The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Crafted from the heart, little tools to teach the tots

A dark, underground world with tired men lugging their black load out of a coal-mine. A jungle with evergreen trees, lions, tigers, bears and pinecones. A zoo with wooden cages that slide open, holding back wild animals devouring their bloodstained prey…

These were just some of the teaching aids created by the sevaks and sevikas working in the Shikshalaya Prakalpa project. It was the attention to detail that showed their passion, while the thought put into them displayed, in equal measure, the commitment.

Over 1,000 young men and women have been trained over the past two years to educate children between the ages of five and nine years across the city who had never been to school. On Friday, they presented some of the teaching and learning materials that they had developed themselves at Loreto Day School, Sealdah, which has prepared the academic content of the programme and trained the educators.

The sevaks and sevikas also received certificates, based on their performance as teachers, from Carrie Auer, state representative, Unicef, which is a prime partner — one of many governmental and non-governmental agencies involved — in the project.

Rehmat Ali, a sevak, works in one of 450 Shikshalaya Prakalpa centres across the city, set up in collaboration with local NGOs. His centre is in Cossipore, run by the Vidyasagar School of Social Work. His display contained the most elaborate models. Gardens, city streets, buildings, villages, all painstakingly crafted. But these — though they were some of the most expensive exhibits, as the schools operate on tight budgets — were not just eye-candy.

“I wanted to show them the difference between a garden and a jungle, a village and a city,” explains the young Rehmat, who has been involved with the Shikshalaya Prakalpa project from its early stages. “The children are excited when they see these colourful models and it is much easier to teach them things because you have already grabbed their attention,” he adds.

The teachers have modified some of the teaching tools they received as start-up kits. There were flashcards in all shapes and sizes. Wall stories of their own invention were splashes of colour, alongside the Goldilocks they had been provided with.

The scale of the project, launched on April 18, 2001, by Governor Viren J Shah, prevents lavish expenditure. Currently, there are 22,500 students enrolled in the centres designed to provide primary education for young children who do not have access to free mainstream schools.

A survey conducted in 1999 revealed that over 44,000 children of school-going age were not receiving an education. “Some more centres will be put up to meet the target,” explains Malini Mukherjee, coordinating the academic side of the project. The union of organisations involved in the Shikshalaya programme — under the aegis of the Resource Group for Education of Deprived Urban Children — estimated then that over 600 centres would have to be put up to fill the gap.

Some of the community-based organisations and NGOs run multiple centres. Like RNL Force, which operates 12 centres in Metiabruz. “We have to visit the children’s homes quite often to make sure they attend regularly,” explain some of the 24 sevaks and sevikas who man the centres. But the kids — the girls outnumbering the boys — have made “encouraging progress”, and it keeps them out of the flourishing local trade of producing sticks for kites.

“The enthusiasm the sevaks and sevikas displayed today shows how much they are pouring into the work,” smiled Sister Cyril, principal, Loreto Day School, Sealdah and convener of the project.

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