Looking Back — Three Years of Thulir
April 2004 to April 2006
It is 2 years since Thulir was inaugurated on April 14th 2004. Its time to take stock and look back at the past 2 years happenings and also to see where we are going.
Many of you have been keeping track of progress here through our website and the newsfromthulir blog. So we thought instead of listing much of it again, we would try to highlight some of the important aspects through a question and answer mode.
***** What is Thulir ?
Thulir is a physical space. This place exists for creating an environment conducive for learning. It is a place where ultimately adults and children should be able to explore together whatever areas of learning interests them. Ideally, the community itself, and the environment around the community should be the place where all learning happens. But the situation as it exists today is far from this ideal. Therefore the need to create a conducive space.
***** Who uses Thulir ?
Thulir started off with school going children using the place in the evenings. Along with them, 3 staff children, who don’t go to school started using the place in the mornings. This small group grew as, 4 school dropout children joined later. For the past year 3 trainees [all around 25 yrs of age] have also joined the group. Of course, for the 2 of us too this has been, and continues to be a great place for learning!!
The attendance figures show that more than 200 children have used Thulir the in the past 2 years. Of this about 25 children have been more regular with attendance of more than 100 days, with the others using for shorter periods.
***** Why is attendance not compulsory?
We find that a common reason for absence is that children are required to help at the farms when there is extra work during particular seasons [harvest, weeding, etc.] We feel such work is an important part of education, and we need to be accommodative. We want children to develop a love for learning and voluntarily come to Thulir. Coercion through insistence on attendance might be counter productive. However, we do recognize that there would be instances where attendance might have to be regulated, for example where a group of children take up learning an organized course.
****** How does Learning happen in Thulir?
- There are many ways in which learning happens:
- through class room teaching: These are conventional situations with the teacher the taught and the blackboard. This is very useful for teaching language and to some extent Math skills;
- through sharing sessions: There is a person in focus around whom a group gathers, and stories are read out, newspaper articles explained, audio-visual material shown and explained, science experiments demonstrated etc. The atmosphere is more informal and often there are questions raised or comments offered by the students;
- guided activities: these often happen in small groups of 3 to 6 students and they usually have a task or learning materials to explore. From time to time they are helped by others. These include art and crafts, using play materials that help to understand concepts in math and language;
- self-study: individuals/ small groups use books and materials available to study by themselves.
- through camps/ workshops: camps and workshops are held where sessions that focus on a particular activity are held. Workshops are conducted with resource persons who have special skills [for e.g. in theatre/ art / music etc.]
****** Is this kind of learning effective? How much have the children learnt in the past 2 years?
Yes. It is! We find that the children who have been regulars at Thulir have improved in many aspects.
They were very wary of taking books and browse by themselves. Now they take books by themselves and read/browse.
Their language skills are improving [from a situation where they could not even form sentences in Tamil properly, to the level where they have confidence to write small stories and illustrate them. Of course, they do make mistakes even now but it is so much less now.
Most children could not do basic math functions like subtraction, multiplication and division. Now a lot of them are able to handle these.
They have travelled far from a situation where they would be shy and diffident, to now being able to interact with strangers, ask questions and learn from them. Earlier they were unruly, often using harsh language and breaking into physical fights. Now they are calm, use materials responsibly, take proper care of Thulir and have begun to cooperate among themselves and do group work without adult supervision.
Initially the children were hooked to the TV and many of them wanted to often time their visits based on TV schedules. Now the children are quite happy to forego TV and want to spend more time in Thulir!
Most importantly their self-discipline and motivation has improved. Most children can engage themselves in learning what interests them without our intervention.
We have a number of one to one interactions which are more effective than if we had catered to a large group in a class room kind of situation.
Of course, we would have liked to see much more improvement in many aspects, in being able to speak in English, for instance.
