Free Tuitions on Nishkaam Karmayog

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“Didn’t you play with marbles as a child?”

Today was the weekly pay-day at the brick kiln. The workers had a day off. Most of the parents were planning to go to the market after collecting their pay from the brick kiln owner. When Kishor and I reached the brick kiln, there was silence all around. We couldn’t see the children anywhere. We walked a little towards the back of the brick kiln and saw Umesh and a couple of boys playing with marbles. Kishor said, “Come on, let’s start our study session.”

All of them said, “We won’t come today.”

“Why?” Kishor asked.

‘Today is pay-day, right?” They replied.

Kishor tried very hard to bring them around by telling them that I had travelled a long distance specially to work with them. Plainly, they asked, “Why did you come today?” Kishor’s efforts were in vein, and all the children continued playing and ignored us completely.

We were both a little angry and dejected after seeing this response from the children. Why did we come here all the way, leaving our regular work and comforts? Only to be asked “Why did you come today”? My ego was hurt. Kishor and I glanced at each other and gulped down our mixed emotions.

There was really no point in getting angry with the children. They had never asked us to come and teach them. It was our need! It was also pointless to expect the parents or children to inform us in advance that today was supposed to be their weekly pay-day and it would be a day off at the brick kiln. We didn’t ask, so they didn’t inform us. If we had asked, we would have saved ourselves a trip. We stood there trying to look composed, watching the children’s game.

Umesh was hitting the marbles with absolute precision. I was really impressed to see his skill. He had a small box full of marbles. I asked him, “Where did you get all these marbles from?” He said, “I won them!”

“How does one win them?” I asked.

All of them started  sniggering. They were surprised that I didn’t know such a simple thing.

“You don’t know how to play?” asked Umesh.

Well. At least they were now taking an interest in what I was saying!

“ Well, I really don’t know. Will you teach me?” I asked.

“Didn’t you play with marbles as a child?” Umesh wanted to know.

I remembered my childhood. If I had even mentioned the name ‘marbles’, I would have been beaten up. All the adults around me had impressed upon me that marbles was a game ‘below our status’. They ensured that I never took any interest in it. I had totally missed this pleasure in life.

I insisted that Umesh should teach me how to play, and he agreed. All the children were highly excited by now. I didn’t have any marbles with me, so I borrowed two marbles from one of the boys and started playing. It was mutually agreed beforehand that even if I won or lost, the marbles would be returned to the original owner. They taught me a game called ‘dhusha’. They laughed heartily at my poor hits. After playing for a while, I asked them a question: Suppose, I have 14 marbles, and I want to share them equally among Amit, Umesh, Mangya and Gurya. How many marbles will each one get?

They halted their game, took 14 marbles from the box, and started dividing. It seemed that they were enjoying this new activity! Soon, I had succeeded in giving them 3-4 problems of multiplication and division. It wasn’t a wasted trip, after all!

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If 14 marbles are shared equally among four children, how many marbles will each one get?

I was rather pleased at my clever trick of converting a game of marbles into solving math problems. But the children didn’t let me enjoy my new-found happiness. The next day, the children had brought berries. Based on yesterday’s experience of creating math problems with marbles, I started giving them division problems using berries. But after dividing berries equally, one of the children happily popped a berry in his mouth. The one who had brought the berries got angry at this and punched him hard. Both Kishor and I had a tough time to stop the wild fight that ensued. The ‘clever trick’ of using berries for math problems hadn’t worked, and yesterday’s success turned into a failure today.

When we had cleared the air among the boys who were fighting, I noticed that Umesh was missing. I asked the children about him. They informed me that his family had left the brick kiln, because his father fought with the owner. No one could tell us where they had gone.

Suddenly, I felt quite depressed. Could Kishor or I really achieve anything in this highly unstable environment, by coming here to teach for a few days? Would these children – for whom we are taking all the efforts – really benefit at all? Is our work providing an answer to these children’s problems?

On our way back from the brick kiln, I asked Kishor, “Is our work really going to yield anything?”

“I don’t know. But let’s keep at it. Something may happen.” said Kishor, who has been brought up in a non-insistent culture.

