Engrossed in calculations

For the last few days, when we were working with Rahul and Amit, Rahul’s sister Radhi would sit inside the bhonga (shelter) doing some sundry work. If I asked Rahul a question, she would respond from inside the bhonga. But she was not ready to join us. Two days ago, Kishor invited her, and she joined us. She started calculating how much ash was required for how many pits. When Radhi calculates using her fingers, her concentration is worth watching! She is not fazed by anything going on around her. Radhi began learning the alphabet last year, when she started attending Kishor’s school. Kishor informed me that she has made considerable progress over the last year.

When we reached the brick kiln today, we saw that Radhi had cleaned up the floor outside her bhonga. When she saw us, she ran into the bhonga and emerged with two mats. Yesterday, we were discussing that the children did not have a proper place to sit and read. Radhi, the responsible 12-year-old, had solved our problem without anyone asking her to do so. The hardships of life on the brick kiln teach these children to solve their problems on their own. They have to shoulder a lot more responsibility than what is normally expected at their age. They develop a sense of maturity quite early in life. I am still undecided whether it is good or bad that these young children behave like responsible adults.

All of us gathered outside Radhi’s bhonga and started working on our regular math problems – if you have to put 15 ghamelas (small metal tubs) of raabit (powder of unused bricks) in one pit, how much raabit would be required for 6 pits? Radhi answered the question after much careful thought. Here is a video clip captured by Kishor:

Radhi was calculating in multiples of 15. When she reached 70, I thought she would go wrong in further calculation. But she did not. She solved the problem by ‘keeping aside’ 5 ghamelas. Unfortunately, the school exams do not assess this type of problem solving strategies, and that’s where the problem lies. When I asked her how she had calculated the answer, she explained it systematically. It is usually difficult for children to explain the steps they use for calculation. Because they have to think about their own thought process, and verbalize it while explaining. Many children coming from literate homes would also find this considerably challenging. Radhi is able to do this quite well.

One day, when I was chatting with the children, Radhi and I had this amusing conversation:

“Your parents work on the brick kiln. Kishor guruji teaches in the school. Do you know what work I do?” I asked them casually.

Radhi said, “You must be writing in the computer.”

“What for ?” I asked curiously.

“Because you love it!”I smiled at Radhi appreciating her reply.

“Is that so? But what must I be writing?” I persisted.

“What you teach us.” Radhi said.

“ Why should I write that?” I asked purposely, to probe further.

“There must be so many kids in other places … their teachers will read it… and they will teach those kids. You are Kishor guruji’s teacher, aren’t you?” Radhi’s reply left me speechless.

When Kishor had introduced me to these children, he had said, “I am your teacher, and he is my teacher.” Combining this information with her experience  Radhi had imagined my  profession quite accurately ! Radhi is not only smart, she is also a born leader. She likes to assume responsibility. One day when Umesh and Devram were fighting, she intervened and made them stop. When she is in Kishor’s school, she is always doing advocacy on behalf of her classmates. Will the unstable life on the brick kiln nurture  her inherent qualities?

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?


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.


आम्ही राहुलसोबत नी अमितसोबत काम करतोय हे पाहून भट्टीवरची इतर मुलेही आमच्या आसपास घुटमळू लागली आहेत. आमच्याकडे असलेल्या कॅमेऱ्याचे नी मोबाईलचे त्यांना खूप आकर्षण वाटते आहे. आमचा ‘फोटू पाड’ असे आता त्यांनी सांगायला सुरुवात केली आहे. फोटो काढला रे काढला की लगेच त्यांना बघायचा असतो.  आज मी त्यांना त्यांचे फोटो दाखवायला लॅपटॉप नेला होता. मी लॅपटॉप चालू करता करता त्यांना विचारले, “हे काय आहे?” तर काही जण म्हणाली, “कॅम्पुटर”. “कॉम्प्युटर कशासाठी वापरतात?” तर म्हणाले, “फोटो पाहायला!” त्यांच्या हजरजवाबीपणाचं कौतुक वाटलं.

लॅपटॉपवर फोटो समोर येताच सगळी माझ्या भोवती गोळा झाली. आणि उत्साहाने फोटोत दिसणाऱ्या माणसांबददल सांगू लागली.

