Published: 30th December 2020
A World School of a different kind: How these students and researchers are running a school for kids across Bengal
The Quarantined Student-Youth Network has set up 41 schools since July 2020 which would be run by students pursuing higher education and contributors
Schools have been shut since the Coronavirus pandemic hit India. It's been ten months and kids are still stuck at home. While a hoard of alternatives has come up over the year, they have not been in favour of most Indians who stay in rural areas or have limited access to technology. But education must go on and that's the idea behind Prithibir Pathshala — World School. No, it's not a swanky international school where they teach you equestrianism. It's actually a school for those who have lost access to education during the lockdown.
The Quarantined Student-Youth Network (QSYN), a group of students and young scholars who had come together to help people during the lockdown, has set up 40 such schools since July 2020 which would be run by students pursuing higher education and contributors like teachers and graduates who are currently at home. "We started working when the pandemic hit and even when Cyclone Amphan devastated various parts of Bengal. The idea to start teaching the kids came from the locals. They were the ones who asked us if we could teach their kids since we were students ourselves. We realised that knowledge was the only resource that was not dependent on funds or help from others. We could deliver it ourselves," said Saikat Sit, a BTech in Civil Engineering from Jadavpur University whose pursuit for higher education took a backseat due to the pandemic. He is now concentrating on teaching kids across Bengal.
But it is not feasible for students and researchers to travel to various parts of the state and still continue their own education, so they roped in local residents who were graduates or even high school pass-outs. "They can deliver the basic education and the kids will not even be afraid of the teacher. It creates a more open environment where the child has the liberty to ask anything," added Saikat.
Ukil Murmu from Bhrusabera, a tribal village in Purulia District, is completing his graduation in Santhali from Sidho-Kanho-Birsha University. But he is also in charge of the Prithibir Pathshala in his village where he teaches almost every subject to students from Class 1 to Class 5. "Teaching is a great experience. I have access to one large room and I make them sit separately and conduct the class," said Ukil.
While teaching them what's in their books is important, they also need to relate to it. "That's why all of us are making conscious efforts to make it easy for them to understand — relate it to what they face in their daily lives," said Saikat. "The kids go to the market regularly. They are sent with an amount and they can come back with the correct items and exact change. But when I teach them unitary method or subtraction in class, they go blank. So I went with them to the market one morning to give them a hands-on lesson," he added. "We are following the syllabus but teaching the same things more interactively, with videos and pictures for them to understand. There are kids who haven't seen snowfall, how will they know what it looks like? So a visual reference is very important," said Saikat.
Supen Hembram, who teaches Geography at Girish Chandra Vidyalaya in Purulia District Town, said that he changes his style of teaching when he is teaching the kids at Prithibir Pathshala on weekends. "There is no pressure to complete the syllabus in a stipulated time, rather we focus on how well we can teach them. Explaining something like a Point in Geometry becomes interesting as I use colloquial terms and make them define it. Teaching Life Science has become easier with a stroll around the village or a garden," said Supen.
That's not all, the students in tribal areas like Ayodhya Hills are also taught about their history, their rights, their language and its significance. "There's one class a week on this and the local graduates or people associated with the movement to protect the forest around them talk about it," said Sourav Prakritibadi, an environmental activist and former student of Presidency University. Ukil, who also belongs to the same area, said that he personally looks into the fact that students stay updated on the issues. "Our previous generation did not know about their rights and thus, did not fight for it very often. We are testing the kids to understand the law, the movement for our land, language and culture, and the struggle to protect it," Ukil added.
While many people have come forward to help with the infrastructure of these schools, the students funded some as well. "We have had offers from people offering more than two acres of land. But we cannot just accept it without a proper plan. In some places, the local residents have helped build a makeshift arrangement for a classroom. Only within the city of Kolkata did we have to set up centres where we had to pay rent," said Sourav. They have 41 centres now. Seven more are in the pipeline.