Counting bricks is an important activity during our sessions at the brick kiln. The children have made much progress in learning mathematics due to this activity. Their parents have to count bricks to keep track of their payment. Hence, counting bricks is a meaningful task for these children. Also, they don’t have to sit at one place to complete this task. They have to move and run around, which is akin to their basic nature. All of them are always ready to count bricks. Whenever I realize that they are getting bored of sitting at one place and reading, I ask them, “Shall we count bricks?” and a sudden wave of enthusiasm engulfs them!

In the beginning, they would count the bricks one by one. But now, they can count in multiples of two, four, twenty five and hundred. The reason is, one ghoda (stack of bricks at the kiln) is of 25 bricks. They stack up 12 layers of 2 bricks each, and keep a single brick on top. The children can count the bricks in such a ghoda in twos.  Bigger stacks of 55 bricks are structured as follows: 13 layers of 4 bricks each, and 3 single bricks on top. The children make use of these structures for counting. They also use their own strategies for counting. See this video, in which Rahul is answering the question – “how many total bricks in 3 ghodas of 55 bricks each?”

how many total bricks in 3 ghodas of 55 bricks each?

Kishor and I decided to push the children a little more. Our friend Arun had accompanied us today to see our class. He is a teacher himself. He joined us in teaching and took detailed notes of our efforts. There were many ghodas of raw bricks outside Amit’s house. We started our math class over there. Rahul also came with Amit. Our conversation went like this:

I: How many bricks in one ghoda?

Amit: Twenty five

I: So, how many bricks in these 2 ghodas?

Amit spent a lot of time mumbling to himself and using his fingers to count. Arun’s patience ran out and he prodded Amit.

Arun: How many bricks in the ghoda on this side?

Amit: Twenty five

Arun: Then say quickly how many bricks in two ghodas.

Amit started counting bricks one by one. Now Arun couldn’t hold back himself. He explained to Amit that if he counted in fours, he would be able to count faster. Amit followed this, and counted 50 bricks. I smiled at Arun. He realized that he needn’t have rushed Amit this way. He could have allowed Amit to count one by one, and then brought it to his attention that he could count in fours to save time. We realized that the principle of not interfering with children’s thought processes sounds quite simple, but is actually quite difficult in practice. I took over the conversation from this point onwards.

I: If there are 50 bricks in two ghodas, how many bricks in four ghodas?

Amit: A hundred (This reply came rather promptly)

I: How many bricks in this entire haaroli? (Haaroli is a long row of ghodas

This was my attempt to push Rahul and Amit. They started counting the ghodas by touching each ghoda. “A hundred and hundred makes two hundred… another hundred makes three hundred…”. But they would miss a ghoda in between or count a ghoda twice. When they’d realize their mistake, they would start counting from scratch. I suggested a trick – when they complete counting 100 bricks, they should put a blade of grass on that ghoda. This trick worked very well, and Amit and Rahul started moving forward.

After some time, Rahul said, “Ten hundred”. Arun didn’t like that. He asked, “How much is ten hundred?” Rahul got a little confused. I intervened and asked him to continue counting. Arun realized that it’s not necessary to insist on using the word ‘hazaar’ – it can hinder the children’s process. The children completed counting till “Twelve hundred bricks”. I decided to challenge them further.

How many bricks are there in all these haarolis?

I asked them, “Can you tell me how many bricks are there in all these haarolis?” Promptly, the boys climbed to the top of the haaroli and started counting. Now, they were using many different strategies for counting. For example, when they had to add 3600 and 1200, Amit said, “Thirty six hundred plus twelve hundred, right? So, thirty six hundred and ten hundred…. that’s forty six hundred…  add the remaining two hundred… that makes…. forty eight hundred!!” Using such strategies, they counted “Eighty four hundred bricks in seven haarolis” and climbed down.

