Park Grove Methodist Church
The Boy’s Town Society of South India
(Funded by the Joe Homan Charitable Trust reg. charity no: 1006060)
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SURAKKAIPATTI Evening Study Centre
Annual Report 2016
SURAKKAIPATTI is a large village near the small town of Dharumathupatti, in the Kannivadi area west of Dindigul. It’s build to a haphazard layout largely on outcropping rock, within a bowl of low hills, with many homes all or partly built of just woven panels of coconut palm leaves. Predominant employment is agriculture, particularly coconut growing, with the government’s 100 days guaranteed work scheme providing alternative work. There are a few cases of alcoholism but it’s said not to be a big issue. Village children attend the local Balwadi and Primary school but must transfer to the only higher secondary school in Dharumathupatti. All schools are Tamil-medium. There had earlier been a study centre in the village and when discontinued, a local farmer was asked to restart it. Now this centre, outside his home with cows looking on, serves the more remote part of the village, with another separately-run centre nearer to Dharumathupatti.
This ESC started November 2014 with the maximum roll set at 30 (for one teacher) and fluctuating between 25 and 30 - about half of the primary school roll of 73. This month’s register shows 28, split 11 boys and 17 girls (tonight 1 boy and 2 girls are off). All will have attended Balwadi prior to primary school, becoming familiar with numbers 1-10, English alphabet A-Z and a simplified Tamil alphabet (which in complete form has about 260 characters). Since inception only one boy has left –but he transferred to the other evening study centre out of convenience. Class spread tonight is 1 from 1st std, 5 from 2nd, 4 from 3rd, 8 from 4th and 6 from 5th. 2 girls from 6th standard at higher secondary school arrive a little later; they were previously in 5th standard at the centre’s inception and feel it well worthwhile to continue. It certainly has helped them. They’ve had no difficulty coping with the 6th standard syllabus after transfer, usually a critical point if primary education is poor.
The ESC holds on schooldays only, from 4pm when the primary school children come straight here. Their parents mostly work away from the village and don’t return home until later - 5 or 6 pm. Without the ESC they’d wait at home alone or play in the street. The parents are happy that their children have somewhere to go and the children enjoy being here and getting their work done – if they try to do their schoolwork at home they might get interrupted to do some chores! From 4 to 5 it’s set homework time, with help from the teacher – “clearing doubts.” Then 5 to 6pm it’s private study – memorising or reading. 6 to 6:30 or later its playtime, with PE and games, not forgetting dancing (they hum their own tunes as they go), as dusk falls. Then reluctantly home, but happy that their work is done and their meal will be waiting.
The Teacher is a local resident, in this case the farmer’s wife, a housewife and educated to higher secondary school 12th std, with a Diploma in Cooperative Management. Support from JHC pays her volunteer’s stipend of Rs 1,000 monthly, Teacher’s stationery and children’s exercise books and occasional snacks take a further Rs 2,000 monthly, plus admin, supervisory and auditors charges. One-off start up expenses included a white board, display charts and games equipment (the latter delivered this evening.) Beyond a conventional daily register, there is no formal record of progress; although informally Teacher can trace improvement. Being an evening visit it wasn’t possible to seek feedback from the primary school or the 6th std class teacher.
Teacher cites Maths and English as subjects causing most difficulty and she also helps them with reading, writing, alphabets, tables and English and Tamil coaching. The children confirm Tamil is their favourite subject and English and Maths most difficult. Asked why they might need spoken English, they suggested communicating with high officials, visiting places abroad and using computers and the internet. They were interested to hear that they could need it in vocational training and further education.
Several occupy one or more of the top three places in their class with girls usually squeezing out the boys. A poll of ambitions had boys dominating recruitment for Police and Military, sharing with the girls for Collector (Indian Administrative Service) but leaving girls to take over the work of Doctors, Teachers and Engineers, in that order of popularity. Only 5 have ever seen the sea –a visit to Rameswaram to fulfil traditional formalities a year after a family death. They were well informed about the cause of Malaria, having had an awareness programme at school.
Throughout our time at this ESC, strident Bollywood music has played from a nearby political rally – its election time and politics takes precedence over children studying and preparing for the next day’s exams. The deafening background noise might have hampered our discussion but didn’t stop two impromptu dancing displays. It continued in the background as, holding hands and picking carefully along undulating footpaths, two girls took us to view their palm leaf homes - both dark and deserted till the family reassembles with its day’s work done.
Back at the ESC things are winding down with the final distribution of donated cake. An unimaginable luxury for all, some children blissfully dissect it crumb by crumb, to prolong the treat, others burrow in their school bag for a piece of paper, in which to wrap their slice and squirrel it away – to share out at home with family or siblings. Soon after we leave and the children have arrived safely home, torrential rain descends to quench the music and dampen political ardour. Peace and happy frogs return to Surakkaipatti.
Having visited several schools in the past few weeks as well as talking to children at school, in further education or vocational training, the Surakkaipatti children’s difficulties with Maths and English and the potential benefits deriving from additional help with their syllabus, are typical of the general picture in Government education. These children are lucky; they have help but many do not. Educationally this Evening Study Centre performs a crucial role in improving the performance and potential of a large cohort of local children. Socially it keeps them safe, together and focused, benefiting them and a relief to their parents. What model an ESC should follow must be a local decision, but ‘keeping it simple’ increases the hope that it might become sustainable – the final S on KISS. Meanwhile what better way of helping some 30 children to help themselves?
Written by Terry Quadling, Volunteer March 2016
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