राधी म्हणाली, “ही मती. तिला आमच्या दादाला दिलीय. ती पन किशोर गुरुजीच्या शालंत जायची.” अमित म्हणाला, “हा भागोजीबाबा. तो भटकर आहे. भट्टी रचतोय.” मग पुढच्या दहा पंधरा मिनिटात फोटोत दिसणाऱ्या भट्टीवरच्या माणसांच्या अशा अनेक कहाण्या मला कळल्या. मग मी विचारले, “मी हे सगळं लिहितो. तुम्ही वाचाल का?”  तशी उत्साहाने सगळे हो म्हणाले. मग मी एकेक फोटो वर्ड मध्ये घेतला आणि त्या बद्दल मुले जे सांगतील ते लिहू लागलो.

राधीचे आई बाबा…
हे राजा आणि ह्या वंदना. ते आमच्या राधीचे आई बाबा आहेत. दोघे सकाळी चार वाजता उठले.त्यांनी खड्ड्यावरून चिखल आणून ढिकली मारली. मग त्यांनी साच्याला पाणी लावून त्यात चिखल आपटला. त्याला वरून पाणी लावले. पिठा टाकला. साचा उचलून विटा पाडू लागले. विटांची रांग तयार झाली. रांगेवर पिठा टाकला. नंतर पत्र्याकं विटा थापल्या. आता दहा वाजता त्यांचे चिखलकाम संपेल. मग ते साफसफाई करतील आणि जेवायला भोंग्यात जातील.

मी टाईप करू लागल्यावर अमित, राहुल, चंद्रिका आणि राधी यांनी वाचायला सुरुवात केली. अमित, चंद्रिका आणि राधी बऱ्यापैकी वाचत आहेत. राहुल अजून एकेक शब्द वाचतो आहे. किशोरने मला सांगितले की गेल्या वर्षी त्याने शिकवायला सुरुवात केली तेव्हा मुलांना अक्षर ओळखही नव्हती. वाचण्या लिहिण्याचा त्यांचा उत्साह म्हणजे भरती ओहटीचा खेळ. मनात असेल तर वाचतील नाहीतर ‘आलशी आली’ असे गुरुजीच्या तोंडावर सांगून निघून जातील. पण आजचा त्यांचा वाचनाचा उत्साह पाहून मला नी किशोरला एक बाब नीट समजली. पुस्तकातले धडे वाचायला जरी त्यांना कंटाळा येत असला तरी स्वतःच्या आयुष्यातले काही लिहिलेले मिळाले तर ते वाचण्यात त्यांना नक्की रस वाटतोय.

या अनुभवानंतर आम्ही ठरवले आहे की जमेल तितके त्यांचे आयुष्य कॅमेऱ्यात कैद करायचे आणि त्या फोटोंच्या आधारे केलेले लिखाण त्यांना वाचायला द्यायचे. ज्यांना अजून लिपी परिचयात गोडी वाटत नाहीये त्यांनाही त्यांच्या स्वतःच्या गोष्टी लिहून दाखवायच्या. अशाप्रकारचे लिखाण वाचायला मिळाले तर या मुलांची वाचायला शिकायची गोडी वाढेल असा आमचा होरा आहे.

अकरा खरड्यात किती राख?

आज विटभट्टीवर येण्याचा सलग तिसरा दिवस. भट्टीवर चालणाऱ्या कामांची आता आम्हाला बऱ्यापैकी माहिती होऊ लागली आहे. हे काम भयंकर अंगमेहनतीचे. पहाटे दीड दोनला उठून विटा थापायच्या कामाला सुरुवात होते. आम्ही जेव्हा भट्टीवर पोहोचतो तेव्हा मंडळी चिखलकाम आवरते घेत असतात.