I decided to represent this count in the form of a table. But we didn’t have a paper and pen, so we squatted next to the haaroli and prepared a table on the sand, with the help of the boys. While preparing the table, the boys were counting mentally, and at times they were looking at the bricks and counting physically. They went through the whole process of counting once again, albeit quite quickly.

How many haarolis? How many bricks?

We have noticed while working with these children that they face a problem with number-names. In Marathi and some North Indian languages, the number-names are a little peculiar.  These children can say “80 and 4” quite easily. But they find ‘chauryanshi’ (चौंऱ्यांशी ) confusing. Actually, we can express ‘chauryanshi’as ‘ainshi chaar’ or ‘panchahattar’ as ‘sattar paach’. But this practice is not prevalent in Marathi. Rahul and Amit can count “Eighty four hundred bricks in seven haarolis” but get confused with number-names upto 100.

Prof. Manohar Railkar has written a detailed article about this issue. The influence of Sanskrit on Marathi and North Indian languages has resulted in making the number-names upto 100 quite complicated. Children who come from families where there is a regular practice of using numbers and learning tables by heart, may not find it very problematic. But we will have to work quite hard to help our brick kiln children master these number-names. However, if we look back at where we had started from, it seems that we have made quite a lot of progress. Kishor and I are feeling quite happy about it!

Hurdle Race


We do not have a fixed space for our study sessions at the brick kiln. Sometimes, we assemble near the clay pit, sometimes near the haaroli of bricks and sometimes where the children are playing. The children don’t seem to have any problem with this, but I started feeling the need for some stability. Radhi had made space for us outside her bhonga, but recently, a new kiln was built next to her bhonga. Women with head loads of raw bricks started walking through the courtyard to the new kiln. Their ‘traffic’ started disturbing the progress of our sessions. As it is, the children on the brick kilns are not used to sitting in one place to concentrate on something. They started getting distracted by the movement and casual conversations of these women. To find a new space for our ‘class’ – that was the new challenge!

Another problem was that of our students missing classes for babysitting. Kishor told me that Manali who was studying in Grade 2, stopped attending school because her brother was born and she had to stay at home to look after him. This is a common occurrence at the brick kiln – children who are 8-10 years old have to remain at home to look after their younger siblings. Such children are called baalghe. Families that work on the brick kiln have no other option but to take the help of their children for such things. Children help with household chores such as filling up water, washing clothes, cooking etc. They also help with less strenuous work at the brick kiln, such as sieving powdered bricks, setting up a haaroli of bricks etc. But working as baalghe (babysitters) ties them down for the whole day. They have to ignore their own childhood and share the responsibility of their parents’ household. Kishor has permitted these children to come to the school with their little siblings. Some of the enthusiastic students do come to school holding their baby brother or sister in their arms. But everyone doesn’t have this enthusiasm. It is little wonder that this brings an end to their education.

Many such baalghe children come to our class at the brick kiln. They bring their little siblings with them. The other day, eight-year-old Avinash was drawing a picture based on a story which we had shared in the class. Suddenly, his mother appeared with a head load of bricks and a cane in her hand. She shouted at him and hit him hard on the back with the cane. Before we could realize what was happening, Avinash went running to his bhonga. His baby sister Durga was inside, in the cradle, crying. Avinash was supposed to look after her. While she was crying, he was busy drawing. That’s why he had received a beating. Before I could say something to his mother, she was gone.

What could I have told her, anyway? At the most I would have advised her not to beat him. But given their situation, I wonder whether she would have listened to me at all. I sighed and resumed teaching. Avinash returned to the class, carrying little Durga in his arms. He held her in his lap and tried to go back to his drawing.

New Bhonga for the class

Kishor and I realized that we had to work on this issue of babysitting, if we wanted to continue our classes. Children missing school for babysitting has been noted as an issue for many years. Educationists Tarabai Modak and Anutai Wagh had devised a very useful strategy to handle this problem. They used to run a crèche, a pre-school centre and a few primary school grades together under one roof. They named it ‘Vikas Wadi’. All the children would get looked after in this system. Parents could leave their children there and go to work without any worries. We decided to use this time-tested strategy for our students. We decided to run a crèche, at least till the time our classes will be on at the brick kiln. Kishor asked a local girl named Ankita if she would do this work, and she agreed readily.

