Published: 08th August 2020
Classes in Chottu doses: How this NGO is getting at-risk children the classes they need during lockdown
Chottu Ki Education engages beggars, school dropouts and child labourers in one-year-long bridge courses that help them gain entry into mainstream education. We find out they go about doing this
Every day, about 12 eager students, with masks on, make their way to the humble two-room Chottu Ki Education (CKE) School situated in the slum area of Omkar Nagar, Hyderabad. They do so in three different batches of 3-4 members, starting from 9 am till noon. There, they meet the sweet and helpful Lakshmi, a second-year college student who lends them her smartphone. In the school, the students seat themselves in a socially distanced manner and wait for their teacher's call. Without fail, at 9 am sharp, they receive a WhatsApp video call from their teacher, Neelima Kagolanu who covers Math, English and Telugu lessons in a matter of an hour and then, one by one, students come forward, show their homework for the teacher to review, after which they disperse. This is how the NGO CKE, which was registered approximately one year back but has been operational since February 2016, is adapting to the new normal.
At the inauguration of their revamped school | (Pic: CKE)
Filling in the gaps
Strange way to celebrate their one year anniversary, you wonder? But such are the times, laments the founder of CKE, K Yuvaneshwari. Just when they had nailed their model of integrating beggars, dropouts, child labourers and so on into a mainstream school again, the pandemic descended upon the world. Till date, 37 children had benefited from the one-year-long gap courses that CKE offers and were successfully admitted in government, residential or private low-income schools. But the 34-year-old isn't one to give up. "If we don't keep our students engaged, there is a high chance of them lapsing back to their old habits. So it is important that we retain some sort of normalcy for them and ensure that they continue to study," says Yuvaneshwari, who has been calling Hyderabad her home since the year 2016.
Before beginning a batch, they assess as to how much a kid knows and how much they should know for their age. After that, kids are divided into batches and usually, one teacher handles two batches
But what is the model CKE was following, and will continue to follow once Corona recedes, that we are waxing eloquent about? Developed with Teach For India and Gandhian fellows, and fusing it with her own four-year-experience with the NGO Bhumi in Chennai, Yuvaneshwari came up with a timetable that covers Math, English and Telugu — one subject in the morning and two in the afternoon. Interspersed between them are practical lessons on yoga, videos and activities like gardening, arts and crafts and so on. There is also circle time right at the beginning of the day which checks the emotional space of the children via simple questions. All these lessons and activities go a long way in making these children ready and confident enough to enter the mainstream education system, which is the end goal.
Celebrating national holidays | (Pic: CKE)
Onwards and upwards
"The syllabus that we follow is that of the Telangana State Board, because after a lot of analysis, we found that it is more than sufficient with pictorial representations of concepts and activities. Except for English though, we focus on phonetics a lot too," says the youngster who was born and brought up in Chennai and after bagging a job at Dr Reddy's Laboratories as a Research Scientist, made her way to the City of Nizams. All this happened only after they identified dropouts and child labourers in the slums and informally counselled their parents about the importance of education. "Some parents weren't comfortable letting go of their children who were beggars or child labourers and need the income. That is why we evolved our initial model from finding them residential schools to our current model, where they attend school with the consent of the parents for year-long bridge courses, after which, we help them gain admission in government or low-income schools," explains the Good Samaritan who pursued her PG in Pharmaceuticals from C L Baid Metha College Of Pharmacy, Chennai. Initially, it was a weekend model, wherein, Yuvaneshwari, along with volunteers, would visit the kids only on the weekend. Now, they run on an employee-dependency model as they hired two teachers just last year to work in the school, which has been lent to them by the good people of Omkar Nagar slum.
What started out as a small room in March 2019 that they took over with the permission of the community, turned into a two-roomed school. Circle Inspector of Miyapur Police Station Venkatesh Shamala has also been of great help
It's a sad sight when the 12 kids make their way to CKE. A premise that was one bustling with activity and curious students who were starting to embrace education and the myriad activities that they enjoyed, but alas, c'est la vie. It is a sad sight, indeed, and yet, somehow, it holds hope too. That even in the midst of a pandemic, education still draws students to the temple of learning that CKE school stands for.
Open to all | (Pic: CKE)
The timetable of the day
- Start with prayers
- Circle time: Asking questions like 'What made you smile?' to gauge the emotional space of students
- Time for class
- In the background of mild music, one asana is taught every day and meditation is practiced
- Time for next subject
- Video time: An animated English video that helps children work on their vocabulary
- Lunch: Children are given the responsibility to serve, clean utensils and then, clean the area
- Activity time: Gardening, crafts, indoor games, drawing and so on
- Last subject for the day
- Teachers give out stars, not for academics, but for good behaviour. Students can cash in the stars for bags or even a cycle every weekend
They have seven of their students from the 2018 batch studying in Leading-Strings Model School, a low-income private school. They are also looking at Kallam Anji Reddy Vidyalaya (founded by Dr Reddy's), a low-income school, for their children
CKE, the franchise
A couple of college students in Basheer Bagh approached Yuvaneshwari with the intention of implementing the model CKE is following in a slum area there. But upon finding out that all kids in the slum go to a school, they approached the government school with a simple question — What can we do for you? This way, they have been offering supplementary classes (doubt-clearing and guidance sessions) to the class X students of the school every Sunday for an hour since last year. "We hope that more and more people come forward to adopt our model and we can tweak it as per the ground reality," says Yuvaneshwari
Learning on the way
Before helping out at Omkar Nagar, Yuvaneshwari directed her efforts towards Kukatpally where they used to teach 10-15 kids, who were beggars or child labourers, between the ages nine-12 at 7 am every weekend. The model was asking them to draw what they see daily, then help them describe it in English and slowly take it from there. After they successfully admitted five children in a residential school with the consent of parents, the latter realised the loss of income and fought with the school to get them back. "That's when we realised not all parents can live independently and without their children and evolved our model," she says
About 59 students have been under CKE till date and the sustainability success of their model as per the student retention in mainstream schools is 70 per cent
For more on them, check out facebook.com/chottukieducation