We are working regularly with Rahul and Amit. The other children on the brick kiln have started lingering around us. They find our cameras and mobile phones terribly attractive! They have started urging us to take their ‘photu’. As soon as we take a photograph, they want to see it. Today, I took my laptop to show them the photographs. As I switched it on, I asked them, “Do you know what this is?” Some of them replied, “Camputer.” “What is it used for?”, I asked. “To see photos,” they said. I was impressed by their quick wit!

All of them gathered around me, and started telling me about the people seen in the photos.

Radhi said, “This is Mati. She is married to my brother. She used to go to Kishor guruji’s school.” Amit said, “This is Bhagoji baba. He is setting up the kiln.”

I came to know the stories of many people seen in the photos. I asked the children, “If I write all this, would you read it?” All of them replied “Yes” in unison. I copied a photograph into a word file, and started writing what the children were telling me. I wrote it down as they told me, without converting it to the standard, formal Marathi.

Radhi’s parents…

This is Raja and this is Vandana. They are Radhi’s parents. They woke up at 4 AM. They brought mud from the pit, and prepared lumps of mud … Then they wetted the molds and slapped the mud into them. They applied water on top. Then they spread sandy clay on them. They lifted the molds and released the bricks. A row of bricks was ready. They put some more sandy clay on the bricks. Then they molded the bricks using tin sheets. They will finish this mud-work by 10 AM. Then they will clean up and go to their bhonga for lunch.

As I typed, Amit, Rahul, Chandrika and Radhi started reading aloud. Amit, Chandrika and Radhi are able to read somewhat fluently. Rahul is still reading one word at a time. Kishor told me that when he started teaching these children last year, they were not literate at all. Their enthusiasm to read and write ebbed and flowed like the tides! If they felt like it, they would read, or simply declare “I’m feeling lazy” and walk away! But today, seeing their enthusiasm helped us understand something – they may feel lazy to read lessons from their text books, but if the text is connected with their lives, they are definitely interested in reading it.

Kishor and I have decided to capture their life in photographs, prepare text based on the photos and ask them to read it. For those who are not showing an interest in reading, we are going to write their own stories. We believe that if such text is made available to them, they would definitely start taking an interest in learning to read.

How much ash in eleven pits?

Rahul’s Clay Pit

This is the third consecutive day of our visit to the brick kiln. By now, we are quite familiar with the work that goes on here. It is back-breaking work! The workers get up around 2 AM and start molding the bricks. By the time we reach there around 7.30 AM, they are busy wrapping up the clay work.

When Kishor and I reached the kiln today, we asked Rahul to call the other children. But no one turned up, except Amit. So we started teaching just the two of them. I asked them, “How many clay pits are here in all?” They had never counted the pits. Rahul went running around the kiln and came back with a number – eleven pits on this side of the road. Rahul had told me yesterday, that they put four ghamelas (small round metallic tubs) worth of ash in each pit. So I asked him, “If we have to put four ghamelas of ash in all the eleven pits, how much ash would be required?” Rahul said, “Mopaay lagel…(मोपाय लागंल) I will have to count it.” He went around counting and came back with the answer, “38 ghamelas”. Obviously, he made a mistake. I asked him to explain how he had counted it. This is how our dialogue went:

Rahul: Four and four, eight. Then eight and eight, sixteen. Sixteen and four, twenty.

I: Twenty ghamelas for how many pits?

Rahul: Five.

I: Now imagine, there are five pits on this side of the road and five on that side, and if you have to put four ghamelas of ash in all of them, how many ghamelas would you need? ( I asked this so that Rahul could see all the ten pits in the line of sight from where we stood.)

Rahul: Twenty for this side, and twenty for that side… forty?

I: Correct! Forty ghamelas in how many pits?

Rahul: Umm… ten.

I: But how many pits did you count on this side of the road?

Rahul: Eleven.

I: Forty ghamelas for ten pits, so how many for eleven pits?

Rahul: Umm… forty four.

Kishor and I were happy to see how Rahul had solved this problem. We realized that Rahul is able to count in fours. The problem was closely linked to his reality, hence Rahul was able to visualize and calculate, without a paper and pencil. Later, we asked, “If you put 15 ghamelas of Raabit (powder of unused bricks) in one pit, how much would you require for 11 pits?”. This number much larger than 4. Rahul and Amit drew pictures of pits on the sand. They even drew the channels which connect the pits, for passage of water. Then, they solved the problem!

Rahul cannot recite multiplication tables yet. But he is able to work with numbers if the problem is connected to his surroundings. Now, the challenge for us is to help Rahul progress from his somewhat flexible strategy to the abstract standard algorithm of multiplication. We have read research papers which state that children use their own flexible methods to solve mathematical problems. We are now seeing it for real. Kishor and I have worked out a plan for Rahul. Let us see how he responds to it.

How much Raabit  in 11 pits ?

From the Brick Kiln at Moj

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!

Bhonga, the temporary shelters at the kiln

 To be continued…