Site Visit to Sangamam and Poorna Vidhya Mini-Schools

Rajaram visited more Sangamam mini-school in Thiruvallur and also the Poorna Vidhya mini-schools in Guduvancheri in Dec 2020. Our Maths trainer Mrs. Meena Suresh also accompanied him in visiting some of the mini-schools.

Click here to see photos from the site visits.

At all Asha Chennai projects since June 2020, we have been running mini-schools close to the places where our teachers reside. If you haven’t read it already, read our first report which talks about why we are running these mini-schools. We have also created a video to explain how our mini-schools are functioning. We wrote a second report in late August with an update about the mini-schools. These reports will provide a background for this site visit report.

I visited mini-schools in Thiruvallur Dist being run as part of Project Sangamam on Dec 3rd and 4th. Later in the month, I visited mini-schools near Gooduvancheri area run as part of project Poorna Vidhya on Dec 17th. On Dec 4th our Maths trainer Mrs. Meena Suresh also visited the mini-schools along with me. On Dec 17th, our Chennai-based lead teacher Mrs. Jayalakshmi and another volunteer Madan Sudarman also joined me in visiting Gooduvancheri.

Visits on Dec 3rd

I had previously visited mini-schools in Project Sangamam in Sept and Oct. In this third visit, the intention was to cover schools that I had missed out on and also in particular to look at some of the poorest villages we were supporting in an effort to understand if nutritional assistance is also warranted in these areas. It was raining a good bit during this visit. But thankfully the mini-schools I was visiting managed to pull together the students and conduct the schools despite the rain.

I met our project Coordinator Srinivasan in Thiruvallur and we went first to the mini-school run by Jaya right in Thiruvallur. There was some waterlogging in the street. The children were all there and very enthusiastic. They gifted me some craftwork they had made. I talked to the younger kids about odd and even numbers and then to the older kids about fractions. The children were quite bright.
Then we went to the second mini-school in Ramapuram. This mini-school is being run by Sumithra and Nirmala. This is a really poor area. Neither of our teachers are from this area but thankfully there was an unfinished temple which we could use for our mini-school. Here too most of the children had come to attend the mini-school despite the rains. They participated very enthusiastically. I was talking to them about some Maths stories (The idiot and the 7 donkeys). They also told me some stories. Then I asked them the Tiger, Lamb and the grass-bundle – crossing the river – riddle. They understood the complexities and with some prompting were able to find the answer. The most enjoyable thing was this 1st standard loquacious boy who kept walking up to me and explaining all his theories – how he will bring a lion which will drive away the tiger, how the goat has big horns and will scare away the tiger etc. etc. It was thoroughly enjoyable! Our teacher Sumithra also gave me some wonderful stuff to eat.

Since we had some time, Srinivasan took me to this Irular hamlet Thozhudhavakkam. Children in this hamlet attend the Panchayat Union school at Kuppammal Chathiram and the mini-school we run at the Sangamam office. All of these places are part of the Kaivandhur Panchayat. Because of the rains the children did not go to the mini-school that day. The poverty of the hamlet was laid bare by the rains. The thatched hut houses looked soaked thoroughly and water was lapping at their house entrance. There was water everywhere. The kids came to see us with curiosity and took a ride in my car around their village. Our teacher Deivanayagi comes and takes the children to the mini-school every day. It is children like these that we really need to do all we can to uplift.

Then we were on our way to the next mini-school – Nemiliagaram/Vidaiyur. Last time when I visited the mini-school they were running it in the school at Nemiliagaram. Today they were in their usual spot – a Balwadi in Vidaiyur, the neighbouring village where our teacher Tamilselvi and Iswarya live. In both cases, children from both Vidaiyur and Nemiliagaram were attending this mini-school. Today the children from Nemiliagaram could not be brought because of the rains. This mini-school was almost running like a school from 9:00 am to about 3:00 pm. The children in this school were doing very well. They all knew the sounds of various letters etc. So I tried to get them to read phonetically spelt place names that they wouldn’t be familiar with and also the reverse of spelling the place names when they hear it. They managed to do both these things very comfortably. Despite our dropping in unannounced, our teacher Tamilselvi arranged for lunch for us at their home.

