Teaching from the ground up: How these teachers from Kolkata are taking classes on the road to educate the marginalised

Bose and Biswas work as teachers at the Nabadisha programme, started by the Kolkata Police in collaboration with a few NGOs
The classes are held on the road (Pics: Prajanma Das/EdexLive)
The classes are held on the road (Pics: Prajanma Das/EdexLive)

Education has been disrupted for children and young adults across strata over the past year and while governments, both state and centre, have time and again assured that there are adequate resources to deliver education online or remotely, the ground reality has been different. But there are a few like Shyamali Bose and Piyali Biswas who have been working against all odds to keep the students from going back to doing odd jobs and dropping out of school. But the job's getting harder by the day. The duo has started teaching kids on the road to keep their education going.

Bose and Biswas work as teachers at the Nabadisha programme, started by the Kolkata Police in collaboration with a few NGOs. While the NGOs provide the teachers, the police arrange for the infrastructure, which is generally within the police station premises. But the scene at the Lake Police Station in South Kolkata is different. Here, the classes are held in a small room right outside the station and have children from marginalised sections of society — of all age groups — coming in. "The programme has been going on for a few decades and we were providing them support with their regular classes or even teaching the young ones the basics. But the lockdown changed it all," said Biswas, who teaches the older kids in Class I and above. Both the teachers work for the Vikramshila Education Resource Society.

When the lockdown hit, the duo came back to the locality so that they did not lose touch with the students and even distributed worksheets to the parents and spoke to them to ensure that the students don't drop out of education. "But we soon realised that the answer sheets that came back were too perfect to be true. We understood this wasn't working out. So, we started meeting them in small groups, while maintaining social distancing. But the educational gap had widened by then. The kids whom we last saw in Class I were now in Class III with no addition to their knowledge," said Biswas.

The knowledge gap that she's talking about has been proven by various surveys and researches. A World Bank Study even said that these students might see a loss of at least Rs 3 lakh in lifetime income due to this learning loss. Biswas corroborates this with her experience on the ground. "Students who were able to read texts of Class V have gone down to Class III level. There has been no practice, whatsoever, for these children. There was no one to guide them properly," she added.

The students are called in batches of a few and taught them using worksheets and various interactive teaching aids that are created by the teachers. The classes are held on the road — but not entirely by choice. While social distancing is maintained, it can be done inside the room allotted to them as well. But the room has no electricity supply and is not in a habitable state. "We have spoken to the police and they are working on it. The connection was cut because there was no one there for the past one and a half years," said Biswas.

Bose, who has been associated with this particular teaching centre from its inception, has been teaching the younger kids. But she said that it has become an even harder task on the road. "I deal with kids who are extremely young and on the road, my attention is not only on the lessons but I have to keep an eye out for them as well. As it is they are very restless and distracted, on the road the reasons double up," said the veteran teacher.

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