Slowly, I could feel my depression fade away. A new thought emerged – our work is actually teaching us the full meaning of ‘nishkaam karmayog’ –one the central messages of the Bhagvad Geeta – to continue doing your work without expecting any rewards. Such opportunities are quite rare. I smiled at Kishor, and started planning the next day’s session with him.

Are the schools ready?

Today at the brick kiln, Kishor heard some shouting and moaning from Mati’s bhonga (shelter). When he went there, he saw that Mati’s husband was beating her up. The husband stopped when he saw Kishor. What was the reason for this beating? We were told that the kiln owner’s wife had called Mati to work at her house, and her husband did not want her to go. Two years ago, Mati used to study at Kishor’s school. Kishor tried very hard to help her read and write. But Mati was simply not interested.

Mati is a stubborn girl. It is difficult to convince her to do something against her wish. Eventually, she stopped coming to school. Kishor would go to the brick kiln to bring her to school, but she wouldn’t listen. Probably, she had realized that she was lagging behind in studies compared to her classmates. She found it more fruitful to work on the brick kiln and earn some money. Last year, she got married. School-going Mati became ‘Mati vahini’. The chords of her earlier life were cut off. She has no other option but to continue the hard life at the brick kiln.

Mati’s story could be the story of any of the girl children on the brick kiln. If girls like Mati are not able to continue their school education, the reason definitely lies in the socio-economic conditions of their families. But part of the reason is also to be found in the school system itself. After the introduction of the Right to Education Act, the non-formal education set-ups such as bhonga shala have been closed down. This is actually the right step, because non-formal education imparted by poorly trained teachers in unstable situations like brick kilns can have severe limitations. Also, once we have accepted education as a fundamental right of the child, it is mandatory that every child must attend school. But are our schools ready to accept each and every child?  

When the child realizes that she cannot cope with what is going on in the school, a deep inferiority complex develops in her mind. In such a case, why would she like the school? Our school system is designed in a way that children like Mati have no option but to fail. The language used in the school, the text books – their content and pictures, the school environment, the assessment system – everything works against them. Children continuously get a feeling that ‘we are not going to get there’, and then they start lagging behind in studies.

According to Kishor, children like Mati need a longer time to become habituated to the routine of the school. If the schools give a sense of failure to them all the time, their chances of dropping out increase. Failure in the examination becomes a big push factor in their case. Even after being in the school, a child like Mati may make less progress as compared to other children. But still, it is important that she continues in the system as dropping out means getting married and pregnant at a very young age.

If we want these children to be successful, we will have to make the system much more flexible to suit to their needs. At times, we would need to keep away the text books and bring these children’s world into the classroom. Even the assessment tools need to be developed locally. And the most important of all – we would have to empower and trust the teacher to make this happen in the classroom. Unless we keep away the idea of failing children through exams, unless we give up our fascination for the standardized tests as the only yardstick for success, how will the schools be ready for students like Mati?

शाळा तयार आहेत ?

आज भट्टीवर गेले असताना किशोरला मतीच्या भोंग्यातून विव्हळण्याचा आवाज आला. त्याने जाऊन पाहिले तर मतीचा नवरा तिला बदडत होता. किशोर आलेला पाहून तो थांबला. भांडणाचे कारण काय याची विचारपूस केली तर पाटलीण बाईने मतीला घरी कामाला बोलावले होते आणि नवऱ्याचे म्हणणे होते तू जाऊ नकोस. मती दोन वर्षांपूर्वी किशोरच्या शाळेत यायची. किशोरने तिला वाचते लिहिते करायचे खूप प्रयत्न केले. पण मतीला काही त्यात गोडी वाटे ना.

तशी मती फटकळ. तिला काही समजावून सांगायचे म्हणजे कठीण. तिच्या मनाविरुद्ध काही झाले तर लगेच रुसून बसणार आणि पुढचे काही दिवस शाळेचे तोंड बघणार नाही. काही काळाने तिने हळू हळू शाळेत येणे थांबवले. किशोर तिला शाळेत आणायला भट्टीवर जायचा पण ती ऐकायची नाही. आपण शाळेत इतर मुलांच्या तुलनेत फारच मागे पडलोय हे मतीला उमगले होते. त्या मुळे भट्टीवरचे बारीसारीक काम करून चार पैसे मिळवण्यात तिला जास्त रस वाटे. गेल्या साली तिचे लग्न झाले. शाळकरी मतीची मतीवहिनी झाली. मागचे दोर कापले गेले. आता याच वाटेवर पुढे जाण्यावाचून गत्यंतर नाही.