After the lunch there we took a long drive to Puliyamangalam next to Arakkonam! I could appreciate the challenging commute every day for our teacher Jayashree. We went to her house. She usually organises the mini-school on the terrace. But today because of the rains, she had organised them inside the house. There were children from 1st to 9th std in the mini-school and many of them were attending private schools in the area. Some of them were also having classes over Google meet. The standards of the children was quite poor. I chatted with them for a bit. I told them a couple of stories and also learnt about the activities they have been doing in the class.

After that we returned back to Thiruvallur. On the way we took a detour to visit another mini-school at Panapakkam which we had already seen. I encountered the first collapsed bridge for the day. Due to the heavy rains, one bridge had collapsed and we had to take a 5 Km detour to get to another bridge. We met both Eswari and Kumari who are running this mini-school. I didn’t have too much time with them. I told them the “Three boys fighting over a flute” story and got them to argue their cases for the three children. The children were quite articulate! We then returned back to Thiruvallur. From there I had to drive another hour to reach my hotel in Kakkavakkam. On the way, in the night with rain poring, I found the next collapsed bridge thanks to Google maps. It took me on a small road which was 10 mins shorted only to be blocked because of the broken bridge. I turned around and reached my hotel at 8:15 or so!

Dec 4th Visits

I first went to Ariypakkam mini-school run by Thenmozhi. The children were working happily with lots of chart paper creating paper hand-bags. They were so engrossed in it, that they wouldn’t even pay attention to me! I talked to them about telling stories for addition and subtraction sums. In that time Mrs. Meena Suresh also came to the school. Srinivasan brought her here. She also interacted a bit with the children.

We then went to the mini-school at JJ Nagar, a Irular hamlet in Palavakkam. The children go to the PUPS at Palavakkam. It was raining a good bit. Most of the childen hadn’t come. Our teachers were getting the children to come. The community had given us a big hall. It was spacious but was clearly a challenge to keep clean. We have also engaged an Ayah to clean this place every day. Withing a short while, about 20 students turned up. This mini-school has been running for only 1 week now. None of the children had had any contact with education in the last several months. That clearly reflected in the learning level. We asked the children to write their names. Only the older kids could even attempt to write their names in English. There were several mistakes in both their English and Tamil alphabets, Our teachers have been spending their time creating TLM material and were also using the one they have taken from the school. Lack of storage space in this community hall was a bit of a problem. Teachers were clearly putting all the effort on their side. I hope they succeed in their efforts.

Then we went to Athivakkam. Soundariya is running two batches of this school at her house. We visited when the older children (4th to 6th std) where in the mini-school. Meena mam asked the children about symmetry. Regular craft work was having its effect. Children were able to identify lines of symmetry and could easily come up with objects that have both a vertical and a horizontal line of symmetry. Meena mam also questioned the children about measurement of height, weight and volume. Children knew their height and weight as we had recently gathered that data for all children. But then the children didn’t have any idea about units. We explained this to them in some detail.

After this we went to Alapakkam. Here a local person has given his newly built house for running the mini-school. The house was spanking new and very beautifully done too. I could see that our children had scribbled things on the newly painted wall. We have to rectify this before we leave the place. There were children all the way from 1st Std to 11th Std in the school. Meena mam once tested the children on symmetry and measurements. She also asked some questions about how Earth goes around the Sun, day and night etc. The older children were able to answer many of the questions. The 8th and higher std children come here and more or less do their work. This provide them an educational environment. As we were leaving the older girls came to me and asked me to teach them a new English word. They are learning one new word a day! I really appreciated their desire to learn. I taught them the words “also” and “only” and where to use them etc. I find these often misused by Indians speaking English.

