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At IIT, teachers in their teens

C minus 4 project creates tutors out of schoolchildren

Subhankar Chowdhury   |   Kharagpur   |   Published 05.03.18, 12:00 AM

Dishari Ghosh, a student of Class X, shows an IIT classroom how she teaches kids four classes below hers to count numbers fast

Kharagpur: IIT Kharagpur went back to school last week, handing the classroom to a group of teenagers to demonstrate how a unique study model has blurred the lines between teaching and being taught.

Dishari Ghosh, the daughter of a panchayat employee, and Alapan Maity, the son of a freelance cameraman, were among the students who slipped into the role of teachers in the IIT classroom.

The group, comprising students of classes IX and X, gave a daylong demonstration of how they tutor juniors in their respective schools to supplement the efforts of assistant teachers.

The teachers in school uniform have all emerged from a project called the "Innovative C minus 4 Model for Rural School Students'', conceived by teachers at IIT Madras and IIT Kharagpur.

The "C minus 4" model gets its name from training and mentoring a student in grade or standard C to successfully teach students four years junior. The concept originated from the need to improve non-cognitive skills like public speaking, communication and personality development during the so-called formative years, which is when children are in classes VIII to IX.

The idea is to shape them in a way that they can pass on what they learn to students in the lower classes, said Pulak Mishra, a teacher at IIT Kharagpur.

If these non-cognitive skills are not acquired, a student is likely to struggle in later years, irrespective of one's command over the subject of specialisation, said Pijush Ghosh, an associate professor at IIT Madras and one of the brains behind the project.

"The problem lies in our existing study model, which hardly seeks to address the deficit. Our model tries to take care of the shortcomings," Ghosh pointed out.

Alapan Maity, also a Class X student, at a 'class' on energy. Pictures by Sanjoy Chattopadhyaya

Hailing from West Midnapore, Ghosh said he had contacted schools in his native district two years ago and explained to the heads of these institutes how the C minus 4 model could be a game changer.

Twelve schools are currently engaged in the project.

Experts from BEd colleges and the principals of some local institutes like Hijli College trained the "mentor students" during sessions on the IIT Kharagpur campus. "They were specifically taught how to develop clarity of thought on the subject they would be teaching," Ghosh said.

Wednesday's demonstration on the IIT campus was as much a stocktaking exercise as about showcasing the model.

The classes that Dishari and Alapan conducted had teachers from two IITs reviewing their performance. The teenage teachers appeared undeterred by the scrutiny as they fielded questions much the way a seasoned teacher would do.

Dishari, a student of Class X at Bhadutala Vivekananda High School, taught her juniors how to count numbers fast, using models to make her demonstration lively.

Asked how it felt to be taking questions while teaching, she said: "I overcame the hesitation. My training and the experience of helping my juniors have raised my communication skills and armed me with public-speaking ability," Dishari said.

Alapan, who will be writing the Madhyamik examination next year from Radhamohanpur Vivekananda High School, used charts to explain the features of renewable and non-renewable energy. "Our teachers take remedial classes to compensate for whatever we might have missed while helping our juniors with their lessons," he said.

Amitesh Chowdhury, the headmaster of Bhadutala Vivekananda High School, said he had received encouraging feedback on the initiative from students in the junior sections. "These kids say they can relate more to what the senior students teach."

Shyam Sundar Murmu, an assistant teacher at Radhamohanpur Vivekananda High School, explained why the model had had effective outcomes. "We invariably find students in Class V lacking the skill to even spell his or her name correctly. These students need as much grooming as possible, which is where senior students come in to supplement the efforts of the teachers."

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