****** Why is Thulir not a school?
If Thulir were to be an effective small school using alternative methods, we would have to go for a good teacher/ student ratio, between 1: 8 to 1:10. So with the 2 teachers that we are, we would only be able to cater to a small group of maximum 20 children. Also ideally in a school, the children ought to have a range of teachers to interact with and so a place with just 2 teachers would be really inadequate. It is really difficult to get teachers locally, as there are hardly any qualified locals. Even the 10th/12th pass are very poor in their basics.
In contrast when we are a Resource centre, we can reach out to more children, as there are many more possible ways of learning. Besides, the situation is so bad in our villages for the majority of school going children that, we feel a small level of input can make a big change in the child/ learner [in terms of attitudes and self confidence] and help him do better in School/ or his community.
****** How do we evaluate learning?
This is indeed a difficult question. What do we take as our indicators? We need to keep in mind that Education is a long term activity and one does not get immediate results. Conventional school education does have its system of tests and exams. We have been wary of doing this till now…except for a couple of occasions when we gave a list of questions to be answered casually. Our fear is that, given the fact that tests and exams have been telling our children how bad they are, the children can get discouraged in their genuine attempts at learning, if we too started having regular tests. This is not to say we have a test/ exam phobia!! After all our dropouts have cleared the public exams papers that they were tutored for in Thulir! [In these 2 years Senthil cleared Social studies paper for class 10, Vediappan his class 12 commerce paper, and Mohan his Tamil and Social studies papers of Class 10].
From time to time we ask the children to take stock and list out what they had learned.
Ideally, we should prepare progress reports for individual children. Given the large numbers [more than 200 children!] this will be a too time consuming task. So at best we have a series of anecdotes of individual cases and a few isolated examples of achievements [conventional yardsticks of passing exams]. This is an area where we have to think more and perhaps learn from others, and work out credible methods in the coming years.
****** What about exams?
We have tutored students in the past 2 years to write their public exams. However this was very energy consuming exercise and these have to be necessarily a one to one situation for it to be a success as most children do not have their basic skills right. So we will be able to reach out to only a small number of children with tuitions for exams. We feel that merely passing exams does not equip the children to make a successful living. So if we can find ways for our children to gain exposure and confidence then they can go ahead and acquire skills and qualifications [including academic qualifications!] that would help them find livelihoods.
****** Are the students paying for use of Thulir? Should they pay?
No. Right now the students don’t pay.
The activities and the methods used in Thulir are new for the children and also for their parents. It would not have been feasible for charging them for use of Thulir, for a service that they cannot recognize as valuable. It is true that a free service may not be appreciated as much as something that one pays for. But education being a long drawn process [unlike say getting treated in a hospital for an illness], is it fair to ask poor and economically weaker persons to pay?
We also feel that once we offer a definite package such as say a one year course on basic technologies that is proven to help students find a vocation in life, one can stipulate the cost for the course and make it known to the community. If it is a figure not affordable for specific applicants, one may have a system of scholarships.
It is difficult to work out a cost per child figure. This is because of the various groups of children/adults making use of the facility to varying degrees. For instance, we have children who have come very regularly in the evenings for the past couple of years, and some who have been not so regular but who have made use of the facility and have benefited. Apart from this we have children who use the facilities on a full time basis [school dropouts]. Then we have had trainees who have undergone training and have learned academic skills. We also have had sessions with parents on learning. So it is difficult to work out a per capita cost.
****** Can Thulir take care of all the educational needs of the villages around it?
No. Thulir is right now at a very modest scale and for it to cater to all the needs [or even most of the needs] would require more resources, both physical infrastructure and human resources. Even with more inputs we don’t see ourselves being able to fulfill all the needs in the coming years. There is scope for other people with specific skills or even other institutions to offer their special resources to cater to various aspects of education that we are unable to provide, given our limitations.
****** Where is Thulir going?
Most activities as mentioned above to be continued, and strengthened further. Apart from this, our work with the school dropouts/ post school youth will take further shape, this year. There would essentially be more focus on hands on skill development. Currently we are in the process of developing a curriculum for this course.