Then we went to Poonkodi’s house for lunch. We had another wonderful lunch at her place. We thanked her and went to our next school at Kannigaiper. The mini-school usually functions from a temple. Because of the rains, the space was not usable. So today they moved the mini-school to one of the building of the PUPS Kannigaiper school. The school runs in two batches. To meet us, both the batches were assembled. Two of our teachers Aruna and Santhameena were managing this mini-school. Meena mam started with questions about odd and even numbers to the younger children. They weren’t that comfortable with it. She did some more exercises with them and then moved to the higher classes. There she asked about the formation of day and night and also some questions about cyclones, Geography etc. There was one very bright girl but rest of the children were still quite weak. We gave that feedback to the teachers.

Finally we went to the second mini-school in Kannigaiper that is run by B. Nadhiya at her house. The children showed us some of the craft work that they had created. The children there had created a Dancing Robot. They showed us this. That was quite impressive. Meena mam once again asked these children about how day and night cycle comes. The children here were able to explain much better. They were even able to explain what is one year etc. The children participated energetically and were quite good even in the Maths areas tested by Meena mam.

We were glad that we were able to see all the mini-schools despite the incessant rain. After this we went on our separate ways, Srinivasan to Thiruvallur and me and Meena mam to our separate places in Chennai.

Dec 17th Visits

Even though the Poorna Vidhya project is located right here in Chennai, I hadn’t visited the mini-schools run as part of this project. Project Coordinator Malliga met us at the Gooduvancheri bus stand. We then drove to the ADWMS Nandhivaram school just to meet the Head Mistress Mrs. Prameela. After that we went to our first mini-school right here at Nandhivaram. This was being run by two teachers Philomena and Bhuvaneswari. This once again ended up being a rainly day and the mini-school was a little disorganised. It looked like the school wasn’t running regularly the last several weeks because of the rains. The children were also quite weak. They did not place value all that well and couldn’t even describe the various activities being run as part of this mini-school. We provided that feedback to the teachers.

We then went to Kayarambedu. The school was being run by our teacher Mary. She was running the school from her house and there were only 5 children at the mini-school – two of which were the teacher’s own children. Mary had made some attempts to start a mini-school elsewhere. She was earlier running a mini-school at the school at Moolakazhani school but the HM did not allow that to continue. She tried to conduct it in another hamlet with 15 or so children but didn’t get a proper place. But the 5 children were all really bright and were very good with their numbers. All the three children who are 1st std. and younger were really comfortable with numbers up to 10. They also knew shapes quite well. Mary had also taken the effort to create several TLM. The craft work done by the children was also very good.

After that we went to the mini-school in Katankolathur run by our teacher Kalaiselvi. A parent of two children had given their verandah for the use by the mini-school. There were about 15 or 20 children assembled there. They showed us some of their craft work. The children were also very talkative. They showed us some science experiments they had learnt incl, lemon floating/sinking in salt/normal water, electro-static attraction between balloon and bits of paper, proving that air has weight by balancing two balloons and then deflating one and finally candle extinguishing when covered. I also showed them my mini-magic of stopping the water flow from a bottle when the mouth gets covered by water. They figured this also out. I then played the “Simon says” game with them. We then let the children leave and went to the teacher Kalaiselvi’s house for lunch. She served us some wonderful lunch.

After that we went to just a short while back to the ADWMS Nandhivaram school to review the progress of the toilet construction. The contractor Shankar was also there with us. The construction was paused for various reasons including school closure. It is going to be revived again soon.

On the whole I had a good trip to both these places. Our confidence that the mini-schools are serving a vital need for the children’s education stands validated. Our training Mrs. Meena Suresh echoed the same thought. She was expecting all the children to have lost a lot of what they had learnt like she noted at JJ Nagar mini-school (which was started just recently). At all the other mini-schools she was impressed by the fact that the children knew as much as she usually encounters in a normal school if not more.

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