आज मी आणि किशोर भट्टीवर पोहचल्यावर राहुलला बाकीच्या मुलांना बोलावायला सांगितले. पण फारसे कोणी आले नाही. अमित आला. म्हणून दोघांनाच शिकवायला सुरुवात केली. दोघांना विचारले, “इथे मातीचे एकूण किती खड्डे आहेत?” तर त्यांनी ते मोजलेच नव्हते. राहुल उत्साहाने पळत पळत गेला आणि रस्त्याच्या एका बाजूला ११ खड्डे असल्याचे त्याने सांगितले. राहुलने मला काल सांगितले होते, “मातीच्या एका खरड्यात चार घमेली राख घालतात.” त्याचाच आधार घेऊन राहुलला प्रश्न विचारला – रस्त्याच्या एका बाजूच्या सगळ्या खड्ड्यांत चार चार घमेली राख टाकायची असेल तर किती राख लागेल?  तर राहुल म्हणाला ‘मोपाय लागंल’, नी त्याने मोजायला सुरुवात केली. थोड्याच वेळात मोजून परत आला नी म्हणाला, ३८ घमेली. स्वारी मोजताना चुकली. कसे मोजलेस विचरले तेव्हा आमच्यात झालेला संवाद असा:

राहुल: चार ना चार आठ, ना मग आठ ना आठ सोला, ना चार वीस.

मी : किती खड्ड्यांत वीस घमेली टाकायची ?

राहुल:  पाच

मी : मग आता समज, पाच खड्डे रस्त्याच्या या बाजूचे आणि पाच त्या बाजूचे अशा सगळ्यात चार चार घमेली राख टाकायची तर किती लागेल ? ( दहाही खड्डे नजरेच्या टप्प्यात यावेत अशा बेताने मी विचारले )

राहुल : ये बाजूची वीस ना ते बाजूची वीस. चालीस ?

मी:  बरोबर. म्हणजे किती खड्ड्यांत चाळीस घमेली टाकायची?

राहुल : अं… दहा.

मी: पण आपले रस्त्याच्या एका बाजूचे खड्डे किती होते?

राहुल : अकरा

मी : दहा खड्ड्यांत ४० घमेली लागतात, मग ११ खड्ड्यांत ?

राहुल : सांगू, चव्वेचालिस

राहुलने ज्या प्रकारे हा प्रश्न सोडवला ते पाहून मी आणि किशोर खूश झालो. राहुल काही प्रमाणात टप्प्याने मोजू शकतोय हे लक्षात आले. हे उदाहरण राहुलच्या जीवनाशी घट्ट जोडलेले असल्याने त्याने हातात कागद पेन्सील न घेता मनातल्या मनात चित्र आणून ही आकडमोड केली होती. नंतर याच एका खड्ड्यात १५ घमेली राबिट टाकायचे असेल तर ११ खड्ड्यांत किती राबिट टाकावे लागेल या प्रश्नाचे उत्तर शोधताना त्यांनी जमिनीवर खड्डे काढले. दोन खड्ड्यांच्या मध्ये पाणी इकडून तिकडे जाण्यासाठी नाली खोदलेली असते ती ही काढली आणि मग उदाहरण सोडवले.

एका खड्ड्यात १५ घमेली राबिट टाकतात, तर अशा ११ खड्ड्यांत किती घमेली राबिट लागेल ?

खरे तर राहुलला  अजून पाढे येत नाहीत. पण स्वतःच्या विश्वातली समस्या समोर आली तर ती सोडवण्याइतपत संख्यांवर प्रभुत्त्व त्याने नक्कीच मिळवले आहे. आता आमच्या समोर आव्हान आहे ते राहुलच्या स्वतःच्या लवचिक रीतीपासून सुरुवात करून त्याला अधिक अमूर्त अशा आकडेमोडीच्या सर्वसामान्य रीतीपर्यंत घेऊन जाण्याचे. मुले गणितातील उदाहरणे सोडवताना स्वतःच्या लविचिक अशा रीती वापरत असतात याबद्दल संशोधन पत्रिकांत वाचले होते. त्याचा प्रत्यय राहुलसोबत काम करताना येतोय.  पुढचे काम कसे करावे याचे एक नियोजन मी आणि किशोरने मिळून केले आहे. पाहू या राहुल कसा प्रतिसाद देतोय ते.

