All the projects of Asha Chennai are executed with the active participation of the chapter volunteers. Many of our projects tend to deal with improvements to Government, Government-aided or other private schools that provide free education. This has been a conscious choice by the volunteers. We believe in the following:
- An equal education is an essential prerequisite to an egalitarian society. By equal education we are not talking about straight-jacketing the content or the method of education to one size fits all. We however believe in equal access for all children to the education options available in the society.
- The mainstream schooling, when made accessible to all, can cover the educational needs of 90% of all the children. There would still be a 10% of the children who cannot be reached through this mainstream education. This would include the disabled, street children, orphans, etc. While Asha Chennai recognizes the important need to address the problems of the society in dealing with the 10%, we have chosen to focus on the mainstream education. Majority of the children who fall under this category are currently not getting any education or they are getting poor quality education.
- Government is the primary vehicle through which universal education can be delivered in a country like India. Every developing and developed nation that has achieved near 100% literacy has done this through public education. We do not believe India to be any different. In states like TamilNadu, the reach of the government schools is already quite good but the quality leaves a lot to be desired.
Organisations like Asha can make a big difference in the quality of the education at these schools. We have brought about improvements through a variety of means including the following:
- Provide additional teachers where required. Government uses the yardstick of one teacher every forty children. Even this is often not filled and usually the head-master or head-mistress has a lot of administrative duties and is not able to teach classes. Even the 40 to 1 ratio is insufficient for multi-age classrooms which is the norm in small rural schools. Also ABL imposes a lot of responsibilities on the teacher. This is usually one of the strongest need in the government schools. Appointing teachers to these schools also gives us the ability to monitor what is going on at the school and ensure that the materials we provide are properly used.
- Provide learning and teaching materials. Government allocates very little money towards materials. There is a significant need for learning and teaching materials for all students, especially for the pre-school and primary school children. We provide materials including innovative teaching aids we have designed and developed ourselves. We also train the teachers to make their own materials from low cost materials and waste.
- Train Asha teachers as well as Government teachers. The Government school teachers typically attend a lot of training, lot of which might not be relevant to the situation they encounter at school. We make our training relevant by also having an on-site component which involves training at the location of the schools as well as providing all the materials used during the training.
- Evaluate the performance of the students at the schools to evaluate our own performance as well as to guide us on the further actions required at these schools.
- Maintain the infrastructure so that it can be used effectively. Government often provides budget for buildings but little of maintaining them. The roofs leak making it impossible to use the rooms. The blackboard paint has worn off or boards are cracked and are unusable. The bureaucracy makes it difficult to get the money to maintain these in time. With a fraction of the original expenses, we have been able to fully utilize the existing infrastructure.
- Technologies like the Computer and Internet have come down greatly in cost and have become available even in the remote corners of the nation. These can and should be leveraged to make the education more effective. This often serves as an incentive to the children to participate more in the class, to the parents to keep the children in the school and to the teachers by providing them a work place they can be excited about.
At Asha Chennai, we have found the methods described above to be effective in improving the schools we work with. We have been able to see the following impacts due to these projects:
- Projects are operating in remote villages and urban slums. It is the poorer sections of the population who live here and these children are the ones who go to Government school. Thus we hope to impact the education, improve access to and quality of education of the poorest sections of the society in India.
- Government schools/balwadis lack teachers to the extent that there could be little or no education being delivered. For instance at Kunnavalam, a village served by Project Sangamam, there were three teachers including the head-master for 130 students in 8 classes. The head-master often goes away for administrative duties and thus effectively there could be only two teachers for the entire school. Appointing teachers here has significantly improved the situation.
- Our involvement while improving the education at the school also, much more noticeably, increases the enrollment at these schools. For instance the Rishiyur School covered by Project Dream went from being a primary school with 180 children to a middle school with 280+ students. Urur Kuppam balwadi\92s strength went from 55 to 80.
- Asha firmly believes that social transformation starts with an educated population. While this is a slower change, we are seeing some of this as well in the villages we are involved in. The teachers we employ represent all communities in the village. We ensure that no discrimination can be practiced in the schools we work with.
- Our strengthening the Government schools by not creating a parallel infrastructure/network ensures that these changes are permanent and remains with the societies we work with. Through engagement with the Government at all levels we also ensure government takes over more of our responsibilities. At Rishiyur, there are 7 government teachers now (up from 3 when we started). At Placepalayam, Kanakavallipuram and Rishiyur among others, Government has provided new buildings. Increased allocations to SSA and ABL in TamilNadu will enable the schools to buy more materials. We hope to eventually obsolete ourselves!
Here is a short description of current and approved Asha Chennai projects.
School Improvement Projects:
|Project Sangamam Kanini:||Technology and Education Initiative efforts to directly improve the processes happening in the classrooms at the government schools.|
|Project Dream:||This is one of Asha Chennai\92s oldest projects. The project involves working with six Government schools and two ICDS balwadis (pre-primary education centres) in the rural areas of Needamangalam block in Thiruvarur district. Rishiyur middle school, which we have been working with since 2002, is recognized as a model school in the district.|
|Poorna Vidhya:||Through this project we work with two Chennai city Corporation schools and a balwadi associated with one of the schools.|
|Project Sangamam-Poondi:||We started this project in 2004-05 in Thiruvallur district, and we now work with eight Government schools and four balwadis in eight different villages in this district.|
|Project Pearl:||Project Pearl supports two middle schools, two balwadi(s) (pre-primary educational centers) and three community libraries in the remote villages of Tuticorin (Thoothukudi) district.|
Projects that aid the School Improvement Projects:
|Project RightStart:||It is economical and effective when training is given to all the teachers from our different projects together at one place, and hence started this annual exercise of teacher training. It is grown in strength and participation over the years. These training sessions are provided by recognized experts in the different fields of education. This is supplemented by on-site training at each project school by academicians and resource people.|
|ECTAL:||Education Contents for Technology Aided Learning. We found through our experience that the educational content available on the market are often in English and are often geared towards individual use by students. For reaching the kind of schools we are interested in we need contents in Tamil that can be used by teachers in teaching a class with a single computer. We are developing such contents on our own as a part of this project. The contents developed would be distributed freely to our projects as well as other schools providing free education.|
|Asha Scholarships:||Asha Chennai identifies children from under-privileged background going to different schools and colleges, and matches them with donors to give scholarships that cover their tuition fees, books, uniforms, etc. About 80% are the students are from in and around Chennai, while the rest are from other parts of TamilNadu.|
|Project Manigal:||Project Manigal aims to promote education as a tool to change the marginal status of the gypsies. This project uses schools as a tool to keep childrens in a safe environment and away from work.|