My friend Kishor Kathole is a teacher at the Zilla Parishad school in Moj, a village in Wada Tehsil of Palghar district. A few days ago, he told me about the Katkari (tribal) children studying in his school. For the last two years, Kishor and his colleagues have been trying to bring these children to school, to get them interested in school work. These children have started attending the school, but they are not yet used to the school routines. They remain absent frequently, and those who come to school appear to be disinterested in whatever is going on in the classroom. The parents of most of these children work on the brick kiln near Moj village. They stay at the brick kiln in temporary shelters called Bhongas (भोंगा). This is a seasonal migration that takes place every year, between November and May. Once the children move to these locations with their parents, it becomes even more difficult to bring them to the school. As a result, these children are lagging behind in their studies compared to the rest of their classmates.
Kishor is a sensitive and mature teacher. He and his colleague Mr Wagh have enrolled their own children in their Zilla Parishad school. Other middle class parents from the neighbouring villages have started sending their children to the Moj school, because they have seen that the teachers are doing a good job. Given this background, Kishor was feeling bad that the Katkari children from his class were lagging behind. We spoke at length about this issue. During the discussion we realized that there was little or no connection between what was being taught in school and the lives of these children. This was probably a major reason why the children did not find school education interesting. If we could relate the content and teaching methodology to their lives, they may find it relevant, we felt. To achieve this, we would have to discover the reality of their lives.
Kishor and I decided to visit the brick kiln. We reached there one morning around 7 AM. Rahul, a student from Kishor’s school, recognized him and came running to our car. A few other children saw him and ran away to hide in their temporary shelters. It was quite cold that morning and we were wrapped in warm clothes. However, when we saw little Vrushali, we felt quite ashamed of our privileges – in that furious cold, Vrushali was not wearing even a frock. Sitting in her elder sister’s arms, she was simply staring at us with her curious eyes.
Rahul started showing us around the brick kiln. “See, these are the pits to mix clay and water. Here is the machine that powders the unused bricks to make Raabit (राबिट). Do you know how many bricks are stacked in a Ghoda (घोडा)? See, this row of brick stacks is called Haroli (हारोली)…” Rahul was explaining with great enthusiasm.
With Rahul’s help, the doors of this almost unseen world have now opened to me and Kishor. We have decided to enter this world and observe it through the lens of pedagogy and explore ways to teach these children. We are not sure if our efforts will be successful. But the challenge is beckoning us, for sure!
To be continued…