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…

मोजच्या भट्टीवरून

माझा मित्र किशोर काठोले पालघर जिल्ह्याच्या वाडा तालुक्यातल्या मोज नावाच्या गावात जिल्हा परिषदेच्या शाळेत शिकवतो. काही दिवसांपूर्वी सहज गप्पा मारताना त्याने मला त्यांच्या शाळेतल्या कातकरी पाड्यावरील मुलांबाबात सांगितले. या मुलांनी शाळेत यावे, टिकावे, रमावे म्हणून गेली दोन वर्षे किशोर आणि त्याचे सहकारी प्रयत्न करतायत. ही मुले शाळेत येऊ लागली आहेत हे खरे, पण अजून म्हणावी अशी रुळलेली नाहीत. काही जण सारखी गैरहजर राहतात, आणि जी हजर राहतात त्यांनाही शाळेच्या कामकाजात फार रस वाटत नाही. या मुलांपैकी बऱ्याच मुलांचे  पालक गावाच्या जवळच असणाऱ्या वीटभट्टीवर काम करतात आणि या कामानिमित्त तिथेच भोंगा बांधून राहतात. मुलेही तिथेच जाऊन राहतात आणि मग त्यांना शाळेत आणणे अजूनच कठीण बनते. परिणामतः शाळेतील इतर मुलांच्या तुलनेत ती बरीच मागे पडली आहेत.   

खरेतर किशोर एक संवेदनशील व प्रगल्भ शिक्षक आहे. तो आणि त्याचे एक सहकारी वाघ गुरुजी यांनी स्वतःच्या मुलांना त्यांच्या जिल्हा परिषद शाळेतच दाखल केले आहे. त्यांच्या शाळेत चांगले शिकवले जाते हे पाहून आसपासच्या गावातील काही मध्यमवर्गीय पालकांनी त्यांची मुलेही मोजच्या शाळेत घातली आहेत. पण या सगळ्या यशाच्या पार्श्वभूमीवर किशोरला खंत वाटत होती ती या कातकरी मुलांच्या मागे पडण्याबाबत. आम्ही दोघे या विषयावर जवळ जवळ तासभर बोललो. त्यातून एक बाब जाणवली ती म्हणजे शाळेत आपण जे शिकवू पाहतो आहोत ते आणि या मुलांचे आयुष्य यात फारसा संबंध दिसत नाही. कदाचित म्हणूनच त्यांना शाळेच्या शिक्षणात रस वाटत नसावा.  शिक्षणाचा आशय आणि पद्धत जर मुलांच्या जीवनाशी सुसंगत केली तर या मुलांना शिकण्यात रस वाटू शकेल, आणि हे करायचे असेल तर या मुलांचे जगणे आधी समजून घ्यायला हवे असे आम्हाला वाटले. 

त्यासाठी आम्ही दोघांनी जमेल तसे वीटभट्टीवर जायचे ठरवले आणि चार दिवसांपूर्वी सकाळी सात साडेसातच्या सुमारास वीटभट्टीवर पोहचलो. किशोर गुरुजी  आलेला पाहून राहुल धावत आमच्या गाडीकडे आला तर बाकी काही मुले गुरुजी आलेला पाहून पळून जाऊन भोंग्यात लपली. कडाक्याच्या थंडीत अंगात स्वेटर घालून, कान बांधून आम्ही भट्टीवर पोचलो होतो. तिथे बहिणीने उचलून घेतलेल्या लहानग्या वृषालीला पाहून मनोमन लाज वाटली. तशा त्या थंडीत अंगात झबलेही न घातलेली वृषाली आमच्याकडे कुतूहलाने पाहत होती.

पळत आलेला राहुल उत्साहाने आम्हाला भट्टीवर काय काय कामे चालतात ते दाखवू लागला. विटा बनवण्यासाठी माती भिजवायचे खड्डे कुठे आहेत, राबिट बनवायचे यंत्र कुठे आहे, एका घोड्यात किता विटा असतात, हारोली म्हणजे काय, विटांच्या मातीत किती राबिट घालायचे – अनेक गोष्टी त्याने आम्हाला दाखवायला सुरुवात केली.

राहुलच्या मदतीने मला आणि किशोरला या मुलांच्या जगाचे दार किलकिले झाले आहे.आम्ही ठरवले आहे की या जगात शिरायचे, शिक्षणशास्त्राचे भिंग वापरून त्यांचे जग निरखायचे आणि या मुलांना शिकवण्याची वाट शोधायची. आम्ही आमच्या प्रयत्नात यशस्वी होऊ की नाही हे आम्हाला माहिती नाही. पण हे नवे आव्हान आम्हाला दोघांनाही खुणावते आहे एवढे नक्की.

भट्टीवरचा भोंगा