मतीची ही कहाणी भट्टीवरल्या इतर कोणत्याही मुलीची कहाणी होऊ शकते. शाळांत येऊनही न टिकणे याला मतीसारख्या मुलींच्या घरची परिस्थिती जवाबदार आहेच पण याचे दुसरे एक कारण शाळेतही आहे. शिक्षण हक्क कायद्यानंतर वीटभट्ट्यांवर चालवल्या जाणाऱ्या भोंगाशाळांसारख्या अनौपचारिक शिक्षणाच्या व्यवस्था बंद झाल्या आहेत. ते एक प्रकारे योग्यच आहे. कारण भट्टीसारख्या अत्यंत अस्थिर वातावरणात, अल्पशिक्षित, अप्रशिक्षित शिक्षकाकडून शिकण्याला प्रचंड मर्यादा येतात. तसेच एकदा शिक्षण हा मूलभूत हक्क म्हणून मान्य केल्यावर प्रत्येक मूल शाळेत असणे हे अनिवार्य आहे. पण प्रश्न असा आहे की आपल्या शाळा प्रत्येक मुलाला सामावून घ्यायला तयार आहेत का?

शाळेत आल्यावर आपल्याला काही येत नाही, काही समजत नाही हीच भावना निर्माण होणार असेल तर मुलांना शाळेबद्दल गोडी का वाटावी? मतीसारख्या मुलांना अपयशच येईल अशी शाळेची रचना आपण करून ठेवली आहे. शाळेची भाषा, तिथल्या पुस्तकांचा आशय, त्यातली चित्रे,  तिथले वातावरण, तिथले प्रगती मापण्याचे निकष, सारे काही मतीसारख्या मुलींना परके वाटते. प्रयत्न करूनही आपल्याला यातले काही जमत नाही ही भावना मनात घट्ट रुजते आणि मग या मुलांचे मागे पडणे सुरू होते.

या मुलांच्या गरजा लक्षात घेऊन शिक्षणाचे नियोजन करायचे म्हटले तर शाळेतला सारा शिक्षणव्यवहार लवचिक करायला लागणार. प्रसंगी शाळेची क्रमिक पुस्तके बाजूला टाकून मुलांचे जगणे थेट शाळेत आणावे लागणार, त्यांची प्रगती मापण्याचे निकषही डोळसपणे आणि स्थानिक पातळीवर ठरवावे लागणार. आणि महत्त्वाचे म्हणजे हे सारे ज्याने घडवायचे त्या शिक्षकाला सबल करावे लागणार. त्याच्यावर विश्वास ठेवायला लागणार.

किशोरसारख्या शिक्षकांच्या मते ही मुले शाळेत आल्यावर रुळायला जवळ जवळ वर्ष जाते. त्यांना व्यवस्थेत रुळायला वेळ लागतो. तो न देता आपण घाईघाईने त्यांच्या कपाळावर ‘यांना काही जमत नाही’ असा शिक्का मारला, तर त्यांनी शाळेत का टिकावे? असा शिक्का मारण्याचे मोठेच काम परीक्षा करतात. परीक्षेत नापास होणे हे एकप्रकारे या मुलांना शिक्षण व्यवस्थेच्या बाहेर ढकलण्याचे साधन बनते. आणि शाळेतून बाहेर पडल्यावर मजुरी, लग्न आणि लहान वयात मुले होणे या चक्रात अडकण्याशिवाय पर्याय नसतो. शाळेमध्ये राहून मतीसारखी मुलगी कदाचित इतर मुलांपेक्षा थोडी कमी प्रगती करेल, पण शाळेमुळे पुढच्या दुष्टचक्रातून तिची सुटका होण्याची संभावना वाढते, हे काही कमी महत्त्वाचे नाही. नापास करू पाहणाऱ्या परीक्षा टाळल्याशिवाय, केवळ प्रमाणित चाचण्यांतील आकडेवारीवरून यशापयश जोखण्याचा मोह आवरल्याशिवाय आपल्या शाळा मतीसारख्या मुलांना कशा समावून घेतील?