But where would this crèche be? We needed a proper space for it. Kishor appealed to the parents – would they please build a bhonga for us? They proposed to build a bhonga on their next pay day or holiday. Sure enough, on the pay day, Umesh’s father took his tractor to the forest to bring grass and sticks; but no one offered to help. He returned with some kasaad grass. When Kishor asked the parents about it, they said, they were unable to go. Then, Gurya’s father said, he had a bhonga near the road which was lying unused, and he wouldn’t mind letting us use it. Kishor seized the opportunity, and set the ball in motion for repairing the old bhonga.

The children’s enthusiasm for preparing this space was amazing! They brought kasaad grass and covered the bhonga, they levelled the floor of bhonga and prepared the courtyard for our classes by covering the ground with cow dung. Kishor brought some old sarees, which were tied along the fence. Our new ‘classroom’ was taking shape! Inside the bhonga, we tied a saree between two poles, and created a cradle for small babies. We brought a bagful of toys and teaching aids for pre-schoolers. On one wall, we hung a mirror, and kept a comb, face powder and hair oil next to it. Outside, we put a bucket of water to wash hands and feet. All the facilities were in place. We tied a rope outside the bhonga and put storybooks on it – our ‘hanging library’! Our brick kiln children who came to the class started washing their faces, applying hair oil and face powder…. All of them looked like salted peanuts!!

The crèche created a good space for our brick kiln classes. The younger children started playing with Ankita. The babies were put in the cradles. And the older children started sitting with us in the courtyard to study. But…. Just when I was finding a semblance of stability…. The other day some stray dogs tore off the sarees which were tied along the fence. The children made ropes with those tattered sarees and built swings! With the fence gone, the courtyard soon became a dumping ground for garbage.

There we go again. Start from scratch. Tarabai and Anutai had done this pioneering work decades ago. I feel amazed and saddened that their work is not outdated even today.

Hanging Library

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.


राधी : एकाग्रतेने आकडेमोड करताना

गेले काही दिवस राहुल आणि अमितसोबत आम्ही काम करत असताना राहुलची बहीण राधी तिच्या भोंग्यात काहीतरी काम करत बसायची. मी राहुलाला प्रश्न विचारला की ती आतून ती उत्तर देई. पण ती समोर येऊन आमच्यासोबत बसायला काही तयार नव्हती.  दोन दिवसांपूर्वी किशोरने तिला बोलवल्यावर ती आली आणि आमच्यात सामील झाली. किती खड्ड्यांना किती राख किंवा राबिट लागेल याचा हिशेब करू लागली. हाताची बोटे मोजत राधी हिशेब करते. त्यावेळी तिची एकाग्रता बघण्यासारखी असते. आसपास काय चालले आहे याने तिला काही फरक पडत नाही. गेल्या वर्षी राधी किशोरच्या वर्गात आली तेव्हा अक्षरओळखीपासून तिने शिकायला सुरुवात केली होती. वर्षभराच्या काळात तिने बरीच प्रगती केल्याचे किशोरने मला सांगितले.  

जबाबदार राधी

आज आम्ही भट्टीवर गेलो तर राधीच्या भोंग्यासमोरची जमीन तिने सारवून ठेवली होती. आम्ही आलेले पाहून ती पळत पळत भोंग्यात गेली आणि तिच्याकडच्या दोन चटया घेऊन आली.  काल मुलांसोबत काम करताना आपल्याला वाचायला बसायला जागा नाही याबाबत बोलणे झाले होते. दहा-अकरा वर्षांच्या जबाबदार राधीने कोणी ही न सांगता आमची ही समस्या आज सोडवून ठेवली होती. भट्टीवरच्या खडतर आयुष्यात मुलांना स्वतःचे प्रश्न स्वतःच सोडवावे लागतात. वयाच्या मानाने पेलावी लागणारी जबाबदारी फारच मोठी असते. त्यामुळे त्यांच्यात एकप्रकारचा समजूतदारपणा येतो. आता या लहान मुलांनी असे मोठ्यांसारखे वागणे चांगले म्हणायचे की वाईट हे मला अजून ठरवता आलेले नाही.

