in identifying the Bengali alphabets.
The 30-year-old Sanju, who was recently awarded the UK Asian Women of Achievement Young Achiever Award by a trust headed by Cherie Blair, found in her personal research that around 19 per cent students in rural areas who study in Class V have serious problems in understanding Bengali and identifying the alphabets in their mother tongue.
To address this problem she has developed “Yearn to Learn”, different from conventional learning.
Under the pilot project that began in August, 200 students of three schools in Krishnagar — Dogachi High School, Jyotirmoyee Balika Vidyapith and Akshay Vidyapith — during the next three months will attend the supplementary coaching twice during the weekend at the end of their regular classes. The students have been identified by the schools themselves.
Sanju has picked up 12 Bengali honours students of Krishnagar Government College, to train them so they can teach her programme.
“We will try to develop creativity that builds confidence and encourages the children to read loudly and write fluently. For this, we use objects, pictures, graphics, audio-visual material and stress on class preparations and impromptu tests, so that the children can increase their vocabulary and spell out words properly. We also monitor the progress through short assessment tests,” project coordinator Sujoy Singha Roy said.
The project will be funded by the ‘Rural India School Enterprise’ (RISE), a UK charity that was set up by Sanju during 2009 to address educational disadvantage in rural Bengal and to promote social enterprise and global citizenship in students in the UK.
During her trips to her ancestral home in Shondanga in Nadia, Sanju would often wonder why many children from the area could not identify the Bengali alphabets or read a sentence in their mother tongue correctly.
Sanju, daughter of Sunil Kumar Pal, an electrical engineer, was born and brought up in London where she did her MSc after obtaining a first-class honours degree in Mathematics. At 23, she became a teacher after obtaining Qualified Teacher Status (QTS), a mandatory degree for teachers in London, and joined the Mulberry School for Girls in London.
“As a teacher and a Bengali, I was curious about the children in Shondanga. I often asked them to read me a story from their books or even asked them to read aloud after giving them a copy of a Bengali newspaper. Most of them could not even identify the Bengali letters printed in bold as the headlines of the paper,” Sanju said.
She later conducted a survey among students of Class V in two schools in Krishnagar — Saktinagar Girls’ High School and Saktinagar Boys’ High School.
“I was stunned to find that around 19 per cent students had serious problems in understanding Bengali. They cannot read at all. Out of these students, around 25 per cent are at the risk of dropping out. The most astonishing find was that around 46 per cent of 10-year-old children are at least three years behind in their reading ability,” Sanju added.
“I found that these students basically attend school only for the mid-day meal. In 2009, I started the organisation,” she said.
“In 2012, I developed the Yearn to Learn programme,” said Sanju.
Among those helping her are also three school teachers: Subrata Chatterjee, headmaster of Krishnagar Academy, Priti Biswas, a Bengali teacher in Dhubulia High School, and Arpita Chatterjee, a primary school teacher.
“I will come every year and monitor the programme from London,” said Sanju, who will return to London on September 9.
The Nadia district primary education council has welcomed the programme. Chairman of the council Archana Sarkar said: “This programme will help students overcome their problems.”