सगळेजण राधीच्या भोंग्यासमोर जमले आणि आम्ही खड्ड्यांतले राबिट मोजायची उदाहरणे सुरू केली. ‘एका खड्ड्यांत १५ घमेली राबिट टाकायचे तर अशा सहा खड्ड्यांत किती घमेली राबिट टाकावे लागेल’ या प्रश्नाचे उत्तर राधीने नीट विचारपूर्वक दिले. त्याचा किशोरने केलेला व्हिडिओ पुढे दिला आहे.

राधी १५ च्या पटीत मोजत जेव्हा सत्तरावर आली तेव्हा मला वाटले आता ही चुकणार. पण ती चुकली नाही. पाच घमेली राबिट बाजूला ठेवून तिने आपला प्रश्न सोडवला. पण तिचे हे कौशल्य शाळेच्या परीक्षेला मोजता येत नाही, इथेच खरी मेख आहे. तू हे उत्तर कसे काढलेस असे विचारल्यावर तिने ते व्यवस्थित समजावून सांगितले. अशा प्रकारे सांगता येणे हे मुलांसाठी बऱ्यापैकी अवघड काम असते. कारण यात स्वतःच्या विचारांवर विचार करावा लागतो, आणि आपण काय विचार केला हे  भाषेच्या माध्यमातून मांडावे लागते. अगदी सुस्थितीत वाढणाऱ्या मुलांपैकी बऱ्याच जणांनाही हे जमत नाही. राधी हे काम अगदी उत्तम करू शकते आहे.   

एकदा मी असाच मुलांसोबत गप्पा मारत बसलेलो असताना राधी आणि माझ्यात झालेला संवाद मोठा मनोरंजक होता.

“तुमचे आई बाबा वीटभट्टीवर काम करतात. किशोर गुरुजी शाळेत शिकवण्याचे काम करततात. तसं मी कोणतं काम करत असेन?” मी सहजच मुलांना विचारले.

राधी म्हणाली, “तू कॅम्पुटर मधे लिवत असशील.”

“ पण लिहायचं कशासाठी?” मी कुतूहलाने विचारले.

“ तुला हौस वाटं तय.” राधीच्या उत्तराने मला हसू लोटले.

“अस्सं ! पण काय लिहित असेन गं मी?” मी विचारले.

“ सांगू,  तू आम्हाला काय शिकवंस त्यां” राधी उत्तरली.

“ ते कशाला लिहायचं ?” मी तिला कोड्यात टाकण्यासाठी विचारले.

“ मग बीजीकडची पन पोरां असतील ना ? तेंचे सर वाचतील. ना मंग ते पन शिकवतील ते पोरांना. तू तं किशोरसरांचा पन सर हायेस ना?”  राधीने मला थक्क केले.

माझी ओळख करून देताना ‘मी जसे तुम्हाला शिकवतो तसे हे सर आम्हाला शिकवतात’ असे किशोरने सांगितले होते. राधीने त्याचाच आधार घेऊन मी काय काम करत असेन याची कल्पना केली होती! राधी केवळ चुणचुणीतच नाही तर म्होरकी सुद्धा आहे. जबाबदारी घेणे तिला आवडते. काल उमेश नी देवारामची मारामारी झाली तर हिने मध्ये पडून ती सोडवली. किशोरच्या वर्गात बसलेली असताना बाकीच्या मुलांची वकिली करण्यातही ती पुढे असते. पण भट्टीवरचे अस्थिर आयुष्य तिच्यातल्या या अंगभूत गुणांना फुलवू शकेल?


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?


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.

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